It was a bit of a rough week for the Lynchburg Hillcats as the roster was the target of plenty of trade rumors over the course of the week while the club lost a series at home to Wilmington before splitting a four-game set in Winston-Salem against the Dash to close out the month of July.
The Blue Rocks took the opening and closing games of their series at the beginning of the week, with the Hillcats holding on to a 5-4 eight-inning win in a rain-shortened game on Tuesday. Winston-Salem scored eight times on nine hits in the fourth inning on Thursday and dealt the Hillcats their first shutout of the season on Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the Dash. Lynchburg bounced back to split the series with a pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday by 5-2 and 5-3 finals.
The Hillcats return home for four games in three days with the Potomac Nationals on Monday before hitting the road for four games in Salem to wrap up the week. They will follow the trip with a three-game stay in Potomac.
In other Hillcats chatter:
MEJIA’S STREAK HITS 42
Switch-hitting starting catcher Francisco Mejia extended his two-league hitting streak to 42 games with another base hit on Saturday. He was 3-for-8 in two games earlier in the week against Wilmington, getting three singles and an RBI on Monday and Tuesday against the Blue Rocks. He was 3-for-12 with three more singles and another RBI in three games with Winston-Salem at week’s end. He did not play on Sunday.
MEJIA, CHANG NEARLY DEALT
Mejia and Carolina League All-Star shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang were held out of the Hillcats lineup on Sunday as they were, in effect, dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night. Jonathan Lucroy, the Indians’ return on the deal, nixed the swap by exercising his no-trade clause in his contract that had prevented moves to eight different teams, including the Indians. When he and Cleveland could not agree to proper incentives to entice the two-time National League All-Star catcher to wave the clause and allow the trade to proceed, the move fell apart.
SHEFFIELD SWAPPED TO YANKEES
Left-handed starting pitcher Justus Sheffield was scratched from his start on Sunday because he had been dealt to the New York Yankees as one of four prospects heading to the Bronx for All-Star relief pitcher Andrew Miller.
Sheffield, in his third season in the Indians organization, was 7-5 in 19 starts for the Hillcats this season. He spent his first pro season in the Arizona League in 2014, going 3-1 in eight games (four starts) and spent 2015 with the Lake County Captains, going 9-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 26 starts.
PANNONE NAMED PITCHER OF THE WEEK, LANDS ON DL
There was some good and bad in Thomas Pannone’s week in Lynchburg.
On Monday, he was named the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week after throwing seven innings of one-hit shutout baseball against the Carolina Mudcats on Thursday, July 21, in his first start for the Hillcats. On Tuesday, he made his second start and third overall appearance and went four and two-thirds innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks in a no-decision.
On Thursday, the club placed him on the seven-day disabled list.
LUGO WINS FOURTH STRAIGHT START
With five and two-thirds innings of three-hit baseball on Saturday, left-hander Luis Lugo won his fourth straight decision to improve to 8-3 on the season in 20 starts for the Hillcats. He allowed there walks and two runs in the game while striking out five to finish the month of July with a 4-1 record and a 3.25 ERA in five starts.
After going 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 20 games (19 starts) for the Class-A Lake County Captains this season, 21-year-old right-hander Matt Esparza was promoted to High-A Lynchburg on Wednesday.
He made his first start at that level on Friday, giving up two runs (both earned) on three hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in six innings on the mound. He was the tough-luck loser, as the Hillcats were blanked for the first time this season in a 4-0 loss to the Dash at Winston-Salem.
BRADY’S WINNING STREAK ENDS
Southpaw Sean Brady saw his eight-game winning streak come to an end on Wednesday in the Hillcats’ 6-5 loss to the Blue Rocks. The lefty allowed five runs on five hits over six innings, but just one of the runs was earned. He walked two and struck out six in the defeat, his first since May 21.
Brady is now 10-4 with a 4.08 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 19 games (18 starts) for Lynchburg this season.
HILLCATS NAME TO STAY
After an extensive submission and voting process for a new Lynchburg moniker, fans elected by majority vote to allow “Hillcats” to remain the club’s nickname.
Other options included Derechos, Doves, Lamb Chops, Love Apples, and River Runners.
The Hillcats placed lefty Anderson Polanco on the disabled list on Wednesday, July 27.
Lynchburg added right-handers Esparza and Jared Robinson and outfielders Connor Marabell and Nathan Lukes to the roster on Wednesday from Class-A Lake County. Outfielder Jodd Carter and catcher Juan De La Cruz were transferred to Lake County in a corresponding move. Carter had just joined the Hillcats roster on July 25.
Outfield prospect Greg Allen was promoted to Double-A Akron on Monday after a domino effect of roster moves at the higher levels of the farm system. He was joined on the RubberDucks roster by outfielder Luigi Rodriguez.
Photo: Jay Westcott/The News and Advance