The New Orleans Zephyrs’ bullpen had been depleted by injuries, transactions and tired arms, forcing some players into roles to which they were unaccustomed.
After reliever Rett Varner was injured, Jesus Sanchez was called from the bullpen to record a two-inning save and seal the Zephyrs’ 6-3 victory over the Nashville Sounds on Friday.
Varner pitched the seventh inning and was headed back out to the mound to begin the eighth. He threw three warmup tosses before aggravating a groin injury that had landed him on the disabled list twice this season already. Filling in as closer for the day, Sanchez pitched a spotless two innings, retiring all six batters he faced.
“He really stepped up right there at the end,” Zephyrs manager Andy Haines said.
The Zephyrs smacked four hits in the seventh, each of which came around to score, to take a 6-3 lead for their second-straight come-from-behind victory.
These games are especially important against Nashville, the team the Zephyrs trail in the Pacific Coast League American Southern division by three and a half games.
“Our club has been fighting pretty hard and to come out on the right end of some of those games is important,” Haines said. “You just feel good for your guys.”
The Sounds had to make some quick adjustments as well when Friday’s scheduled starting pitcher, Jimmy Nelson, had to be scratched from his start hours before the game. The Milwaukee Brewers — the team’s parent club — might need Nelson to make a spot-start on Sunday for Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo left his previous start, Tuesday night in Atlanta, after spraining his left ankle, so his status for Sunday’s game is uncertain. Nelson will remain in a holding pattern until a decision is made on Gallardo.
Kyle Heckathorn got the start on the mound in Nelson’s absence. The only run he allowed in three innings of work came on a home run from Zephyrs center fielder Jordany Valdespin to begin the third. Since joining the Zephyrs on May 2, Valdespin has a hit in all but three of his 17 games.
Zephyrs starter Elih Villanueva was on a roll to start the game. He retired the first 14 batters in order and had a perfect game through the first 4 ⅔ innings. Then Zephyrs shortstop Juan Diaz booted a ground ball that would have ended the inning and allowed the first Sounds hitter to reach.
It was the latest example of the Zephyrs abysmal defense lately. Diaz has committed an error in each of the past two games, the team has seven errors in their past four games and they have committed at least one error in ten of their past 12 games. The next batter, Robinzon Diaz, made the Zephyrs pay by launching a home run over the left-field fence to give the Sounds a 2-1 lead.
Villanueva gave the Zephyrs a long outing when they needed it. He lasted six innings and allowed two runs on four hits while striking out four.
“Where would we be without him?” Haines said. “He’s been the one guy in the rotation who, when we’ve given him the ball, he’s went out there and got us deep in the ballgame and gave us a chance.”