The potent offense that belongs to the Lancaster Barnstormers was slowed down on Sunday afternoon.
It was a first-year professional by the name of A.J. Merkel who put the brakes on the lineup that had averaged eight runs per game over the first 40 contests.
Merkel (2-2) struck out 11 in seven innings, pitching the Gastonia Honey Hunters to a 7-4 victory in the rubber game of a three-game series at Clipper Magazine Stadium. The loss dropped Lancaster to one game under .500 (20-21) on the campaign.
The undrafted pitcher from Texas, by way of Oklahoma Baptist, yielded only three hits and two runs while walking just two. He struck out eight different Barnstormers along the way, in establishing a new season high against Lancaster.
Merkel received early support that made his life easier. Emmanuel Tapia, Jake Skole and Manuel Geraldo each drove in a run in the first on two singles and a walk. The trio struck again in the top of the third, each raking a home run off Cody Boydstun (1-1) in a span of four pitches.
Boydstun’s college teammate, Mike Osinski forced home the seventh run with a bases loaded walk later in the third.
Merkel, meanwhile, had only one nemesis – Anderson De La Rosa. The Lancaster catcher walked in the second, doubled home two runs in the fourth and singled with one out in the seventh.
Lancaster’s bullpen hurled five shutout innings to keep the club lurking in the shadows. Cleuluis Rondon belted a leadoff homer in the bottom of the eighth off Donnie Hart. Alejandro De Aza sliced a one-out double to left and eventually scored on a throwing error to cut the lead to 7-4.
De La Rosa’s third hit of the afternoon opened the ninth against Robby Scott, but nothing further developed as Scott earned his sixth save of the season.
The Barnstormers are off on Monday and open a three-game series against York on Tuesday at 6:30. Augie Sylk (1-1) will take the hill for Lancaster. Fans may watch the Game on Blue Ridge 11 or the Barnstormers YouTube Channel.
NOTES: The only other time the Barnstormers have allowed three consecutive home runs came in 2010 when Elijah Dukes, Daryle Ward and Carl Everett connected for Newark…Merkel’s 11 strikeouts topped Mike Devine of Southern Maryland who struck out 10 on June 12…Gastonia hit 20 homers and scored 79 runs in six games at Clipper Magazine Stadium this season…De La Rosa has 19 RBI in 12 games.