Wilmer Flores and Colt Keith power Erie as Tigers affiliates manage a clean sweep

Bless You Boys

Toledo Mud Hens 8, Omaha Storm Chasers 5 (box)

A grand slam to center field off the bat of Andy Ibañez was the difference on Thursday in a wild game that saw runs scored in all but two innings.

Brenan Hanifee got the start for Toledo but he was knocked around, allowing a pair of solo shots and three earned runs total in four innings of work. Fortunately the offense continued its hard-hitting ways.

The Hens got on the board almost immediately in this one. Leadoff man Akil Baddoo drew a walk to start the game. He promptly stole second and eventually scored on a Justyn-Henry Malloy line drive single to left.

Storm Chasers’ starter Jackson Kowar hung in there for two innings, but with two outs in the third he collapsed completely. Malloy, Andre Lipcius, and catcher Donny Sands all walked in order, and Omaha went to the bullpen. Reliever Austin Cox missed the mark with his first two pitches to Andy Ibañez, and the third went a long, long way.

Andrew Knapp and Zack Short would each homer in the fourth and eighth innings, respectively, for the add-on runs the Hens needed.

Lefty Jace Fry allowed a run in the sixth, while an error on Jermaine Palacios led to an unearned run with Aneurys Zabala on the mound in the seventh. At that point, Omaha had closed it to a 6-5 Hens lead, but Short’s two-run blast in the eighth put this one away for keeps. Miguel Del Pozo collected the save with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth.

Ibañez: 2-4, R, 4 RBI, 2B, HR, BB, SO

Baddoo: 2-3, 2 R, 2 BB, SB, CS

Short: 1-4, R, 2 RBI, HR, BB, 2 SO

Malloy: 1-3, R, RBI, 2 BB, SO

Hanifee: 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 SO

Coming Up Next: RHP Reese Olson (0-1, 9.00 ERA) takes on RHP Jonathan Heasley (0-0, 6.75 ERA) on Friday night at 7:35 p.m. ET. The Hens lead the six-game set 2-1.

Erie SeaWolves 5, Akron RubberDucks 0 (box)

Erie opened the season on the road in Akron, and things went quite well on Thursday night. The SeaWolves got a strong first start from Wilmer Flores, while top hitting prospect Colt Keith powered the offense in his Double-A debut.

Flores punched out six in his four scoreless innings of work, scattering two hits and three walks. Squeezed a little bit early on, Flores powered his way out of real jam in the second inning with a well located mix of fourseamers and curveballs, and cruised from there. He’d be followed by Sawyer Gipson-Long and lefty Adam Wolf, who each spun a pair of scoreless innings. Angel De Jesus punched out three in the ninth in a non-save situation.

The game was knotted at 0-0 early on as Akron’s starter, another good prospect in Gavin Williams, had good command of a firm fastball and kept the SeaWolves off balance. However, in the sixth, RubberDucks’ reliever Brett Daniels walked three straight SeaWolves to start the inning. A double play ball off the bat of outfielder Grant Witherspoon pushed one run across. That was all they’d get as Jake Holton struck out to end the inning.

The SeaWolves came right back for more in the seventh. With one out, Corey Joyce and Gage Workman drew walks, and Bryant Packard was hit by a pitch. The Ducks went back to the pen, but new reliever Mason Hickman walked Trei Cruz as well, forcing in the second run of the game for Erie. Top hitting prospect Colt Keith did the rest, ripping a three-run double to the wall in left center field to make it 5-0.

Keith: 1-4, 2B, 3 RBI, BB, 2 SO

Cruz: 0-3, 2 R, RBI, 2 BB, 2 SO

Flores: 4.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 6 SO

Coming Up Next: The SeaWolves should have the pitching advantage on Friday evening, as LHP Brant Hurter makes his season debut. Hurter really made big strides last season, and the towering lefty looks more like a solid starting pitching prospect now, rather than the southpaw reliever we were hoping for initially. RHP Ross Carver will oppose him from the home team. First pitch at Canal Park is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.

West Michigan Whitecaps 1, Fort Wayne TinCaps 0 (box)

There wasn’t a lot of action in this one as both pitching staffs were dealing. Only seven total hits and three walks were recorded. Still the crowd for the Whitecaps home opener at LMCU Park went home happy courtesy of Ben Malgeri.

Wilkel Hernandez got the start as he finally returns to a full season of work after an injury plagued couple of years. His age 24 season will be really important for him as he needs to break into the upper minors and start having some real success. He got off to a nice start, tossing four scoreless innings of two-hit ball with two strikeouts against the San Diego Padres’ affiliate.

Outfielder Ben Malgeri is now a familiar face in West Michigan, and he was the hero in this one though it took a good while to find that out. Malgeri lifted a solo shot in the second inning that ultimately proved the game winner.

One of the Tigers best relief prospects in the system, right-hander Tyler Mattison, was strong in his debut, collecting a pair of strikeouts in a perfect ninth inning for his first save of the year. May there be many of them to come. Mattison’s power fastball and breaking ball have a lot of potential to eventually hold down a role in a future Tigers bullpen.

Malgeri: 1-3, R, RBI, HR, 2 SO

Alfonzo: 1-3, 2B

Coming Up Next: LHP Carlos Pena goes for the Whitecaps on Friday afternoon at 12:05 p.m. ET. Pena had a good year at Lakeland in 2022, and while he’s a little underpowered, advanced command and a pretty darn good changeup make him a good test for A-ball hitters. RHP Victor Lizarraga, which is fun to say, starts for Fort Wayne.

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