By Josh Cook
The only thing hotter than the Louisville Bats in July has been the weather, but just barely.
Saturday night the Bats set a franchise-record with their 22nd victory of the month with a 10-2 win over International League West-leading Columbus in front of 9,097 fans at Louisville Slugger Field on the 25th day of July in which temperatures reached at least 90 degrees.
And Louisville did against a pair of homegrown pitchers. The Bats scored six runs against Columbus starter, and former Butler High School standout, Marty Popham, and one against Clippers reliever, and Ballard High alum, Jeremy Sowers, to end July 22-6.
"It's been a good month," Rick Sweet, the sometime understated manager of the Bats.
Louisville's ninth consecutive victory - the franchise's longest streak since winning 12 in a row in 2003 - moved the Bats (58-50) within 7 1/2 games of the division-leading Clippers (66-43) in the first game of a four-game split series.
Louisville did it by shutting down, and almost shutting out, the IL's best hitting team. Columbus came in with a team batting average of .289, but managed only five hits - including a shutout-ending, two-out, two-run home run in the ninth - against a quartet of Bats pitchers. Homer Bailey was outstanding in his second rehabilitation start with the Bats, giving up three hits while striking out three and walking two over 6 2/3 innings.
"It's hanging by a thread," Bailey joked about his right shoulder, the inflammation of which is the reason for his recent minor league stint.
Bailey got plenty of help from the Bats' bats. Yonder Alonso went 3-for-5 with four runs batted in thanks to two doubles and a home run. Todd Frazier went 3-for-4 with three RBIs thanks to two doubles and a single, while Zack Cozart added three hits and two runs to add to his IL-leading total in that category (he has 73 on the season).
Popham, making his Triple-A debut just a few days before his 23rd birthday, gave up six earned runs - one each in the first and second innings and four in the fourth. The 6-foot-6 righty, who helped the Bears to the 2005 state quarterfinals his senior year, also allowed nine hits walking striking out two and walking three. The 20th-round selection (621st overall) in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft walked the first batter he faced, Chris Dickerson. Dickerson quickly stole second, then scored on Alonso's double.
In the bottom of the second Danny Dorn hit a solohome run off Popham to make it 2-0 Louisville.
Things got worse for Popham in the fourth. He gave up a leadoff single to Corky Miller, then walked Dickerson with one out. After Cozart singled, Alonso doubled to score Miller and Dickerson. Frazier followed with a two-run double to make it 6-0.
Sowers, the sixth pick of the 2004 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt who has bounced back-and-forth between the Indians and Triple-A from 2006-09, replaced Popham to start the fifth. Sowers, who has shifted to the bullpen this season due to inflammation in his shoulder, retired the side that inning, but allowed a run in the sixth. That's when Cozart singled with one out, moved to second on Alonso's groundout and scored on Frazier's single.
"I kind of struggled with some shoulder stuff in the offseason and the organization felt it would be best for me to come out of the bullpen," Sowers said. "It's a different role and a different mindset, but pitching is still pitching."
Bailey left with two outs in the seventh due to pitch count. He threw 83 pitches, including 58 for strikes, against the Clippers.
Louisville added three more runs in the eighth. Alonso hit his ninth homer of the year, and Louisvile's 49th of the month and IL-best 127th for the season, off Columbus reliever Zach Putnam. Frazier followed with a double, then Francisco singled and Wladimir Balentien walked before Dorn's two-run double that initially looked like a grand slam.
Enerio Del Rosario threw a shaky one-third of an inning of relief before Phillippe Valiquette tossed a perfect eighth. Jared Burton, however, gave up a two-out, two-run homer to Lou Marson in the ninth to end what could have been Louisville's IL-best 12th shutout of the season.
Dorn, Miller and Francisco added two hits apiece for the Bats, who pounded out 17 base knocks. Balentien was the only starter without a hit.
The Bats played without second baseman Chris Valaika, who is day-to-day with a sprained knee. Also Saturday, reliever Jesus Delgado was reassigned to Louisville from Double-A Carolina.
The Bats and Clippers meet at 6:05 p.m. Sunday night at Slugger Field, Louisville left-hander Ben Jukich (4-4, 4.23 earned run average) is set to take on fellow southpaw Eric Berger (0-0, 4.50) before the series shifts to Columbus for two games after a Monday travel day.
"We always say this, but we're taking it one game at a time," Sweet said. "Heck, I don't even know what day it is."
Sunday at Slugger Field the Inflatable Mortenson Family Dental Kid's Zone play area will be set up from 5-8 p.m. in the Hall of Fame Pavilion. Also it will be Knothole Gang Day at the park in which children 12 and under receive a free field reserved ticket when showing their 2010 Marathon Oil Knothole Gang membership card and accompanied by a full-paying adult. And, as always, kids will be allowed to run the bases after the game.
Photo courtesy Louisville Bats