Down East Downed: Stiever two-hits the Wood Ducks in a 3-0 Dash victory

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Jonathan Stiever continued his development into one of the White Sox’s best pitching prospects on Saturday night, throwing nothing but strikes and allowing nothing to cross the plate in a 3-0 Dash two-hitter over the first-place Down East Wood Ducks.

Stiever has only been with the Dash since the All-Star Break in June, exiting Kannapolis with a 4.74 ERA there over 74 innings, but it’s been an eye-popping stint. He’s gone at least six innings in all six Dash starts, including tonight’s, and has allowed three runs twice, two runs once, one run once, and zero runs now twice.

Without having seen Stiever throw in Kannapolis, and also without being a baseball scout who understands pitching mechanics and analysis, it’s hard to say what changed between the levels. He’s striking out more batters — a 10.13 K/9 as opposed to 9.36 with Kannapolis — but is also walking more, 2.25 BB/9 compared to 1.70 (coming into tonight’s game, anyway). He had a tendency towards the long ball with the Intimidators, giving up 10 home runs over those 74 innings, but he isn’t keeping them in the park that much more often with the Dash (four homers over 39 innings). He’s also stranding many more runners than he did at the lower level, now leaving 86.6% of runners moored as opposed to just 68.1% (all stats from Fangraphs). But that doesn’t answer why.

I think the answer might just be that Jonathan Stiever is a very good pitcher, and the more he pitches, the more he develops those pitches, and the better he gets. The first time he pitched for the Dash, he hit 98 mph on the radar gun once, in the first inning. Today, I couldn’t even keep track, he was hitting it so often. It’s totally plausible that it’s because minor league radar guns aren’t typically in the best upkeep, but it’s been pretty faithful throughout the season, so I’m willing to accept its results (this is also the process judges have to go to in order to determine witness credibility).

In the end, it doesn’t matter (to me, anyway), because watching Stiever is a great reminder of how good and fun baseball is, and I don’t really need to know why.

For whatever reason, Stiever threw seven phenomenal innings on Saturday, struggling only in the third inning through a combination of That’s The Minors™ and mildly erratic control. And “struggling” here is used loosely, as, again, he allowed three baserunners total, and they all came in this inning. Stiever hit a batter with a pitch with one out, the batter immediately leaving the game and replaced with a pinch runner. The next batter hit a towering popup into foul territory right next to the plate, but catcher Evan Skoug had some trouble figuring out where it was going to land and it dropped; Stiever struck the guy out, but it cost some extra pitches. The next batter singled, and the one after hit a ground ball to Yeyson Yrizarri at third, one that Yrizarri had a play on pretty easily. Except the umpire called it foul, despite being a good three feet into the infield dirt. So, with two outs, the inning continued a little further; the batter ended up hitting an infield single to pretty much the same spot, but a fly ball to right ended the frame.

And that was it. It was the only inning of Stiever’s seven that wasn’t three up, three down. He struck out the side in the first and struck out two of three in the fourth and sixth innings. He threw 83 pitches, 58 for strikes and 25 for balls. He pitched quickly and aggressively, and a team with a 50-20 record looked helpless against him.

At the plate, the Dash were a little quieter than they were in their nine-run outburst last night. They picked up three today, and it felt like a route. In the fourth inning, Steele Walker singled, then Craig Dedelow bunted against the shift and down the third base line for a base hit. Dedelow, who is often shifted to the right side, has laid down that bunt for a hit a handful of times this year, and it’s extraordinarily satisfying to see from the 6’4” hitter every time. This was followed by a Zach Remillard fly ball that advanced Walker to third, and Jameson Fisher’s sacrifice fly scored him.

The Dash sent two more home in the sixth. Dedelow walked, his third time reaching base. Remillard hit a single that tipped off the third baseman’s glove, rolling to the dugout and allowing Dedelow, who had taken off on a hit-and-run, to make it to third safely. Remillard took second. This hubbub ended up being more or less moot, as Fisher doubled both of them in for the final two runs of the game.

Evan Skoug and Tyler Frost both reached base twice, but neither scored. Skoug would have, in fact, but when he tried to make it home from second base after a fifth inning single on a Mitch Roman hit to left, a Clemente-esque throw from Franklin Rollin in left field was waiting for him when he arrived. Anything less than a perfect toss wouldn’t have gotten him, and it was a perfect toss.

Defensively, this game was a gem. Stiever himself made one athletic play early on, reaching up to spear a chopper out of the air. Fisher especially was absolutely on point at first base all day, and a phenomenal play on both ends by Zach Remillard and Fisher ended the game, Remillard corralling a tough ground ball and lobbing a big throw across the field for Fisher to stab for the final out.

Luis Ledo relieved Stiever in the eighth, threw 11 pitches, struck out two, and exited. Jose Nin had a much tougher time with it, walking the first two batters in the ninth inning (nearly doubling the number of runners the Wood Ducks had all day). With a grounder, fly ball, and the aforementioned Remillard/Fisher play, though, he was able to squeeze out of it unscathed, and the Dash go home happy.

Sunday is definitely Kade McClure day, this time, and he’ll take the mound at 2 pm against Down East.

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