MOOSIC — RailRiders fans were likely expecting a dominant pitching performance in their doubleheader against Indianapolis.
Rather than coming from the New York Yankees’ top prospect, the RailRiders received a shut-down outing from a pitcher that was not even scheduled to start on Wednesday.
Nestor Cortes led a complete game effort in the nightcap to split the doubleheader versus Indianapolis. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre won the second game with a 3-1 victory. The Indians took the opener by a 7-3 score.
Cortes was projected to pitch Thursday at Norfolk. A short outing in the first game forced Raynel Espinol into a relief performance, pushing up Cortes’ start on short notice.
RailRiders’ Ryan McBroom was scratched from the lineup card less than a half hour before the start of the first game. Manager Bobby Mitchell said the right fielder was ailing from back pain, and the stiffness kept him out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
“Yeah, I’m worried personally for him,” Mitchell said. “He was stiff yesterday as the game was going on. It was worse today. He thinks he’ll be ready tomorrow but we’ll see.”
The anticipated pitcher’s duel in the opener did not match the billing’s hype. Justus Sheffield struggled to get any sort of consistency, continuously missing his strike zone. Despite throwing 31 pitches, he escaped the first inning unscathed with his long strikeout of the evening.
Sheffield’s day came to an end in a disastrous second inning. Eric Wood doubled down the left field line to give the Indians the first run. After walking the bases loaded, Sheffield hung a slider to José Osuna that was sent to center field for a pair of RBIs. Another hanging slider allowed Ryan Lavarnway to follow with an RBI single to left field.
Sheffield’s line finished after 1 2/3 innings. With 72 pitches thrown, he walked five batters and four hits for four earned runs. He struck out two.
“In that game, we walked a total of 12 hitters,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “He wasn’t sharp. I don’t think anyone that game into that game was sharp.”
His two worst starts of the year have both come against Indianapolis. On June 2, he gave up six earned runs in a 5-inning loss in his only other appearance against the Pirates’ Triple-A team.
Mitch Keller, ranked as Baseball America’s No. 12 prospect, was as good as advertised for the Indians. At one point, he retired 14 of 15 batters. Keller struck out seven with five hits and two earned runs allowed to earn the win in a six-inning performance.
Cortes worked quickly and cruised through the nightcap by allowing just one run in a seven-inning complete game. He gave up just four hits and an earned run with three strikeouts.
“For the past week, our bullpen has been getting hit hard,” Cortes said. “It was only right for me to get deep into the game. I’m glad I did it. We came out with the W, and that’s more important than anything.
“The game plan with me was to live on the edge, and get them to chase pitches. Off-speed worked for me today.”
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre took a two-run lead – its first of the doubleheader – without an RBI in the third inning. Catcher Wilkin Castillo led off with a single to left. In his first Triple-A at-bat, second baseman Ricky Surum hit a double that bounced around left field to place a pair of runners in scoring position. The RailRiders cleared the bases with a Nick Burdi wild pitch and a Jackson Williams passed ball to take a 2-0 advantage.
“I was just working on some stuff before the game,” Surum said. “I got a fast ball, and it handled itself. With a fast ball, I could do damage.”
Indianapolis halved the deficit with a Wyatt Mathisen solo home run. Cortes ended the fourth inning threat with a pickoff at first base.
In the fifth inning, third baseman Giovanny Urshela made a scoop on a hard-hit grounder to save a run. After Erich Weiss tripled with two outs, Urshela kept the tying run off of the scoreboard with the defensive play.
Tyler Wade provided the RailRiders a much-needed insurance run in the bottom half of the inning.
In the first game, the RailRiders used three doubles in the sixth inning to plate two runs and spoil Keller’s shutout. Luke Voit and Mark Payton each had an RBI double. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre tacked on another run with a leadoff Zack Zehner home run.
Lavarnway reached base five times for the Indians with four hits and two RBIs. Kevin Kramer batted 3 for 4.
Voit went 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI in the opener. Both Wade and Castillo finished with two hits in the nightcap.
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