Aviators Return from All-Star Break, Crush Salt Lake 13-3
After grinding through 90 games during the season's first three months, the Aviators didn't just embrace this week's three-day All-Star break, they gave it a massive bear hug. Of course, once the break ends, you never really know if the players will return to the field refreshed and energetic or unmotivated and lethargic.
Clearly, the disposition of this Aviators team was much more the former than the latter.
Las Vegas returned to the field Thursday with a vengeance, smacking six home runs and getting outstanding pitching en route to a 13-3 rout of the Salt Lake Bees before a sold-out crowd of 9,538 at Las Vegas Ballpark.
Infielders Corban Joseph and Eric Campbell each went deep twice and each drove in four runs, while Tanner Anderson and two relief pitchers kept the Bees' bats in check as the Aviators (51-39) won their fifth straight home game, improved to 11-4 in their last 15 overall and moved to a season-high 13 games over .500. Coupled with El Paso's 9-8 loss at Albuquerque, Las Vegas once again pulled within 3½ games of first place in the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Southern division.
The Aviators showed they were ready to play from the start, jumping on Salt Lake starting pitcher JC Ramirez (1-2) for three first-inning runs. Four of the first five batters recorded hits, with Joseph (two-run shot) and Seth Brown (solo) delivering back-to-back, line-drive home runs over the right-field wall.
The Bees (39-51) trimmed the deficit to 3-2 courtesy of a second-inning sacrifice fly and Jose Rojas' solo home run in the third. But Campbell made sure that was as close as Salt Lake would get, blasting home runs in consecutive at-bats. The veteran third baseman led off the fourth inning with a solo shot over the left-field wall, then with one out in the fifth, he followed consecutive singles by Brown and Sheldon Neuse with a three-run bomb to left-center.
One inning later, Joseph matched Campbell with his second homer of the game, crushing another two-run shot, this one landing on the The Hangar Bar roof in right-center field to boost the lead to 9-3. The Aviators continued their assault in seventh, scoring four more times - all with two outs - with Dustin Fowler delivering the knockout blow, a three-run homer to dead center field.
Making his first start in Las Vegas since June 4, Anderson (5-4) took full advantage of the offensive support, yielding three runs (two earned) on five hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander, who made his previous five starts for the Oakland A's, struck out three while throwing 55 of his 87 pitches for strikes. After Anderson departed, relievers Ben Bracewell and Kyle Lobstein took over and dominated Salt Lake, combining to allow just one hit and one walk while striking out five over 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
Just how thorough was this victory for the Aviators? Their first five hitters (Nick Martini, Fowler, Joseph, Brown and Neuse) each had two hits, they outhit Salt Lake 15-6 overall, scored at least one run in five of the first seven innings and held the Bees hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
In other words, while one team was ready to roll after the All-Star break, the other one most certainly was not.
GAME NOTES: Campbell and Skye Bolt also had two hits ... In going 2-for-4 with a walk, Joseph raised his PCL-best batting average to .396. Since June 1, the 30-year-old has hit safely in 26 of the 28 games he's played, going 50-for-103 (.485) with 13 doubles, two triples, four homers, 26 RBI and 28 runs. During that stretch, he has nearly twice as many multi-hit games (14) and strikeouts (eight). ... Brown's first-inning home run was his team-leading 19th of the season. The Aviators now have eight players with 10 or more homers. ... The sellout was the 33rd in 46 games at Las Vegas Ballpark.
MATEO SHINES AS ALL-STAR: Aviators shortstop Jorge Mateo was given the night off Thursday, and for good reason. The 24-year-old was in El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday, helping the PCL to a 9-3 victory over the International League in the Triple-A All-Star game. Mateo started at shortstop and played five innings, going 2-for-3 with an infield RBI single and a run-scoring triple.
That followed Mateo's appearance in Sunday's Futures Game in Cleveland, where he went 1-for-2. Mateo entered the All-Star break tied for the team lead with Dustin Fowler and Sheldon Neuse in games played (82), and tied for the PCL lead in hits (116).
TRANSACTION ACTION: Oakland A's right-handed pitcher Jharel Cotton, who is working his way back from elbow and hamstring injuries, joined the Aviators on a rehab assignment Thursday. Las Vegas manager Fran Riordan said Cotton is slated to pitch out of the bullpen Saturday. The 27-year-old, who had Tommy John surgery in March 2018, made his first rehab start Tuesday for Class-A Stockton and allowed a run on a hit and a walk in two innings. He threw 31 of 50 pitches for strikes.
In other roster news, the A's recalled Aviators relief pitcher J.B. Wendelken on Saturday and returned pitcher Paul Blackburn to Las Vegas. Blackburn was promoted Friday in case Oakland needed an emergency pitcher in Saturday's game at Seattle, but the right-hander wasn't needed. He rejoined the Aviators in Albuquerque and pitched seven innings of relief on Sunday, giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
Also, when Blackburn was called up to Oakland, right-handed pitcher James Naile was promoted from Double-A Midland to Las Vegas. Naile, who pitched the Aviators to a 16-3 victory over the Isotopes on July 5, will remain with Las Vegas and take the roster spot of Norge Ruiz, who was sent to Midland.
ON DECK: The Aviators and Bees resume their four-game series at Las Vegas Ballpark at 7:05 p.m. Friday. Las Vegas will hand the ball to right-hander Jake Buchanan (3-5, 5.63 ERA), while Salt Lake is slated to go with southpaw Patrick Sandoval (3-4, 7.40). The first 2,000 fans to enter the stadium will receive an Aviators travel neck pillow, courtesy of Hanratty Law Group.
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