Barons Even Series With Win Over Blue Wahoos

May 10, 2017

The night after the Pensacola Blue Wahoos lineup broke out of its season-long hitting woes with six runs and 11 hits, they faced Birmingham Barons ace Michael Kopech.

Pensacola managed two hits off Kopech in six innings Tuesday and lost, 4-1, in front of 3,302 at Blue Wahoos Stadium. The five-game series is now tied, 1-1.

Blue Wahoos reliever Domingo Tapia made his first start Tapia since 2014 with the St. Lucie Mets. He was being groomed as a starter but then had Tommy John surgery in 2015.

He kept pace with Barons’ right-hander Kopech, considered the No. 32-ranked prospect in all of minor league baseball. Tapia allowed just one run through the first four innings, giving up a solo blast to Birmingham center fielder Hunter Jones in the third inning.

Tapia was relieved in the fifth inning after giving up a lead-off solo shot to Birmingham third baseman Trey Michalczewski, his second homer of the season, and then walking Barons left fielder Courtney Hawkins.

“I thought he looked good,” Kelly said. “We tried to stretch him one more inning. He’s shown he’s capable of doing it. That’s what he did before hurting his arm, so he probably likes it.”

Tapia, who signed with Cincinnati Reds as a minor league free agent in November, ended up working four innings, allowing three hits, giving up three runs, walking one and striking out five. He is now 1-2 on the season with a 3.79 ERA.

Pensacola reliever Alex Powers came in for Tapia and gave up a double to Barons shortstop Eddy Alvarez that scored Hawkins. Jones then crossed the plate on second baseman Jake Peter’s high-arcing sacrifice fly to center field to put the Barons ahead, 4-0.

Kopech pitched masterfully for the Barons. The former first rounder had a one-hitter through five innings, retiring 14 of the first 16 batters he faced. Pensacola right fielder Gabriel Guerrero broke up the no-hitter in the fourth inning with a line drive single to center field.

Pensacola catcher Adrian Nieto launched a deep homer to right field to lead off the sixth inning against Kopech and put the Blue Wahoos on the board, 4-1.

But the 21-year-old Kopech, ranked the fifth top prospect in the Chicago White Sox organization, then walked Pensacola center fielder Brian O’Grady. But he got Blue Wahoos left fielder Tyler Goeddel to ground into a double play, and then retired Pensacola shortstop Blake Trahan on a swinging bunt fielded by the catcher.

Nieto’s first homer of the season was preceded Monday by catcher Joe Hudson leading the Blue Wahoos at the plate with two clutch two-out singles that drove in three runs.

“They had a tough stretch with(Devin) Mesoraco here,” said Kelly about the Cincinnati Reds catcher who spent the first 20 games in Pensacola doing his rehab for hip and shoulder injuries. “They were not getting a lot of playing time. Now, they are starting to swing their bats.”

Kelly said Kopech kept the Blue Wahoos lineup off balance with his two-seam fastball.

“That’s a power arm,” Kelly said. “He threw a two-seam fastball with some movement that we hadn’t seen in the past. It was very effective. We just ran into a good pitcher.”

This season, the 21-year-old righty has held opponents to a .155 batting average and held Pensacola to 2-18 or .111. Kopech’s only flaw has been his control. He allowed only two Tuesday, but has the second most walks in the Southern League with 18 total. Kopech improved to 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA this season.

Pensacola dropped to 16-16 and fell out of first place in the South Division for the first time this season. The Mississippi Braves won and now lead the division with a 17-15 record.

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