PAWTUCKET – The Pawtucket Red Sox are on the type of roll that has not been seen in these parts in quite some time.
True, the PawSox won eight straight games last August, but the team was far removed from playoff contention at that point. The winning streak Pawtucket currently enjoys – it’s now five games after Tuesday’s well-executed 3-1 win against Syracuse – lends credence to the idea that the 2011 season could be different from last couple of campaigns, which saw the locals spend most of the summer playing out the string.
While Lars Anderson’s two-run single in the first inning and the five innings of one-run ball turned in by starting pitcher Kyle Weiland will go down as the key factors in Pawtucket maintaining its winning edge, the most newsworthy development pertains to Matt Albers. The relief pitcher pronounced he’s good to return to major-league duty after tossing two scoreless innings. Currently on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle, Albers said afterwards that he is scheduled to fly to Los Angeles Wednesday morning. He will be activated off the disabled list on Thursday, which is the first day he’s eligible to come off.
“I feel 100 percent and I have been for some time now,” said Albers, who tossed 27 pitches (17 strikes) with a strikeout and a hit. Albers’ fastball topped out at 94 miles per hour.
After needing 11 pitches to retire the Chiefs in the sixth, Albers returned to the mound for the seventh. The rugged right-hander breezed through the first two batters before Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler popped out of the dugout. The purpose of the mound meeting was for Beyeler to inform Albers that Syracuse’s Brian Bixler would serve as his last hitter. Albers took the news and promptly struck out Bixler on a 92 mph fastball.
“It was a good five or six days before I felt good again,” said Albers, on the DL since April 8 (retroactive to April 6). “It definitely bothered me right when it happened, but it felt fine about a week after. I just needed a little rest and now I feel strong and ready to get back.”
Weiland was coming off a 10-strikeout performance in his last start, which came in 4 2/3 innings against Syracuse. He labored a little bit in the first as the Chiefs benefited from two hits and a walk, which led to the game’s first run. The right-handed Weiland was able to regroup as the Chiefs were unable to solve him over the final four innings he was out there. He walked four but also fanned four.
“There were a couple of spots when Kyle bent but didn’t break,” said Beyeler. “He did a nice job after the first.”
All the offense Pawtucket pitchers would need came on one swing in home half of the first. Coming off a three-hit game Monday, Anderson continued the good times when he slapped a 2-1 pitch into left field. Ryan Kalish and Yamaico Navarro scored with what proved to be the tying and game-winning runs. The PawSox added an insurance run in the second on a run-scoring double by Kalish. Catcher Michael McKenry scored from second after a balk allowed him to move up to second.
The defensive play of the night came in the fourth, when right fielder Josh Reddick gunned down Syracuse’s Jeff Frazier at the plate. Reddick caught a fly ball in medium right field, then unleashed a strong throw that was complete when McKenry got Frazier with a sweeping tag.
“He does a nice job out there,” said Beyeler about Reddick.
The good pitching continued for the PawSox after Weiland departed. Albers did his part with two strong frames, then Jason Rice took over in the eighth. On Sunday Rice allowed four runs while recording just one out. He fared much better Tuesday, pitching a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Scott Atchison finished off the Chiefs with a run-free ninth en route to picking up the save. Syracuse had the tying run standing in the batter’s box with two down, but Atchison got Alex Valdez to bite at a 79 mph offering for strike three.
“We’re getting some timely hits but we’re pitching really well,” said Beyeler.