It’s taken a month, but Aeros left-handed pitcher Matt Packer finally earned his first win of the season Wednesday, helping lead the Aeros to a 4-2 victory over Erie Wednesday afternoon in front of a season-high 6,994 mostly shreiking fans during the team’s first “Education Day” 10:35 a.m. start.
All Packer had to show after his first six starts with the Aeros was a 0-4 record, 4.60 ERA more hits (42) than innings pitched (29 1/3 and nearly as many walks (14) as strikeouts (16).
But after working on his mechanics recently with Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard and Indians roving minor league pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla, Packer looked much improved Wednesday.
“I had a good bullpen session a few days ago with Hibby and Ruben,” said Packer, who missed time with the Aeros last season while sidelined with a left rotator cuff strain. “We made a couple little changes that I think helped me out today. I’d had some bad breaks, some bad outings, but everything finally kind of came together today.”
Mechanics – especially with pitchers – can be a touchy thing. Sometimes working on one little thing can throw off something else. So the trio concentrated on something as simple, albeit crucial, as how Packer pushed off his back leg during his delivery.
“I think it kind of gave me that little extra speed today that helped me pitch better,” said Packer, 25, who normally sits in the 88-90 mph range and occasionally touches the low 90’s. “It felt like my velocity was up a little with the swings I got, some swings and misses. It felt like it was a little faster today and hopefully that’s from the extra work I’ve been doing that’s paying off.”
It certainly paid off with a season-high seven strong innings in which he scatterd five hits and limited the the Eastern League’s top-hitting team (.282) to two unearned runs in the second inning.
“It was a very good outing by Packer,” Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “Although, I think he’s been pitching better than his record showed. Not only today’s outing, but in Altoona he had a very good game in a no-decision. I think this is his third good start overall…Stuff wise he’s pretty much the same pitcher, he’s just being more aggressive. He’s getting ahead in the count by throwing more strikes and pitching to contact.”
The Aeros offense staked Packer to an early lead with a two-run first inning against Erie starting pitcher Patrick Cooper. The right-hander opened the game by giving up a triple to Aeros leadoff man and centerfielder Tyler Holt, followed by dishing up a RBI double to new second baseman Justin Toole. Two batters later, hot-hitting right fielder Carlos Moncrief drove in Toole with a double.
Toole, who joined the team in the middle of the six-game homestand from high Class-A Carolina when Jose Ramirez went on the disabled list with a hip flexor, is 5-for-12 with three RBI in his first three games with the Aeros.
“I know Tooley from last year at Carolina and he handles himself very well,” Rodriguez said. “he’s a guy you an rely on. He will make the routine play on defense and he will make contact and put the ball in play on offense.”
Toole and Holt set the table for the Aeros throughout the game, combining to go 4-for-8 with four runs scored at the top of the order.
The SeaWolves tied the game in the second inning when a fielding error by Aeros shortstop Ronny Rodriguez continued the inning with two outs, allowing Erie catcher Zach Maggard to drive in a pair of runs with a two-run single.
But the Aeros got to Cooper (who dropped to 1-3 with a 5.23 ERA with the loss) for another run in the third inning after Holt led off with a single, advanced on another Toole double and then scored on first baseman Jesus Aguilar’s groundout.
The Aeros tacked on an insurance run against Erie reliever Michael Morrison, when he walked Toole and Aeros designated hitter Chun Chen to lead off the seventh inning and allowed Toole to score on a wild pitch.
Just as important as Packer’s solid start was a good a shutout effort by the Aeros bullpen, which had allowed Erie rallies in the first two games of the series. But on this get-a-way day Wednesday, right-handed relievers Bryan Price and Jose Flores hed the dangerous SeaWolves batters to one hit over the last innings to secure the win.