After a 3-4 start on a seven-game road trip through Stockton and Inland Empire, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes returned home to LoanMart Field for their home opener on Thursday evening.
“Happy to be home. It was a week long [road trip] but it felt like it was a month long,” said Quakes manager Drew Saylor before the festivities began. “It was an oddity for us but we’re glad to be home at the friendly confines here and ready to get our home opener going. We’re just excited about it.”
It’s hard not to be excited about a Quakes team that is absolutely loaded with an outstanding starting rotation, a very strong bullpen and a roster containing several of the Dodgers top-ranked prospects.
One of those top prospects is 20-year-old Cuban star outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who is ranked seventh on the Dodgers prospect list, and he showed why in front of the 3,528 on hand at a chilly LoanMart Field for the home opener. Diaz went 3-for-4 on the night with a double, an RBI and a run scored to lift his early season batting average to a hefty .333 in the eventual 6-3 win over the Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres).
“He was definitely on time, able to whack the ball,” Saylor said of Diaz. “I really felt that he did a really good job with being on time, squaring up the fastball, executing his plan at the plate. He did really really well, it was exciting to watch him do that.”
The Quakes pitching was also very good on Thursday night, both starting and in relief. Twenty-year-old left-hander Caleb Ferguson began the game and allowed only one run on two hits while striking out five of the 13 batters he faced and issuing only one walk in his 3.0 innings of work.
Ferguson was followed on the mound by 24-year-old right-hander Alex Hermeling, who did not allow a run and gave up only three hits with three strikeouts to pick up his third win of the young season. He was followed by 24-year-old right-hander and nearby Thousand Oaks, California native Kevin Brown and 23-year-old right-hander Gavin Pittore for a combined two runs on three hits.
But perhaps most impressive was Quakes closer and Dodgers 2017 spring training hero Shea Spitzbarth who retired the Lake Elsinore Storm in order with two strikeouts in the top of the ninth to collect his second save of the season.
“Spitzie for me was really really good,” said Saylor. “Fastball up, gets a hold of the fastball. He had a good feel for what he was doing out there.”
“We wanted to instill an idea that we’re going to run the bases and make the other team react to us,” Saylor said. “We’re still learning what we can and what we can’t do with those things. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to take the aggressive nature out of the athlete because that’s very tough for them to make decisions, because once they kind of ‘Hey that’s not how you do things,’ then all of a sudden they’re really tempered and really kind of passive with what they’re going to do. I’d rather us be aggressive and learn from our mistakes and move forward with that.”
With the win, the Quakes are now 4-4 on the season and are alone in first place in the Cal League South Division. They have two more games against the Storm at LoanMart field before heading back out on the road after a much-needed off day on Sunday.