In his first full Triple-A season, the four-year professional has enjoyed a career year to pace a Chihuahuas offense that has scored the second-most runs the league.
All it took was one swing of Hunter Renfroe’s bat and Michael Kelly’s arm to keep the El Paso Chihuahuas (54-40) from being swept by the Nashville Sounds (52-43).
Renfroe swatted a three-run home run in the fifth to give the Dogs the definitive lead for the 5-2 win and end the team’s winless streak since the all-star break.
“We have to win one, we can’t get swept at home, for me that’s a big blow,” Chihuahuas manager, Rod Barajas said. “We knew what we needed to do, we needed to pitch. We needed to have a good performance by Michael Kelly and he was on a little bit of a pitch count. It’s just a matter of keeping the runs to a minimum. Offensively we’re not the juggernaut that we were a month ago, but we still swing the bat well.”
El Paso had been outscored 43 to 12 in the three losses to Nashville, but the pitching by Michael Kelly would be the difference Sunday night.
“He’s been awesome, we definitely needed something like that. We needed to keep those runs at a minimum, especially early,” Barajas said. “We’ve been ourselves behind the eight ball against Nashville down five, six runs early on. It’s tough to overcome those kind of obstacles, the wear and tear that your bullpen has to endure, constantly pitching. It was real nice to see him go out there and give us five and two third solid innings.”
That allowed El Paso’s bullpen a rest from the previous three nights, Kelly would allow just one run on five hits. The focus was to go after the Sounds at the plate.
Kelly would say that staying aggressive was key to getting hitters off their groove and utilizing the fastball proved to be the difference.
“We worked in a lot, trying to get the hitters a little uncomfortable and beat the guys in,” Kelly said. “I think it was an important part to having success tonight. They were just too comfortable the first few games, so I just started going in and get them off the plate a little bit.”
The Chihuahuas trailed the Sounds 1-0 for five and a half innings, until Hunter Renfroe homered to left field with runners on first and third placing them on top, 3-1.
“It was much needed. To finally take the lead, I felt like we’ve been playing from behind this whole series,” Barajas said. “To have a three-run lead, a two-run lead at the time was nice. We were able to pitch not with our backs against the wall, we were able to be aggressive, Michael Kelly was able to relax a little bit and do his thing.”
An error by left fielder Auston Bousfield would allow the Sounds to score for a second time at the top of the seventh.
The Chihuahuas would protect the lead, adding two more runs in the eighth, with runners on second and third, Diego Goris would single to center field allowing Austin Hedges and Jabari Blash to score giving El Paso the 5-2 lead.
Nashville had an opportunity to jump ahead after three consecutive singles loaded the bases with one out at the top of the ninth. Michael Dimock would strike out Chad Pinder before Max Muncy’s pop-fly to short field sealed the win for the Chihuahuas.
“We have a lot of confidence in these guys, we know it’s going to turn around,” Barajas said. “It’s temporary, we have a lot of confidence, even when things aren’t going great, we know it’s going to turn around. That’s why in this clubhouse you don’t see any kind of fear.”
The Chihuahuas lose the series to Nashville 1-3 and will now face the Memphis Redbirds on another home stand. Kelly said the unity of the group is what will help them improve on their Pacific Coast League leading record.
“Just staying together as a group, we do a really good job with that, everyone here is close-nit,” Kelly said. “I think that’s going to be the our biggest key going forward.”
Photos by Andres Acosta