The heavy-hitting Pelicans were held in check, but starter Andrew Faulkner made sure run support wasnt high on his list of needs.
The 21-year-old left-hander from Aiken went seven, two-hit innings not allowing a hit through the first five with seven strikeouts and just one walk, leading the Pelicans to a 2-0 victory over the Carolina Mudcats on Saturday at TicketReturn Field at Pelicans Ballpark.
Faulkner said the fielding behind him was a key to his performance.
I just pitched in a lot and let the defense play, Faulkner said after the fast-moving game. Its a whole lot easier that way, rather than having to take a long break then going, and then you put your defense to sleep and everything. Me and [catcher Jorge Alfaro] were just clicking on all cylinders, and obviously everyone else was too. It was just rolling along.
Will Lamb came in to finish off the game for the Pelicans (36-17), striking out the first four he faced before walking two batters in the ninth inning. Abel De los Santos came in to finish off the final two outs, striking out Carolinas Erik Gonzalez before a drawn-out battle with Anthony Gallas. After fouling off several pitches Gallas turned on a ball that flew toward the left-field fence but was caught harmlessly on the warning track for the final out by left fielder Jamie Jarmon.
I think everybody was in the dugout just praying that it didnt go out, said Faulkner, who improved to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 2.28. I think he caught it a little off the end of the bat, but it was a shocker right there for me.
The win left the Pelicans with a 21-8 record in May, and gave them a 9.5-game cushion in the South Division of the Carolina League over the second-place Salem Red Sox. With the inside track to the first-half title, interim manager Steve Mintz said the key is not to look ahead, but to stay focused, regardless of the standings.
Its just the stuff we do every day, like coming to the ballpark ready to work every day, he said. We try to keep them focused and doing their jobs. It doesnt matter what the lead is.
Faulkner echoed his coach: I think the biggest thing is we havent talked about it a lot, we really just focus on going game to game. When the lights turn on, just be ready to play, and thats about it.
Although the offense was subdued against Mudcats (23-30) starter Michael Peoples (2-6), who finished the game with nine strikeouts over six innings, the bats have been the catalyst to whats on track to be a record-setting year. The Pelicans bombed 33 home runs in May compared to just 18 in April. That figure is led by Joey Gallos 21 on the year, the last of which he bombed on the first pitch he saw against Peoples in the fourth inning. The shot over the right field wall gave the Pelicans a 2-0 lead.
Hitting coach [Josue Perez] does a great job with it, giving these guys a game plan. Some nights were going to strike out 12, some nights we might only strike out two, Mintz said. Its all about the process and the approach that Josues teaching him. They believe it, and he does too.
The first run of the game came in the first inning after a lead-off double from Chris Garia led to a Alfaro RBI double down the left-field line.
The cushion was all Faulkner would need, and he said pitching with an early lead helped him settle in and be aggressive.
I think [it helps] a lot. It lets you really pound the zone, Faulkner said. Besides that, especially if you get one in the first and you have a high-powered offense like we do, it doesnt matter if you give up one or two runs most nights, theyre going to score runs.
The Pelicans are back in action for the third of a four-game set against the Carolina Mudcats on Sunday at 6:05 p.m.
• Notes | Pelicans outfielder Nick Williams went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, ending his hit streak at 14 games. The streak was the longest in the Carolina League this season. The Pelicans did not lose a series in May, their last series loss coming in a rain-shortened series to Wilmington April 26-38. Gallos home run was third in the last two games after nine games without one.