It may or may not have been the most unusual or quirkiest series of the season for the Amarillo Sod Poodles last week at Hodgetown.
But it was certainly the most successful.
It didn’t matter Sunday afternoon that the Sod Poodles dropped the final game of their series to the Springfield Cardinals 6-5. They had already won four of their previous five games over Springfield during the homestand to guarantee that they would get their first win of the season in a six-game series.
Prior to Sunday’s loss, the Sod Poodles (23-28) had won six of their previous seven games, giving the fans who came out to Hodgetown last week plenty to cheer about as they returned home after a two-week road trip. With a series coming up starting Tuesday at Midland than one against San Antonio back in town the next week, the Soddies have a chance to make a statement against those two teams sitting ahead of them at the top of the Texas League South standings.
“The boys showed great energy and they compete well,” said Javier Colina, who served as Sod Poodles manager last week after Shawn Roof took a mental health leave for a week which is mandated by the parent club Arizona Diamondbacks for all minor league managers during the season. “We played good baseball, but we made a couple of mistakes, and we learn from the mistakes. We played great defense the first four games and pitched well. I hope when we go on the road to Midland we can deliver.”
The Soddies built some momentum before they even got back to Hodgetown last Tuesday, as they won the final two games of their series at San Antonio after losing their first four. They won the first three games of their series against Springfield (23-28) to extend their winning streak to a season-high five games.
Things opened in rather conventional fashion at Hodgetown, as the Sod Poodles rolled to a 7-1 victory to continue their win streak. Jeff Bain, who was moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation a couple of weeks ago, threw five innings to pick up the win.
With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Adrian Del Castillo gave the Sod Poodles the lead for good with a solo homer to lead off the inning. They added some insurance with five runs in the seventh.
That was the first of five solid starting pitching performances in six outings for the Sod Poodles, as the starters kept them in every game on the mound.
“Our pitching coach Tom (Gorzellany) has been preaching attack and they’ve been throwing strikes,” Colina said. “They work ahead in the counts and can execute the secondary pitch, you can see our starters have been getting a little deeper into the game. In the past the bullpen has been a little bit tired because the starters have been a little bit inconsistent. They’re trusting themselves a little bit more.”
The only time the Soddies starters got rocked a little bit was in the second game of the series, a 13-8 win. That was the lurch toward the unconventional in the series, as that game started Wednesday, but was interrupted by rain and continued Thursday, when the Sod Poodles came from behind to win.
After that, only one of the games went the full nine innings as scheduled, Sunday’s finale. Thursday’s second game, the regularly scheduled game, was shortened to seven innings due to the completion of Wednesday’s game.
The excessive wetness of Friday’s rains made the field unplayable, and the two teams never even took the field. That meant a Saturday doubleheader which included two seven-inning games.
Bain of hitters’ existence
If there was a pitching star in the series for the Soddies, it was Bain. He opened the series by pitching five solid innings to pick up his first win of the season.
Bain got his second start on Sunday to close the series and started off far shakier, allowing four straight hits to start the game as the Sod Poodles fell behind 2-0. But Bain didn’t give up anything after that until Pedro Pages blasted a solo homer to left in the sixth, and Bain left the game with a 5-3 lead which the bullpen couldn’t hold.
“He’s a veteran guy who knows how to pitch,” Colina said of Bain. “I’m so happy for him. He’s been such an efficient pitcher as a starter lately. He threw an amazing game and I feel bad for him because he deserved a win. He’s always energetic in the clubhouse and I’m so happy for him with the way he’s been throwing the ball.”
The big difference between Bain and the bullpen on Sunday was control. Bain didn’t walk anybody in six innings, while in three innings, Christian Montes De Oca, Andrew Saalfrank and Conor Grammes combined to walk seven and each gave up a run. Springfield’s Chandler Redmond singled through the left side off Grammes with two outs in the top of the ninth to bring home what proved to be the winning run.
Filling in for a week
Roof returned home to his family in Pennsylvania for a week in a move which most organizations recommend for minor league managers, which allowed Colina to pilot the Sod Poodles for a week. Colina knew about it for a few weeks and thinks the week off will benefit Roof and the team.
“It’s a special time for (Roof) to go back and be with his kids and wife,” Colina said. “This is professional baseball, and we know what to do. We don’t get credit, we just want the players to do well.”
Colina said he and Roof were in contact during the week and that Roof will return to leading the team Tuesday in Midland. It wasn’t the first time Colina had been in charge in the dugout, as he has managed the Diamondbacks Class A teams in Visalia, Calif. and Hillsboro, Ore.
Bliss Wins Second Texas League Player of the Month Honors
On Monday, it was announced by Minor League Baseball that Sod Poodles second baseman Ryan Bliss was named Texas League Player of the Month.
In May, Bliss, the Arizona Diamondbacks No. 29 rated prospect, ranked second in the league in average, hitting .361 (35-for-97) with six doubles, a triple, five home runs, and 13 RBI in 23 games played. His 35 hits were tied for most in the Texas League, while leading in SLG (.598), OPS (1.002), and total bases (58). His 21 runs scored were third-most in the league, he was tied for the fourth-most XBH, and his .404 OBP was the sixth-best during the month.
Seven was the magic number for the Sod Poodles on Thursday. In the continuation of Wednesday’s interrupted game, they rallied from a three-run deficit with seven runs in the bottom of the seventh as Jordan Lawlar and Del Castillo both hit two-run homers to spark the comeback.
The next game was scheduled for seven innings and was a tense pitchers’ duel. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh again, the Sod Poodles came up big, as Camden Duzenack’s bases-loaded single to left brought home Caleb Roberts and Roby Endriquez for a walk-off 3-2 victory.