By Pat Turner
Corpus Christi has been rolling the past two months, which is why the Hooks put a clamp on the Texas League South Division first-round title last week.
The Hooks have bounced back from a slow start with sound pitching and hot bats during that span. The Missions have taken much of the heat.
Corpus Christi continued its dominance by winning its 11th straight against San Antonio by opening the four-game series at Wolff Stadium with an 8-4 hammering Sunday.
The Hooks pounded their I-37 rival with the usual tactics. Keegan Yuhl (7-1) provided efficient mound work. The righthander wasn’t as sharp as his previous two outings (2-0 record, 1.13 ERA) against the Missions, but he was solid strong enough to hold the Missions to five hits and two runs through seven innings. His teammates made sure he worked in comfort by providing him an 8-0 cushion through the first three innings.
No doubt the outing gave Hooks’ manager Rodney Linares another pleasant day.
“We had a rough April (9-12), but most of my guys hadn’t played at this level,” Hooks manager Rodney Linares said. “The game was a little faster, but I’ve said all along they have a good track record of success in the minor leagues. They started playing better. It’s been fun to watch.
“We’re starting to hit. With our pitching if we get a lead we have a pretty good chance of winning.”
The Hooks made that point quickly Sunday.
Missions’ starter Zech Lemond, who moved from Single-A Lake Elsinore after Michael Kelly was promoted to Triple-A El Paso, had a rough go of it in his first Double-A start, giving up four runs in the first.
Teoscar Hernandez began Corpus Christi’s rally by bouncing a single off the third-base bag on a 0-2 count. Lemond then walked the next two batters to load the bases.
J.D. Davis lined a run-scoring single up the middle and Conrad Gregor brought in a run with a sacrifice fly. Nick Tanielu and Roberto Pena capped the rally with RBI singles.
It didn’t get much better in the second. The former Rice pitcher retired the first two batters, but got tagged for two more runs.
Derek Fisher kept the Hooks’ inning alive with an infield hit. After a walk to Davis, Gregor slammed a two-run double to right and scored on Tanieul’s single to up Corpus Christi’s lead to 7-0.
Corpus Christi followed with another run in the third on Hernandez’s RBI single that followed Pena’s double.
Missions’ reliever Adam Cimber took over the pitching in the fourth and zipped past the Hooks the next three innings, before Tayron Guerrero followed suit for two frames.
The Hooks didn’t need any more runs because the Missions were unable to counter attack.
The Missions showed a bit of offensive life in the bottom of the third. Gabrien Quintana walked and Ryan Miller was safe on an error, before Nelson Ward singled.
The potential to get back into the game looked promising, but the Missions could only muster two runs on an RBI single from Jose Rondon and a groundout.
The Missions added two runs the ninth with Ward and Rondon’s RBI singles. However reliever Michael Freeman, who allowed five hits in two innings, put a wrap on the victory by getting Torres on an infield pop out.
There is at least some good news for the Missions. Monday is the final game of the first half and a new season begins Tuesday with the opener of the second half, which happens to be game three of the four-game series with Corpus Christi.
Despite carrying a 21-47 record, the Missions have shown progress, the most recent being when they won their first road series of the season by taking three of four from Midland.
“We’re all ready for the second half,” Missions manager Phillip Wellman said. “We’re playing a little better. We had a rough one (Sunday), but we played well in Midland. Hopefully, we’ll carry on and continue to improve.
“We need to be more consistent offensively. Our bullpen has been outstanding. Our starting pitching has been keeping us in games. We need to come up with the hits.”
Missions’ notes: Kelly made an impressive Triple-A debut. While helping El Paso to a 7-1 win, Kelly pitched six shutout innings, while allowing two hits without a walk and three strikeouts….Springfield clinched the North Division first round title with a 5-2 win over Tulsa.