Express rally past Cardinals

FRONT ROYAL — Strasburg Express first-year manager Stephanos Stroop says one trait of this year’s squad is the players’ ability to keep a level head no matter the score. The Express showed that on the road Tuesday night against Front Royal at Bing Crosby Stadium.

Strasburg rallied from a one-run deficit with three runs in the sixth inning, then added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth to pick up a 6-2 win and improve to 4-0 on the young season.

“Our guys are calm and cool,” said Stroop, an assistant coach with the Express last summer. “If we’re down, it’s not a big deal. They never really change who they are. They’re even keeled and I really think that’s the difference.”

Front Royal (1-3) held a 2-1 lead entering the top of the sixth inning before starting pitcher Luke Burnidge ran into trouble. Express left fielder Jeremy Musser reached on a one-out single and moved to second on a passed ball, and the Cardinals chose to intentionally walk Daniel Midyett (3-for-3) to set up a lefty-lefty matchup against Express cleanup hitter Ryan Flick.

The first baseman from Tennessee Tech University sent an 0-2 pitch from Burnidge to the fence in left field for an RBI double that tied the game at 2-2.

“His college coach told me he struggles versus lefties and we really want him, if he can, to face lefties,” Stroop said. “And I told him early in the year if a lefty comes in or if there’s one in the rotation, he’s going to be in there. He’s going to have to figure it out. And he’s put some great swings this year on lefty versus lefty. … He’s growing as a player and as much as we’re about winning, we’re more about developing these guys and sending them back to their respective institutions better than when they arrived this summer.”

Third baseman Drew Johnson (2-for-3, single, triple, hit-by-pitch), gave the Express its first lead of the game with two outs in the sixth on a two-run triple to right-center off Cardinals reliever Indalecio Romo (two innings pitched, five strikeouts).

The Express, which had 11 hits, added two more runs in the top of the ninth on RBI singles by Yan Rivera and Donovan May, but Strasburg’s sixth-inning spurt was plenty for its pitching staff. After starter Jorge Jimenez exited after allowing two earned runs on four hits in four innings pitched, Strasburg’s Forrest Kirsch, Adam Emerson and Tony Landi combined to throw five shutout innings while limiting Front Royal to three hits.

Kirsch, who pitched 1 2/3 innings, earned the win for Strasburg in his first appearance of the season.

Front Royal jumped on the board early as Edgar Lebron led off the bottom of the first with a single, moved from first to third on a sacrifice bunt by Sherando grad and current Shepherd College senior Tre Porter and scored on an RBI single by Chase Lunceford (2-for-5).

After Strasburg answered with a run in the second on an RBI single by Brennon Kaleiwahea (2-for-4, double), the Cardinals reclaimed the lead in the fourth inning on Aaron Stubblefield’s RBI fielder’s choice.

The Cardinals stranded 10 baserunners in the loss, and manager Brad Neffendorf said Front Royal simply couldn’t catch a break on Tuesday night, much as they haven’t been able to all season.

“We have some guys who had a lot of time off from school ball and they came in here, it’s just going to take time,” Neffendorf said. “The swings are getting better. We’ve just got to do a better job in our count with pitches. Yeah, we left some guys on but that’s just baseball. I think we’ll be fine, I really do.”

The Cardinals were aggressive on the base paths, stealing five bases, but that aggressiveness also led to an out late in the game.

Front Royal threatened to cut into Strasburg’s lead in the seventh inning but Porter, who led off the inning with a walk, was thrown out at the plate by Express center fielder May as he tried to score on Bobby Lang’s single to shallow left-center.

“He had to [send him],” Neffendorf said of the third base coach’s decision to send Porter. “We had four hits. … It was a close play. It could’ve gone either way and Tre can run. He was at the bag before the guy got to the ball in the outfield and the guy made a great throw.”

Neffendorf said that Porter cut his hand while sliding into home plate on the play and his status immediately after the game was unknown.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com