Jul. 17—There have been plenty of big nights for the RailRiders offense as they recovered from a sluggish start to the season to inch back toward .500.
Thanks to Justin Nicolino, Saturday night wasn't one of them.
The veteran southpaw quieted the red-hot RailRiders lineup as well as any pitcher has of late over seven strong innings, and Louisville's offense kept chipping away at RailRiders pitchers Jhony Brito and Michael Gomez, cruising to an 8-3 win at PNC Field.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre managed three home runs against Nicolino — two in the first by Oswald Peraza and Josh Breaux, and a one-out drive in the seventh by Philip Evans — but all three were solo shots, and they did little to dent what had been a persistent Bats attack against Brito and Gomez in the game's first five innings.
Brito came into the game with a sterling 4-1 record and 2.54 ERA, and he mostly did what he had done so well early on in his Triple-A career. Of the 17 batters he faced, he got ahead of eight of them 0-2 or 1-2. Five of those hitters reached base, though, including on the two big Louisville hits in the first inning: An RBI double by Aristedes Aquino on a 1-2 fastball, and a sharp 0-2 single to left by Cristian Santana that brought him home.
He got ahead of Aquino, 0-2, with one out in the third and ended up walking him. Aquino came around to give the Bats a 3-2 lead when Brito walked Alejo Lopez, again after getting ahead, 0-2.
"We weren't executing with two strikes," Breaux, the RailRiders' catcher, said. "Jhony does a really good job of getting ahead early, but they just weren't taking the bait. Credit to them, they were doing a really good job of laying off some good pitches. I thought, overall, he pitched really well. He was executing early. Just, sometimes, it goes like that."
The more the Bats fell behind, the more they battled back.
By the time TJ Friedl ripped a two-run single just past diving first baseman Jake Bauers and into right field with one out in the top of the fifth to chase the reliever Gomez, the Bats had an 8-2 advantage, and every one of manager Pat Kelly's starters had gotten a hit.
For Nicolino, it was an embarrassment of riches.
He recovered from that rugged first inning, when Peraza curled a line drive just inside the left-field foul pole to cut the lead in half before Breaux destroyed a fastball onto the walkway past the grass seating in left-center to tie it, with a near flawless finish.
Nicolino retired 10 straight RailRiders before Tyler Wade, in his first start with the team since 2019, ripped a one-hopper through the right side for a single. He then mowed through the next seven RailRiders before Evans' blast cleared the wall in the seventh.
In his seven innings, Nicolino allowed three runs on five hits. He didn't walk anyone and struck out six.
"I think he pitched well tonight," RailRiders hitting coach Trevor Amicone said. "He hit his spots. I think he had a little more bite on some of his stuff. We needed to adjust a little bit better than we did tonight, but it's really good to see somebody like that, especially coming out of somewhere like Worcester, where everybody was a power guy; Everyone in Worcester is coming out of the pen throwing 97 to 100. Having a guy out there who is able to locate and hit spots, I think that's a good test for us."
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