This is what happens when you’re always playing from behind.
Small mistakes lead to small deficits. Large deficits become insurmountable margins. And large deficits sometimes can balloon quickly into full-scale blowouts. The latter is what happened Wednesday afternoon to the scuffling Wild Things. The Florence Freedom turned a four-run lead into a 17-3 thumping by batting around in two of the last three innings.
The loss was the fifth in a row for Washington (2-9), which is still winless at home. In four games at Wild Things Park, Washington has led at the end of only two innings.
“We’re in one of those ruts where everything gets magnified,” Washington manager Gregg Langbehn said. “We’re not striking out as much as in past years, but we’re not hitting and we’re giving up way too many runs. We’re playing uphill all the time.”
Washington pitchers combined to walk 13 batters and hit another one. Ten of the walks came in over the final three innings, when Florence scored 13 runs.
Things got so bad for Washington that left fielder Mick Fennell was brought in to pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. If you’re looking for positives for from the Wild Things here’s some: Fennell did not allow a run, retiring three of the five batters he faced. His second pitch registered 90 mph on the radar gun, as did a pitch later in the inning.
Fennell was a starting pitcher and outfielder at California University for four years. He was drafted as an outfielder by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. Fennell pitched one inning in the Cardinals’ system in 2017 and faced one batter last year with the Wild Things.
“I pitch well on one year’s rest,” Fennell quipped. “All I threw were fastballs. I was just trying to fill up the strike zone.”
That’s something Washington pitchers didn’t do enough of against Florence. Of the 13 walks and one hit batsman, eight of those came around to score.
In the top of the first inning, Washington starter Michael Austin (1-1) walked Ricky Ramirez and Andre Mecurio followed with a two-run homer.
“For me, it all started in the first inning,” Langbehn said. “Austin gets the first two outs on seven pitches, then walks Ramirez. The next guy hits a home run and we’re playing from behind again.
“Ultimately, when you walk and hit as many as we did, and you don’t pitch to contact, your success is going to be limited at best.”
Austin kept Washington within striking distance, leaving with a 5-1 deficit after six innings. The Wild Things’ hitters, however, just couldn’t do anything against Florence starter Mike Castellani (2-0). Castellani pitched eight strong innings, allowing four hits and two unearned runs. He struck out only three but did not issue a walk.
At one stretch, Castellani, who was in spring training with Washington last year but released before the season began, retired 14 consecutive Wild Things hitters.
Center fielder Saige Jenco drove in both Washington runs. He singled in the third to score Javier Betancourt and cut Florence’s lead to 3-1. From the point, Washington’s lumber went into a deep slumber and Florence made it 5-1 in the fourth on a two-out, two-run single by Luis Pintor.
Austin retired the next seven hitters before turning the game over to the bullpen.
“Baseball makes you wonder sometimes,” Fennell said. “It only takes one game to get the bats going and pitchers rolling. We need that one game to ease the tension.
“For sure, nobody saw this kind of start coming. We were basing everything off the cast we had returning from last year and had the same expectations.”
The Wild Things released relief pitcher Joe Jones (0-0, 1.92) Monday and on Tuesday signed pitcher Dan Hlad, who was 2-1 2.88 in 26 relief appearances last year for Windy City. Hlad was released earlier this month by the ThunderBolts. … Florence’s Connor Crane led off the ninth inning with a home run. ... Florence has had five innings already this year in which it has batted around.