The Reno Aces roll into Albuquerque tonight at 7:05 to open a four-game series with the Isotopes. They will do so minus their best pitcher, Archie Bradley.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' No. 1 prospect is on the disabled list with a mild strained flexor tendon in his right elbow. He has not pitched since April 26.
Bradley looked sharp in his first two starts (12 innings, seven hits, two earned runs, four walks, eight strikeouts) but then struggled in his next three (12.1 innings, 19 hits, 15 earned runs, eight walks, 15 strikeouts) before landing on the DL. Overall, he is 1-4 with a 5.18 ERA.
Despite losing Bradley, the Aces are still 27-21, sitting just a half-game behind Sacramento (27-20) in the Pacific North Division. Reno ranks fourth in the league in runs scored (257) and a respectable ninth in team ERA (4.46).
The Aces still have a number of talented young prospects, plus a number of experienced veterans to balance out the roster. They have won three straight and seven of their last 10 games.
The series will continue Saturday at 7:05 p.m., Sunday at 6:05 p.m. and Monday at 1:35 p.m. Click on the slideshow below for a full breakdown of Reno's roster.
Rotation: The four starters Reno will use in this series are all young, with three of them ranking among the Diamondbacks' top 30 prospects according to Baseball America. Left-hander Andrew Chafin (No. 24) will make his Triple-A debut in Friday's opener.
Chafin was brilliant (4-1, 1.96 ERA, 41 strikeouts in 55 innings) at Double-A Mobile. The lefty has a fastball that can range from 88-94 mph, with an above-average changeup and a good, if inconsistent, slider.
Right-hander Bo Schultz (No. 29) will start Saturday's contest. He has struggled (2-4, 6.23 ERA) in nine starts this year. Schultz was used out of the bullpen 17 times last year by Reno.
Another right-hander, Zeke Spruill (No. 16), gets the nod Sunday. A groundball pitcher, Spruill throws a two-seam fastball at 90-94 mph, plus a good changeup and slider.
Monday's start will fall to right-hander Mike Bolsinger, pictured, who has been a bit of a revelation this season. He has gone 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA in five starts for Reno, which earned him a brief trip to Arizona, where Bolsinger went 1-2 with a 6.08 ERA in five games (four starts).
Bullpen: Want to know how good the Reno relief corps has been this season? Currently only two pitchers have ERAs over 4.00 and none are over 5.00. In contrast, Albuquerque has one reliever (Yimi Garcia) with an ERA under 4.91.
The Aces have the luxury of two good left-handers in Joe Paterson (3.55 ERA in 17 games), pictured, and Eury de la Rosa (0-2, 3.00, 2 saves). They could be trouble for the Isotopes' left-leaning lineup late in games.
From the right side, while journeyman Jess Todd (2-0, 4.91, 5 saves) has struggled of late, prospect Matt Stites (0.00, 4 saves in 7 games) has stepped up in the closer's role. Stites throws a fastball up to 98 mph and has impeccable command, walking just 25 batters in 154.1 career minor-league innings.
Other relievers of note include Derek Eitel (4-0, 1.44), Will Harris (2-1, 1.04), Kevin Munson (1-1, 3.93) and Mark Serano (1-0, 4.15). The Isotopes will have their hands full if the Aces take a lead into the late innings.
Lineup: Reno's everyday players are a solid group, led by a pair of power bats on the infield corners. First baseman Mike Jacobs, pictured, and third baseman Nick Evans have been on a tear this season.
Evans, who also plays first and the outfield corners, has hit a robust .353/.402/.673 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI. Jacobs has done plenty of damage (.351/.422/.598, 9 HR, 41 RBI) in his own right.
Andy Marte, who also plays third base, has likewise been tearing it up (.317/.369/.511, 6 HR, 27 RBI). The veteran is a former top prospect with Atlanta who has bounced around a lot.
Outfielder Roger Kieschnick (.290/.344/.524, 7 HR, 17 RBI) was claimed off waivers from the Giants earlier this season. He has spent some time in the big leagues.
The loser of the Diamondbacks' spring training shortstop battle, Didi Gregorius, has belied his defense-only reputation with some solid hitting (.296/.386/.441, 3 HR, 20 RBI). Gregorius has also increased his versatility by playing second base.
Prospect to watch: The slick-fielding Nick Ahmed, pictured, was once a part of the mega-trade that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta. Ahmed has done his best this season to prove he is not a one-dimensional player.
While alternating with the aforementioned Didi Gregorius between second and shortstop, Ahmed has likewise hit better than expected (.290/.381/.345, HR, 16 RBI). Though he does not have a lot of power or speed, Ahmed's improved on-base percentage is a positive sign.
Because he is blocked at the Major League level by second baseman Aaron Hill, signed to a long-term deal, and shortstop Chris Owings, a Rookie of the Year candidate, Ahmed is in many ways showcasing his talents for another future trade. If he can keep up his OBP, he will have more value than just as a glove-first player.
Series Outlook: The Aces loom as a formidable opponent for the Isotopes (22-25), who are still trying to get onto a winning track. Reno has strong starting pitching, though the results have not been there for Bo Schultz.
The bullpen could be a real concern for Albuquerque, with two good lefties and a strong, deep crop of right-handers. Going into the ninth inning trailing against Matt Stites does not seem like a good idea at all.
The Aces lineup has changed a lot due to call-ups and injuries, particularly in the outfield. Speedster Tony Campana (.267/.348/.317, 5-for-7 in stolen bases), pictured, has recently joined the club from Arizona and is a threat to steal every time he gets on base.
If the Isotopes can somehow pull off a series victory this weekend, it will be a strong statement going forward. Even a split would be a moral victory, and Albuquerque already pulled that off in Reno back on April 7-10.