Slog Days of Summer: Stiever gets through three, eventually, as Dash lose 5-4

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — It was Stiever Day in Winston-Salem, but Stiever Day wrapped up after just three innings, all scoreless but all equally laborious. It ended up turning into Bullpen Day, which did not go super well!

Stiever’s last start saw him allow three runs through five innings, not bad by any means but not the dominance we’ve come to expect from the 22-year-old righty. Today was, conceptually, a similar story: the final line doesn’t look bad, but it wasn’t representative of the peak of Stiever’s ability. The line was this: 3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K, with 79 pitches thrown, 46 for strikes (math is hard: 33 balls). It’s really only in the pitch count that there’s a hint of Stiever’s trouble today.

Control is a big part of Stiever’s game, consistently getting ahead of hitters and aggressively attacking the strike zone, but that was largely absent today. He was behind in the count to each of the first five batters of the day. He battled through two eight-pitch at-bats and four seven-pitch at-bats. His third inning took 36 pitches to finish. He stranded five baserunners, but that means he had five baserunners through three.

The good news is this: despite clearly struggling with control, throwing several pitches high and wide, Stiever only walked one, and he was able to pitch through three straight innings of runners on base without allowing any to score, including a bases-loaded situation in the third. Based on his previously demonstrated skill of throwing about three times as many strikes as balls (he threw 16 straight strikes to open a game on July 9), not to mention the fact that he tends to keep his pitch count down, this start isn’t much of a concern. It’s also mid-August, and Stiever has now thrown about as many innings as he did last season, combined between finishing his college career and starting his professional one.

It’s probably not inaccurate to chalk this one up to fatigue, inefficiency, and the swirls and eddies of a long season; it’s also incredible that we can look at a five-inning, three-run performance and a three-inning, zero-run one and still be a little disappointed.

Stiever’s relievers (!!) actually fared worse than he did against a pretty talented Fayetteville Woodpeckers team, chock-full of Astros prospects. Bennett Sousa took the fourth, which, after a solid leadoff double, went fine. The fifth also presented no problem for him, but the sixth did not go so well: a walk, double, and single loaded the bases with nobody out, and Sousa departed in favor of Jake Elliott. A foul pop-up was the first out, and a sacrifice fly was the second, tying the game at one. Elliott allowed a single to score a second run, although center fielder Steele Walker mitigated the damage by throwing out one of the runners trying to advance to third to end the inning.

Neither of those runs were credited to Elliott, but all three that scored in the seventh were. Johan Cruz, who’s had a rough couple of days in the field, made an error at short to allow the leadoff batter to reach. This was followed by a single, a walk, and another sacrifice fly to put the Woodpeckers up 3-1. A wild pitch allowed another run to score, an another single scored the fifth and final Fayetteville run of the night.

The bright spot out of the bullpen was Will Kincanon, who abruptly stopped walking batters sometime in July and has been rewarded for it with 23 innings of a 1.71 ERA since the All-Star Break, striking out 28 and walking nine. His BB/9 entering this game was still 4.79, but it used to be much higher, and in his last 18 innings, he’s walked four and struck out 24.  Here, he threw another dominant two innings, allowing no baserunners and striking out three.

It was another tepid day at the plate for the Dash, albeit with an above-average amount of ninth-inning excitement. The top prospect combo of Walker and Andrew Vaughn combined to go 1-for-9, that one hit a Walker single, but they also struck out zero times, so there’s that. The team scored their first and, for most of the rest of the game, only run in the fourth, when Craig Dedelow hit a ball that ended up skittering around the Dash bullpen for his Carolina-League-leading eighth triple, then scored on Jameson Fisher’s 27th double (good for second in the league).

And that was about it, until the ninth inning. Trailing 5-1, Dedelow struck out, then Carlos Perez walked, then Fisher struck out. Mitch Roman also drew a walk, and, still with two outs, Tate Blackman mashed a home run to left field, his fourth, bringing the Dash within one. JJ Muno also walked following this, but Walker grounded out on a ball to first that was only just fair to end the game.

The Dash wrap up this brief weekend homestand with a 2 pm game on Sunday.

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