The Amarillo Sod Poodles ended their 2022 Hodgetown season with a not-all-that-Hodgetown type of game Sunday afternoon.
But the result was nonetheless a great ending.
In a rare pitchers’ duel in the offense-friendly park, the Sod Poodles came within one out of a shutout to end their Hodgetown schedule and settled for a 3-1 win over the Arkansas Travelers. Coupled with a 7-6 win Saturday night, the Soddies earned a series split and kept alive their flickering playoff hopes in the Texas League South Division.
While the Sod Poodles might be a long shot to earn a playoff berth heading into their final series of the season at San Antonio starting Tuesday, they didn’t finish their home season looking like a team playing out the string. That was the best news for Soddies manager Shawn Roof.
“We split the series, but I thought our guys played a really good series all week long,” Roof said. “It’s a testament to those guys because that’s a really good team over there. We’re playing pretty good baseball, getting guys on base and pitching well.
“We can’t thank the Hodgetown fans enough. This is a great place to play, and we wanted to put on one more regular season show for them.”
Appropriately enough, it was a last chance for redemption at Hodgetown for right-hander Ross Carver, who has had his struggles since he was called up Class A Hillsboro in late July, especially pitching at Hodgetown. Carver entered his final home start of the season with an 0-2 record and 20.25 ERA.
In his final Amarillo appearance of 2022, though, Carver looked like a completely different pitcher. At one point, Carver retired 10 straight batters, and gave up three hits while striking out five in six shutout innings to earn his first Double-A victory.
“Ross has worked extremely hard since he’s been here,” Roof said. “He’s had some ups and he’s had some downs and a lot of conversations with Shane Loux our pitching coach working on some mechanics. I thought the biggest thing was he stayed within himself. He let the moment get too big and when he does that he’s a very good pitcher.
“When you move up a level to Double-A, you always think you have to do more. When you pitch in a ballpark like this you feel that you have to be perfect. If he allows himself to be good he has a chance to do some good things.”
Carver got all the support he needed (and all that he would get) when the Sod Poodles mounted a two-out rally against Arkansas starter Bryce Miller in the fourth.
Miller issued back-to-back walks to Blaze Alexander and Tristin English before A.J. Vukovich, in his first week with the team, singled to right to drive in a run. Tim Tawa then followed with a two-run single to right to make it 3-0, which proved the difference in the game.
After Carver left, it was up to the bullpen, which has been shaky at times this season, but which held on to close the series. Left-hander Jake Rice pitched a scoreless seventh, and right-hander Brent Teller did the same in the eighth.
Teller had a chance to preserve the shutout with two outs and runner on first in the ninth, but Arkansas avoided it when back-to-back singles by Kaden Polcovich and Matt Scheffler brought home Cade Marlowe. But Teller got Patrick Frick to pop up weakly to first base to earn his second save of the season.
Here are some of the more notable events from the last week for the Sod Poodles.
Comings and goings
The Sod Poodles lost their biggest stick to their parent club Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A affiliate Reno last week and had two new players come up to make their Hodgetown debuts.
Leandro Cedeno, who led the Soddies with 30 home runs and 93 RBIs, got called up to the Reno Aces before the Arkansas series started. Such events are gratifying for Roof when players move to the next level.
“Our number one goal is to get these guys ready for the next level and the big leagues,” Roof said. “There really aren’t any words to tell you when a guy makes his major league debut and does really, really well, like (2021 Sod Poodles pitcher) Ryne Nelson with seven shutout innings in his first outing and guys like Corbin Carroll and Stone Garrett go up.”
Vukovich made his debut with the Soddies playing the outfield and third base. His first big impact came in Saturday’s game when he got the Sod Poodles on the board with a three-run home run in the second inning, his first Double-A homer.
Also making his Soddies debut was infielder Deyvison De Los Santos. He had a pair of doubles in the series finale and caught the game’s final out at first base.
Blaze of glory
Second baseman Alexander was out for over three weeks with a hand injury before he returned to the club Aug. 9, and he’s had a knack for coming to the plate in key situations. Since returning, he’s made the most of them.
In Saturday’s game, Alexander twice came up in the final three innings with the bases loaded. Alexander drew a walk in the seventh to bring home Jordan Lawlar and tie the game.
It was an almost identical situation with the sacks juiced again with one out. Alexander singled to right-center off Arkansas reliever Dayeison Arias to bring home Lawlar with the winning.
For Alexander, the idea is almost literally to take the pitcher to the mat.
“I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid and it’s about competing,” Alexander said. “I wrestled and it’s a one-on-one sport. It’s about getting in the box and looking at the pitcher and knowing you’re better than him. Every time you’re in the box facing a pitcher it’s a battle, and you’ve got to have the dog in you to win that fight.”
Alexander was out with a bone contusion in his wrist and that could have permanently derailed his season. Instead, he came out stronger.
“The staff in Arizona took care of me real well,” Alexander said. “All the trainers out there got me healthy and got me back out here. I watched all the games when I was injured wishing I was back here. Shawn Roof got me back in the infield with a bunch of drill work. I knew coming back here I was in good hands.”
Tops in the league
After Sunday’s game, which drew 4,890 fans, the Sod Poodles finished the season with total season attendance of 379,308 fans, which leads the Texas League. This would be the second straight season they’ve led the league in attendance, and greatly exceeds last year’s total of 316,000 fans.