LAKE ELSINORE – On an exceptionally hot day in the Riverside Highlands, the Storm celebrated “Lake Elsinore’s Day Off” by taking the field at 11 am. After a slow start, the Storm scored six runs in the bottom of the sixth and that was enough to notch an 8-5 win over Visalia – their third straight win in the series.
Right-hander Victor Lizarraga – the top pitching prospect on the Storm’s roster – started the game off in an impressive fashion by striking out the side in order. His fastball sat in the low-90s and touched 94 mph on several pitches. He also showed good command of his mid-80s change to keep the Rawhide hitters off-balance.
The Rawhide were able to get to Lizarraga in the second inning. Ivan Melendez tripled off the right field wall as Storm right fielder Samuel Zavala had some difficulty playing the ball off the wall. Brett Johnson then singled up the middle to give the Rawhide the lead. The Rawhide scored later in the inning on an RBI single and had a chance to add more. Lizarraga was able to escape the damage by inducing a ground ball that the Storm converted into a nifty double play. Second baseman Graham Pauley fielded the ball and scooped it towards shortstop Wyatt Hoffman. The throw was low but in one motion Hoffman scooped the ball out of the dirt and fired to first to complete the double play.
“[He] broke his bat and it kind of caught me by surprise,” said Hoffman postgame. “I knew the speed of the runner so I knew I had some time and I was able to make the play.”
Lizarraga came out for the third inning and went right back to work, plowing through the Rawhide lineup. He struck out the side in third once again, using his fastball up in the zone to overpower the Visalia lineup.
The Rawhide got to Lizarraga in the fourth, though. Visalia designated hitter Josh Day led off the inning with a single and was able to advance all the way to third on a fielding error by Zavala. An RBI groundout gave the Rawhide a 3-1 lead.
From there, Lizarraga was in control. He got through the next two innings unscathed and completed six innings for the second consecutive outing. He tied his season-high with eight strikeouts while allowing just two earned runs in the process.
“He was crisp,” Hoffman said on Lizarraga’s performance. “He was on it. We had a couple of mishaps with flyballs but the wind plays differently [early in the day]. We don’t really play at 11am, so we don’t really know how that wind is going to play for the outfielders.”
The Storm were able to put runners on against Rawhide starter Yu-Min Lin but were not able to string together timely hits. That changed in the sixth when he departed.
Lake Elsinore had eight straight batters reach base to start the inning. With the bases loaded, Storm catcher Juan Zabala delivered with a two-run double to left field that drove in a pair to give the Storm a lead they would not relinquish. Zabala was the “In N Out Double-Double Hitter of the Game,” meaning that all the fans in the stands left with a voucher for a free hamburger.
Later in the inning, Jackson Merrill drove in a pair of runs with an RBI single to left center. Merrill had three hits on the afternoon, all of them sharp singles to left-center.
“[In the sixth] we were able to find some barrels and had some timely hitting,” said Hoffman. “Good at-bats make us click and once we click, watch out.”
Despite the unusual start time, the Storm players were excited to play in an early game.
“Normally, I am just waking up at game-time, I’ll tell you that” laughed Hoffman. “It wasn’t bad though; we used to play day games in college and to be honest I kind of miss them – well the 1pm games, not 11am games. It felt good to get out in the heat.”
Storm Notes: After Lizarraga departed, Matt Boswell threw two scoreless innings. He sat 92-93 with his fastball and flashed a good curve that topped out at 80mph. The former South Alabama hurler was signed by the Padres as an undrafted free agent. … 2022 fifth-rounder Nathan Martorella started in left field and had a pair of hits. Initially thought of as a first baseman-only product by some draft publications, the Padres will attempt to see if he can stick there. … Pauley, the Padres’ 13th-rounder in July, had two hits and is hitting .389 in nine games with the Storm.