It’s supposed to be difficult to win without hitting the baseball. But for the West Virginia Miners, it’s becoming almost routine.
Statistically the Prospect League’s worst hitting team — with a .212 average on the season — the Miners won their sixth straight game and 10th in the last 12 Friday night, improving to 15-12 with a 3-1 victory over the Richmond RiverRats. The win completed a three-game sweep for the Miners, who are 5-0 against the Richmond club this season.
“I don’t know if you ever get used to it,” said Miners manager Tim Epling. “But it’s a lot more fun to win than it is to lose, I can tell you that.”
What’s the formula for winning with so little offense? For the Miners Friday, it was all about pitching and defense.
After giving up a triple off the bat of Michael Paez to start the game — eventually leading to a run when Brendon Neel hit a sacrifice fly to center field to bring Paez to the plate —West Virginia starter Cody Smith fell into a groove, going 6 2-3 innings and allowing only that one run on four hits and two walks. He struck out just one but let his defense do the work behind him in improving to 3-0 on the year with a 0.96 earned run average.
“Cody didn’t have his good stuff,” said Epling. “But he still battled and kept it close. He really pitched well, given the circumstances.”
Smith ran into a little trouble in the sixth when Will Farmer singled to right field to start the inning and soon stole second. Neel then drew a walk, and when ball four got away from Miners catcher Read Brown, Farmer took third, putting runners at the corners with only one out and the RiverRats No. 3 hitter, Justin Paulsen, at the dish.
Smith went to a full count on the Richmond hitter, but responded by blowing a fastball by him for a strikeout as Neel tried to take second. Brown’s laser to the bag was on the mark, and the unconventional double play ended the RiverRats’ only real threat of the night.
“There are different times in a game where momentum can go in your favor or the other team’s favor,” said Epling. “I think that was the one play that relaxed everything and was the difference maker for us.”
Trevor Conn came on in relief with two outs in the seventh and ended up pitching 2 1-3 without allowing a hit for his first save of the season.
Offensively, the Miners got just enough.
David Martinelli accounted for the first run in the opening frame when he bounced a ball off the top of the wall in right-center for a game-tying homer. He later scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fourth, reaching on a walk and scoring on a Zach Woolcock double that bounced off the base of the wall in right-center.
The Miners then found some insurance in the sixth, when Woolcock reached on a walk and eventually came around to score on a Rob Youngblood single through the middle.
That was all they needed as third baseman Mike Brosseau and shortstop Grant Massey put on a clinic, scooping up everything that was hit to the left side.
“Our pitchers know they can afford to throw the ball across the plate,” said Epling. “The other teams will have to earn everything they get.”
Brosseau finished the game 2 for 4, while Youngblood, the designated hitter, was 2 for 3 with an RBI. Martinelli had two hits in three at-bats, with two runs and an RBI.
No RiverRat had more than one hit.
Richmond (10-15) will be home against Chillicothe today, while the Miners will host Butler at 7:05 p.m. Seth Noreman is scheduled to pitch for West Virginia.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
West Virginia MIners 3, Richmond RiverRats 1
RR: 100 000 000 — 1 4 0
WVM: 100 101 00x — 3 6 0
RR: Bowie Matteson, Matt Brankle (7) and Zach Fairchild, H: Cody Smith, Trevor Conn (7) and Read Brown. WP — Smith (3-0). LP — Matteson (0-2). S — Conn (1) Hitting — RR: Michael Paez 1-3 (r, 3b), Justin Paulsen 1-4, Brendan Flood 1-4, Will Farmer 1-3, WVM: David Martinelli 1-3 (2 r, rbi, HR), Zach Woolcock 1-3 (r, rbi, 2b), Mike Brosseau 2-4, Rob Youngblood 2-3 (rbi).
Records: West Virginia Miners (15-12); Richmond RiverRats (10-15)