Pitching on the “moon” ain’t all that easy.
The same, thin Albuquerque air that makes Isotopes Park a hitters playground with balls sailing out of the yard with regularity through the years makes it a nightmare sometimes for pitchers trying to make a living in those same conditions.
Thursday night, Isotopes pitchers – starter Ashton Goudeau and five relievers – got roughed up in their home park in a 12-2 loss to the El Paso Chihuahuas.
El Paso had 17 hits, including 12 for extra bases – a season-high allowed by Albuquerque. Eight were doubles, with one triple and three home runs.
“The ball is going to fly,” Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer said. “So you have to be able to limit the damage, and that’s something I don’t think we’ve been doing well.”
And while the “pitching on the moon” issues the Isotopes staff is struggling with this season applies to the opposing team, too, for every game played in Albuquerque, it seems to be in the heads of some of those pitchers who call Isotopes Park home for half their starts as opposed to the opposing team’s staff that gets to hit the road after a series is completed.
This season, the Isotopes’ pitching staff has allowed the most hits (597), most runs (417) and the second-most home runs (104) in all levels of Minor League Baseball. The staff’s ERA of 6.97 is the worst in MiLB, as is the starting pitcher ERA of 7.71.
The conditions are similar to Denver, where the parent Colorado Rockies have to learn to play in those same conditions, part of what makes Albuquerque such an ideal Triple-A partner for the big league club.
So, what’s the answer for the Isotopes pitchers?
“That’s a separator, right? I mean, there’s pitchers that have performed at Coors Field and have performed for a long period of time. It can be done,” Schaeffer said. “Pitchers can pitch well here. The separator is, are you going to dwell on it?”
MOON MAN: In May 2021, Rockies starter Kyle Freeland made a rehab start in Albuquerque – a place he was familiar with after having pitched in parts of three recent seasons with the Isotopes.
Asked after his productive start a year ago whether he was working on all his regular pitches like he would in an MLB start, Freeland said: “I definitely pitched it like I would in a big league game, using the full mix of things. … Fastball was good. Change-up was really good today. Curveball here on the moon really doesn’t want to break too much, so we stay away from that.”
THAT’S A FIRST: Goudeau was called for a balk in the top of the third inning – the result of the new pitch clock rules in Triple-A baseball this season that limit a team to two “disengagements” per hitter.
It is the first time such a balk has been called on an Isotopes pitcher.
Instead of allowing teams a way subvert pitch-clock penalties by stepping off the mound, calling for time or even doing too many pick-off attempts, the rule says teams are allowed only two “disengagements” per batter. A third result in a bale.
Setting the scene prior to the balk, El Paso’s Esteury Ruiz got a bunt single and stole second. Isotopes catcher Dom Nuñez then called time on one pitch before Goudeau stepped off the mound on two other pitches. Thus, the balk call.
THURSDAY: The El Paso Chihuahuas racked up 17 hits (12 going for extra bases) and roughed up the home team 12-2 in front of an announced Isotopes Park crowd of 4,400.
It was the second win in a row for the Chihuahuas, taking the rare abbreviated three-game series 2-1, which will be followed Friday through Sunday with three games in El Paso.
EL Paso LF Esteury Ruiz was scored 4-for-5 with 4 runs, 3 RBIs, two home runs, a double and a stolen base.
Isotopes starter Ashton Goudeau (L, 0-1) allowed seven earned runs on nine hits and two homers allowed in his 4.0 innings of work.
C Dom Nuñez and LF Ryan Vilade drove in the two Isotopes runs, though Vilade was 0-for-4 in the game and saw his on-base streak end at 20 games in a row.
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