By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- From his position at first base, Matt Holland watched Greg Van Sickler deal, inning after inning.
In a breeze, it seemed like Van Sickler was ahead in the count to almost every Luray batter on Friday night. Dominant for a second straight start at Bing Crosby Stadium, Van Sickler never gave the Wranglers much of a chance.
A line of 11 strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings -- with just one walk -- compiled by Van Sickler in the Cardinals' 8-0 Valley Baseball League win left another impression with his new teammates for the summer.
"You give [Van Sickler] one run and he'll get the job done with all those zeroes he puts on the board, that's for sure," Holland said. "I love him on the mound. He competes, throws strikes, has a good tempo on the mound.
"He does a great job pitching."
After three starts, Van Sickler (2-1) has struck out 26, walked one, and has an ERA of 0.90. The right-hander said he got some encouraging words from Shenandoah University and Front Royal teammate Kevin Brashears to go after batters more often for Friday's start.
"I guess I was trying to get more drive towards the plate," Van Sickler said. "I was trying not to over-throw too much. It was funny. Kevin Brashears was telling me, 'Just let it loose.'"
Chris Pena (0.00 ERA in five appearances) came in to keep the shutout intact as the Cardinals (7-4) improved to 5-1 at home with a crucial early-season home date coming up tonight with Winchester.
The bats came out ready against Luray (4-6), with the Cardinals scoring at least a run in each of the first three innings. One big swing from the suddenly hot bat of Holland provided more than enough offense for Van Sickler to feel at ease working with.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Holland lined Kevin Carlow's first pitch over the center-field wall for his first home run and a 4-0 lead.
The hit was huge for Holland's confidence. The tall, left-handed swinging utility player out of Texas A & M-Corpus Christi began the season 0-for-16, but has batted .375 since with four extra-base hits.
"The biggest thing was I was muscling up to the ball -- I was using my arms to swing instead of my hands," Holland said. "Now I'm starting to trust my hands again. So everything is coming smoothly and I'm starting to see the ball a bit easier than I was."
Holland was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a stolen base in the win.
"If you look at this team, if we're going to be really offensive, we're going to need him in the lineup," Front Royal manager Joe Scarano said. "We need him in there with [right-handed batting] Jim Roche, one from the right and one from the left, to be dangerous.
"It's been my plan to stay with [Holland]. Even with Dan Evatt [in 2009], we stayed with him even though he didn't have success right away, then it paid off [eight homers] down the stretch. It's important to have a dangerous [long-ball threat] in there, especially here at the Bing."
Getting a few helpful hints from Front Royal teammate Pete Greskoff (who plays with Carlow at Brown University) helped Holland's approach Friday.
"[Carlow] had some good stuff," Holland said. "He threw a first-pitch fastball outside [on the home run] and it was too good to take. I had to put a swing on it and I was fortunate to hit it out."
Given a four-run rip off Holland's bat allowed Van Sickler to attack the strike zone a little more frequently. Van Sickler's velocity overmatched several Luray bats and his change of speeds left the Wranglers baffled even more.
"To get him runs [early] is the most important thing you can do because he is so consistent," Scarano said of Van Sickler. "He's as consistent a pitcher as there is in this league. Tonight he really had good feel and didn't really miss much [in the strike zone]. Everything he wanted to do, he executed.
"Before you knew it, it was 'strike-two' to every hitter."
Van Sickler normally would have had his turn in the rotation a day later, which would have meant a second appearance against Winchester. But Scarano flip-flopped Van Sickler with Frank Zier (2-0), who will get the nod in tonight's game with the Royals.
"[Scarano] said it was a little too early to pitch against the same team twice," Van Sickler said. "I mean, hopefully, it's going to work out. I'm sure [Zier] is going to do fine."
After striking out the side in the first, Van Sickler would go on to record at least one punchout in each inning he pitched.
It was the second straight shutout the Cardinals have had in a Van Sickler start. On June 12, Van Sickler pitched seven scoreless frames and teamed with Oren Rasowsky to blank Rockbridge, 7-0, at home.
Against Luray, Sean Jamieson (2-for-5) drove in his first run of the season with a second-inning single and Andy Drexel got his first hit since June 5 -- an RBI double -- to plate Holland for a 6-0 lead in the third.
Roche led off the fifth with a homer and Greskoff scored his second run on Blake Boyce's fielder's choice grounder later in the inning to cap Front Royal's scoring.