Cold. Dreary. Gloomy. Dismal. I could keep going and you still wouldn't know if I was describing the weather or the A&M offense on Opening Night at Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park. We knew that the offense was the biggest question mark about this Aggie Baseball team going into the season, but I'm not sure we knew it was a zero runs on 4 hits against University of Illinois-Chicago sized question mark. So, what happened that led to the Aggies dropping a 2-0 decision to the Flames?
Kyle Martin was without a doubt the biggest bright spot for the Aggies on a night without very many of them. In his first start since moving from the bullpen and changing his delivery, Martin put in a quality performance - 6.2 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 0 earned runs, 10 K, 0 BB, 1 HBP. That's the kind of effort that you expect will result in a win more often than not, but the A&M offense could not get anything going to back up K-Mart. The only 2 runs surrendered by Kyle came as a result of a Blake Allemand error.
The A&M bullpen also did a nice job of keeping the Aggies in striking distance, with Matt Kent and Jason Freeman pitching the final 2.1 innings without surrendering a run and allowing just 1 hit. Kent, in his first appearance for the Aggies as a redshirt freshman, flashed a nice breaking ball and had good velocity on his fastball coming from the left side. Also worth noting that true freshman Jonathan Moroney had an excellent debut for A&M, going 2-for-3 on the night and accounting for half of the Aggies' hit total.
Lastly, a tip of the cap to 2 UIC players: starting pitcher Tomas Michelson for a very strong performance on the road in the season opener, allowing just 4 hits and striking out 5 in 7.1 innings of work, and 2B John Coen for some excellent work in the infield and taking away a number of potential hits from the A&M offense.
The 3rd inning. The inning that would ultimately spell doom for A&M started with a bloop single to right field by UIC. Martin worked hard to pick off the runner at 1st, but the Flames were able to lay down a sacrifice and move the runner to 2nd. A passed ball to start the next at-bat moves the runner to 3rd, followed by K-Mart hitting that batter and putting runners on the corners. The Flames then get a single to LF (on an 0-2 count) that scores the 1st run, and then a sharply hit grounder that Allemand is unable to handle and a poor throw allows the 2nd UIC run to score. Martin did a nice job of working his way out of the rest of the inning without further damage, but unfortunately that would prove to be all the Flames would need on the night.
The A&M offense. It just simply wasn't good enough tonight. We talked about the sophomores and how they would have to step up in a big way for the Aggies in 2013, and they certainly didn't get off to a good start tonight. Cole Lankford, Daniel Mengden and Blake Allemand went a combined 0-for-10 with 2 strikeouts. The first 4 hitters in the A&M lineup combined for an 0-for-14 performance with 3 strikeouts. As mentioned, Jonathan Moroney accounted for 2 of the A&M hits while Troy Stein added the other 2.
We also talked about the importance of getting the leadoff runner on for the A&M offense to be successful. That happened twice in tonight's loss, both times by Moroney, and the Aggies were unable to capitalize on either occasion. The 8th inning for the Aggies was a microcosm for their night overall at the plate. Moroney led off with a double to start the inning, but the following 3 at-bat's went like this: Chance Bolcerek comes up as a pinch-hitter for Curl, works the count to 3-0, then strikes out swinging. Mikey Reynolds grounds out to 3rd. Krey Bratsen flies out in foul territory to end the inning. Moroney never moved off 2nd base.
At the end of the day, it's baseball and it's just one game. The Aggies can come back out tomorrow and even up the series. It goes without saying that the offensive approach is going to have to get better in a hurry, though, but I'm going to wait and see how things shake out before rushing to too many judgments. Having said that, losing to a hyphenated team from Chicago (no offense, Flames. Well, not too much offense) on Opening Night in the cold and rain was not a particularly pleasant start to the season. Daniel Mengden will get the start on the mound for the Aggies tomorrow, and will look to rebound after having a rough night at the plate to start the season.
See you at Olsen.