By DAVE UTNIK
WOODBRIDGE — The Winston-Salem Warthogs were a bit preoccupied with Edward Valdez’s glove Friday night.
They probably shouldn’t have fretted so much.
The Warthogs are where they are in the Southern Division playoff race because they have one of the most potent batting orders in the Carolina League. They can hit anyone, including Valdez and, apparently, everyone else the Cannons can throw at them.
Shortstop Mike Morse hit a three-run homer in the second inning and Daylan Holt lined a pinch-hit, three-run double into left-center field in the eighth as Winston-Salem rallied to beat the Cannons, 8-6, in front of 4,669 fans on Katy Benko Night.
”The last couple of games we’ve been struggling with the bats and the pitchers have been carrying us,” Holt said. ”But hitting is contagious and tonight we kept battling back and forth.”
The battle early on was a mind game between Warthogs manager Razor Shines and Valdez, who was making his third start for the Cannons and his first against Winston-Salem. The Warthogs (21-17) suspected that Valdez might be rubbing something on the baseball and twice asked the umpire crew of Joe Stegner and John Blackburn to check the right-hander’s glove.
Neither inquiry resulted in the discovery of a weapon of baseball destruction and a lack of evidence enabled Valdez to stick around long enough to keep the Cannons in the game.
”We saw him wiping his glove in the second inning and then it came up again later in the game,” Holt said. ”We figured if nothing else we might get in his head.”
Valdez gave up five runs but he pitched into the seventh inning, was backed by Jesse Gutierrez’s team-leading 16th homer and turned the game over to the bullpen with the Cannons ahead by a run.
”The ball kept getting sticky but he sweats a lot and uses a lot of rosin,” Cannons manager Jayhawk Owens said. ”I know from being a catcher that when it’s humid the ball gets sticky. Everything he did was legal.
”If he was cheating he didn’t do a very good job of it because he gave up two homers.”
Morse hit his eighth homer of the year, first baseman Casey Rogowski followed with a solo blast in the third and Holt capped off a 16-hit night with a laser that came within inches of being a grand slam.
”Every time you’re up there to pinch hit the odds are in the pitcher’s favor,” Holt said. ”It’s tough, but he fell behind and he had to give me a pitch to hit. I’ve hit the ball well lately and fortunately I made good contact.”
Making contact has not been much of an issue for Holt lately. He’s driven in nine runs in his last three games.
His 61st hit of the season made a winner of reliever Julio Castro, who hurled two shutout innings. Rick Hummel worked out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth to preserve the lead and Josh Fields retired the Cannons in order in the ninth to earn his 15th save.
Josh Dawes, who gave up Holt’s double, took the loss for the Cannons, who fell to 17-22 in second half play despite a two-run single by Jeff Bannon, a sacrifice fly by Rafael Motooka and Gutierrez’s homer.
”Any time you give up 16 hits it’s not easy to win a game,” Owens said.
SCATTERED BLASTS: The trade winds that blew through Cincinnati earlier this week finally hit Pfitzner Stadium Friday night. In a whirlwind of activity that was set in motion with major-league deals involving the Yankees and Athletics, the Reds assigned two pitching prospects to the Potomac Cannons and, in a stunning move, parted ways with former big-leaguer Clayton Andrews.
Left-hander Charlie Manning, a top-20 prospect with the Yankees, was added to the starting rotation, along with Jeff Bruksch, who was ranked among the top 10 right-handers in Oakland’s farm system.
Manning was acquired in the trade that sent Aaron Boone to the Yankees, while Bruksch came to the Reds in a package deal from the A’s for Jose Guillen. To make room on the Cannons’ 25-player roster, the Reds released Andrews, who won a game for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000 and was 5-6 with a 4.62 ERA with Potomac. Potomac also released right-hander Jorge Cortez and assigned reliever Kyle Edens to low-Class A Dayton.