Seventeen runs,nineteen hits, and a chance to exhale.
That's one way to sum up Monday evening for the Great Lakes Loons, who broke out of their recentdoldrums with a 17-1 thumping of first-place West Michigan at Dow Diamond. The runs scored were one short of a team record, not that anyone was complaining after every batter in the lineup had at least one hit, and six had at least two.
Prior to Monday, the Loons had been scuffling – they were swept over the weekend in South Bend andhad lost nine of their last 10 games. But that was forgotten in Monday's hailstorm of runs and hits.
"We're a very together team and we know we should be better than we have been," said Loons secondbaseman Jesmuel Valentin, who celebrated his 20th birthday by getting three hits and driving in five runs. "We figure wehave four weeks left in this half and we can still make a run."
The Loons (17-19) entered Monday's game six games behind West Michigan in the first-half MidwestLeague Eastern Division standings. There's 34 games left in the half.
"We came in six back today, so it's not like we're completely out of the thing," said Loons managerBill Haselman. "There's a lot of teams still in it. But we just need to take it a game at a time and play the way we're capable of playing."
Almost lost in Monday's offensive outburst was a solid performance by Loons starting pitcher JonathanMartinez. The 19-year-old right-hander gave off a leadoff home run to the Whitecaps' Wynton Bernard, then just three singles the rest of the way. Martinez pitched six innings, walked none and struck out four.
"We've been working on his leverage over the mound and that allows him to come down in the zone withhis pitcher," said Loons pitching coach Bill Simas. "He doesn't walk many, but that's something we've emphasized with all of these guys since spring training."
Meanwhile, newcomer Josmar Cordero continued his torrid hitting. Cordero, who joined the team intime for the series in South Bend, had four hits and raised his average with the Loons to a robust .550.
But Cordero was hardly alone. West Michigan entered the game with the league's best ERA by a widemargin, but the Loons scored three runs in the first inning against Whitecaps' starter Buck Farmer and never let up on the gas pedal.
They scored six more in the fourth inning, five in the seventh, and three in the eighth when Valentincleared the bases with an opposite field double into the leftfield corner. By then, Martinez had turned the ball over to relievers Michael Johnson and Ralston Cash, who combined to throw three hitless innings.
Besides Valentin and Cordero, the Loons also got three hits from Kyle Farmer, and two each from PaulHoenecke, Joey Curletta and Brandon Trinkwon.
Tomorrow night, the Loons will give the ball to right-handed pitcher Zachary Bird, who has put togetherthree consecutive strong starts. Bird (2-4, 4.58 ERA) has a 1.58 ERA over his last three appearances, and shut down Dayton on three hits and one earned run over six innings in his last start.
Bird will face the Whitecaps Austin Kubitza, who's 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA. Kubitza, 22, was the fourthround pick of the Tigers out of Rice University in 2013. Kubitza didn't allow an earned run in each of his last two starts. Game time at Dow Diamond is 7:05 p.m.
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