MOOSIC — Erik Swanson considered Friday night’s game against the Pawtucket Red Sox a “must-win game.”
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders were tied atop the International League Wild Card standings heading into the tilt and Swanson wanted to keep it that way. Or better.
And the 24-year-old right-hander delivered. Swanson pitched six impressive innings as the RailRiders edged Pawtucket, 3-1, and with a Indianapolis loss moved into sole possession of the wild card.
“I don’t know what the other teams did tonight, but if either one of them lost, that puts us a game up on them and if we lost, that doesn’t help us out, regardless,” Swanson said. “Tonight was a must-win game. We have three left and, in my opinion, I think those are must-win games as well, as tight as this race is.”
Swanson’s breaking pitch has been the one aspect of his game he’s been working on all season. And he’ll continue to improve the pitch in the offseason.
But Friday night, facing the heavy hitters of the Pawtucket lineup, Swanson’s breaking ball was the pitch he relied on. Swanson gave up one run on three hits and a walk while striking out eight in 6.1 innings to secure his third win of the season.
Swanson was even effective against Pawtucket’s three top bats — long-time big-leaguer Brandon Phillips, Boston Red Sox young gun Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis. He faced the trio eight times and gave up a combined two hits, with Phillips’ seventh-inning homer the only hit that did damage.
“My fastball really wasn’t there tonight,” Swanson said. “My fastball command wasn’t really the best. I managed to work around that and I think, really, the off-speed was what helped me out tonight.
“Tonight, I felt really good with (my off-speed). I was talking to (pitching coach Tommy) Phelps after the game, and it was probably the best it’s been all year — the most consistent. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for — what it did tonight. And also my changeup. My changeup’s been another pitch I’ve been wanting to improve on and tonight it was a really good pitch for me.”
With the pitching on point for a third straight game, the RailRiders used a few timely hits to get things going in the first and second innings.
Ryan McBroom got things going with a two-out double in the first, only to score on a Mike Ford RBI single a batter later. Then in the second inning, sporting the 1-0 lead, Devyn Bolasky got the rally going with a one-out triple and scored on Francisco Diaz’s RBI single to left field.
That would be all the runs the RailRiders would need.
“It helps starting the game like that,” Ford said. “I think we’re finally coming together. We have a bunch of the same guys in the clubhouse for an extended period of time now, so you get to play with one another and our pitching staff has done really, really well for us.”
Avelino traded to Giants
Mitchell was told to pull infielder Abiatal Avelino from Thursday’s game prior to the second inning without a reason why.
As it turns out, Avelino would be traded to the San Francisco Giants a part of a deal that landed the New York Yankees former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. Avelino heads to Triple-A Sacremento in the middle of a career year.
The 23-year-old infielder batted .252 with six doubles, six triples, five home runs and 38 RBI in 74 games with the RailRiders.
“He’s come a long way since I had him in Double-A,” Mitchell said. “He’s more consistent now. Probably more — he’s gotten a lot smarter as a hitter and it’s shown in his play. He’s been really consistent in his play. I’m really happy for him to get a chance.”
No September call-ups
As it stands, the RailRiders haven’t been hit with any September call-ups.
Mitchell said after the win that he hadn’t heard of anyone getting called up, yet.
“We haven’t heard a thing about anybody,” Mitchell said.
Sheffield’s future unknown
Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters on Friday that Justus Sheffield will not be called up when rosters expand on Sept. 1.
Mitchell added, however, that he’s unsure of what the left-handed reliever’s schedule is moving forward.
“If he’s still here after today, I think it’ll be either tomorrow or the next day,” Mitchell responded when asked when Sheffield might pitch next.
RailRiders 3, Red Sox 1
De Jesus Jr. 1b-3b`3`0`0`0
E: Devers (1), Hernandez (5); LOB: Red Sox 3, RailRiders 7; 2B: McBroom (17), Mazzilli (14); 3B: Bolasky (1); SAC: Payton; SB: Renda (6).
Pawtucket`000`000`100 — 1
RailRiders`110`000`100 — 3
Shepherd (L, 7-10)`6`6`2`2`1`3
Swanson (W, 3-2)`6.1`3`1`1`1`8
Espinal (H, 4)`1.2`0`0`0`0`4
Harvey (S, 8)`1`0`0`0`0`2
Umpires: Reid Gibbs, HP; Ryan Clark, 1B; Charlie Ramos, #B.
Time: 2:27; Attendance: 9,483.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle