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Morgan Coombs keeps Canaries at bay as RailCats win

Updated: September 20, 2013 6:31AM



GARY — Even with the way the RailCats’ offense has been scuffling, Morgan Coombs didn’t view his start on Sunday against Sioux Falls any differently, didn’t put any additional pressure on himself.

He still turned in a stellar outing. And they needed just about every bit of it.

Coombs was charged with a run on five hits in 81/3 innings, with a career-high 10 strikeouts and zero walks, as the RailCats held off the Canaries 2-1 at the Steel Yard. Gary (48-37) ended a stretch of six losses in seven games, and improved to 2-8 against Sioux Falls (37-50) this season, including 1-5 at home.

“Morgan Coombs, the guy has done some special things over the last couple years,” manager Greg Tagert said. “It’s funny, we’ve talked about it before, mentioned it so many times, he’s one of those guys that the club responds to. I don’t care any kind of statistical measures — and I love looking at the matchups and the statistics and all those things that go along with the game — but you cannot measure how the rest of the club responds when that guy is on the mound. He’s one of those guys that has that special quality.”

Coombs was special in picking up his first win since July 8, in his fourth start (fifth appearance) since getting activated from the disabled list on July 27 after dealing with shingles. In Sunday’s 111-pitch start, he eclipsed his previous best of seven strikeouts, from July 12 last season at Worcester

“The slider’s always been my best pitch and I had a really good feel for it today,” Coombs said “I was fortunate they swung and missed at it a lot. I was just trying to make quality pitches and stay down in the zone, and let them get themselves out.”

There were moments of danger here and there, but Coombs mostly was in control.

With the RailCats leading 2-0, Tagert nearly removed Coombs after eight innings — after the right-hander had thrown two straight perfect innings, with the only blemish in the sixth an error — even going so far as to tell Ian Durham he would open the ninth. Coombs’ reaction when informed his day was done? No way.

“Morgan showed quite a bit of passion in the dugout when I told him we were taking him out,” Tagert said.

“I was pretty adamant,” Coombs said. “I just feel like that’s my game. I held them this long, what’s one more inning? He gave me the opportunity.”

Indeed, Coombs took the mound in the ninth, before giving up a one-out double to Reggie Abercrombie. At that point, Tagert hadn’t made up his mind to go to the bullpen, but …

“There’s no way as a manager I’m going to let Morgan Coombs lose that game,” Tagert said. “He did everything he could. … It certainly was a well-deserved win for Morgan.”

Left-hander Estevan Uriegas then walked Tim Pahuta, before Durham entered the game and hit Jared Clark with his first pitch. After J.P Ramirez lined a sacrifice fly to left to score Abercrombie, Durham induced Taylor into a 6-4 fielder’s choice to end the game.

While the RailCats’ pitching came through, their offense continued to search for answers, including against Sioux Falls starter Kyle Vazquez, who was making just his third start of the season in his 30th appearance, entering with a 5.19 ERA. The right-hander allowed one run on three hits in six innings, with a career-high nine strikeouts and one walk.

The top-of-the-order combination of Adam Klein and Mike Massaro accounted for both of the RailCats’ runs. Klein walked to lead off the game, stole second, and scored on Massaro’s double.

“My job is to go out there and throw up zeroes,” Coombs said. “When they gave me that one run early, if that’s all we’re going to get, that’s good enough for me. If they put up one run, it’s my job to hold the lead. Those guys pick me up on defense, and I have to pick them up when they’re struggling. You have to give their pitcher credit too — it’s not all on them.”

The RailCats clung to that 1-0 lead until the eighth, when Klein got an infield hit with one out, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Massaro’s single to right.

“I don’t think it’s something that needs to be addressed with the ballclub — the ballclub knows we have to get some other people to produce,” Tagert said. “We have to.”

Especially with Wichita, which has posted the best record in the American Association behind a powerful offense, coming to town. The RailCats have Monday off, before opening a series against the Wingnuts with a doubleheader on Tuesday. Stephen Hiscock (2-2, 3.75 ERA) is expected to start the second game, with the RailCats yet to announce a starter for the first game.

Also, with Alain Quijano still recovering from the line drive he absorbed to his pitching hand, the RailCats were expected to finalize a deal to acquire knuckleballer Joe Zeller from the Greys, a traveling team in the Frontier League. The 25-year-old Zeller, who spent three seasons in the Cubs organization, could start on Wednesday for the RailCats, after going 8-7 with a 3.22 ERA in 18 games (16 starts) for the Greys. The RailCats had yet to determine the corresponding move.



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