The shoes to fill couldn’t have been any bigger than those figuratively left behind at third base for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans when slugger Joey Gallo was promoted to Double-A Frisco earlier this month and Nick Vickerson was brought up from Class A Hickory.
Vickerson managed a hit in each of his first two games with Myrtle Beach following his June 8 call-up before sitting out the final six games of the season’s first half as well as the second-half opener with a hamstring injury.
But he did his best Gallo impression while returning to the lineup Friday night.
Vickerson provided an early jolt with a big two-run home run over the left field bleachers in the second inning to give the Pelicans a quick lead on the way to a 4-2 win over the visiting Wilmington Blue Rocks at TicketReturn.com Field.
“It felt good. You don’t expect to do things like that after being out for 11 days or whatever it was,” Vickerson said. “I just wanted to come in and get my timing down. I ended up in a good count and got a good pitch.”
Vickerson was removed from the game before the sixth inning, but that was the plan all along. He’s set to play seven innings Saturday while continuing to ease back into full-time duty.
Meanwhile, he says he’s not worried about trying to replace Gallo, who hit 21 home runs in 58 games with Myrtle Beach before a well-earned promotion.
“Not really. I’m not a third baseman most of the time. I’m a utility player. This is the first time I’ve gotten to play every day in my career,” Vickerson said. “I was in Hickory playing every day. It just kind of happened that way, third base was open, so I just ran with it. ... I’m just happy to be playing third, second, catcher, wherever it’s at, I’m happy.”
Vickerson was hitting .299 with four homers, 25 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 51 games for Hickory prior to his own promotion.
“We need to keep him healthy. That’s why he played five innings,” Pelicans manager Joe Mikulik said. “I want to make sure he stays healthy. He’s going to help us. He’s here to play, he’s here to help us. ... He’s going to get an opportunity.”
On the mound, meanwhile, the Pelicans (46-24, 2-0 second half) got another terrific outing from right-hander Sam Wolff.
For the third time in his last four starts, Wolff (7-3) didn’t allow a run while pitching five scoreless innings, giving up four hits and a walk and striking out four.
“I’m just trying to build off it, learn from every one,” Wolff said. “Obviously you roll with the positives, but you try to pick apart each game and get better from them.”
The Blue Rocks (33-37, 0-2) scored their first run in the top of the sixth after some sloppy fielding by the Pelicans. Cam Gallagher had ripped a single to the line in left field and Bubba Starling slid in safely at third to beat Chris Grayson’s throw. Luis Mendez, who replaced Vickerson in the field, then fired to second to try to stop Gallagher from advancing, but the ball got away as Starling came in to score.
It was ruled an unearned run for reliever Justin Sprenger.
The Pelicans padded their lead in the bottom of the sixth when Chris Garia led off with a walk, stole second, took third on Hanser Alberto’s bunt single and then came into score on a deep sac fly to left off the bat of Preston Beck.
That would prove key as Wilmington threatened again in the eighth. Starling led off with a double to deep left-center and came around to score two batters later on a throwing error by Mendez after a hard grounder to third. That made it 3-2 with the tying run at second base, and the baserunner Zane Evans soon took third on a passed ball off catcher Jorge Alfaro’s glove.
After walking Jack Lopez, though, Pelicans reliever Abel De Los Santos got Daniel Rockett to fly out to center to end the inning and protect the 3-2 lead.
And Alberto hammered a homer – his third – into the left field bleachers in the bottom of the eighth to give the hosts just a little extra cushion.
Alberto was 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI while Vickerson was 1-for-2 with his two-run shot. Alex Claudio earned the save for Myrtle Beach.
After taking first place in the Carolina League’s Southern Division in the season’s first half, the Pelicans are now 2-0 to start the second half.
“It’s been good. I’ve got a lot of confidence in this group,” Mikulik said. “They come and play. They play as a team.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.