By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Front Royal manager Jake Weghorst was understandably excited about the potential that Shepherd University pitcher Paul Hvozdovic could bring to the Cardinals prior to the start of the 2013 Valley League season.
Weghorst, who serves as an assistant coach at Fairmont State (W.Va.) during the college baseball season, was in awe of the 6-foot-1 lefty after watching Hvozdovic throw a complete-game shutout for Shepherd against Fairmont State in a game on April 13. Weghorst knew then that he was lucky to have Hvozdovic in Front Royal's dugout this season.
Hvozdovic hasn't disappointed in two starts for the Cardinals this season, and on Tuesday he threw eight scoreless innings to help lead Front Royal to a 4-0 win over visiting Charles Town (W.Va.) at Bing Crosby Stadium.
"I've seen Paul pitch once during the [college] season, and he's done exactly that against us. He's a competitor. He goes out there, he wants the ball and he challenges guys," Weghorst said. "The way he throws pitches for strikes on both sides of the plate ... he's going to be a pretty special pitcher the rest of this summer and even next year at school."
Coming off a complete-game effort in a 3-2 win over Winchester in Front Royal's home opener on June 1, Hvozdovic was able to take full command of the strike zone on Tuesday while using a good combination of fastballs, curveballs and changeups to keep the Cannons off balance at the plate. The lefty gave up just four hits and two walks while striking out seven batters, and needed just 92 pitches to get through his eight innings of work.
"I just kept throwing strikes, getting ahead of hitters, kept them on their toes. And I threw every pitch that [catcher] Kyle Morrow called," Hvozdovic said. "We've got a little combination, two starts with me and him, so I think we've got a little chemistry going on."
Hvozdovic worked at a blazing pace all evening long -- something he said that helps to keep his defense alert -- and the lefty needed just 37 pitches to get through the first four innings.
Front Royal (4-3) gave its starting pitcher some support in the bottom of the third inning with help from Charles Town's (2-4) defense and some clutch two-out hitting, something that has been lacking from the Cardinals' offense so far this season.
Cardinals No. 9 batter Andrew Seigel led off the bottom of the third by reaching on a Cannons error, and moved to third on a pair of groundouts. Center fielder Brent Morris then delivered an RBI single to right field to give Front Royal a 1-0 lead.
The inning was extended by another error on a groundball by cleanup batter Ryan Johnston, and Aaron Moore delivered an RBI double to right-center to increase the Cardinals' lead. Charles Town was able to escape further damage when Johnston was thrown out at home on Moore's double.
"I told them, I said if we put the ball in play and run hard we're going to get on base. That's what we've been struggling at, is getting guys on base and doing things," Weghorst said. "We had a couple two-out hits that we haven't had this year, so I like the direction our hitters are going. We're getting better every game and our pitching is giving us a chance to win every game."
Inconsistent fielding in the infield has been something that has plagued the Cannons so far this season, and Charles Town's pitching was once again let down by its defense on Tuesday.
Cannons starter Talton Cherry pitched well in his six innings of work, allowing three runs (one earned) on six hits and two walks.
"We've just got to give our pitchers a little more support defensively," Cannons manager Bobby Rauh said. "We've got great guys defensively in our infield and we're just not playing like it right now.
"Our whole pitching staff has been outstanding so far this year and it's been the highlight of our team so far. We've just got to do a better job of getting on base, scoring runs and defensively we've got to be able to back them up."
Front Royal scored again in the bottom of the fourth when Jose Torralba (2-for-3, run) reached on a bunt single and later scored on a groundout by Brandon Tierney.
The Cardinals added another insurance run in the seventh when Tierney led off the inning with a single, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball, and scored on a wild pitch.
Hvozdovic gave way to newly arrived Justin Anderson in the top of the ninth, who allowed a leadoff single before recording back-to-back strikeouts and a groundout to end the game.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com