Shortly after the earliest scheduled game time for the River Bandits this season, Quad Cities catcher Jacob Nottingham drove in the first run with the first of his three doubles Wednesday, and three of his teammates homered, helping right-hander Jorge Perez win his first career start in an 8-1 victory over the West Michigan Whitecaps at Fifth Third Ballpark.
Designated hitter Alex Hernandez, center fielder Ramon Laureano and left fielder Jason Martin each hit home runs to help Quad Cities (37-16) match season highs of five doubles, three home runs and eight extra-base hits. The team kept the best record in professional baseball and at least a two-game lead in the Midwest League Western Division over second-place Cedar Rapids. The River Bandits’ magic number (combination of Quad Cities wins and losses by the Western Division’s third-place team) to clinch a first-half playoff spot is eight.
Whitecaps left-hander Trent Szkutnik (3-1) retired the first two batters of the game before walking shortstop Mott Hyde. Nottingham then hit the first pitch he saw to the left-center field gap, scoring Hyde for a 1-0 lead.
In the top of the second inning, River Bandits third baseman Kristian Trompiz hit a leadoff single to right field, and Hernandez smacked his first Midwest League home run over the left-field wall for a 3-0 lead. The next batter, Laureano, launched his second home run in three games to the left-field corner, just inside the foul pole for Quad Cities’ first back-to-back home runs of the season and a 4-0 lead.
Perez (1-0) got help from double plays his teammates turned to end the first and second innings. In the first inning, after right fielder Ross Kivett hit a one-out single and designated hitter Mike Gerber drew a walk, Perez got second baseman Joey Pankake to ground to Trompiz to begin a double play. In the second inning, first baseman Will Kengor hit a leadoff single to right field, but two batters later, catcher Shane Zeile grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The Whitecaps (26-27) had their best scoring chance against Perez in the fifth inning. Zeile drew a leadoff walk, and with one out, shortstop Garrett Mattlage and center fielder Derek Hill hit consecutive singles. With the bases loaded, Perez caught a comeback line drive by Kivett and struck out Gerber – the league’s leading hitter with a .370 batting average entering Wednesday – to end the inning. In a career-high five innings, Perez allowed six hits and three walks with five strikeouts.
Szkutnik retired 10 River Bandits in a row before Nottingham led off the sixth inning with his second double. Right fielder Sean McMullen advanced Nottingham with a groundout to first base, and Trompiz hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Nottingham for a 5-0 lead. Szkutnik was charged with a season-high five earned runs on five hits and one walk with four strikeouts in six innings.
River Bandits right-hander Austin Chrismon began the sixth inning and retired the first three Whitecaps. In the seventh inning, Zeile hit a leadoff triple and later scored on Hill’s two-out single. Chrismon then retired seven of the final eight batters – allowing only a two-out walk in the eighth inning – to pitch four scoreless innings for his second save of the season.
Whitecaps right-hander Josh Heddinger pitched the final three innings for the home team. His high school teammate, River Bandits first baseman Jamie Ritchie, led off the eighth inning with a double and scored on Nottingham’s one-out, ground-ball double down the first-base line. Trompiz then doubled off the left-center field wall to score Nottingham for a 7-1 River Bandits advantage. In the top of the ninth inning, Martin took Heddinger deep to right field for his second Midwest League home run and an 8-1 Quad Cities lead.
Quad Cities continues its series in West Michigan at 6 p.m. Central Thursday, when River Bandits right-hander Brock Dykxhoorn (3-3) is scheduled to face Whitecaps right-hander Fernando Perez (0-5).
UP NEXT: Modern Woodmen Park is hosting a Father’s Day Cookout for the 1:15 p.m. game Sunday, June 21. Call 563-324-3000 to order a package that includes a game ticket and access to the all-you-can-eat buffet in the Budweiser Champions Club. The day includes a Mega Mini-Fridge Giveaway presented by Budweiser and 7G Distributing and is a Family Sunday presented by B100 and ESPN 93.5. Individual tickets are on sale at the River Bandits box office and online at riverbandits.com. Ticket plans of 12 to 70 games – which include free parking, reserved seats, merchandise discounts, and guaranteed giveaways – are available by calling 563-324-3000.
ABOUT THE BANDITS: The River Bandits ownership in 2014 made one of the biggest improvements to Modern Woodmen Park since the ballpark was first built back in 1931! A new Ferris wheel, standing 105 feet over the playing field, opened May 24, Space Camp opened June 20; the new Drop'N Twist debuted in July; and the newly expanded 300-foot long zip line also reopened.
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