Named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game on Tuesday morning, West Virginia Power starting pitcher Clay Chandler proved he was worthy of the selection with a stellar performance later in the evening in defeating the Hickory Crawdads 4-2 in front of 1,340 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The victory pulled the Power (29-29) even with the Crawdads in the three-game series, which concludes Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. Hickory (36-22) won the first game Monday night 7-2.
The loss by the Crawdads continues to dim their dwindling hopes for the first-half Northern Division title. With 12 games left, Hickory remains in third place, 7.5 games behind first-place Delmarva (Md.).
Tuesday night’s contest at the Frans belonged to Chandler (6-2), who came within two outs of getting a rare – for Low-A ball, that is – nine-inning shutout. The native of La Center, Ky., allowed just three hits over the first eight innings with five strikeouts and a walk.
With the news of his all-star selection fresh, Chandler wanted to wait until after Tuesday’s game to think about it.
“I just wanted to come out and make my pitches,” Chandler said. “I knew they were aggressive, so I just wanted to give it to them.”
Seeing the aggressiveness while charting on Monday, the right-hander saw ways to take advantage of it.
“You saw a lot of guys wanting to yank the ball,” Chandler explained. “I just wanted to make sure I used my whole repertoire. I knew that if I could keep them off balance that my fastball (88-89 mph) would play.”
Crawdads manager Matt Hagen agreed that his hitters were off-balance throughout the game and he simply tipped his cap to what he called a gritty performance.
“We hit 15 fly ball outs tonight,” Hagen said. “Give credit to where it’s due. He did a really good job of keeping us out in front a little bit.”
With Chandler sitting at just 94 pitches through eight innings and holding a 4-0 lead, the Power opted to give him a shot at the complete game. He got Miguel Aparicio to pop to short on the first pitch before Crawdads all-star first baseman Curtis Terry smacked his 21st double of the season on a liner to the right-center field wall.
Power pitching coach Alon Leichman held a mound visit and let Chandler have another shot at the shutout. Two pitches later, Sherten Apostel cracked a two-run homer to left to break up the shutout and end Chandler’s night.
“I threw a slider the first pitch down away,” said Chandler, who then agreed with the catcher’s signal for a fastball, which Apostel hit out to left. “Looking back, I wish I had thrown another one (slider). That stuff happens.”
Reliever Dayeison Arias, also named to the all-star game, entered and worked around a single with two outs to earn his third save of the season.
Crawdads starter Cole Winn, the Texas Rangers’ second-ranked prospect (MLB.com), struck out five over the first two innings before running into trouble in the third, which proved to be the difference. Cesar Izturis Jr. started the inning by hustling a routine hit to right into a double. One out later, a sharply hit grounder by Charlie McConnell caromed off the glove of shortstop Frainyer Chavez into center for a run-scoring center.
Keegan McGovern then added an RBI triple. A walk ended Winn’s night before Bobby Honeyman’s sacrifice fly against Abdiel Mendoza scored McGovern to make it 3-0.
Hagen said the young starter needs to find more consistency in his pitches.
“He’ll go out in the first inning and get three punchouts and look sharp,” the Crawdads manager said. “Then he’ll lose the feel of the zone for a little bit and then he’ll get it back… I think he’s trying to be too fine at times instead of relying on the fact that he has really good stuff.”
Prior to the ninth, the Crawdads’ best chances to score came in the middle innings. In the fourth, Jax Biggers walked and Aparicio singled to start a potential rally. The pair pulled off a double steal but were stranded when Chandler struck out Terry, Apostel and Pedro Gonzalez to end the inning.
In the fifth, Melvin Novoa was hit by a pitch and moved to third on Kole Enright’s double. However, Chavez and Biggers both flew out to squelch the threat. Chandler allowed just five baserunners until the Crawdads attempted their comeback in the ninth.
“We had a couple of big opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize on them,” Hagen said. “Usually we do, but that was a difference maker at the end.”
Hickory pitching combined to strike out 14 batters on the night. Mendoza and fellow relievers Sean Chandler and Nick Starr teamed up to allow just one run on five hits over the final 6.2 innings. The lone run came on Onil Pena’s eighth homer of the year in the sixth.