TAMPA, Fla. - Fresh off a six-game split in Dunedin, the Tampa Tarpons (4-6) suffered a tough loss against the Clearwater Threshers (6-4) at GMS Field, 8-4. Manager Rachel Balkovec handed the ball to RHP Hayden Merda (5.0IP, 7H, 4R, 3ER, BB, 5K) in the series opener. Merda primarily relied
TAMPA, Fla. - Fresh off a six-game split in Dunedin, the Tampa Tarpons (4-6) suffered a tough loss against the Clearwater Threshers (6-4) at GMS Field, 8-4. Manager Rachel Balkovec handed the ball to RHP Hayden Merda (5.0IP, 7H, 4R, 3ER, BB, 5K) in the series opener. Merda primarily relied on his sinker, throwing it 37% of the time, but was unable to record any swings and misses with the pitch.
Clearwater had a two-out rally started in the first inning thanks to a triple off the bat of Caleb Ricketts and a free pass to Gabriel Rincones Jr. Merda made a pickoff to first base that caught Rincones in a rundown, but Ricketts was able to cross the plate and steal home, giving Clearwater the early lead on the double steal.
With one away in the second, Cole Moore ripped a line drive single up the middle to set up the Threshers. After a productive out moved him to second, Erick Brito hit a high chopper to third base that he beat out for an infield single. Again, Tampa had trouble with a pickoff to first, with Merda throwing the ball into the stands to gift Clearwater their second run of the game.
Former Tarpon Nick Nelson started on the mound for Clearwater, making a rehab start after dealing with a hamstring strain. He was sharp in his two innings of work while using his fastball, which sat near 93 MPH.
Emmarion Boyd led off the top of the third with a hit-by-pitch. On the very next pitch, he swiped second base to put a runner in scoring position for Clearwater. Ricketts grounded a ball up the middle to extend Clearwater’s lead to three. Merda was able to evade further trouble thanks to 1B Omar Martinez, who made two nice plays to escape the jam.
After an infield single by Bryan Rincon, C Agustin Ramirez showed off his arm, throwing a laser to second base to catch Rincon stealing. Erick Brito started another two-out rally for Clearwater, blazing into third with a triple. Justin Crawford added to the lead with a bloop single to extend their lead to four. As he was hustling to second, Crawford overslid the bag to get Tampa out of the inning.
CF Daury Arias got things started for the Tarpons in the fifth with a line drive double down the right field line. RF Taylor Aguilar followed up the double with a moonshot that bounced off the top of the wall, traveling 414 feet to bring in Tampa’s first run of the game. Aguilar was furious as he thought the ball left the yard, but field umpire Justin Hopkins explained that it bounced off the top of the wall and came back into play. Aguilar got ejected for arguing, and Rachel Balkovec had to make her way out on the field to calm the tensions.
SS Brenny Escanio worked a walk and stole second and third base to try and ignite a Tampa rally in the sixth. Ramirez roped a 107 MPH single to left field, cutting the Clearwater lead to two. An error and a walk loaded the bases for RF Nelson Medina. In Medina’s first at-bat of the night, he roped a game-tying ground-rule double into the right-center gap.
The theme of two-out rallies continued in the eighth for the Threshers. Back-to-back walks set the Threshers up to strike. Rincon came through with his second knock of the night as he squibbed a ball past Martinez to give Clearwater the lead in the back-and-forth affair.
The game unraveled in the ninth for Tampa. Crawford grounded a single through the 5-6 hole to start the frame and used his speed to get into scoring position. He stole second base and was able to draw a balk from RHP Manny Ramirez to put himself within 90 feet of scoring. Ricketts bounced a ball to 2B Jared Serna, who tried to get the out at the plate, but home plate umpire Connor Crowell declared his throw late. With the bases juiced, it looked like the Tarpons were going to get out of the inning, but Moore fielded a bouncer and threw it into the stands, allowing two more runs to cross and put the game out of reach for Tampa.
The Tarpons will look to rebound against the Threshers tomorrow, handing the ball to LHP Will Brian. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at George M. Steinbrenner Field.