17 Swinging Strikes: Stiever's substandard start still pretty freaking good

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Dash romped through a five-run second but ended up clinging to a narrower lead as Jonathan Stiever struggled for pretty much the first time at this level, still eking out a 7-5 victory to win the series over the Carolina Mudcats.

Stiever’s start was by far his worst since his promotion to High-A at the All-Star break in June, and the fact that his worst start means he got the win while giving up three runs in five innings and tying his career high with nine strikeouts is a pretty good sign. Coming into today, he had not failed to throw a quality start in seven tries with the team. He’s given up three runs two other times, but always stretched out to six full innings.

Today initially looked like it was going to be another one of those typical Stiever dominant outings. He opened the game with a three-pitch strikeout, hitting 95, 95, and 96 mph, and breezed through the side on 10 pitches. It only took him 12 to strike out two of three in the second, and 13 to do the same in the third.

His perfect game ended definitively in the fourth, when Brice Turang led off with a deep triple to center, Steele Walker playing strangely shallow and unable to make it to the warning track in time. He then gave up a ground ball single through the middle, scoring the run. Stiever is a guy who gets into a groove and doesn’t like to be shaken out of it, and that probably played a part in what happened here. He struck out the next batter, but then gave up another single, putting runners on first and second with one out. 

A force out grounder made it runners on the corners, and a wild pitch made it runners on second and third, the lead runner only not scoring then because the ball bounced off the backstop so hard it ended up back in Carlos Perez’s glove within three seconds. Stiever walked the next batter, loading the bases with two outs, and gave up a two-run single to Rob Henry — throwing his glove down on the mound in frustration — before striking out Trever Morrison looking. 

This isn’t the first time Stiever has run into troubled innings, but normally he only has a maximum of one per game. Here, although he only allowed runs in the fourth, he still struggled through the fifth. After throwing 30 pitches in the fourth, he threw 24 in a laborious inning that saw a single, with Stiever again visibly frustrated, a stolen base, and a hit-by-pitch on a full count. Stiever still struck out two, but those 54 pitches over two innings were enough to end his outing.

So, three runs, five innings, 90 pitches. Stiever still only allowed five hits and walked one, and he still struck out nine. Over his now eight starts for the Dash, he’s struck out 60 over 50 innings, giving up 14 runs (all earned) and walking nine. His ERA rose from 2.20 to 2.52 (with an accompanying FIP, entering today, of 2.89), but his WHIP is a still a minuscule 0.90. No pitcher never struggles, and now we get to see how Stiever bounces back next time out.

The good news was, his worries today had a comfortable buffer after the Dash scored five times in the second inning. There was no true hero here, each run scoring one play at a time, a death-by-a-million-cuts type situation. Carlos Perez walked to start things off, and Jameson Fisher — playing left field today, supplanted by Andrew Vaughn at first — singled him to second. Johan Cruz hit a ground ball through the infield to shallow left, not deep enough for Perez to score, loading the bases with nobody out.

Tate Blackman came through first, his single scoring Perez. Yeyson Yrizarri, up next, singled in Fisher. Steele Walker’s sacrifice fly was the first out of the inning, but it brought in Cruz. Mitch Roman reached on a throwing error that scored Blackman. Vaughn’s sacrifice fly scored Yrizarri. Death by station-to-station plays?

In any event, for a while, it didn’t look like the Dash were going to score again, and they didn’t until the seventh. Walker and Vaughn both walked, Walker for the second time and Vaughn for the first and only, and Craig Dedelow hit a single to score Walker from second. Perez then drew a walk to load the bases with one out, and Jameson Fisher hit a sacrifice fly that, combined with an error by the catcher, allowed Vaughn to chug home for the seventh and final Dash run of the day.

The bullpen has had better days and worse days. Andrew Perez (1.42 ERA) pitched a scoreless sixth, striking out one and allowing a double. José Nin (4.30 ERA) and Will Kincanon (1.96 ERA) both allowed solo home runs in their innings. Jacob Lindgren (1.29 ERA), making his fourth appearance for the Dash as he works his way back from two Tommy John surgeries, allowed a single in a scoreless ninth. 

Overall, Walker hit a double, single, and walked twice. Vaughn went hitless, but walked the once, scored a run, and drove in a run. Dedelow hit a single and a double, both to left field and against the shift. Perez walked twice and scored a run. Fisher, Cruz, Blackman, and Yrizarri each had one hit and one run scored apiece, Cruz the only one to not also drive in a run. Yrizarri also made two excellent plays at third base, showing off the rocket launcher he has for an arm.

The Dash go on the road all week — Bernardo Flores making a rehab start at some point — and will return on Friday at 7 pm for a three-game set.

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