Blue Wahoos Fall 2-1 to Smokies
Leading up to Saturday's start, pitcher Jorge Alcala met a couple times with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos coaching staff about regaining past form.
"A lot of it was the mental side of things," said manager Ramon Borrego. "His velo (velocity) wasn't the same. He wasn't trusting his pitches."
The pep talk led into a performance upgrade, after Alcala had his best outing in a month, but absorbed a hard-luck 2-1 loss against the Tennessee Smokies before a sellout crowd of 5,038 at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
The Smokies (32-36) the Chicago Cubs affiliate, evened the series at 2-2 heading into the deciding, series finale Sunday on Father's Day, which also concludes the Southern League first half schedule. All four games in this series have been decided by one run.
"The good thing is that those guys (Blue Wahoos players) really competed," Borrego said. "Unfortunately we didn't had the offense to have any big rally, but this is the game."
Alcala, 23, a top 20 overall prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization, allowed just three hits and struck out five, while working into the sixth inning. It was a far different outing than six days earlier in Biloxi when Alcala was lifted after allowing five runs in three innings.
Saturday night at home, Alcala looked like he did in the first three weeks of May when he allowed just five earned runs in four starts. Since the rough outing against the Shuckers, pitching coaches Cibney Bello and Justin Willard worked with Alcala on throwing a harder slider.
"His slider (Saturday) was thrown with more velo (velocity) and that was more effective for him," Borrego said. "You can see he was more aggressive. He was attacking with the fastball. The (velocity) with his fastball was 94 to 97 (mph).
"We wanted him to throw it a little harder, so it can be more effective."
Unfortunately for Alcala, the Blue Wahoos were unable to provide run support. They got three of their six hits in the game during the third inning. Taylor Grzelakowski led off with a double off the left field fence padding, then scored on Jaylin Davis' one out double.
The Smokies got their first run in the fourth inning, the only time Alcala struggled. He gave up a leadoff walk, then a single to put runners on second and third after a failed attempt to get Robert Caro out at third base.
The run scored on a ground out.
In the sixth inning, the Shuckers took the lead on Robert Caro's leadoff single, then a walk to put runners on first and second. P.J. Higgins' one out single score Caro for a go-ahead run that held up.
The Blue Wahoos had only one base runner in the final three innings and that was on a walk. In the ninth inning, as rally music blared and fans became energized, leadoff batter Randy Cesar scorched a ground ball deep at shortstop, but the throw from Gioskar Amaya beat him to the bag at first base.
With two out, Caleb Hamilton hit a deep fly near the warning track in left field. It was caught by left fielder Ian Rise to end the game. Some nights, Hamilton's fly ball carries over the fence.
"When I see that ball hit, I said, 'Let me check the wind. Normally, that ball keeps going," Borrego said.
Following Sunday's game the Southern League teams will take a three day break for the all-start game. It will be held Tuesday night at MGM Park in Biloxi, Miss., hosted by the South Division first-half champion Shuckers, the Milwaukee Brewers affiliate.
When the season resumes June 20, the standings are reset and everybody starts anew.
"Right now, this is the way we are going to pitch for the second half," said Borrego, referring to his rotation. "We are going to add offensively. The bullpen is fresh now, they will have three days off (beginning Monday). We should be strong in the second half."
For that to happen, Alcala will need to factor into the starting pitching success.
Fans attending Saturday's game were handed free, Blue Wahoos decorated mini-bats, courtesy of game sponsor Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze.
It was the inaugural Andrews Institute Total Joint Reunion Night. Physicians and staff in a group of 280 with the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine gathered before the game at the Hancock Whitney Club overlooking the field.
Andrews Institute also sponsored the post-game fireworks display.
It was also Girl Scouts Night for area members. Approximately 100 Girl Scouts troop members paraded on the field before the game. Following the fireworks display, they had a sleepover night on the field at the stadium. The new movie, "Mary Poppins Returns" was shown on the main video board.
Pensacola State College president Ed Meadows, along with athletic director Bill Hamilton, both threw out a first pitch and helped recognize another game sponsor, Select Physical Therapy.
Earlier Saturday, 11 Blue Wahoos players participated in two separate youth baseball clinics. Seven were on the field Saturday morning for the annual Chevrolet Youth Clinic. Another four traveled to Atmore, Ala. where host Wind Creek Casino-Atmore held a clinic.
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