The Albuquerque Isotopes did not have a happy homecoming Friday night after a long day of travel. It showed in a late meltdown led to a 7-2 loss to the Sacramento River Cats.
“Travel days in this league have been talked about forever,” said manager Glenallen Hill, who noted that his team left the hotel in Reno at 4 a.m. and got back to Albuquerque at noon. “I think it was more that than anything else.
“But that’s just this league. Sometimes you have to dig deep on these days. You have to go out and compete. I thought overall we were flat.”
Jon Gray did not have his best command starting for the Isotopes (45-55). The right-hander allowed two runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out five, lasting just five innings while one pitch in particular gave him fits all night.
“The fastball, especially, I don’t know what it was, travel or what, it’s been shaky and tough,” Gray said. “But I just really had to work offspeed. Fastball location was not working.”
Gray threw just 53 of 93 pitches for strikes. He did manage to strand eight runners, at least.
“You’ve just got to tell yourself to execute pitches, put the ball where you can get an out,” Gray said. “Luckily for me my changeup was on. So I got most of my outs with that.”
Gray’s best moments, arguably, came at the end of his final inning. He gave up two walks and a single to load the bases with one out, only to buckle down and get a strikeout and a flyout to escape the jam.
“When your command’s not there, your command’s not there,” Hill said. “But you could see, even when his command was not A-plus, he was able to compete and he pitched out of bases loaded.
“It’s just credit to his pedigree. If he can go out and perform like that and keep the score (2-1), then we’ll take that every day.”
While Gray was struggling, Albuquerque’s lineup was having a tough time doing anything against San Francisco Giants No. 5 prospect Clayton Blackburn. The big right-hander allowed just two runs on six hits and two walks in seven innings.
“He showed what he could do with decent stuff but with plus command,” said catcher Tom Murphy, who went 1-for-4 in his second Triple-A game and first in Albuquerque. “He was able to throw all of his pitches within the zone. I give a lot of credit to him, but we’ve definitely got to swing it better and have better approaches against guys like that.”
The Isotopes got a leadoff home run from Roger Bernadina in the second inning and an RBI single from Trevor Story in the fifth that tied the game at 2-2. That would be it for either team until the eighth.
That was when the wheels came off for Albuquerque, which made two errors and a series of additional blunders as Sacramento (44-56) scored five runs. Adam Duvall’s two-run single capped the mini-onslaught against reliever Nelson Gonzalez (3-3), who had a 2.17 ERA prior to this appearance.
The River Cats loaded the bases on a double, a bunt single and a walk. Mac Williamson then grounded into a fielder’s choice, driving in the go-ahead run, and another scored as shortstop Cristhian Adames could not come up with a chopper for an error.
Everth Cabrera then hit one to first baseman Kyle Parker, who threw to Adames at second for one out, only to then see Adames’ throw go awry for another error as two runs scored. Two batters later, Duvall’s single to center made it 7-2.
“It typically happens where there is one (big) inning,” Hill said. “That’s what happened tonight.”
Albuquerque and Sacramento will meet again Saturday at 7:05 p.m., with Dukes Retro Night as the promotion. The Isotopes will send right-hander Boone Whiting (2-4, 5.40 ERA) to the mound against River Cats lefty Nik Turley (4-4, 4.89).