LAKE ELSINORE – On Exes night at the Lake Elsinore Diamond, the Storm put together a performance that they would definitely like to move on from. Storm pitchers walked 12 and hit four batters as the team lost 11-5 to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
The Storm jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning. Shortstop Jackson Merrill stroked a fastball off of Quakes lefty Roman Kopp deep to the left-center gap. He came into score on an RBI single by first baseman Nerwilian Cedeño.
“Merrill is a competitor,” said Padres’ roving hitting instructor Mike McCoy who filled in for Storm manager Eric Junge. “He’s going to grind out at-bats and put himself in good counts. He doesn’t chase. He’s a talented kid and one of the best we have for sure.”
The Quakes took the lead in the second when Storm starter Jairo Iriarte lost the plate. Iriarte was sitting 92-94 mph with his fastball but struggled to command it. Iriarte allowed a lead-off single, walked a batter, and allowed an infield hit that was placed perfectly. After getting a ground ball that resulted in a fielder’s choice, Iriarte allowed another hit, hit a batter, and walked in a run. The Quakes scored three runs in the inning and with a big hit, it could have been much worse.
The Storm tied the game in the bottom of the fourth with a pair of runs. Left fielder Angel Solarte socked a double to left – one of his two doubles of the evening. Jackson Merrill drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game. Third baseman Marcos Castañon – the Storm leader in home runs – came up with the bases-loaded but struck out to end the threat.
Iriarte was able to shake off the poor inning and threw two scoreless frames after that, showing better command and a more aggressive approach on the ground. While the outing was far from sharp, he kept the Storm in the game.
“That second inning got away from Iriarte a little bit; he couldn’t find the strike zone consistently,” said McCoy. “He gave us four innings on just three runs. I think when I had him last year, he wouldn’t have been able to give us that length. It saved us from going to the bullpen earlier. He showed some maturity and those innings matter.”
After Iriarte left, the game started to get away from the Storm. Lefty Alexuan Vega opened the fifth on the bump but struggled to throw strikes. Vega allowed a lead-off single and then got the next hitter to fly out. Vega preceded to walk the next three hitters before being pulled. Hazahel Quijada, another lefty, came in and hit a batter with the bases loaded on the first pitch he threw. Quijada was able to get out of the inning but the Quakes scored twice to gain a lead they would not relinquish.
“On both sides of the ball, our defense was pretty good but pitching we need to fill up the zone a little bit more, “said McCoy. “It’s been our focus over the last few months and these games happen. Offensively, we put some hits together and scored some runs but we had 18 strikeouts. We need to do a better job of putting the ball in play and making things happen.“
The Quakes put the game away in the sixth, scoring six times while taking advantage of more free passes. Quijada walked the first three batters of the inning to load the bases. Quakes first baseman Kyle Nevin – the son of Angels interim manager and former Padre Phil Nevin – cleared the bases with a two-run double. A third runner scored on an errant throw from Merrill.
Lake Elsinore showed a little fight in the bottom of the sixth. Castañon – who struck out in his three previous plate appearances – drove in a run with an RBI double down the left field line. The two-bagger was his 22nd of the season.
“Their starter had some good stuff,” said Castañon after Thursday’s game. “Personally, I feel like I executed my plan but he got the best of me in [two earlier at-bats]. I could have gotten mad and threw a fit but I knew there were plenty of at-bats to have that game because I had three [at-bats] in five innings. Those two or three at-bats after that count at the end of the season.”