Baseball - INACTIVE

Knights hitters make up for pitching struggles

Donny Roach started the Charlotte Knights’ season opener on April 4 and gave up two home runs in the first inning. The Knights’ pitching staff has struggled this season, ranking 11th in the 14-team International League with a 6.21 ERA.
Donny Roach started the Charlotte Knights’ season opener on April 4 and gave up two home runs in the first inning. The Knights’ pitching staff has struggled this season, ranking 11th in the 14-team International League with a 6.21 ERA. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The early take on the 2019 Charlotte Knights: The team is powerful at the plate, but the starting pitching is getting rocked.

Through the first 12 games of the season, the Knights are at or near the top of the International League in most offensive categories. Their starting pitching is near the bottom.

The result, as you might expect, has been a series of games with scores that resemble slow-pitch softball.

The most notable event for the Knights so far this season came last Wednesday, when Ryan Cordell became the first Charlotte player in 21 years to hit for the cycle. Cordell doubled in the first inning, homered in the third, and tripled in the fifth. He completed the cycle with a ninth-inning single that helped the Knights beat Norfolk 10-9.

The last Knights player to hit for the cycle was former major league All-Star Alex Gonzalez, in 1998.

“Pretty much all my at-bats today were the same thing – just trying to be on time, staying relaxed, and getting a pitch up over the plate,” Cordell told reporters after the game. He said that when he saw his ninth-inning line drive fly over third baseman Zack Vince’s glove. “I gave a little fist pump. I was definitely excited.”

Cordell, who also hit for the cycle seven years ago while playing in a college summer league in Ohio, is batting .346 in six games this season. But he’s not even the team’s leader.

Alcides Escobar is batting .353, and Charlie Tilson has a .351 average. Three others are over .300: Preston Tucker (.345), Matt Skole (.324) and Brandon Guyer (.303).

The Knights’ team batting average of .281 is third in the International League.

The team ERA, however, is fourth-to-last, at 6.21. The bright spots have been highly-regarded Chicago White Sox prospect Dylan Cease, who has not allowed an earned run in 10 innings; and Dylan Covey, who has five shutout innings in his only start.

Take Cease and Covey out of the totals, and the Knights’ team ERA is 7.30 – worst in the International League.

Fortunately, the Knights’ hitting has been enough for the team to win seven of its first 12 games, and Charlotte is just a half-game behind Gwinnett in the South Division, through Monday night’s games.

Here’s how the past week went for the Knights:

Last Tuesday: The Knights swept Norfolk, 4-0 and 3-0. Cease pitched five shutout innings in the series opener, and Zack Collins hit a two-run homer to support Covey’s pitching.

Last Wednesday: Cordell’s four hits and Tilson’s two-run walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth lifted the Knights over Norfolk 10-9.

Thursday: Skole homered, but Charlotte lost the opener in a lengthy road trip, falling 7-3 in Indianapolis. Starting pitcher Jordan Guerrero gave up six runs in 41/3 innings, but reliever Carson Palmer threw 22/3 shutout innings.

Friday: Indianapolis scored five runs in the third inning and three in the fourth, beating the Knights 9-2.

Saturday: Tucker and Escobar each had two hits, but Indianapolis rallied for a 9-7 victory.

Sunday: Cease’s shutout pitching and Skole’s third home run of the season lifted Charlotte over Indianapolis 3-0.

Monday: Charlotte’s Ryan Goins collected three hits, but Gwinnett got eight runs in the first five innings and outscored the Knights 9-8.

Week ahead: Charlotte plays at Gwinnett through Thursday, then travels to Norfolk for games Friday through Sunday. The Knights return home next Tuesday to face Toledo.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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