Strong pitching and timely hitting have been the calling cards for the Drillers since the second half began earlier this week, and those trends continued Thursday night. Tulsa's offense got the clutch hits when it was needed while Ross Stripling and Eric Stults combined to limit the Naturals to just three hits in the Drillers' 3-2 victory in Springdale, Arkansas.
The win was the fifth straight for the Drillers, setting a new 2015 season high. After going just 13-19 on the road in the first half of the season, the Drillers have seemed to turn things around going 5-0 thus far during their first road trip of the second half.
Northwest Arkansas centerfielder Lane Adams began the home half of the first with a double before moving to third on a wild pitch. Adams then came around to score on a groundout by Jorge Bonifacio to give the Naturals an early 1-0 lead.
Tulsa starter Stripling turned in a strong performance in his third start of the year as he continued his recovery from the Tommy John surgery that he underwent in 2014. Stripling went five innings and allowed just the lone run in the first, while not giving up another hit after Adams' leadoff double. The right-hander also picked up four strikeouts against only two walks.
The Drillers responded in the third to tie the game as they utilized some timely two-out hitting. Peter Lavin got things started with a single into center. Then, with Yadir Drake at the plate, Northwest Arkansas starting pitcher J.C. Sulbaran threw the ball away in an attempt to pick off Lavin from first, allowing him to move into scoring position. That error would come back to bite Sulbaran when Drake then smoked a two-out, RBI double to right to score Lavin and even the ballgame at 1-1.
Things remained quiet until the fifth when Tulsa used the long ball to go ahead. Following a Nate Samson leadoff single, lanky outfielder Jeremy Rathjen stepped up to the plate. The Rice University product gave the Drillers the big hit they were looking for as he deposited the second pitch from Sulbaran over the left-center field fence for a two-run homer to put Tulsa up 3-1. The blast was Rathjen's fourth home run of the year.
It looked as though the Drillers might add to their lead in the seventh as they loaded the bases with two outs and Kyle Farmer at the plate. But Farmer popped out to first to keep the score at 3-1.
MLB veteran Eric Stults took over for Stripling in the sixth inning and went the distance from there, tossing four innings to pick up his first save since he pitched with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in 2011.
Stults' only blemish came in the ninth inning when Venezuela native Balbino Fuenmayor blasted his Texas League leading 15th home run of the year over the centerfield wall to bring the Naturals to within one run. But Stults maintained his composure and responded by striking out Hunter Dozier and then inducing a game-ending pop up to Samson at second to secure the victory.
The Drillers will look to keep things rolling as they play the second game of their series in Springdale Friday night with the start time scheduled for 7:05PM. Fans can hear Dennis Higgins call all of the action on AM 1430 The Buzz.