Big things are going on for the Cleveland Indians’ High-A affiliate, the Lynchburg Hillcats. On Saturday, the club won its tenth straight game, knocking off the Frederick Keys (Baltimore Orioles affiliate) behind a 3-0 shutout.
With the win, the Hillcats improved to 14-3 on the season, the best mark across all minor league levels. Seven of those wins have come against the Keys, after sweeping a four-game set in Maryland last weekend. This weekend in a similar four-game set from Calvin Falwell Field in Lynchburg, the Hillcats have taken each of the first three games of the series.
Lynchburg’s winning streak began on Thursday, April 14, as the club began its first road trip of the season after starting the year 4-3 at home with series against the Winston-Salem Rush and the Potomac Nationals. They then swept the Keys in four before sweeping a three-game series in Potomac.
Saturday’s win was the fourth shutout during the current ten-game winning streak and the third in the last four days.
Mitch Brown got the start for the Hillcats and earned his first win of the season in his best effort of the 2016 campaign. He matched a professional career high of nine strikeouts and issued just one walk in a season-high five scoreless innings on the mound. Anderson Polanco took over and went the rest of the way to earn his first save of the season. He was in control on the mound, picking up where Brown left off by striking out six batters and walking none.
The 15 strikeouts combined from Hillcats pitching set a season-high for the club.
Lynchburg got on the board in the third, as outfielder Greg Allen manufactured a run himself after a double play ball from Claudio Bautista erased Sicnarf Loopstok’s leadoff single to left. Allen lined a single to center, stole second, then stole third and scored on a throwing error by catcher Jonah Heim, one of three errors on the day from the Keys.
Yu-Cheng Chang, who was at the plate when Allen went wild on the bases in the third, came up again in the fifth and gave the Hillcats their second run after a leadoff single from Mark Mathias and a walk from Loopstok. After Bautista struck out and Allen flied out, Cheng singled to center to score Mathias from second.
Against reliever Lucas Long in the bottom of the sixth, the Hillcats tacked on another, again with two outs in the inning. Taylor Murphy singled and Mathias doubled to right to drive him in. Mathias would be stranded at third, but the three runs scored on the night were plenty for Lynchburg and their strong pitching efforts from Brown and Polanco, who allowed just four hits in the ball game.
Leadoff man Allen, the San Diego State product and protégée of the late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, has now stolen 16 bases in 17 opportunities this season. A sixth round pick in the 2014 draft, Allen stole 46 in 62 attempts last season between Lake County (43-for-59) and Lynchburg (3-for-3) and stole 30 in 35 attempts in 57 games for short-season Mahoning Valley in his first season in the Indians organization in 2014. His five-game hitting streak ended on Thursday night, but he has hit safely in seven of his last eight and has reached base safely in nine of his last ten while hitting .293 for the season.
The Hillcats will play the finale of their brief four-game homestand on Sunday afternoon at 2:00 PM when they host Frederick. They will take Monday off before beginning a three-game series in Winston-Salem to start a six-game road trip before returning home on May 2 to start a week back home in Lynchburg.
Photo: Lee Luther Jr./The News and Advance