Cannons roll Rocks

WOODBRIDGE St. Louis Cardinals Director of Player Development Bruce Manno sat in a box seat behind home plate at Pfitzner Stadium Wednesday night and watched the team he assembled play like the pennant contenders he’d always hoped they become.

It was a proud moment for the first-year farm director, who spent four months acquiring players who were capable of transforming the Potomac Cannons into a winning team.

“It was fun. I know the guys have been working hard and it was nice to see them take what they’ve learned in [batting practice] and extra work and put it in the game,” Manno said.

There have been some tenuous moments especially during a 46-loss first half but with a 10-1 victory over the rival Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Cannons are right where Manno promised they’d be when the team broke camp in April competing for a Carolina League playoff berth.

“This was a must [win] game for us and the guys really responded well,” Manno said.

“Sometimes it’s a little tougher here because it’s more difficult to acquire talent for this level. It took longer than I would have liked, but we’ve improved.”

Wednesday’s game was evidence of that. Three of Manno’s most recent acquisitions second baseman Russell Lewis, first baseman Billy Munoz and pitcher Miguel Martinez were right in the middle of the action as the Cannons broke open a close game by scoring six times in the seventh.

Lewis, who was part of a July 27th trade that sent second baseman Warren Morris to the Red Sox, picked up his first hit and first RBI as a Cannon. Martinez, a promising young right-hander who joined the starting rotation following a promotion from Peoria on July 15, tossed six spectacular innings and former Indians farmhand Munoz came through with a two-run triple as Potomac (19-18) moved back over .500 and within two games of first place in the Northern Division.

“It was very tough at first getting traded. I wanted to make a good impression and I pressed a little bit. It came together some tonight,” said Lewis, who broke out of a 0-for-15 slump by going 3 for 4.

“I want to show I’m here to win too,” he said. “I just tried to stay relaxed and stick with what works.”

In his sixth start for the Cannons, the 24-year-old Lewis doubled in the first inning, singled and scored in the third and drove in Christopher Morris with a seventh-inning base hit that looked like it might be a huge insurance run at the time.

The Cannons went on to score six runs after Lewis’ final hit, but it still wound up being a big part of a confidence-boosting victory. Even without injured home run leader Aaron Fera, who is out of action with a sore lower back, Potomac’s lineup produced 16 hits.

Martinez returned the favor with an equally imposing performance. Pitching for the first time in 10 days, the blossoming 20-year-old allowed only two base runners in the first five innings and left the mound following a 68-pitch outing with a 2-1 lead. Aided in part by some web gem defense by Rodgers at third, Johnny Hernandez in left field and Milko Jaramillo at shortstop, Martinez earned his second win since taking departed all-star Rhett Parrott’s spot in the rotation.

This time he won a duel against the Blue Rocks’ Dusty Wrightsman, who fell to 7-4 despite allowing just two runs on six hits in five innings.

A 26th-round draft pick two summers ago, Wrightsman took the mound for a rare start. The 22-year-old has spent most of this season in the Blue Rocks’ bullpen. He appeared in 29 games as a reliever, picking up five saves with his last start coming on June 7 when he faced the Cannons in the second game of a doubleheader.

Until the seventh, the Blue Rocks had a chance to complete a three-game sweep. But after losing a pair of close games 1-0 on Monday and 6-4 on Tuesday the Cannons gave Martinez an early cushion to work with and he turned it over to the bullpen for safe keeping.

Hernandez drew a second-inning walk and eventually scored on a base hit by Jaramillo to put Potomac in front 1-0. Then Lewis singled and scored on a Ryan Hamill sacrifice fly in the third.

The Blue Rocks, held to just two hits in the first five innings, pulled to within 2-1 on an RBI single by Norris Hopper in the sixth. They threatened to do even more damage, but Rodgers cut behind the third base bag and turned a Justin Gemoll grounder into a sensational rally-killing double play.

“I’ve worked hard on my defense,” Rodgers said. “It’s a bigger part of my game than offense right now.”

Defense and pitching were the foundation of Wednesday’s triumph, but it was the Cannons’ offense that had a crowd of 2,506 clapping and cheering. Designated hitter Ryan Hamill drove in three runs one on a sacrifice fly and two more on a line drive single that soared just inches over the glove of Wilmington second baseman Thomas Lora in the seventh while Rodgers and right fielder Skip Schumaker also collected three hits each.

“We had to send a message,” Rodgers said. “We haven’t had that many hits against Wilmington, but [last night] we stayed patient and didn’t swing at pitches in the dirt.”

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