The Central Division leading Lincoln Saltdogs continue to prove that they have may just very well have the best pitching staff in the American Association. Wednesday night that staff was on display, as Jeff McKenzie one-hit the South Division leading Wichita Wingnuts, the best hitting team in the league, for 5.1-innings in leading his team to a 5-0 victory. The shutout gave the team their ninth blanking of an opponent, tying a franchise record.
Lincoln jumped out in front right away against Wingnuts starter Jon Link. Robby Kuzdale lined a single for a base hit to start the game and moved to second on a single by All-Star Luis Alen. Brandon Jacobs then hit a sacrifice fly to score Kuzdale and it was 1-0 Saltdogs.
It would stay that way through the first five innings of the game as both McKenzie and Link battled pitch-for-pitch, knowing that even one mistake could cost them the game. Neither one was going to make that mistake on this night, that is until the sixth inning.
McKenzie had held onto the one-run lead, but his team gave him some breathing room in the sixth. Jacobs drew a walk with one out and Rene Leveret followed with a free pass of his own to put two on. Link got Austin Darby to fly out, but Jon Smith delivered a triple to the wall in center that scored both runners and extended the lead to three.
In the bottom of the sixth, McKenzie retired the first hitter of the inning, but Zack Cox drew a walk and that would be it for the Lincoln starter. McKenzie (4-3) had thrown 81-pitches, 44 for strikes. He allowed just one-hit, a leadoff single to Christian Stringer in the bottom of the first, but then allowed five-walks over his 5.1-innings of work. The Saltdogs starter had one strikeout.
Clayton Cook took over in the sixth and pitched 1.2-innings of perfect relief. He struck out 3. Brad Orosey tossed a perfect eighth inning and Stephen Skakelford closed out the game in the ninth, striking out two.
The Saltdogs offense did add two more runs in the eighth. Alen singled to start the inning. He moved to second on a wild pitch, and reached third when Jacobs singled to center. A fielder’s choice by Darby scored Alen. Darby then stole second and scored when Smith singled to right with two outs.
Stringer and Clevlen had the only two hits for Wichita. Alen was 2-5 with a run scored. Smith was the big hero offensively, going 2-4 with 3-RBI. Ryan Wiggins was 2-4 in the contest. The Saltdogs catcher entered the series hitting just .131, but was 6-11 with a run and 2-RBI in the three-game set.
Lincoln now heads home to take on the St. Paul Saints in a 4-game set. Shairon Martis will start Game 1 against the Saints. Dan Johnson (1-2, 6.89) goes for St. Paul. First pitch is 6:35.
By Robert Pannier