Russell picks up where he left off for BlueClaws
On May 1, Matt Russell got off to a good start. Six weeks later, he finished the job. In a quirk of scheduling, Russell got to pick up his own outing from a weather-suspended game and nearly went the distance -- combining for a wild line in the box score
On May 1, Matt Russell got off to a good start. Six weeks later, he finished the job.
In a quirk of scheduling, Russell got to pick up his own outing from a weather-suspended game and nearly went the distance -- combining for a wild line in the box score by throwing 129 pitches over eight innings with a career-best 12 strikeouts to lead High-A Jersey Shore to a backdated 6-4 win over Aberdeen.
“I was pretty stoked that our staff let me finish my own game,” Russell said after what technically went into the books as his first win of the season, though it actually moved his record to 2-4. “That was one of my better starts to my outings so far this year, so I was trying to keep that same energy. Having those numbers earlier in the year, obviously I want to improve each time and get the best outing I can and help the team, but it is cool that I got to finish that and go deep into the game like that."
Russell completed the third frame on the first day of May, allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits with six strikeouts and a walk before rain forced the suspension of that evening’s contest. On Tuesday, it resumed with the IronBirds in front, 2-1.
“That one other time was the only time I’ve faced them, but they are a really good team,” the righty said. “Aberdeen has been good this year so far. … They’ve got multiple first-rounders on their team, and we respect the lineup up and down. I had remembered most of their hitters, but they had a couple new guys. We had a little bit of a scouting report before the game to go over how we were going to attack those guys, but pretty much just keeping the same mind-set and attacking everybody, trying to get those outs.”
Russell picked up on a good note against the IronBirds after the departure of baseball’s top prospect Adley Rutschman, who was rehabbing in Aberdeen on May 1. On Tuesday, in his home ballpark instead of Ripken Stadium where the game started last month, the 23-year-old allowed just one more run while scattering six hits over five innings.
“You have to respect the hitters and give them credit where it’s due, but at the same time, you have to attack them just like they’re anybody else and let them get themselves out, get through those innings quick and try to get deeper into the game,” Russell said.
His 12 K’s were five more than in any other outing in his two-year career. His 129 pitches split over the two days were 28 shy of his total for three April starts combined.
“I was kind of having success early, so before the game today, I was just trying to remember how I was attacking these guys,” Russell said. “They’re a really good team, and I was just trying to be aggressive with the gameplan, got a lot of help from my defense and our offense. We got some clutch hits from Ethan Wilson and Freylin Minyety, so I couldn’t have done it without them too.”
Going into the seventh, the BlueClaws trailed, 3-1. Wilson roped a two-run single to left field to tie the game. In the eighth, D.J. Stewart singled to right to give the visitors (technically) the lead, and one inning later, Minyety provided the eventual game-winning runs on a two-RBI single to left.
“It boosted the morale of our team a whole lot,” Russell said. “Me personally, pitching, it got me excited, and then for our lineup as well. Those guys are playing great defense all game and then come through and get some clutch hits with guys on second and third. It’s going to boost them just as much as me. It helped our whole team.”
After a throwback kind of outing in the box score with a pitch total not often seen in modern baseball, a question remained for Russell: Down the road, would he gloss over the fact that a substantial portion of those pitches came six weeks after the first three innings’ worth?
“That’s kind of a tough one,” he said with a laugh. “I won’t lie about it, but it does make a pretty entertaining stat line and a pretty good story to tell. Especially with this Aberdeen team and the caliber of lineup today, it’ll definitely be something to remember.”
Third-ranked Phillies prospect Johan Rojas led the way in the hit column for the BlueClaws with his second three-hit game of the season.
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.