The Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ offense was on fire Friday night as it collected hit after hit.
And the squad did it against perhaps one of the best pitchers its seen thus far.
The Pelicans jumped on Reynaldo Lopez – the No. 4-ranked prospect in the Washington Nationals’ farm system according to Baseball America – and topped Potomac 8-4 in the first game of a four-game series.
“He came out throwing hard and the first time through the lineup we struggled a little bit,” Pelicans manager Mark Johnson said. “Second time through the lineup, the guys made adjustments and when you put up a big inning against a pitcher of that caliber, it creates a lot of momentum and we sustained it throughout the game.”
The Pelicans got to Lopez in the third inning, scoring five runs on four hits against the starter during the crucial frame. Pin-Chieh Chen had a two-RBI double and Jacob Rogers had a two-RBI single before Lopez was pulled. Then, Kevin Brown hit an RBI single off reliever Kevin Perez, another run charged to Lopez, and the damage was done.
“It was really big,” Myrtle Beach’s Mark Zagunis said of the third inning. “Our pitching staff is always going to keep us in it. [Starter Duane Underwood] does a great job pretty much every time he’s out there and to put up five [runs] down two was pretty big for us.”
After the big third inning, neither team scored again until Potomac and Myrtle Beach each added two runs in the eighth inning. The Pelicans collected 11 hits and were 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded just six runners.
Underwood (5-0) made a quality start as he allowed two runs on six hits, two walks and four strikeouts in six innings for the victory. Underwood was making his first start on normal days’ rest.
“He threw well but they were ready to hit the fastball tonight,” Johnson said. “They hit it hard and hit lasers all over the field. That just goes to show you, it doesn’t matter what kind of fastball you have; you need to locate it down in the zone and make pitches. That’s obviously a good fastball-hitting team.”
Lopez (2-1) was roughed up. Entering Friday, Lopez had a 0.53 ERA, which ballooned to 2.75 after his first loss of the season. Lopez allowed five runs on five hits and one walk in 2 2/3 innings and struck out two.
“He was really good. Coming into today we knew he had a lot of velocity on his ball,” Zagunis said of Lopez. “A lot of us battled and had good at-bats and we were able to get him out early in the game.”
Zagunis didn’t have a hit until he came to the plate in the ninth inning and lined a single. With the hit, Zagunis extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games as he went 1-for-3 with two RBIs and one runs scored.
“I’m starting to feel good out there and I’m just trying to get ahead in some counts, which I did,” Zagunis said. “I put a couple of decent swings on the ball and fortunately we rallied a bit in the ninth and I got a chance and I just saw a fastball down the middle and put a good swing on it.”
Zagunis has also reached base safely in all but one of the 35 games he’s played this season, including 22 straight.
“Like I said, I’m just trying to get ahead in counts and be positive up there,” Zagunis said. “Even if you have a bad game, you can’t think negative because then it goes down the wrong way quickly. I just need to stick with my routine during the day and go up there with confidence and have fun.”
Johnson has certainly taken notice of Zagunis and his approach at the plate.
“He always puts together good at-bats. He’s not up there to walk, he’s up there to get pitches to hit and when he gets it, he puts a good, aggressive swing on it,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t really chase pitches out of the zone. He’s just a true professional at the plate and he has a professional at-bat nearly every time he comes to the plate. Those are hitters you dream of; he does a good job for us at the top of the lineup. While he’s not your prototypical lead-off hitter, he always puts together a great at-bat.”
Former Pelican and current Nationals second baseman Christopher Bostick was 2-for-5 with a home run in his return to Myrtle Beach. Bostick was a member of the Pelicans in 2014, when they were an affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Bostick was traded along with former Pelican Abel de los Santos to the Nationals last year, and Ross Detwiler was dealt to Texas in the deal.
Myrtle Beach will host Potomac on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. in the second game of the four-game series with the Nationals.
“We’ll come out ready to swing the bat,” Zagunis said.
Contact MAX McKINNON at 626-0302 or on Twitter @mmckinnonTSN.