TRENTON – The Trenton Thunder certainly will be happy to have the month of June enter the rearview mirror, but a solid pitching performance from Eric Wooten helped end the month on a positive note as the Thunder secured a 2-0 victory over the Portland Sea Dogs in front of 3,809 fans at ARM & HAMMER Park on Monday night.
For Thunder first baseman Peter O’Brien, who has taken the Eastern League by storm with his gift for lifting balls over outfield walls, it was his ability to make solid contact and play good defense – two traits which he has not shown much of in Trenton so far this season – which sealed the win for the Thunder.
O’Brien helped Trenton get on the board right away when he lined a sharp single into right field, bringing home Mason Williams in the first inning. Williams had singled himself to lead off the inning, then stole second base and advanced to third on a groundout.
The Thunder first baseman started the next offensive threat for the Thunder when he led off the fourth inning with a single. Two batters later, he was standing on third base when journeyman infielder Casey Stevenson poked a single into left field and gave the Thunder a 2-0 lead.
After seeing time behind the plate and in right field this season, O’Brien has grown comfortable as a first baseman, and it showed tonight. After back-to-back hits to start the Portland fourth inning, O’Brien made a diving catch on a sharply hit line drive by Stefan Welch to save two runs. Thunder pitcher Eric Wooten would be able to settle down after O’Brien’s grab and retire the next two hitters to escape the inning.
“It’s like he’s been [at first base] all year,” Trenton manager Tony Franklin noted. “It’s like he’s been there his whole life…he’s pretty athletic, pretty mobile. He does some very good things over there at first base.”
“He’s taken to [first base] very well,” Franklin added. “I’m very comfortable with him there.”
For Wooten, it was arguably his best start since being inserted in the Thunder rotation over two weeks ago. The 24-year-old lefty cruised through his first six innings and kept the Sea Dogs offense off the scoreboard.
Wooten ran into trouble in the seventh inning when he surrendered a leadoff double to Portland designated hitter Matt Spring. Despite rebounding to strike out the next batter, Franklin pulled Wooten, who was at 92 pitches. Taylor Garrison came on in relief and was able to retire the next two hitters to get Trenton out of the inning.
Wooten finished the night with his best pitching line of the season, recording 6 1/3 scoreless frames while scattering just five hits and a pair of walks. He also struck out four Portland batters.
“Just keeping the ball low in the zone,” Wooten said of what worked well tonight. “I’ve been working on my two-seam, letting it fall down in the zone and keeping the hitters hitting ground balls.”
“My fielders made some great plays for me,” Wooten added. “[There were] a couple squared up balls and just seems like they were there.”
Tuesday’s pitching matchup features a duel of top prospects. Highly-touted lefty Manny Banuelos (0-1, 3.57 ERA) will be on the mound for the Thunder, while Henry Owens (10-3, 2.25 ERA) gets the ball for the Portland Sea Dogs. First pitch from ARM & HAMMER Park will be 7:05 PM.