After a 0-for-5 start on Opening Day, Sam Hilliard was able to shake off the jitters and put together a 1-for-2 day at the plate, but the real value in his performance doesn't show in the at-bats. He walked three times and added a double in addition to scoring three runs in a 7-4 victory over the Salt Lake Bees.
"I was definitely a little jittery (yesterday), my first two at-bats for sure," Hilliard said. "Even though I didn't get any hits my last three at-bats they were good at-bats, I put the barrel on the ball a couple of times. Tonight I was able to slow the game down, breathe in the box, stick to my approach and hunt for my pitch, I was a lot more selective tonight but still was able to be aggressive, it was a good night."
Roberto Ramos also had a strong outing, going 3-for-3 with a walk, one run batted in and two runs scored. He started the scoring for the Isotopes in the top of the first, driving in Hilliard, who had walked, and Brendan Rodgers who had reached on a fielders choice, with a single that ended with him on third base following a throwing error on a throw from catcher Jose Briceño, whose throw to second ended up in the outfield. That put Albuquerque up 2-0 before a Noel Cuevas sac fly drove in Ramos.
Ramos added another in the third with a solo home run to stretch the lead to 4-0.
Peter Lambert, the No. 4 prospect in the Rockies Organization according to MLB Pipeline, started the game for the Isotopes, and pitched three strong innings before things fell apart for him in the fourth.
"Well, (Lambert) had been competing," manager Glenallen Hill said. "He pitched out of some situations where we didn't handle the ball, kept his cool, and then he got to the fourth inning and he just sped himself up. That's the competitor in him. He's got a Ferrari motor, sometimes you have to learn how to put a governor on it, because not everyone knows how to race a Ferrari."
In the fourth, Lambert gave up three straight singles, the third of which drove home the Bees first run. He followed that with a four pitch walk that loaded the bases before a Ty Kelly single drove in another run for Salt Lake to make the game 4-2. He got the next batter to strike out and a sacrifice fly from the next hitter, which drove in the third run of the inning for the Bees, before Lambert got a long flyout to left to end the inning and limit the damage.
"He was able to minimize (damage) and his pitch count got up," Hill said. "As I said yesterday, (a pitcher's) season is not based on one game, just learn from the experience and take a positive away. The positive for him is that he showed who he is and pitched through some situations."
Josh Fuentes gave the 'Topes some more breathing room in the fifth with a double that scored Hilliard and made the score 5-3. Fuentes, the reigning Pacific Coast League MVP, is another player who has had a hot start to the year. He went 1-for-4 with one RBI on Friday after a 2-for-3 start to the season.
Salt Lake added another run in the sixth off of reliever Jesus Tinoco, who got the win, to pull back within one before a Brendan Rodgers two-run homer to the Isotopes bullpen in left put Albuquerque up 7-4. Yency Almonte made his season debut in the ninth and struck out the side en route to the save.
The Isotopes return to the field on Saturday as the Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico, taking on the Abejas de Salt Lake in the first of five Mariachis games this season. The game is scheduled to start at 6:35 p.m., with gates opening two hours prior to first pitch at 4:30 p.m. Antonio Senzatela, who started the inaugural Mariachis game last year, will take the hill for Albuquerque in a rehab appearance against Griffin Canning for the Abejas.
Cameron Goeldner is a senior reporter and photographer for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer, women’s basketball, softball and the Albuquerque Isotopes, but also contributes content for all other sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @goeldfinger.