Lofgren strikes out 10 Hillcats in Kinston’s 3-1 win
The fastball zipped with precision, the curveball broke hard and the changeup could come at any time.
For six innings, it almost wasn’t fair.
Kinston left-hander Chuck Lofgren racked up a career-high 10 strikeouts and combined with a trio of relievers to six-hit the Lynchburg Hillcats in a 3-1 win at Grainger Stadium on Thursday.
With the victory, Lofgren (14-5) moved into a tie for the minor league lead in wins and is now one shy of the modern-day club record of 15 victories.
Lofgren, a 20-year-old fourth-round draft pick out of Junipero Serra (Calif.) High School in 2004, breezed through Lynchburg’s lineup with seven strikeouts through the first four innings, including the first four batters he faced. With his complete arsenal working, including a mid-90s fastball, Lofgren was nearly unhittable until the Hillcats got to him for a run in the fifth.
The strikeouts, he said, just came.
“It surprised me because I came out there just wanting to get ground balls,” Lofgren, who allowed three hits and walked two, said. “I wanted to go deep into the game. But when you sit back and just trust your stuff, you get strikeouts when you’re not trying to strike someone out — when you’re just fluid with your motions.”
Kinston manager Mike Sarbaugh said of his southpaw: “He had good command of all three pitches, and when he has that going, it’s going to be a good night for him.”
Javi Herrera and Argenis Reyes went 2-for-4 for the Indians (22-18 second half, 69-41 overall), who finished with nine hits.
Steven Pearce and Antonio Sucre had two hits each for Lynchburg (12-26, 36-62).
Kinston’s Michael Finnocchi pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, Mariano Gomez retired the only batter he faced in the eighth and closer T.J. Burton pitched a four-batter ninth to earn his 17th save.
Hillcats starter Derek Hankins (3-10) allowed three runs, including two earned, on eight hits in six innings.
The Indians scored twice in the first on RBI singles by Stephen Head and Rodney Choy Foo to take a 2-0 lead. After Lofgren surrendered an RBI double to Sucre in the fifth, Kinston answered with an insurance run in the bottom half with help from a strange play.
The speedy Reyes led off with a slow roller between first and second, where Pearce, the Hillcats first baseman, ran toward the ball but let it go, apparently thinking he had backup. But second baseman Dan Schwartzbauer was covering first, and the ball trickled to the edge of the outfield grass while Reyes zoomed safely into second with a rare infield double.
“You just can’t make those type of mistakes against good teams, and these guys are a good team,” said Lynchburg manager Gary Green, who called the play a “miscommunication.”
Lofgren, though, was right in tune with Herrera, his catcher, working the corners at will with varying speeds. The plan of attack was no surprise to Lynchburg catcher Neil Walker, who played with Lofgren on the U.S. Junior National Team and has been friends with him for about four years.
“We know that’s what he’s going to try to get us out with — get ahead with his fastball and get us out with his curveball,” Walker said. “He did a good job of it tonight.”
It was a familiar feeling for Green, whose club has struggled defensively in a tough second half and seen plenty of close losses.
“It’s not that we’re getting blown out,” Green said. “We’re just making enough mistakes — whether it’s defensively, on the mound, or we’re not getting a bunt down or we’re missing a sign — and it’s costing us.”
Brian Slocum won 15 games for the K-Tribe in 2004. The franchise record for victories is 19, set by Frank Bork in 1962 for the Kinston Eagles.
Lofgren, an affable, well-spoken San Francisco-area native, said the records don’t matter to him.
“I just want to come out every fifth day and give my team a chance to win the ballgame,” Lofgren said. “That’s what really matters. If I get the win, great. If I don’t, I just want to keep the team in it long enough to try and get a ‘W.’ ”
BUNTS: Kinston’s Micah Schilling went 0-for-3 to snap a 10-game hitting streak but reached base with a second-inning walk. ... Sucre hit a double in the ninth that appeared to hit the wall and was originally ruled a solo homer, but he was sent back to second after rounding the bases. ... Lofgren lowered his ERA to 2.17.