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Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Heathcott, Flores bail out bullpen in Opening Night win

TRENTON – Slade Heathcott had one thought on his mind as he strode to the dish with his team tied on Thursday in the bottom of the 11th against the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

“First, I was trying to hit a homer,” Heathcott admitted. “Then that didn’t work out, so I just choked up and was trying to put it in play, trying to beat a ball out to first, trying to get on base and maybe steal second.”

And while he didn’t homer, Heathcott lashed a triple into the left-center field alley, putting himself 90 feet away for Ramon Flores. His sac fly into medium center field gave the Thunder a 6-5 win over the Richmond Flying Squirrels in front of the remnants of the 6,720 who packed the newly rebranded Arm & Hammer Park for Trenton’s home opener.

Before the joyous scrum that comes with a walk-off win, there was a bit of unease to deal with, courtesy of Branden Pinder and a bullpen that has been anything but trustworthy in the early season.

Handed the ball in the eighth inning, Pinder allowed Richmond to score four runs – including catcher Andrew Susac’s second homer of the evening – and turn what looked like a sure Thunder victory into a tie game.

After starting the season with 2 1/3 scoreless frames, Pinder has surrendered eight earned runs over most recent two outings. He’s not the only one causing problems in the Trenton pen, however. The relief corps combined has let up 18 runs over its first 18 1/3 innings, which works out to an ERA of 8.83.

Obviously, it’s early and things will level out somewhat as the season goes along, but for now there’s room in manager Tony Franklin’s mind for a little bit of concern with the arms he trusts to get outs late in games.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said afterward. “If I had an answer, I’m sure I’d correct it, but I just don’t have an answer right now. But yeah, we’ve given up a few more runs than what we’d care to, so we’ll have to kind of correct that, and we’d like to do it as quickly as possible.”

Pinder’s meltdown – which followed a scoreless seventh from Kelvin Perez – washed away a stellar home debut for Zach Nuding, who was with the team for the final week last season and hung around for the playoffs but never pitched.

Nuding, who was victimized by six errors (which led to seven unearned runs) on Friday in Portland, allowed just one run over six innings. He struck out seven and walked two. The only blemish on his ledger was Susac’s first homer, which came in the fourth.

Before that, the closest Richmond came to cracking Nuding was in the third, when catcher’s interference on J.R. Murphy loaded the bases with one out. Nuding coaxed weak contact to shortstop from the next two hitters, ending the Squirrels’ threat.

NOTES: Murphy was briefly attended to by trainers after being hit by outfielder Javier Herrera’s backswing, which resulted in catcher’s interference on Murphy. He stayed in the game after catching a warm-up pitch from Nuding. … Jim Craigie, the CEO of Church and Dwight (Arm & Hammer’s parent company) threw out one of two ceremonial first pitches. The other was fired by A.J. Cimino, son of Mercer County Freeholder John Cimino. 


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