Lake Elsinore, Calif. — We went to The Diamond and a big league game broke out.
Rehabbing N.L. West starters Rich Hill and Joey Lucchesi made quick work of the first half of the Storm-Quakes matchup and Austin Hedges provided most of the game’s offense with a single, double, and sacrifice fly. With the big-league assist, the Storm won 2-0 and moved back into a tie with Rancho atop the lackluster South Division of the Cal League with three games left to play in the first half.
Once the rehabbers were done, Reggie Lawson delivered five stellar innings to claim the victory for the Storm . The big righty retired the first six and 12 of the first 13 batters he faced before struggling a bit with control in the top of the ninth. But the 20 year old, who hit 95 with his penultimate pitch, held on to finish off a combined two-hit shutout.
“He’s more confident in his stuff now. His fastball is playing well, he’s spinning the breaking ball pretty tight,” said Storm manager Edwin Rodriguez. “He’s trusting the breaking ball more, throwing it for strikes. And with the better breaking ball, his fastball is going to look way better.”
Lawson struck out the side in the fifth, mixing all three of his pitches effectively as he worked with Hedges. With his fastball sitting 93-94, his curve falling in for strikes and drawing ugly swings, and a handful of impressive changeups, Lawson was as in control as he has been all year.
“Those are the best three or four changeups he’s thrown in his career as a Padre,” said Storm pitching coach Pete Zamora, who also worked with Lawson in his draft year and early last season in Peoria.
Widely seen as a future bullpen arm by outside observers coming into the season, Lawson has shown he has the makings to stay in a rotation this year. Having forced his way to the Cal League with only 80 professional innings to his name this spring, Lawson now sits among league leaders with a 2.63 ERA and a strikeout per inning through 12 games.
“His thing coming into the season was he didn’t want to go back to Fort Wayne. So I grabbed him and said, ‘Make them take you with me,'” said Zamora. “He was phenomenal in spring training. Weight room, doing what he needs to do to get ready for starts, he pitched well – he showed up. He’s grown up.”
Further removed from his draft-year injury, the Antelope Valley native is sitting 93-95 this year, up a few ticks from the past. And the curve, which only occasionally flashed last year, has been a consistent weapon this season.
But it’s the change-up that’s progressed the most.
“The biggest thing with me is that in ’16, he had a 90 MPH change-up, and now he’s down to 84-85. So he’s throwing a quality, legit changeup,” said Zamora. “The differential is money right now, so he’s getting a tremendous amount of confidence in that.”
While Lawson’s performance is encouraging for the longer-term future, Lucchesi’s should have an immediate impact for the big league club.
The lefty, who was a regular member of the Storm rotation 12 months ago, needed just 43 pitches to work four hitless innings as he worked back from his hip injury. A hit batter on a 1-2 curve was the only blemish on his line. He was also able to come off the mound to make a pair of plays, showing no negative side effects from his one-month layoff.
Because the club has been working with a bullpen day for his turn through the rotation, they could easily choose to activate Lucchesi immediately even though he didn’t go very deep Thursday. If they choose to have him take one more start in the minors, he’ll need to join either San Antonio or El Paso because of the Cal League’s All-Star break next week.
While Lucchesi dominated the Dodgers’ High-A affiliate, Storm hitters managed little more against Hill. Eguy Rosario was credited with a single on a grounder to shortstop. Nate Easley had an infield single to third.
Otherwise, it was the Hedges show. He flared a single that somehow found the grass just inside the right field line in the first. In the third, Hedges smacked a hard-hit double off the left field wall and came around on a throwing error by the Rancho shortstop. He capped his night and Hill’s with a well-struck sac fly to center. He also looked comfortable behind the plate, though obviously with just one runner on base in the first six frames, was not challenged.
As you’d expect facing a guy with one of the best pitches in the majors, Storm hitters were overmatched all night. Outfielders Edward Olivares and Jorge Ona struck out in all five of their trips to the plate against Hill.
“The hitters took pretty good at-bats against him,” said Rodriguez. “But then again,that curve ball… it’s tough even in the big leagues. But they battled and they weren’t intimidated.
“That’s what it’s all about – taking a look at how it is up there. Now they know when we talk about a tight breaking ball and pitchers attacking the strike zone, now they know what we mean by that.”
NOTES: Buddy Reed has been running a high fever and feeling under the weather for a few days. While he talked his way into the line-up Wednesday night, Rodriguez lifted him mid-game and had him rest again Thursday. He should return to the lineup as soon as he shakes the bug. … Luis Torrens played at first Monday with Hedges behind the plate and Hill presenting a tough match-up for Brad Zunica, but won’t likely see much more action there. … With all of the talent in the organization, Rosario sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. The 18-year-old is more than holding his own with the very aggressive assignment to the Cal League. He owns a .250/.310/.400 line and is playing solid defense at second base. … Ruddy Giron, dealing with his second different hand injury of the year, took batting practice prior to the game and appears to be progressing toward his return.