SILVER SPRING — Behind a strong pitching performance from right-hander Chih-Yuan Lai and some timely hitting, the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts defeated the Baltimore Dodgers 3-1 at Blair Stadium on Thursday night for their fourth straight win.
Lai allowed one run on six hits and struck out six in seven innings for the win. At the plate, first baseman Matt Mervis and center fielder Zach Racusin each belted two hits. Racusin also scored twice.
“We didn’t take too many bad swings, so I knew eventually we’d find a way to score runs,” Thunderbolts coach Doug Remer said. “I wasn’t too worried about it, but any time a pitcher throws well, it makes me a little nervous.”
With Lai keeping the Dodgers hitters off balance, Remer was worried his offense would assume “they didn’t have to do as much” in terms of run production. The Thunderbolts didn’t score 10 runs, which was their average during their three-game winning streak entering Thursday, but they were able to manufacture enough runs to earn their 13th win of the year.
Mervis said some of the team’s struggles at the plate were due to the opposing pitcher, right-hander Jonathan Mierzwa, who entered the game with a 2.10 ERA and a league-high 29 strikeouts. Despite striking out just three Thunderbolts, Mierzwa allowed one earned run over seven innings.
“We knew they were going to throw a good pitcher out there…so we weren’t really trying to do too much at the plate,” Mervis said. “Really get runners on base and try to move them around and score.”
With the score knotted at one entering the bottom of the sixth, designated hitter Ty Friedrich’s sacrifice fly to deep center field allowed Racusin to score the go-ahead run. Friedrich hit another sacrifice fly to right field two innings later, scoring Mervis in the process.
Right-hander Jared Price retired the Dodgers in order in the ninth inning to earn the save.
The Thunderbolts opened the scoring in the second inning on catcher Nick Cieri’s RBI double. Center fielder Zachary Racusin began the frame with an infield single to shortstop, the team’s first hit of the game, and stole second moments later.
With Racusin in scoring position, Cieri let an outside pitch get deep into the zone before driving it to the opposite field. As the Dodgers outfielder raced to retrieve the ball, which caromed to the left-center field fence, Racusin raced home to give the Thunderbolts a one-run advantage.
Dodgers right fielder Ron Farley knotted the score after poking an RBI single just beyond the grasp of a diving Kyle Conger at shortstop. It was one of three singles in the inning for the Dodgers after they combined for one over the first three innings. Ben Kocher also afforded the Dodgers an extra out after he bobbled a grounder at third base, giving them runners on first and second with one out.
Farley, the next batter, drove center fielder Jason King home.
However, that’s all the run support the Dodgers would give Mierzwa, who took the loss. They couldn’t string together enough hits as Lai secured his third victory of the season.
“Excellent command — he knew where all of his pitches were going,” Mervis said. “Threw probably three or four different pitches for strikes. When a pitcher does that, it’s pretty hard to hit.”
The Thunderbolts return to the field Friday night when they travel to play the Baltimore Red Birds, but Mervis won’t be playing first base or batting in the No. 3 hole. He’s off to Durham, North Carolina, to start his college baseball career with the Duke Blue Devils.
In 15 games, Mervis, one of the youngest Thunderbolts, leads the Cal Ripken Collegiate baseball league in batting average (.411) and ranks second with 21 RBIs.
Mervis won’t be able to improve those numbers going forward, but he’s confident the Thunderbolts can continue to have success regardless of how many runs they score.
“That’s what we do,” Mervis said. “We hit the ball, and when we’re not hitting it all over the field, we’ll make the timely hits that we need.”