Brad Penny’s mission this spring has been to reinvent himself as a sinkerball pitcher.
His two-seam fastball always has had solid downward action, but until the past couple of years, the two-time major league All-Star preferred to blow major league hitters away with his fastball. Tuesday, the right-hander – whose pitches now rarely top 91 mph on the radar gun – found out how futile things can feel when the sinker isn’t sinking the way he’d like.
The Durham Bulls knocked the Knights pitcher around to the tune of six runs on 11 hits over 32/3 innings on their way to a 12-8 Class AAA International League baseball win against Charlotte in front of 6,710 at BB&T BallPark, splitting their two-game series in the process.
Penny took the ball on opening day for the Knights (3-3) and showed what he can do when his two-seam fastball is working, recording 12 groundballs outs and one fly out in a win over Norfolk. But his performance on Tuesday was a reminder that his transformation is a work in progress.
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After recording five of the game’s first six outs via the ground, Penny’s sinker flattened out and Durham capitalized, smacking five-straight hits to begin a four-run third inning that cut the Knights’ lead to 5-4. Penny (1-1) went out for the fourth inning, but was sent to the showers early after allowing two more hits and another run.
Things didn’t get much prettier for the Knights (3-3) after Penny’s exit when Arcenio Leon allowed a one-out grand slam to Durham’s Corey Brown (2-for-5, 5 RBIs) in the sixth inning to give the Bulls (3-3) a 10-5 lead.
The Bulls finished the night with at least one hit in every inning except the ninth.
The Knights, who entered the night leading the International League with a .283 team batting average, turned in another solid showing at the plate, knocking reigning IL Pitcher of the Week Dylan Floro around for four runs in the first inning and another in the second.
Neftali Soto, who finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs, led the Charlotte offensive attack, but the rough start by Penny and the big home run by Brown were just too much for the Knights to overcome.
“What worked so well last week was that I was setting up way off and (Penny) was starting it off out over the plate and (the ball) was finishing down and in. Tonight was just one of those games where it was a constant battle for him to get the feel of the sinker and his off-speed stuff, and it was unfortunate how it turned out.” – Knights’ catcher Kevan Smith.
The teams combined for 31 hits and 20 runs after combining for just 14 hits and three runs in a Knights’ 3-0 win Monday. … Trayce Thompson (six games) and Tyler Saladino (five games) extended their current hitting streaks. … Matt Davidson finished 2-for-4 with a double for Charlotte and made the defensive play of the game. The third baseman was charged with his first error of the season in the eighth inning when he failed to handle a tricky hop. Davidson had converted his first 22 attempts this season. … Veteran reliever Matt Lindstrom allowed two runs on a walk and a home run in an inning. The former White Sox closer now has allowed seven runs in 22/3 innings over three appearances.
The Knights now will pack up and head to Coolray Field to take on the Gwinnett Braves at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. Knights right-hander Chris Beck (0-0, 5.79) will take the mound against left-hander Manny Banuelos (0-0, 2.45). White Sox top prospect Carlos Rodon is slated to pitch for the Knights at Gwinnett on Thursday.