RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — The Storm won their third straight game over the division-leading Quakes Thursday night, getting stellar pitching and just enough offense to claim the victory.
Graham Pauley, batting in the leadoff spot for the fourth time this year, opened the game with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a productive grounder to the right side by Samuel Zavala and then scored on a booming double by Albert Fabian.
The Storm got a leadoff double from Rosman Verdugo in the second inning, but then didn’t come up with another hit until Zavala scorched a single to right two outs in the eighth inning.
That offensive dry spell didn’t matter much as starter Robby Snelling came out dealing after an extended layoff because of last week’s incident at The Diamond. The lefty was dialed up to 94-95 mph on his fastball consistently in the first few innings, and was still able to reach for that velocity a few times later in the outing.
In earlier outings, he’d been sitting more in the 91-92 range.
“Pitching in games, my arm hasn’t felt like I know it can, so I had to alter some things I do during the week to work on the arm strength,” said Snelling, who is a big believer in a long-toss regimen between starts.
Perhaps even more impressively, the 19-year-old lefty continued to show refinement with his changeup, and mixed in a tighter slider as well.
“After the draft, that was the whole thing, ‘does he have a changeup?’ Obviously, it’s been a work in progress and I’m really happy with where it’s at because I can trust it to be in the zone, said Snelling.
“I was able to execute and get it into the zone and get weak contact. Not everything has to be a strikeout pitch for me. It’s just another pitch in the arsenal.”
The Quakes got runners on in each inning against Snelling, but in each instance, he escaped any real damage. Only a two-out triple to the center field wall in the first inning was hit especially hard all night.
The home squad opened the fifth inning with back-to-back singles as Snelling’s velocity dropped off a just a bit, but he rallied back to strike out the number nine and leadoff hitters before getting a weak chopper that he fielded on the third base side of the mound to end the inning impressively.
Snelling still showed the bigger breaking pitch – it has generally been identified as a curve since his high school days, but Snelling calls it a slider – when he needed to work around traffic, but he also flashed a breaking ball with more sweep than he had in previous outings.
“That bullpen [in the off week] was to work on this new slider that I have,” said Snelling.
“I could have executed a little bit better in some counts. I thought it was pretty okay tonight, but definitely not what it was when I first threw it in the bullpen this week. So, we’ll kind of just go back to the chalkboard and see what I need to work on and watch the video and see what needs to be critiqued so I can get it back to how it was.”
Snelling finished the night having allowed five hits and struck out five with just one walk as he tossed 79 pitches over five frames. He now has a 1.14 ERA, almost a full run better than the next-best qualifier in the Cal League. Because he’s averaging just over one strikeout per inning and has relied on a strand rate of 96%, his FIP is a more pedestrian 4.13.
Righty Dylan Nedved followed Snelling to the mound and was just as effective in silencing the league’s second-most productive offense. The righty, who works with a breaking ball in the mid-70s and a fastball up to around 90 mph, got several awkward defensive swings as he tossed two scoreless frames. Over his last four outings, he’s allowed just one run with eight strikeouts against just two walks in 7.2 innings.
Will Geerdes came on in the eighth and initially continued the dominance, striking out the first two Quakes he faced before issuing a four-pitch walk. He then left a 1-0 cutter up to emerging Dodgers catching prospect Thayron Liranzo, who slashed it the other way just inside the third base line for a run-scoring double. After giving up an infield single, Geerdes bounced back to finish the inning with another strikeout and keep the game tied.
Anthony Vilar opened the ninth by working a full-count walk then advanced to second on a passed ball before Devin Ortiz, playing in his first game since joining Elsinore from the TinCaps this week, rifled a single to left to plate Vilar with the go-ahead run. Ortiz came around to score on a flare single to left by Wyatt Hoffman to provide an extra cushion.
Geerdes hardly needed that greater margin as he worked around a one-out double in the bottom of the inning to strike out the side and clinch the win. The 23-year-old, who, liked Ortiz, signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Virginia last year, now has 28 strikeouts in 23.1 innings as a multi-inning reliever for the Storm this year. Relying on a lively cutter, he is holding Cal League opponents to a .212 average.
Notes: The Storm finished the game without manager Pete Zamora, who got ejected following an odd sequence to end the top of the ninth. After Hoffman’s single, he got picked off first base. Stuck in a rundown, he impressively avoided a tag and was headed into second base safely when a throw hit him in the back and caromed into the outfield. Hoffman kept going and made it to third safely. After Quakes manager John Shoemaker came out to argue that his shortstop had tagged Hoffman, the Quakes then successfully appealed that Hoffman had failed to touch second base and he was called out. Zamora had an extended conversation with the field umpire, then was ejected as he was walking back to the dugout.
The Storm remained aggressive on the basepaths, stealing four bases on the night. They’re third in the Cal League with 52 in their first 39 games.
With his single and a walk, Zavala now has a .451 on-base percentage on the month, even as he’s striking out at almost a 33% clip. The left-handed outfielder’s high leg kick leaves him vulnerable at times, but he’s looked quite impressive as an 18-year-old in full-season ball.