Noesi sharp; Vazquez returns from DL in win
TRENTON — Since opening day, the Thunder have lost opening night starter Christian Garcia (elbow), top pitching prospect Jeremy Bleich (shoulder) and starting right fielder Damon Sublett (thumb) for the season.
Star second baseman David Adams has been out most of May with a severely sprained ankle and the bullpen was without closer Grant Duff and the versatility of Josh Schmidt as each received a shot in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Yet, only first-place New Hampshire, at 12 games over .500, has provided any type of resistance to the two-time Eastern League champions.
Right-handed phenom Hector Noesi turned in six strong innings, allowing just two hits and two runs while striking out four, while the Thunder offense put up three runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh to turn away rival Portland, 6-2, Tuesday night with just 3,683 at Waterfront Park.
Austin Krum and EL Player of the Week Brandon Laird produced run-scoring singles in the sixth, an inning helped along by a pair of Seadogs’ errors, including an errant throw by third baseman Ray Chang that allowed Krum snap a 2-2 deadlock.
Krum (three RBIs) then doubled in a pair of runs in the seventh to help the Thunder (30-21) win for the 19th time in 25 games since last losing two straight May 4-5 in Akron.
Noesi (1-0) retired the first nine Portland hitters he faced before issuing a leadoff walk to Nate Spears in the fourth inning.
Portland (26-24), now 3 ½ games behind the second-place Thunder in the Eastern Division, scored its only two runs in the fourth on a single by Luis Exposito and a sacrifice fly to right field by Anthony Rizzo.
In a unique change of pace from losing players to Triple-A, the Yankees actually sent the Thunder a veteran to help fortify an already formidable offense.
First baseman Jorge Vazquez, a 2009 All-Star after hitting .329 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs at Double-A, was reinstated from the SWB disabled list and transferred to Trenton.
Vazquez, 28, had been down since the start of the season after undergoing an appendectomy.
“He’s here to get some at bats. How long is he here? I don’t know,’’ Thunder manager Tony Franklin said. “But he’s here now and that’s a good thing because I get to insert him into an already productive lineup.’’
With Adams still a few weeks away, Franklin found an ideal spot in the lineup for Vazquez behind his cleanup hitter Laird and two batters behind stud catching prospect Romine.
To make room on the 24-man roster, the Thunder placed first baseman Kevin Smith on the DL retroactive to May 30.
Smith was hitting just .175 with three RBIs in 32 games.
The Yankees also returned Duff to Trenton from SWB, where the right-hander allowed eight hits and four runs in six innings (6.00 ERA) before being pushed out by numbers.
“I am completely fine with it,’’ said Duff, whose six saves ties him for the team lead with Eric Wordekemper. “I’d much rather be down here pitching than up there on the disabled list or not pitching.’’
Right-hander Paul Bush was put on the disabled list and had his elbow checked out yesterday by team orthopedist Dr. William Gomez.
The Thunder bullpen also saw Noel Castillo, who was awful (7.76 ERA) in 23 Double-A appearances, swapped out for veteran Kevin Whelan May 28.
Obtained from the Detroit Tigers along with Anthony Claggett and Humberto Sanchez on Nov. 10, 2006 in exchange for Gary Sheffield, Whelan still can not get control of his lively right arm. He had 10 walks and only 13 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings at Scranton.
So, what did Whelan do last night with the first batter he faced since returning to the team?
He walked Chang on four pitches before getting a double play grounder for the first two outs in the ninth inning.