Everything looked to be going so well for the Ottawa Titans on Thursday afternoon. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning and holding a 1-0 lead, Nelson Gonzalez allowed the next two runners to reach base, before Justin Felix sent a fly ball out to left field that got caught in the wind, and cleared the wall to give the Evansville Otters a 3-1 lead. Unable to muster anything in the bottom half of the inning, the Titans fell in the final game of the series, losing 3-1 to the Otters.
Despite the loss, the Titans secured their third series win in just four series, this season. Now sitting at 7-5, the Titans are setting themselves up to be in playoff contention come the end of the season. Those series wins now mean just as much as the ones in August and September, and that’s not lost on manager Bobby Brown.
“It’s setting the culture, and the team expects to win,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. That when we go into a series, they feel like they can win it, and so far, we have done that.”
Once again, the Titans’ starting pitching was outstanding. Chris Burica took the bump following phenomenal performances from both Evan Grills and Tyler Jandron, and pitched just as well himself. Through eight innings, Burica allowed just two hits and one walk, while striking out seven and throwing 96 pitches, leaving the game without surrendering a run.
“It was a good day,” said Burica. “I had all four pitches working today, and I was finally on full rest coming off of that road trip. To see Grills and Jandron both pitch made me really understand the hitters and get after it today.”
The Titans have only played three home games this season, but the home cooking has been serious. Through 23 and two-thirds innings from their starters at home, they have a combined 30 strikeouts and are yet to allow a single run.
“This is a great pitchers park, for one,” Burica said. “Over time, it’s getting into the sync of things. To start the season, you will start a little slower than you would once you build up, and once you get to a full sprint, you’ll be much better off.”
Before the Otters hit their ninth-inning home run, the Titans were riding a shutout streak of 28 and two-thirds innings, dating back to the seventh inning in their game against the Florence Y’alls on Sunday. Although they didn’t come away with the win on Thursday, there is still plenty of reason for optimism in the clubhouse.
“It’s a really good thing,” Burica said. “We’ve got some veteran arms that have really taken the reigns, been that leadership to show younger guys like myself how we should go about our business. To see it start to translate has been fantastic to see.”
With options to close the game, Brown was forced to look away from his closer in Kevin Escorcia due to usage issues, and that led him to Gonzalez, who was appearing in a game for the first time with the Titans.
“Escorcia has been closing for us, and he’s pitched in back-to-back games,” Brown said. “Our general rule is we don’t like to use guys three days in a row unless you get into August. It’s proven health-wise that it’s not good for their arms. Gonzalez is a guy that we signed a few months ago, and we were waiting for his visa to come in. He’s got a tonne of experience at the ‘AAA’ level, he’s been throwing, he wanted the ball, and the role we brought him in for was to pitch big innings for us.”
“He got two quick outs, he got to two strikes on the third hitter, and you never think you’re home, but you’ve got a good idea. He just lost the next two guys and hung a breaking ball. It was disappointing, but you move on to the next one.”
Despite the nearly untouchable performance from Burica, he doesn’t get to go home with a much-deserved win in his pocket. He isn’t allowing that to change the way he looks at his bullpen, however, and while he may be disappointed with the result, he’s ready to move on.
“It’s a long season,” Burica said. “The guys in the bullpen are going to pick up my tail every single day of the week, and when we have 90-something games in the season, I have to give the bullpen so much credit, because, in my previous starts, they have been solid. They will continue to pick me up moving forward. It’s just one game.”
Gonzalez didn’t have the debut he would have hoped for, but he figures to be a big part of the back end of the Titans’ bullpen. Brown was clear when asked if this outing would change anything going forward.
“No, not at all,” he said.
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