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Valdez tosses a gem

August 18, 2003|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

Merkin Valdez didn't bring any Swiss cheese to Municipal Stadium Sunday as he readied for his start against the Greensboro Bats.

Once he got on the mound, he did nothing but deliver a pound full of holes and then some as he led the Hagerstown Suns to a 2-0 win over Bats with a four-hit complete game.

The lanky righthander was in control from the outset, displaying speed (a fastball that reached 98 mph) and control (79 of his 107 pitches were strikes) to record 11 strikeouts.

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Valdez had six strikeouts through the first four innings, then seemingly got stronger with five punchouts over the final three innings, including whiffing the side in the eighth. Valdez (7-5, 2.41 ERA) did not walk a batter in his second complete game of the year as he outpitched Greensboro's Yorman Bazardo.

"I really felt relaxed today," Valdez said. "My fastball was working inside and outside. I thought I was strong physically and mentally."

His mental toughness showed in the ninth inning.

Manager Mike Ramsey considered going to his bullpen to begin the ninth, but decided to stay with Valdez, especially after Jake Wald provided an insurance run in the eighth with a home run to right field.

Pinch hitter Jose Aponte reached first on an error by Kevin Kelly, but Valdez bore down to fan Robert Andino and induce Kevin Randel to bounce into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play.

"I wasn't worried about the error because I have teammates behind me playing their best," Valdez said.

Ramsey was bubbling over Valdez's performance that kept the Suns (26-27 second half, 61-59 overall) in the Wild Card chase along with Greensboro (26-27, 62-60). Both teams are 2 1/2 games behind the Lexington Legends, who beat Lakewood 8-4 on Sunday.

"That was a great performance," Ramsey said. "Merkin was at his best. His fastball was on both sides of the plate and he maintained his velocity throughout the game."

Three of the four hits Valdez allowed began an inning, but he helped himself out by picking off runners at first base on two occasions. Greensboro never had more than one baserunner in any inning.

The only run Valdez needed came when the Suns got three hits in the first inning after managing just one all night Saturday.

A.J. LaBarbera and Fred Lewis opened with back-to-back singles before Carlos Sosa hit into a double play that left LaBarbera at third.

Kelly, who was hitless in eight at-bats in the first two games of the series, lifted a short looper into left field that fell in front of the Bats' Andy Rohleder and scored LaBarbera.

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