The Beavers are hot.
Twenty-two straight shutout innings of pitching have led to five consecutive victories.
And with their 5-0 win over the Albuquerque Isotopes at PGE Park on Wednesday evening, Portland improved to 19-14 on the year (second in the Pacific Coast League).
“The first couple of weeks, we got off to a slow start,” manager Craig Colbert said. “But our last road trip was big for us [the Beavers were 6-2] and we’re now starting to get guys on base and drive them home.”
Wednesday marked back-to-back shutouts for the Beavers.
Jack Cassel (2-2) didn’t allow a run in 6 2/3 innings. Cassel gave up five hits, struck out five and walked one batter.
Keeping the Isotopes’ hitters off balance by alternating off-speed pitches with fastballs, Cassel never faced a serious threat.
“He was great tonight,” Colbert said.
Meanwhile, the Beavers’ offense came from two players who appear to be pulling out of slumps.
Third baseman Justin Leone, who began the year tearing up the PCL but had recently hit hard times at the plate, singled home Bobby Hill for Portland’s first run.
And Terrmel Sledge, who went three for four in the game (raising his average from .245 to .283), drove home two runs with a double off of the center field wall in the seventh inning.
Right fielder Paul McAnulty was responsible for the Beavers’ other run. He hit his eighth home run of the season in the fourth inning.
However, the key to Portland’s fifth-straight victory was reliever Brian Sikorski.
Sikorski held Albuquerque’s hitters scoreless for the final two innings of the game. Moreover, he racked up five strikeouts during that time.
“He’s throwing the ball really well,” Colbert said. “He’s got good command and he’s getting ahead in the count.”
Colbert’s observations were spot-on.
Mixing high heat with deceptive change-ups, Sikorski had the Isotopes’ hitters swinging at air the entire time that he was on the mound.
The Beavers’ 22-inning streak of throwing zeros is something new for Portland.
Going into Wednesday evening’s contest, the Beavers had the worst team ERA (5.49) in the PCL.
But Colbert feels like his pitchers are starting to come around at the right time.
“The last homestand was big for us,” Colbert said. “And we played well on the road trip. So, coming home and taking these first two from a good Albuquerque team is great for us. It feels good.”
Colbert also feels that, lately, his team has done a solid job of making sure that they score when they get the opportunity to do so.
“We’re leading the entire league in home runs and walks,” a relaxed Colbert said. “And we’re near the top in runs scored. That means that when we get guys on, we’re doing what we need to knock them in.”
The combination of Hill at the lead-off spot (he was three for four on Wednesday) and Leone, McAnulty and Sledge following him gives Portland an imposing lineup.
In fact, the only thing that’s been preventing the Beavers from scalding opposing teams as of late is the bottom of Portland’s lineup.
The six through nine hitters were one for 13 on Wednesday. And each hitter’s average rests below .235.
“We do have to pick up production there,” Colbert said. “We’re working on it.”
Still, overall Colbert is impressed with his team’s recent output.
“We’re starting to turn things around,” he said. “We’re becoming more consistent at the plate and on the mound. Those first two weeks were just rough.”
Portland’s homestand continues through May 16. The Beavers play Albuquerque tonight at PGE Park at 6:35.