SIOUX CITY – Twenty months after Tommy John elbow surgery, James Needy earned an opening-night start in a Sioux City Explorers rotation Manager Steve Montgomery believes to be exceptional.
Needy, impressed by his fellow starters, as well, took the compliment to heart.
And, with the X’s bullpen pitching shutout ball while recording the final 11 outs, it added up to a 2-1 victory Thursday night in a season opener against the I-29 rival Sioux Falls Canaries.
Four Sioux City pitchers combined to strike out 15 batters and Needy notched nine of those before exiting one out into the sixth inning of a game that kicked off the 25th season for the Explorers. With 89 pitches through five frames, it was moderately surprising he came out to throw five more to retire the Canaries’ Blake Guinn, Jr.
“It wasn’t anything other than we had a fresh bullpen and his pitch count was up to 94,’’ said Steve Montgomery, enjoying his third win in four season openers as the Sioux City field manager. “James was pretty good tonight. He was a little off mechanically. He wasn’t staying on top of his fastball early. But credit him for making a mid-game adjustment.’’
Needy, a 6-6, 230-pounder from suburban San Diego, returned the compliment, praising the scouting report provided by Montgomery and his pitching coach, Bobby Post.
“Coming into a new league, I didn’t know,’’ said Needy, a 26-year-old who reached the Triple-A level twice during his time in the farm system of his hometown San Diego Padres. “I’ve seen some of the hitters. You know baseball’s a small world, but their scouting report today really helped me. Just weave in and out of the lineup. That’s the way it is anywhere you go.’’
Guinn, was certainly a familiar face, having roomed with Needy in the Advanced Class A California League. And, it was Guinn making the final out Needy recorded – a tailing fly ball leftfielder Jayce Ray managed to chase down.
“They also have Bryce Morrow (scheduled to pitch tonight’s game) and he was my roommate a couple years, as well,’’ said Needy.
Ray also came up with probably the biggest hit of the night in a pitcher’s duel between Needy and the lefty Joe Bircher, starting his fourth-year with Sioux Falls after posting the American Association’s second lowest ERA in a hard-luck 6-6 campaign last year.
The former University of Washington star laced a one-out double to left-center in the first inning to plate the game’s first run. Taking third on a misplay in the outfield, Ray trotted home when returning league MVP Nate Samson followed with a base hit that made it 2-0.
That was all the scoring for the X’s and yet it proved to be enough.
The Canaries got on the board when Blake Schmit led off the third inning with a base hit and scored all the way from irst base on Ty Morrison’s double to right-center.
The visitors couldn’t cash in on Schmit’s leadoff double in the fifth inning and they wasted another chance when Morrison reached second with one out in the seventh, dropping down a bunt single that drew an errant throw.
Brad Orosey, retiring six of seven batters he faced as the third Sioux City pitcher, stranded Morrison when he struck out power hitters Burt Reynolds and Chris Jacobs.
Kevin McCanna, taking over for Needy, retired two of three men he faced while finishing the sixth frame. Then, following Orosey’s set-up effort, it was closer P.J. Francescon nailing down the save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
“We put together a game plan before the game and credit the four guys (pitchers) that went out there and executed it,’’ said Montgomery.
Game 2 of a four-game, two-city series, is scheduled for 7:05 tonight at Lewis and Clark. However, a wet Friday forecast may threaten that contest and force it to be played as part of a doubleheader when the Canaries return here next Friday. Sioux Falls is slated to host games Saturday and Sunday.
With temperatures in the 50’s, the season opener drew only 1,042. That was a big disappointment with pre-game ceremonies that included a surprise appearance from Ed Nottle, the X’s manager for the first eight seasons of the franchise (1993-2000) and also for two more campaigns in 2006-07.