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It didn’t take long for Mike Montgomery to make an impression in his Kauffman Stadium debut. Starting for Omaha, the tall southpaw blew away NW Arkansas leadoff hitter Derrick Robinson on three pitches, finishing him off with a 94 mph fastball. After coaxing 2010 first rounder Christian Colon into a harmless foul pop-out, Montgomery struck out top outfield prospect Wil Myers on a 96 mph heater.
Montgomery, who will start Omaha’s season opener this Thursday, pitched four no-hit innings while issuing just one walk and fanning a handful of Naturals. Several other excellent pitching prospects followed, but it was Montgomery’s outing – along with a fastball that registered as high as 97 mph on the stadium radar gun – that generated the most buzz from the crowd.
The Naturals countered with John Lamb, the southpaw widely regarded as the system’s second-best pitching prospect (behind Montgomery). The 20-year-old wasn’t quite in midseason form, but he largely held Omaha at bay through 2.2 innings of work.
The Storm Chasers got on the board in the second inning, taking a 1-0 lead after catcher Manny Pina walked and scored on an RBI single by center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The threat ended, however, when Lamb picked Cain off of first base.
Omaha struck again in the fourth inning against southpaw Chris Dwyer, who served up a 391-foot home run to right field off the bat of leadoff hitter David Lough. Dwyer, who flashed an excellent curveball and an 88-92 mph fastball, settled down after that, setting down seven consecutive batters before running into trouble in the sixth inning.
With one out, Lough grounded the ball to Colon, whose throw to first sailed a little wide. While replays seemed to indicate Lough was out, the umpire ruled that first baseman Anthony Seratelli’s foot came off the bag. Lough was safe, and Colon was charged with an error. The miscue proved to be costly, as the Storm Chasers promptly loaded the bases with a walk and a single. Dwyer limited the damage by coaxing Manny Pina to ground into an RBI fielder’s choice, but the Storm Chasers ended the sixth inning up 3-0.
Meanwhile, Omaha’s Danny Duffy was cruising in relief of Montgomery. The 22-year-old lefty took over in the fifth inning and came in throwing heat. While keeping NW Arkansas scoreless through his first two innings of work, Duffy’s fastball registered as high as 95 mph while sitting at 91-93. He also mixed in a dynamite curveball and changeup, effectively keeping the Double-A squad off balance.
The Naturals finally got on the scoreboard off Duffy in the top of the seventh, thanks to two Omaha errors. With one out, designated hitter Jamie Romak reached on a fielding error by Moustakas. Jeff Bianchi then walked, and after Duffy fanned Perez on a 77 mph curveball, shortstop Irving Falu committed a run-scoring error on a grounder by Seratelli. Duffy recovered and struck out Mario Lisson to end the threat.
The Storm Chasers answered in the bottom of the eighth against Will Smith. With two outs, Gregor Blanco sent a drive up the left field line. Naturals left fielder Tim Smith dove for the ball, but it got past him and rolled around in the corner. Shaken up on the play, Smith couldn’t give chase, and Blanco circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run while center fielder Nick Van Stratten ran over to help. Attention then turned to Smith, who was able to remain in the game after walking around a bit.
With a 4-1 lead, the Storm Chasers used five relievers over the last five innings, each throwing an inning apiece. The Naturals concluded the game’s scoring with a home run by Romak into the left field bullpen against Blake Wood in the 11th inning.
Players of the Game:
Pitcher: Mike Montgomery – 4.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K
Hitter: Gregor Blanco – 2-for-5, HR, R, RBI
Fielder: Eric Hosmer
There apparently wasn’t any kind of “home field advantage” for Winnetonka (KC) graduate Nick Van Stratten. The 25-year-old outfielder was the victim of the day's three best plays. Twice he was robbed on diving plays by first baseman Eric Hosmer, and in his first at bat, he was fleeced by Johnny Giavotella, who made a great play up the middle and threw across his body from the shortstop side of second base to get Van Stratten by a step. He finished the day 0-for-4, but he could have easily been 3-for-4.
The Royals’ top three offensive prospects – Hosmer, Moustakas, and Myers – each had rough days at the plate, finishing a combined 2-for-17 with three strikeouts. Moustakas’ base hit was a solid single to right in the first inning off of John Lamb, while Myers stroked a ground ball double up the third base line in the ninth.
The game was scheduled for 12 innings in order to accommodate all of the pitchers who needed work. For the most part, the game was played by normal, recognizable rules, as opposed to what you might see during spring training intrasquad games. Both clubs did, however, freely move their designated hitters to defensive positions and vice-versa. And in the 12th inning, the Naturals sent catcher Ryan Eigsti to the plate for his only at bat of the game, even though his spot in the order had passed the previous inning.
The worst thing that can happen in an exhibition game is for a player to be injured. The organization appears to have emerged unscathed, but there was a scary moment in the tenth inning, when Hosmer hit a ground ball to third baseman Mario Lisson. Lisson’s throw pulled first baseman Jamie Romak into the baseline, and Hosmer collided with him, sending Romak to the ground. Though shaken up on the play, Romak was able to finish the game.