Charlotte Knights

Last in division but suddenly a hot team: Here’s how Charlotte Knights caught fire.

The Charlotte Knights rank in the lower half of the International League in most hitting statistics, but they’ve gotten strong performances from pitchers such as Carson Fulmer, left, Michael Kopech, Donny Roach and Jordan Stephens.
The Charlotte Knights rank in the lower half of the International League in most hitting statistics, but they’ve gotten strong performances from pitchers such as Carson Fulmer, left, Michael Kopech, Donny Roach and Jordan Stephens. AP

Charlotte is at the wrong end of the International League standings, but the Knights have turned into one of the league’s hottest teams since the Memorial Day weekend.

Coming off Sunday’s 4-3 victory at Buffalo, the Knights have won six of their last eight games and have captured their last three series – against Indianapolis, Lehigh Valley and Buffalo.

Lehigh Valley, the AAA farm club of the New York Yankees, and Buffalo are battling for first place in the league’s North Division.

Charlotte remains last in the South Division and has the league’s second-worst winning percentage, but much of that was the result of a miserable May. The Knights went 12-18 last month – 8-17 before they began their hot streak May 27 with a 4-3 victory over Indianapolis.

Pitching has been the key.

The Knights rank in the lower half of the league in most hitting statistics, but they’ve gotten strong performances from pitchers Michael Kopech, Donny Roach, Carson Fulmer and Jordan Stephens. Carlos Rodon, making a rehab visit with Charlotte before returning to the Chicago White Sox sometime this week, has helped.

Roach leads the league in innings pitched (65) and is tied for second in victories (five). Kopech is second in strikeouts, with 70.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon, on a rehab start with the Charlotte Knights, had to leave Thursday's game after getting hit by a line drive to the forehead from Norfolk's D'Arby Myers. Rodon had six strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings of action.

Rodon, Roach and Stephens each had exceptional outings during the past week. Rodon surrendered only two runs and struck out eight Sunday against Buffalo and could be recalled within a few days.

Fulmer or Stephens is likely to get the start when the Knights open a six-game homestand Tuesday night.

KopechVertical
Charlotte Knights pitcher Michael Kopech is second in the International League in strikeouts, with 70. Ben Margot AP

Here’s how Charlotte fared during the past week:

Monday: Kopech went six innings, fanning seven and allowing only two runs, as the Knights beat Indianapolis 7-5 to close a homestand. Jacob May homered and stole his 10th base of the season.

Tuesday: Rodon pitched five shutout innings, striking out eight, as the Knights downed Lehigh Valley 5-1. Michael Saunders and Mason Robbins homered. During the day, the Knights put catcher Brett Austin, a Providence High product, on the disabled list.

Wednesday: Lehigh Valley blanked Charlotte 5-0, as the Knights encountered IronPigs standout pitcher Cole Irvin. Going 8.2 innings, Irvin (6-1) allowed only four hits.

Thursday: The Knights bounced back by beating the host IronPigs 6-2. Stephens went six innings, allowing six hits and two runs. Of his 89 pitches, 60 were strikes.

Friday: Charlotte traveled to Buffalo and opened a weekend series with a 10-4 romp. Roach was the winning pitcher, improving to 5-2 on the season. Alex Presley’s three-run homer highlighted the Knights’ six-run fifth inning.

Saturday: Buffalo rolled 9-2, with Kopech having one of his roughest outings of the season. He was charged with seven runs and four walks in just two innings.

Sunday: Rodon pitched five innings, allowing two runs and fanning eight, as Charlotte beat Buffalo 4-3. The Knights’ got consecutive ninth-inning singles from May, Jacob Elmore and Casey Gillaspie, with Gillaspie’s hit driving in May with the decisive run.

The week ahead: After an off day Monday, the Knights host the Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals’ farm team) at 7:04 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; then are home against Lehigh Valley at 7:04 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:05 p.m. next Sunday.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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