Even though they had already clinched a Texas League playoff spot, the Amarillo Sod Poodles didn’t seem too interested In resting on their laurels this past week.
In their final game of the regular season at Hodgetown on Sunday, the Sod Poodles clinched a series victory over the Frisco RoughRIders with a performance which fairly epitomized their play during the second half of the season. They had a five-run sixth inning as their bullpen held things down in the middle innings to lay the foundation for an 11-5 victory which gives them some momentum heading into next week’s playoffs.
The Sod Poodles, who won the second half championship of the Texas League South division, will host TL South first-half champion San Antonio in the first game of a best-of-three series Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. in Hodgetown before the series moves to San Antonio.
With Sunday’s win, the Sod Poodles (77-61 overall, 42-26 in the TL second half) won the series over Frisco (64-73, 33-36) 4-2, sending notice to the other playoff teams that they’ll have to bring their A game to win.
“Obviously guys are feeling good about themselves confidence-wise going into Tuesday, but the biggest thing is we’re healthy and that’s all we could ask for,” Sod Poodles manager Shawn Roof said. “You want to have good at-bats and throw well on the mound, but you want to go into Tuesday healthy and give yourself the best chance possible.”
That’s to say, the Sod Poodles didn’t get further banged up against Frisco and are making do with what they have. Neither of their top two right-handed starters on the season, Jamison Hill or Luke Albright, were available against Frisco due to injury and they weren’t listed on the active roster.
Likewise, slugging Ivan Melendez went on the injured list during the previous series in Arkansas and also was unavailable. Melendez has tendonitis in his left ankle, and according to Josh Barfield, director of player development for the Sod Poodles parent club Arizona Diamondbacks, Melendez won’t be back this season.
Roof didn’t want to address these injuries or what the makeup of the Soddies roster for the playoffs will look like. And who could blame him for taking such an optimistic approach?
Aside from a 10-1 loss the night after they clinched the second-half title, the Sod Poodles got solid pitching from both their starters and relievers. Dylan Ray got his first Double-A victory by throwing five shutout innings in Tuesday’s 2-1 clincher, and Yilber Diaz, another recent addition, threw six solid innings in Saturday’s 5-4 loss.
“The biggest thing is we want our guys to attack the zone, throw strikes and execute,” Roof said. “We’re definitely excited with them going in with some confidence in the playoffs.”
Sunday was a bullpen day, with relievers scheduled to throw two innings each, and the Soddies used it effectively. Carlos Meza, Michel Otanez and Dillon Larsen combined to retire 12 straight RoughRiders in the middle innings until the offense got untracked.
With the score tied 3-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth, the Sod Poodles got six hits off Frisco starter Nick Krauth to knock him out of the game. A.J. Vukovich’s two-run single got it started and Kristian Robinson’s three-run home run to right-center finished it as the Sod Poodles took a 9-3 lead.
Robinson makes big first impression
When the Sod Poodles opened the series Tuesday night with a chance to clinch, there was a new face in the lineup, as left fielder Robinson was called up from Hillsboro and hit eighth in the lineup. Robinson’s first at-bat was inauspicious, as he struck out looking against Noah Bremer on three pitches.
With one out and Deyvison De Los Santos on second base, Robinson got another crack at Bremer. Robinson hammered Bremer’s first pitch to the gap in right-center to put the Soddies on the board. He later scored on Robinson’s single to center for what proved to be the winning run.
Robinson wasn’t finished for the week, though. He hit his first Double-A homer, a two-run opposite field shot to right on Saturday, before he homered Sunday.
“I think it did help coming up to a group of guys who are established,” Robinson said. “I could definitely sense a different energy in the clubhouse. Right away from Tuesday night the attitude was let’s clinch a playoff spot and celebrate, but let’s focus on the main goal, which is win it all.”
Like so many players who have come to Amarillo from Hillsboro, Robinson quickly saw the benefits from hitting in Hodgetown.
“Everyone has told me this is a great hitters park and I’ve seen it with the wind carrying it out early,” Robinson said. “Just seeing how the ball flies any hitter would feel friendly toward this park with that short porch in left field.”
Vukovich comes back with milestone
Before the Sod Poodles clinched the second-half division crown on the first night of their last home series of the regular season, A.J. Vukovich was already in the franchise record book.
Vukovich, who has been with the club since the beginning of the season, broke the franchise record for single-season RBIs when he drove in two runs in game five of the Sod Poodles series at Arkansas, giving him 95 RBIs for the season. He was also named Texas League Player of the Week for his series in Arkansas, as he hit .429 with two home runs and five RBIs for the week.
“It’s definitely really cool although you don’t think about stuff like that,” said Vukovich of the franchise record. “The only reason I knew where I was at was because the twins (Sod Poodles radio announcers Chris and Stefan Carey) were hounding me about where I was at. The Sod Poodles haven’t been a team for too long but there’s been a lot of guys who’ve been here for a while that made it to the big leagues and with something like that it’s a really cool feeling.”