Matt Nevarez’s mid-90s fastball is what makes him one of the Wingnuts most relied-upon relief pitchers, but even on nights when it is most effective, it takes but one hitter for Nevarez to be undone by his greatest asset.
Nevarez struck out the side in the top of the ninth Friday against Kansas City, but only after he allowed a solo home run to Brandon Jones that broke a tie and led to the T-Bones’ 5-4 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Wichita closer has scouts on his trail because of a fastball that reached 97 mph Friday. But when a hitter times it perfectly, as Jones did on Nevarez’s second pitch, it can go out even faster. Center fielder Mitch Einertson jumped at the wall, but the ball was just out of his reach.
Jones is no stranger to plus fastballs — he spent parts of three seasons with the Atlanta Braves.
"Got 1-0 to a pretty good hitter and left the ball up again and (Jones) hit it out to the deepest part of the park," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "… (Nevarez) is going to be better most of the time than what you saw tonight. It’s one pitch."
Jones’ homer quickly turned the game in Kansas City’s favor after it swung toward the Wingnuts for the first time in the eighth inning.
Before Jones’ blast, the T-Bones scored their previous two runs with the help of several Wichita mistakes. Kansas City scored a run in the sixth after Wingnuts starter Ben Graham walked a batter and hit two.
In the seventh, Kansas City took a 4-1 lead on a passed ball.
Wichita scored in the bottom of the seventh but the T-Bones were poised to add to their lead in the eighth. They got runners to first and third with no outs, prompting Wichita to bring its infield in.
But a lineout, a runner thrown out at home and a foulout kept Kansas City from providing insurance, and the Wingnuts carried over the momentum in the bottom of the inning. Juan Richardson’s single brought up the tying run, and C.J. Ziegler knotted it with a long two-run homer, his seventh of the season.
"Any way that we can get a comeback and put some runs on the board if we’re down, it does feel good," Ziegler said.
Jones grasped the importance of answering Wichita’s runs quickly and took a ball from Nevarez, which was enough to prepare himself for the flamethrower’s next offering.
Nevarez blew away another ex-major leaguer, Ray Sadler, following Jones’ homer. His fastball proved too difficult for Trevor Coleman and Kala Ka’aihue to handle, too. But Nevarez, who caught the eye of scouts during Wichita’s recent road trip, met his match in Jones, a veteran of 51 MLB games.
"I was trying to be aggressive early in the count," Jones said. "He gave me a good fastball that I could handle and I put a good swing on it."
Kansas City took advantage of limited opportunities against Graham, managing three hits against him. Two were solo homers, though, and Graham’s control problems also led to problems.
The Wingnuts weren’t as efficient, leaving 11 runners on base. The Wingnuts were relatively successful against Kansas City’s bullpen, but former Wingnut Nick Singleton limited them during his 6 2/3 innings.
Singleton allowed two runs on nine hits and was in position for the win after Lucas Irvine recorded the final out of the top of the seventh, getting John Rodriguez, the potential tying run, on a groundout.
The Wingnuts were familiar with Singleton’s ability to escape jams or, most of the time, avoid them — he won 18 games with Wichita in the last two seasons.
"More often than not he’s going to keep his team in the ballgame, just like he did for us all the time and just like most of our guys do all the time for us," Hooper said. "You knew he was going to keep them in the ballgame, and he did. He keeps guys off-balance, hits his spots and mixes it up really well."
|Bass lf||4||0||0||0||Khoury ss||4||0||0||0|
|Jones dh||5||2||2||1||Kahaulelio 2b||5||0||1||1|
|Sadler rf||3||1||0||0||Rodriguez dh||4||0||2||0|
|Coleman c||4||0||0||0||Richardson 3b||4||1||2||0|
|Kaaihue 1b||3||0||0||0||Ziegler 1b||4||1||2||2|
|Milner cf||2||1||2||1||Peralta rf||4||0||1||0|
|Goodwin 3b||4||0||2||1||Einertson cf||4||0||1||0|
|Duran ss||4||0||0||0||Freeman c||4||0||0||0|
|Fronk 2b||4||1||1||1||Conroy lf||4||2||2||1|
LOB— Kansas City 9, Wichita 7. 2B— Kahauelio (7), Rodriguez (6). HR — Jones (3), Milner (2), Fronk (2). SB — Sadler (1).
|Kent W, 1-2||1||0||0||0||0||2|
|Wiley S (5)||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nevarez L, 2-1||1||1||1||1||0||3|
HBP — by Graham (Sadler, Kaaihue, Milner), by Singleton (Khoury).
WP — Martinez (2). PB — Freeman.
Umpires — home, Bryan Child; first, Andrew Carroll; third, Rich Gunton. T — 3:05. A — 4,067.