Big offensive innings have been difficult to come by for the Tulsa Drillers this season, but that was not the case Monday morning at Northwest Arkansas.
The Drillers got a pair of home runs and scored four times in the top of the first inning at Arvest Ballpark and never trailed in defeating the Naturals 4-1.
The beneficiary of the big inning was former OU hurler Jon Gray. Staked to the lead before he ever delivered a pitch, the right-hander did not allow a run in 5.1 innings to collect the victory that evened his record at 2-2.
Despite the rare 11:05 a.m. start, the Drillers struck early as leadoff man Taylor Featherston hit the game's third pitch from Naturals starter Sam Selman over the left field fence for his first homer of the season.
Joey Wong then drew a walk before advancing to second on a wild pitch from Selman. Ryan Casteel brought Wong home with a one-out hit to make it 2-0. Brian Humphries followed that hit with his first home run of the season to complete the big inning and give Tulsa the quick four-run cushion.
It was more than enough offense for Gray. The Chandler, Oklahoma native surrendered only four hits and one walk, while recording six strikeouts. With the outing, Gray lowered his ERA from 4.91 to 3.80.
Since not getting out of the first inning in his start at Corpus Christi on April 11, Gray has been outstanding. In his three starts since that early departure, he has allowed only 1 run and 9 hits in 17 innings of work. In addition, he has issued only 3 walks and collected 19 strikeouts.
The bullpen also pitched effectively in Monday's victory. Carlos Hernandez gave up only one hit and one unearned run in 2.1 relief innings behind Gray.
Scott Oberg got the final four outs of the game to pick up his fifth save of the season.
Tulsa totaled 12 hits in the contest with Featherston finishing 3-4. Casteel, Harold Riggins and Jayson Langfels added two hits each to the attack.
The Drillers swept both games played in Springdale and now head back home to begin a four-game series with Arkansas Tuesday night at ONEOK Field. Tyler Anderson (2-1, 2.70 ERA) will pitch the opener for Tulsa against Yeiper Castillo (1-2, 5.75 ERA) of the Travelers. Starting time is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.