It may not have seemed like much — two innings of mop-up duty in a heavy loss — but those innings meant a lot to Rusty Edwards.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Moose Jaw Miller Express first baseman Ben Douglas tries to pick a ball out of the dirt as Medicine Hat Mavericks Michael
Forgione tries to beat the throw Friday night at Ross Wells Park.
The Moose Jaw Miller Express starting pitcher pitched a pair of shutout innings Tuesday in Lethbridge. With some confidence restored, the left-handed pitcher got the start Friday night and had his best game of the Western Major Basbeall League season.
Edwards pitched seven innings and allowed one unearned run off of two hits. He walked five batters, but also struck out eight in a 7-1 Express win over the Medicine Hat Mavericks at Ross Wells Park.
Edwards was scheduled to throw a bullpen session Tuesday night. Instead Moose Jaw head coach Michael Hunt put him in the game with them trailing 9-0 after three innings. The Express lost 10-3, but Edwards was sharp in his limited outing.
"Bringing him in Lethbridge instead of giving him his bullpen was the key to that," said Hunt. "He had some success and found his place on the mound again. It was all geared towards this start here today. He had a lot more confidence and it looked like he was pitching with a lot more swagger."
Edwards had an 0-3 record and a 13.50 ERA heading into Friday's game.
"It's the best I've felt all summer. That last outing in Lethbridge built up my confidence after a couple of rough starts. It feels great to come out and get a win," said Edwards. "I've never played in front of this many fans before so it's really exciting to get to pitch in front of lot of people. It's definitely a confidence booster."
A crowd of 341 fans enjoyed a perfect night for baseball at Ross Wells Park as the Express improved their record to 14-11 on the season. They have a 1.5 game lead in the WMBL's Central Division. They will host the Mavericks Saturday night (7 p.m., Ross Wells Park).
Edwards' night got off to an inauspicious start. He fielded a bunt and made an errant throw to first base in the first at-bat of the night, but didn't let the mistake bother him.
"As a pitcher you have to bounce back and worry about that next pitch," he said.
While Medicine Hat struggled to hit the Express' lefty, the home side proved that they can hit left-handed pitching. For the sixth straight game they faced a left-handed starter and they wasted no time getting the Mavs' Jon Rand. They ripped 10 hits in the first four innings and built an early 7-1 lead.
"We got the power back in our sticks and after a long bus ride, that's not normal," said Express first baseman Ben Douglas who was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI. "It was a great way to come back after a long trip."
Moose Jaw had four singles in the first inning and Douglas and Frank Pluskota hit RBI singles with two out to stake the Express to a 2-0 lead. In the second Dylan Hanson hit a lead-off double and came around to score an on an error.
The Express led 4-1 in the fourth when they broke the game open. Derek Cornell reached on an error and came around to score thanks to one of Austin Russell's three singles on the day and a sacrifice fly by Miles Hunter. Aidan Stinnett hit a towering fly that fell in between three charging Mavericks which allowed Russell to score and Douglas' double drove Stinnett home.
While the Express had some balls drop in, they also hit the ball hard and had three doubles on the night.
Hunt felt that it was the quality of the pitching they faced on their recent five-game road trip — not the arm the pitchers were using — that was a factor in their struggles.
"This is the sixth lefty starter we've seen in a row and we were able to get some hits against them, we just haven't been able to get from first to second and around to cross the plate. It was good to get a little success against one," said Hunt.
He balked at the idea that teams were trying to use lefties against them. He felt that only former Express pitcher Connor Lillis-White was used by Okotoks specifically to match up against them.
"With the exception of Okotoks I don't think there was anyone who intended to throw a lefty at us. They had two guys going in the same day in the double-header, so they threw the other guy the day before and Connor against us," said Hunt. "To this point it hasn't been a strategy against us, it's just been the next guy up in the rotation."
The Express have plenty of left-handed bats in their lineup and they feasted Friday.
"I think we're getting used to it. You don't have to change the eye slot or anything, it's the same thing every day," said Douglas, one of four left-handed hitters used by the Express.
Russell finished 3-for-5 with a pair of runs, while Pluskota was 2-for-3 and Stinnett was 2-for-5 with two runs.
Connor Keating had a strike out in a quick three-up, three down eighth inning for Moose Jaw and Jason Renner didn't allow a hit in the ninth inning to close out the win.