BRISTOL - Headed into Friday nightâ€™s game against the Brockton Rox, one of the Bristol Bluesâ€™ major downfalls in three of their four losses this season had been the bullpen struggles in the mid-to-late innings.
It was the same story in a 7-5 loss to Brockton at Muzzy Field, as the Bluesâ€™ record dipped to 3-5 after starter James Judenisâ€™s solid five-inning start was spoiled in the seventh, and a late comeback attempt was halted as Brandon Miller fouled out to left field with the bases loaded to end the ninth.
Judenis, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, labored in the first inning of his second outing, allowing two home runs to give Brockton an early 3-0 lead. Judenis then settled in, putting down 11 of the next 12 batters following a leadoff walk in the second as part of four shutout innings, and his offense gave him a two-run lead by the third inning.
Christian Seelhorst relieved Judenis in the sixth and made some of the gameâ€™s biggest pitches after loading the bases with one out on a hit batsman, walk and a single. Seelhorst threw three straight balls to Quinn Krais then bounced back by recording two straight swinging strikeouts on full counts to get out of the threat unscathed.
But for the second night in a row against the Rox - after a 4-2 road loss in Brockton Thursday night - right-hander Ben DeLaubell was called upon in the seventh, and he couldnâ€™t deliver, as he allowed four runs (two earned) on two hits and two walks to take the loss.
â€śI played with Ben in travel ball. Heâ€™s just a tough kid,â€ť catcher Will Reiner said. â€śHe goes to Army, and itâ€™s a hard place to just be a person. I have absolute, 100-percent faith that heâ€™s gonna come back from this.â€ť
With the Blues holding a 5-3 lead, DeLaubell recorded two outs before allowing an RBI triple to Evan Sleight off the right field wall. After DeLaubell walked Tommy Kretzler, Kretzler stole second, drawing a throw from catcher Will Reiner. The throw was not in time, and it allowed Sleight to sprint home for the game-tying run.
â€śWe had two outs, and Coach [Ronnie Palmer] called a throw down to second,â€ť Reiner said. â€śI put the best throw in I could, and it just didnâ€™t work out.â€ť
An error by second baseman Kyle Maves kept the inning alive for the Rox (6-3), and Eddy Hart took advantage by mashing a two-run double to the left-center gap for two unearned runs and the decisive 7-5 lead.
The hit handed DeLaubell the loss for the second consecutive night after he relieved starter Jack Moore on Thursday after Moore had pitched 6 â…“ innings and left the game after allowing one run. DeLaubell relieved him and surrendered three runs, one of which was charged to Moore.
â€śBenâ€™s so mentally and physically tough that even though heâ€™s gotten pushed around a little in the start, heâ€™s gonna come back fighting,â€ť Reiner said. â€śHeâ€™ll do everything he needs to do to come back. I think heâ€™s the best guy that we can have that could be in that kind of position because heâ€™s gonna come out of it hard. Heâ€™s got grit.â€ť
To start, Judenis gave up back-to-back home runs in the first inning as part of a three-hit, two-walk frame to one of the FCBLâ€™s top-hitting teams. He allowed Brockton to bat around the order, sparked by a two-run bomb by Gaby Cruz after Mitch Donofrio reached on an error by shortstop Danny Roth. Andrew Marra followed with an opposite-field solo shot to right-center.
It was in contrast to Judenisâ€™ season debut last Friday, when he allowed just one earned run (three runs total) and gave up just four hits with six strikeouts in 5 â…“ innings in a no-decision in a Blues loss to the Rox.
Judenis then got back to his debut form, leaving the bases loaded on a groundout as part of another no-decision effort in which he allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and four walks with two strikeouts on 96 pitches.
â€śThey saw me last week, which made it a little bit harder, but I was just up in the zone a little bit [in that first inning],â€ť Judenis said. â€śAfter that, I just settled myself down and decided to not let it get to me. I just went out there and focused on getting pitches down rather than getting angry. It was kind of frustrating, but if you go the rest of the game with that mentality, youâ€™re not gonna be successful.â€ť
The Bluesâ€™ offense bounced back in the bottom half with an RBI single to center from Miller after Maves led off with a single to left.
Maves took second after Rox shortstop Nick Shumski dropped a throw from catcher Joe Sullivan that would have cut down Maves, and he took third as the ball bounced to shallow left. Judenis then shut down Brockton in the second with a loud out to center and a line-drive double play that paved the way for the Blues offense.
â€śIt was huge [to get that shutdown inning], especially because I walked the first guy, and you start to kind of get in your head,â€ť Judenis said. â€śIf you do shut them down, itâ€™s kind of like a win. I started working on my offspeed pitches instead of my fastball. I threw mostly fastballs and curveballs last time I faced them so I tried to work in my changeup a little bit more, and it worked out.â€ť
In the second, Kasey Bass and Nolan Cloutier led off with back-to-back singles, and John Orzechowski roped a grounder up the middle. The ball took a late, bad hop into the chest of Shumski, who was charged with an error as Bass sprinted home, and Cloutier scored on a Zeke Diamond sac fly.
The Blues in the third took advantage of three wild pitches by Rox starter John Mikosz and a pair of errors by Brockton, as Miller led off with a walk and advanced to second on Mikoszâ€™s first errant throw.
Dylan Reynolds followed with a single up the middle, which was cut down by Shumski. But the shortstopâ€™s throw to third to try and gun Miller, who had taken a big turn around the bag, rolled away as Miller sprinted home.
Third baseman Donorfio collected the ball, but his ensuing throw to the plate bounced off Miller, going down as another error on the go-ahead run.
Reynolds had advanced to third on the play and then scored on another Mikosz wild pitch, successfully using a swim technique at the plate to get himself under Mikoszâ€™s tag attempt for a 5-3 lead.
The Bluesâ€™ offense, however, only tallied one hit after the third inning - a single by Nolan Cloutier that preceded two walks to load the bases in the ninth.
â€śThe offense just kind of stalled there,â€ť Roth said. â€śWe had opportunities we couldâ€™ve capitalized on, but thereâ€™s always tomorrow.â€ť
Will Nowak was a bright spot for the bullpen, as he relieved DeLaubell with two outs in the seventh and pitched 2 â…“ hitless innings, striking out six of the seven batters he faced.
â€śI know I hadnâ€™t pitched against Brockton yet so I kind of just wanted to attack early with fastballs,â€ť Nowak said. â€śI kind of got in a rhythm, and I felt like they were starting to get comfortable so I just tried mixing in some breaking balls and a few offspeed pitches.
â€śI think [the bullpen] mainly just needs to get ahead of batters. If we get ahead of batters we can do a lot more. And we just need to limit the walks. We just need to execute some more pitches.â€ť
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org