The Evansville Otters, who entered the game holding one of the Frontier League’s wild-card playoff spots, spent Friday night trying to overcome what Washington right fielder Hector Roa did with one innocent swing of the bat in the first inning.
The Otters never did make it all the way back and that was because of Nick Wegmann and his tricky changeup.
Roa hit a two-run single in the bottom of the first inning and Wegmann threw eight magnificent innings as the Wild Things defeated Evansville 2-1 on Fireworks Night.
Wegmann (6-5), a crafty and cerebral lefty, scattered five hits, walked only one and struck out eight. The eight innings and eight strikeouts matched career highs for Wegmann.
Over his last three starts, Wegmann has allowed only two earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. Dating back to the end of May, he has given up more than two earned runs in just three of 11 starts.
“Weggy was really good,” Washington manager Gregg Langbehn said. “He was way more pitch efficient tonight. His changeup was very good.”
Ah, the changeup. It’s Wegmann’s best pitch, one that right-handers have trouble hitting because it can dart down and away, often like the baseball is made of metal and home plate is a magnet. Wegmann learned the pitch from his father, Tom Wegmann, a former pitcher who made it to the Class AAA level and spent several years as a teammate of Langbehn. The Washington manager said Tom Wegmann had the best changeup he’s ever seen.
“I won’t admit his is better than mine,” Nick Wegmann said.
What everybody was admitting Friday night is that Wegmann’s changeup has been made better by improvement in his fastball. He’s throwing it with conviction and better location.
“In the second half of the year, Nick has gotten really good at elevating his fastball up in the strike zone,” Langbehn said. “You saw it a couple of times in this game. Guys had been sitting on his changeup, moving up in the batter’s box waiting for it, especially with two outs. The catchers have done a good job of recognizing that.”
Wegmann is now sneaking the fastball past hitters who are looking changeup.
“Being aggressive with the fastball makes my changeup better,” he said.
Washington forged a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Evansville starter Jake Welch (6-5), who has been tough on the Wild Things. Ryan Cox led off with an infield single and J.R. Davis was hit by a pitch. A passed ball advanced each runner and Roa dunked a one-out single into left centerfield to give the Wild Things the only runs they would need.
Evansville scored its lone run in the fourth inning when Ryan Long’s double drove in Keith Grieshaber, who hit a leadoff single. The Otters had only one more hit over the remainder of the game.
Closer Zach Strecker pitched the ninth and struck out the side for his 10th save.
Wegmann said he wanted to go back on the mound in the ninth and try to get a complete game.
“That wasn’t a consideration,” Langbehn said. “Nick was over 100 pitches and I wanted to give Zach a clean inning to start with.”
Prior to the game, Washington released center fielder Cameron Baranek. He was hitting .218 in 48 games and was second on the team with eight home runs. … The Wild Things and Evansville will play a doubleheader today beginning at 5:05 p.m. The first game is the resumption of a game suspended June 20. It will be picked up with Washington leading 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning. It will be a nine-inning game with the second contest scheduled for seven innings. … When Welch walked Washington’s Brett Marr with two outs in the fourth, it snapped a streak of 25 consecutive innings without a walk by Washington hitters.