Stewart And Steady Hitting Lead Blue Wahoos To 4-1 Friday Win

June 5, 2021

The Blue Wahoos completed the first month of their season Friday night in the same way it started.

Strong starting pitching. Flawless performance by the bullpen. Mixed together with a couple big swings and defensive plays.

The summation was another win, this one a 4-1 victory against the Mississippi Braves that evened the series (2-2) and gave a capacity crowd (5,038) at Blue Wahoos Stadium a familiar look.

“It has been apparent all year that our pitching has been dominant — from the starters to the bullpen — and I think that’s been the main thing that has kept us in every single game,” said Blue Wahoos catcher Nick Fortes, who went 2-for-4 with a triple and made the game’s biggest defensive play with a perfect throw to catch the M-Braves’ Riley Unroe stealing third in the third inning.

“We kinda started out a little slow at the beginning of the year with the bats,” Fortes said. “But I feel that everybody is starting to hit their stride a little bit and making things move a little bit more crisply out there.”

The Blue Wahoos (17-11) began their season — and new affiliation with the Miami Marlins — on May 4 with a win against the M-Braves.

Since then, it’s been a consistent element with the pitching staff in each win. Friday was lefthander Will Stewart’s turn to shine.

The 23-year-old, Huntsville, Alabama native worked six innings and threw a season-high 92 pitches with six strikeouts, one walk and one run allowed.

“Honestly, it all started with my mindset,” said Stewart, who earned his first win as a Blue Wahoos starting pitcher.  “I think earlier in the month, I came out and there was a lot of doubt in my mind.

“I didn’t have as much confidence as I do now. It took me really finding a routine and getting into what works for me instead of trying to emulate things here and things there.”

Reliever Tyler Stevens followed by striking out four of the six batters he faced. Colton Hock followed in the ninth by earning his seventh save to become the Double-A South leader.

The Blue Wahoos lead the Double-A South in team pitching (3.39 ERA) and in team relief.

After dropping back-to-back mid-week games to the M-Braves, the Blue Wahoos flipped the script Friday. They got a first-inning lead when Peyton Burdick worked a walk, Jerar Encarnacion followed with a single and JJ Bleday continued his hot bat with an RBI single.

In the fifth inning, Encarnacion blasted a two-run homer into the right field berm off a fastball from M-Braves’ reliever Chris Nunn. This one exited at 101 mph off his bat and the ball seemed to further accelerate as it was leaving the ballpark.

The Blue Wahoos added another run in the sixth inning after Fortes led off with a single and scored on Tristan Pompey’s single.

The game’s key moment occurred after Stewart yielded three singles to start the third inning. With a run in, Unroe got a jump to steal third. But Fortes’ throw was perfect to have Blue Wahoos’ third baseman Demetrius Sims apply the tag a split-second before Unroe’s headfirst slide reached base.

“Oh my gosh, if we don’t throw that guy out there, they’ve got runners on first and third with one out and I am notoriously getting in that situation,” Stewart said. “For (Fortes) to take that away and me not have to deal with that, you can’t ask for anything more.

“It was big. I think if we don’t have that throwout there, I probably don’t go six innings.”

Instead it worked out well for him.

The first 2,000 fans entering the ballpark Friday night received a power-blue beach mat, courtesy of game sponsor, Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, Ala.

The final two games of this series are Saturday and Sunday with the Blue Wahoos throwing their top two pitchers, Max Meyer and Jake Eder, for the first time on a weekend.

by Bill Vilona, Blue Wahoos senior writer

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