LAKE ELSINORE — The Storm got another strong start from Robby Snelling and broke it open late to cruise to a 7-1 win over the Modesto Nuts in front of a good crowd Friday night.
After throwing about 50 pitches and three innings in each of his first two professional outings, the 19-year-old lefty got stretched out to five frames in his third game and continued to impress. He allowed just one run on three hits while striking out six.
“I’ve kind of been waiting for the bigger pitch counts because I feel like my game elevates as I get further into the game,”
He worked 91-93 mph with his fastball and continued to show nice depth with his curve as well as a tighter slider. It was the sharper breaking ball that he left up a bit in a 2-1 count in the second inning and got turned around for a solo homer and his first run allowed of the year.
Perhaps most impressively, Snelling flashed the changeup he has worked to develop since the Padres selected him 39th overall, using it for both called and swinging strikes throughout the night.
For the first time in his brief career, he had to work out of a tricky spot in the fourth inning. After a leadoff single, Snelling got a grounder that could have been a double play, but shortstop Rosman Verdugo threw the ball away, putting runners two runners in scoring position.
Snelling quickly bounced back with a three-pitch strikeout that ended with a well-located change, then got a grounder to third and a weak chopper in front of the plate, which he fielded to escape any damage.
“The most impressive thing for me wasn’t the strikeouts, it was second and third with no outs, and he gets out of it,” said manager Pete Zamora, who was the pitching coach last year with the Double-A San Antonio Missions. “Very impressive for a young kid to be able to do that.”
While Snelling continued to shine, his offense gave him everything he needed in the first inning. With two outs, Graham Pauley rifled a first-pitch double into right-center before Anthony Vilar, one of the team’s offensive stars in the early going, crushed a towering shot well over the tall right field wall.
The 24-year-old catcher had two homers in 54 games last season as he worked as the backup catcher for Fort Wayne. He’s now collected three in nine contests. Vilar, a conversion to catcher after the Padres selected him in the 15th round out of the University of Miami in 2021, also drew a pair of walks Friday and now has 10 on the year against eight strikeouts.
“He’s just a smart, heady kid,” said Zamora. “He could probably play at another level, but he’s getting at-bats and playing every day, so for his development, it’s perfect.”
With the game locked at 2-1, Drew Pomeranz made his second rehab appearance of the week, working a very quick sixth inning as he got acclimated to coming into a game with a lead to protect. The big lefty tossed just 10 pitches to get a pop fly, flyout, and grounder to short.
Rather than sit down and then have to get heated back up for a second inning, Pomeranz went back down the first base line and tossed another 15 pitches in the bullpen. His velocity sat in the low-90s as he worked off the rust, but Pomeranz looked healthy, which is clearly the biggest question mark after he missed all of last season.
Righty Ian Koenig followed Pomeranz to the mound, working three perfect frames to finish the night. The 22-year-old, who signed as an undrafted free agent last summer, struck out four as he ran his fastball up to 95 and now has 11 in nine innings on the season. He’s worked behind Snelling in each of his three outings.
The Storm offense got some more two-out production in the fifth inning as athletic outfielder Tyler Robertson lashed a double to center before Pauley smoked a ball that hit about 20 feet up the big wall in right field. Robertson, who has some of the best speed in the organization, came around to score before Pauley got thrown out on a well-executed cutoff play.
Elsinore broke the game open against the Modesto bullpen in the seventh, as the club enjoyed a matchup with lower velocity. Kai Murphy led off with a homer that just caught the foul pole atop the 36-foot wall 310 feet down the line. Samuel Zavala, who otherwise had a rough night at the plate, drew a patient walk before Robertson legged out a bunt single with a 3.8 second time to first.
Pauley followed with another RBI single to put the team up 5-1. Robertson and Pauley executed a double-steal perfectly one out later, and then both came around to score on a single by Albert Fabian.
With his 3-for-4 showing, Pauley finished the night with a .404/.462/.596 line and ranks among the league leaders in virtually every offensive category. The 22-year-old Duke product has built on a strong finish to last season in Lake Elsinore and has quickly become a force from the left side of the plate.
“He knows where the barrel is,” said Zamora. “He’s showed us he’s our top dog right now, so he’s going to sit in that three-hole and produce for us.”