If there was ever a time that the 51s needed a long performance from their starter, it was Saturday.
After three bullpen days in their last six games, Ricky Knapp gave the 51s exactly what they needed, going seven innings and giving up three runs in the 51s’ 6-3 victory over Salt Lake at Cashman Field.
Friday, the 51s (29-46) had to use Logan Taylor, Kyle Regnault, Beck Wheeler and Alberto Baldonado for extended appearances after starter Wilfredo Boscan was knocked out of the game in the first inning when a batted ball hit his shin.
“The fact that we’ve had to be in the bullpen the last couple of days pretty deep doesn’t necessarily affect my mindset going into the game but it’s definitely something that in the back of your head, I know that our bullpen is a little bit thin so obviously a seven inning-performance is very well received,” Knapp said.
Friday’s game left only three relievers — Hansel Robles, Ben Rowen and Kevin McGowan — available on Saturday and meant the 51s would need those innings out of Knapp — good or bad.
Luckily for the 51s, they were mostly the former.
“I was able to throw strikes in quality places,” Knapp said. “I wasn’t necessarily ahead of everybody but I thought that I was able to do a good job moving the ball in and out with my fastball. I wasn’t necessarily striking everybody out but when I’m able to locate in and away and change eye levels, it really kind of plays into my game where they were hitting the ball weakly early.”
Knapp gave up two runs in the second inning on a Ramon Flores single and one in the sixth when Shane Robinson scored on a Jefry Marte double play ball.
But he limited a Salt Lake (41-34) team that had scored 23 runs in the past two games to just six hits and never trailed in his outing thanks to some early offense.
“Our offense did a tremendous job today of scoring four pretty early in the game especially getting that one back after I gave up the two spot,” Knapp said. “Definitely having that lead allowed me to, I wouldn’t say kind of relax or calm down, but it definitely put me into an even more attack-focused state of mind.”
The 51s hit for the cycle in the first inning as a team, jumping out to an early three-run lead. Victor Cruzado led off the inning with a single, Matt Reynolds followed with a home run, Amed Rosario with a triple and after one out, Kevin Plawecki completed the cycle with a double.
They added another run in the second on a Reynolds RBI single and two in the third, one on Dominic Smith’s eighth home run of the season and the other on a wild pitch which plated Plawecki.
“We were staying in the middle of the field,” manager Pedro Lopez said. “That’s the one thing I think that’s key for us. If we’re able to stay in the middle of the field, good things will happen. I think we’ll minimize the swing and misses on breaking balls down and away.”
Though the 51s didn’t score after the third, that was enough for Knapp and Robles, who gave the 51s two scoreless innings of his own and helped preserve the rest of the bullpen.
Lopez said in Sunday’s matinee that Rowen and McGowan would be available, and Logan Taylor and Beck Wheeler could be used in emergency.
Had Knapp struggled and Lopez needed to tap more into the bullpen, the 51s would have had much more limited options for Sunday’s game.
“It was a good outing. It was well needed,” Lopez said. “Only two pitchers in nine innings, that’s pretty good.”
Who: Salt Lake Bees at Las Vegas 51s
When: 12:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cashman Field
Starters: Daniel Wright (2-3, 7.71 ERA) vs. Mitch Atkins (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Monday: Las Vegas at Tacoma, 6:05 p.m.
Tuesday: Las Vegas at Tacoma, 6:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Las Vegas at Tacoma, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Las Vegas at Tacoma, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Las Vegas at Salt Lake, 5:35 p.m.
Second baseman Gavin Cecchini was officially added to the roster on Saturday after being sent down on Friday. Wilfredo Boscan, who was injured in Friday’s loss, was placed on the temporarily inactive list.
Contact Betsy Helfand at email@example.com. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.