Utility man Steve Wilkerson made his presence known during a weekend series against the Charlotte Knights, playing three different positions, making sparkling defensive plays, and contributing clutch hits as the Tides took three of four games against last-place Charlotte.
TIDES SEASON TO DATE
The Tides (36-30, 2nd in the IL South through Sunday) entered the series with Charlotte having lost two out of three games to the Gwinnett Stripers (Braves’ AAA club) and scoring just four runs in those three games. Starting pitcher John Means (6 IP, 0 R, 8 K) and center fielder Cedric Mullins (4-for-11, 4 doubles) had standout performances for the Tides in the Gwinnett series. Norfolk currently features three of the Orioles’ top 30 prospects: outfielders Mullins (6) and D.J. Stewart (11) and pitcher Yefry Ramirez (17).
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION: CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS
It hasn’t been an easy homestand for the Tides: After dropping two of three to a Gwinnett team featuring some of the best players in the Braves’ minor league system, Norfolk had to turn around the next day and play the first of four games against the Charlotte Knights, the top farm club of the Chicago White Sox. The Knights have no shortage of highly touted players themselves, highlighted by hard-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech – the No. 8 prospect in all of Minor League Baseball. To put into perspective how talented the White Sox system is, Kopech isn’t even No. 1 in the organization – that honor belongs to Double-A outfielder Eloy Jimenez, the No. 3 prospect in MiLB.
The Knights also feature pitchers Spencer Adams (No. 14 in the White Sox organization), Jordan Stephens (20), and Thyago Viera (27). Charlotte entered the series with a record of 29-35, but had won 11 of their last 16 games.
TOP TIDES PLAYERS OF THE SERIES
RHP Jimmy Yacabonis: 4.2 IP, 5 K, 2 R
Yacabonis continued his recent hot streak on the mound, going 4.2 innings in his start on Thursday night and striking out five. The righty has a 1.27 ERA and 3-0 record in his last six starts over 28.1 innings.
2B/3B/LF Steve Wilkerson: 7-for-16, 2 2B, HR, 6 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB
The switch-hitting Wilkerson reached base ten times in four games and played stellar defense at second base, third base, and left field. He’s hit safely in 14 of 16 games this year after serving a 50-game suspension to begin the season and has been an invaluable piece at the top of the Tides lineup.
INDIVIDUAL GAME RECAPS
Tides 6, Charlotte 4
The Tides took advantage of poor command from Knights’ starter Kopech on Thursday night, sending nine hitters to the plate and scoring three times in the bottom of the third en route to a 5-4 victory. Drew Dosch had three RBIs, including a two-run double, to pace Norfolk’s offense.
Starting pitcher Jimmy Yacabonis threw four and two-thirds innings for the Tides, striking out five and giving up two runs. Joely Rodriguez took over for Yacabonis and threw 2.1 innings of scoreless relief.
The Knights shaved the deficit to 5-4 in the top of the eighth inning when rehabbing White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia launched a long two-run homer off of Andrew Faulkner. Jhan Marinez entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and proceeded to record the final four outs for his eighth save.
Kopech walked eight hitters in three-plus innings of work and gave up two hits for Charlotte, surrendering five runs while throwing five wild pitches.
Wilkerson – playing Thursday’s game in left field – went 2-for-3 at the plate while reaching base four times and making a difficult catch at the left field wall to end the top of the sixth. First baseman Garabez Rosa added a pair of RBI singles.
Charlotte 7, Tides 2
Norfolk was unable to take advantage of several early run-scoring opportunities on Friday night, as they fell to Charlotte by a score of 7-2. Tides designated hitter Jaycob Brugman reached base four times, stole two bases, and drove home a run.
Charlotte struck first in the top of the second inning, as a base hit and two walks loaded the bases with one out. Knights catcher Dustin Garneau then singled to left field, scoring two, and shortstop Eddy Alvarez ripped a double into right field to score another run and make the score 3-0.
A bloop single by Brugman in the second and a double by Steve Wilkerson in the fourth scored the only two Tides runs of the game. Norfolk stranded ten runners on base.
Tides starter Tim Melville struggled with his command, walking four hitters and allowing six runs in three and two-thirds innings. Though he got the Knights to go down 1-2-3 in the first inning, he allowed three runs in the second and needed to rely on a beautiful diving grab by Mullins in center field to wiggle out of a bases loaded jam in the third. Four hits and a walk in the Knights’ fourth inning extended Charlotte’s lead to 6-1 and ended Melville’s night.
Reliever Paul Fry threw three scoreless innings for the Tides, striking out three. Wilkerson, playing second base in Friday’s game, went 1-for-4 at the plate.
Tides 4, Charlotte 3
Matt Wotherspoon threw five innings of one-run ball in a spot start and Renato Nunez and Steve Wilkerson blasted solo home runs in a 4-3 Tides victory that saw Charlotte and Norfolk trade the lead four times.
The Knights scored the first run of the game for the third straight night, using a double, two walks, and an RBI single in the top of the first to jump ahead 1-0. Wotherspoon settled down after the first frame, retiring 14 straight hitters and striking out a total of 5 hitters.
A night after leaving 13 runners on base, the Tides left the bases loaded again in the bottom of the first against Knights starter Spencer Adams. The game remained 1-0 Charlotte until the fourth inning, when Nunez launched a line drive that cleared the wall in left field for a leadoff home run.
Wilkerson led off the bottom of the sixth by crushing a 3-2 offering from Adams over the right field fence, giving Norfolk a 2-1 lead. In the top of the seventh, he put his defense on display – first bare handing a bunt and firing a strike to first base for the out, then snagging a hard-hit grounder on the third base line and throwing across the diamond for another out.
Reliever Andrew Faulkner got into trouble in the top of the eighth after surrendering a two-out walk and allowing the next hitter to reach on an error by Garabez Rosa at first base. Manager Ron Johnson elected to bring in closer Jhan Marinez, who immediately allowed back-to-back RBI singles to give Charlotte a 3-2 lead.
The Tides offense refused to go quietly in the eighth. Singles from Adrian Marin and Wilkerson put runners at first and second with one out, and a D.J. Stewart double scored Marin to tie the game and put runners at second and third. Nunez then floated a bloop single to the edge of the left field grass over the drawn-in Charlotte infield, scoring Wilkerson to take a 4-3 lead. Marinez remained in the game to shut the door in the ninth inning.
Tides 11, Charlotte 4
The Tides rode an eight-run eighth inning to come from behind and tally a 11-4 win on Sunday afternoon. Right fielder D.J. Stewart went 3-for-5 to lead the offensive effort.
The Knights once again used a first-inning rally to take a quick lead. Two singles and an RBI double from Avisail Garcia put Charlotte up 2-0 before the Tides came up to bat, and Knights pitcher Jordan Stephens breezed through the first three innings while holding Norfolk scoreless. The Knights added a third run in the fourth inning on an RBI single.
Stewart got the Tides going in the bottom of the fourth, lining a single to center field to lead off the inning. The next hitter, Renato Nunez, dribbled a ball to shortstop that forced the Knights to take the out at first and allowed Stewart to advance to second. After Drew Dosch walked, a trio of RBI singles from Garabez Rosa, Caleb Joseph, and Marin tied the game.
Charlotte reclaimed the lead in the fifth after a run scored on a two-out throwing error by Dosch. Three relievers – Ricardo Pinto, Gregory Infante, and Aaron Bummer – shut the Tides down in the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings, while Norfolk’s D.J. Snelten and Joely Rodriguez combined to post scoreless innings in the 6th, 7th, and 8th.
Bummer remained in the game to begin the eighth inning, but was lifted for righty Rob Scahill after allowing the first three Tides hitters to reach base. Scahill immediately walked Marin to tie the game and then gave up a two-run single to Mullins as the Tides took a 6-4 lead. Subsequent RBI hits by Wilkerson, Stewart, Dosch, and Jaycob Brugman swelled the lead to 11-4. Rodriguez remained in the game on the mound and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to seal the win.
Norfolk begins a six-game road trip to play the Indianapolis Indians (Pirates) and Louisville Bats (Reds) on Tuesday. The Tides return to Harbor Park on June 25.
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