Amarillo Sod Poodles end Texas League first half with much needed momentum


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A.J. Vukovich of the Amarillo Sod Poodles is given the “Gatorade bath” after delivering a walk-off single for a 4-3 win against San Antonio at Hodgetown on Saturday night. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]
Sunday evening at Hodgetown, the Amarillo Sod Poodles were on the verge of a perfect ending to the first half of their Texas League season.

They didn’t quite achieve that, but it was still a good ending to mixed half-season.
For the second straight day to end the weekend Sunday, the Sod Poodles went to extra innings against the San Antonio Missions. After a 4-3-win Saturday, they lost 2-1 in the series finale, but there was still good news.

The Sod Poodles (30-39) ended the first half of the season with their first home series win of the season. That was much-needed after returning home from a fruitless road trip to Frisco, where they were swept in six games, and they carried a seven-game losing streak into the opening of their series against San Antonio (31-37) last Tuesday.

“Quite obviously we played a lot better this series,” Soddies manager Tim Bogar said. “We pitched really well and I thought our bats came through. We started having a better approach and we started putting up a few runs in a few games. It’s tough to lose the last one like that, but 4-2 is a lot better going into the second half.”

Beating the Missions on Sunday would have been mere icing on the cake since the Sod Poodles had already clinched a series victory with Saturday’s win. It marked only the second series this season in which the Sod Poodles came out on top.

It took half the season for the Soddies to win a series at Hodgetown, but that might be important with the clean slate provided by the second half of the Texas League schedule.

“It’s just nice to win a series any time,” Bogar said. “Going into the second half we can just build on what we did these last six days. I like our starting pitching, I like the way we threw out of the bullpen and I really liked our approach at the plate up until today.”

The series ended with what might have been one of the odder games in the six-year history of Hodgetown. Both teams had only three hits and one run apiece after regulation in contrast to Hodgetown’s reputation as an offensive launching pad.

In his second start of the week after returning from the injured list, Soddies right-hander Dylan Ray only made one big mistake. Throwing 3 1/3 innings on a pitch count, Ray gave up a long solo home run to left to Robbie Tenorowicz in the second to give the Missions a 1-0 lead.

Meanwhile, the Sod Poodles couldn’t touch San Antonio left-hander Austin Krob, whom they got to for seven runs in the first two innings of Tuesday’s series opener, a 16-4 win which broke the losing streak.

“I would think maybe they felt good about it,” laughed Bogar over his team’s mood after the win. “We got back home and reset. We figured this is the last six games of the first half so let’s get some momentum going. We had a good game plan throughout the week against (the Missions). We played them a long time ago to open the season and they boat raced us (in a three-game sweep) and the guys didn’t forget about that.”

However, the Soddies didn’t repeat their success in the rematch against Krob, getting only two hits off him in seven innings, as Krob struck out 12.

The Sod Poodles had to be glad to see Missions reliever Yovanny Cruz in the eighth. With one out, Kristian Robinson tripled to deep left-center and scored on a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Kevin Graham which tied the game and provided the Sod Poodles with their only run.

Ivan Melendez (43) of the Amarillo Sod Poodles celebrates after hitting a game-tying three-run homer against San Antonio on Saturday. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]
It stayed that way until the top of the 10th when reliever Taylor Rashi inherited placed runner Ray-Patrick Didder under extra-inning rules to start the 10th. Rashi didn’t give up a hit, but Didder moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Connor Hollis and scored on a sacrifice fly Robert Perez Jr. to make it 2-1. The Sod Poodles hit three groundouts in the bottom of the 10th to end the game.

That was the opposite of what happened the night before. The game was tied at 3-3 after nine thanks to a pair of three-run homers, as San Antonio’s Clay Dungan started the scoring in the third, and Ivan Melendez answered with a three-run blast to left to tie it in the seventh.

Melendez figured again with what happened in the 10th, only he was the placed runner to start the inning. It ended rather quickly, as A.J. Vukovich chopped a single over first base to bring home Melendez with the game-winning run, assuring the Sod Poodles would win the series.

Caleb Roberts of the Amarillo Sod Poodles was named Texas League Player of the Week. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]

Roberts wins TL Player of the Week

It could be argued that no Sod Poodle ended the first half of the season on a higher note than Caleb Roberts, who due to his efforts against the Missions, won the Texas League Player of the Week.

Roberts, a catcher-designated hitter, batted .391 for the week at Hodgetown with three homers and eight RBIs. He was hot at the plate from the get-got for the Soddies, as he had two hits, drove in two runs and scored two runs in the series opener.

In Wednesday’s 7-4 win, Roberts capped a five-run first inning with a two-run homer. That was just a warm-up for Friday’s 10-2 win, when Roberts went 3-for-4 with two homers and three RBIs. It was the fourth multi-homer game in 167 games in Amarillo for Roberts.

Giesting emerges as another arm

Left-hander Spencer Giesting has emerged as the latest pitching prospect for the parent club Arizona Diamondbacks who has come to Amarillo and not been intimidated by the hitter-friendly surroundings.

Giesting made his Double A debut Wednesday after getting called up from Class A Hillsboro and didn’t disappoint. While he had some control issues in the third inning and gave up a run in each of the first three innings, Giesting closed strong.

After giving up an RBI single in the third, Giesting settled in and retired 12 straight batters before Ripken Reyes reached on an error with two outs in the seventh. That led to an unearned run and got Giesting pulled, but not before he went 6 2/3 innings and gave up only five hits to earn the win in his Hodgetown debut.

“I didn’t have too much of an expectation, I definitely wanted to pound the strike zone and get ahead in the count and try to get outs that way,” Giesting said. “I would say that I did that in every inning except for the third. I’m happy with how that went.”

Giesting wasn’t overpowering, as he struck out five, including only one during his stretch of retiring 12 straight. He felt he didn’t have to be.

San Antonio’s Brandon Valenzuela led off the second with a long homer to left off Giesting, immediately teaching him the perils of Hodgetown.

“I was allowing my defense to make plays behind me and I trusted they were going to do that,” Giesting said. “I think there are balls which are going to get out of here which won’t get out of any other ballpark. I need to get ahead in the count and I think if I do that next time out here I’ll have success that way. If you don’t believe you belong here it’s going to be hard to have success and I definitely believe I belong here.”

Bogar said the bar was set high for Giesting upon his arrival in Amarillo.

“What he’d been doing down in A ball, he was better than that league obviously,” Bogar said. “He gets his chance to come up here and show his stuff and I liked his demeanor. He had a couple of rough spots those first three innings but he didn’t break. He went six innings and dominated those last three innings.”

Let’s do it again

The Sod Poodles will open the second half of the season at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday with a six-game series at Tulsa. That will mark 12 straight days of games with a schedule quirk to start July.

After the trip to Tulsa, the Soddies will return home for a rare Monday game against the Midland RockHounds. That will be the opener of a three-game series at Hodgetown, at the end of which, the two teams will head to Midland for three more games starting on July 4th.

The league will then take a two-day break before resuming action July 9.

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