Myrtle Beach Pelicans

MB Pelicans had won 8 of their last 10 opening day games. How they fared Thursday

Myrtle Beach Pelicans designated hitter P.J. Higgins bats against the Frederick Keys at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark during the Pelicans’ opening day game Thursday. Higgins knocked in the Pelicans’ only two runs of the game with a single in the fifth inning.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans designated hitter P.J. Higgins bats against the Frederick Keys at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark during the Pelicans’ opening day game Thursday. Higgins knocked in the Pelicans’ only two runs of the game with a single in the fifth inning. jbell@thesunnews.com

For just the third time in the past 11 years, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans did not begin a season with a win.

The Frederick Keys scored three runs in the first inning and never trailed while downing the Pelicans 6-2 in front of a capacity crowd of 6,599 at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark.

“Obviously not the result you want,” Pelicans manager Buddy Bailey said. “You know you’ve got a packed house, you want to win the ballgame.

“But we had some guys swinging bats better than the hit total of six hits. We had some hard outs. Overall I thought we hit the ball better than them, but that’s baseball. … We played really good and the bullpen was solid. We just didn’t catch any breaks on some hard-hit balls at critical times in the game.”

The Pelicans are seeking their eighth consecutive winning season and eighth straight postseason berth.

Their seven straight postseason appearances shares the Carolina League record with Kinston from 2001-07, and the second consecutive winning seasons stands alone as a league record.

This year’s Pelicans squad features six of the top 26 prospects in the Chicago Cubs organization, according to Baseball America.

One of them was Myrtle Beach’s starter Thursday, Keegan Thompson, a 2017 third-round pick by the Cubs out of Auburn. He got the loss after going five innings and allowing six runs – five earned – and eight hits while striking out four without allowing a walk.

Frederick scored three in the first and three in the third, the big blows being a two-run double by Randolph Gassaway in the first inning, and a Gassaway sacrifice fly and RBI double by Jake Ring in the third. Thompson was limited to just 19 innings last season in short-season rookie ball, striking out 23 and walking only four. He retired the final eight batters he faced Thursday.

“Your first time out like that, you’re hoping he can get through the first inning, get the nerves out of it,” Bailey said. “Unfortunately we had a couple plays, one we didn’t make then we had the error and they took advantage for three runs. I thought [Thompson] battled. I think he learned something today. He was up in the zone more than he wanted to be and they took advantage of it.”

The Pelicans received some good work out of the bullpen, as righthanders Casey Bloomquist and Chad Hockin combined to pitch four innings and allow just one hit with no walks and three strikeouts.

Myrtle Beach made several impressive defensive plays, including a diving catch on a sinking line drive in left-center field by leftfielder Kevonte Mitchell.

“The bullpen did it’s job, but then again we played much better defense behind the bullpen than we did Thompson early in the game, so pitching is only as good as the defense you have out there,” Bailey said.

Frederick lefthanded starter Alex Wells, 21, held Myrtle Beach to four hits and two runs – both of which scored after he was lifted in the fifth inning – while striking out six and walking one in 4  1/3 innings.

The Australia native was named the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2017 after recording a 2.38 earned-run average and walking just 10 batters while striking out 113 in 140 innings in Low-A.

The Pelicans scored their two runs in the fifth inning. Designated hitter P.J. Higgins knocked in both with a bases-loaded RBI single to left-center that scored Andruw Monasterio and Aramis Ademan, who both reached on one-out infield singles. But Tyler Alamo grounded into a double play to end the inning.

The season-opening four-game series resumes at 7 p.m. Friday at TicketReturn.com Field.

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