Sod Poodles still in the division hunt heading into final home series

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Blaze Alexander slides in safely during the Amarillo Sod Poodles game against Frisco on Sunday at Hodgetown. [John Moore/ Press Pass Sports]
The Amarillo Sod Poodles aren’t eliminated from the Texas League South Division second race with their final home series of the season starting Tuesday, but they’ll need to be as good as they’ve been all season at Hodgetown for the next six games to still be relevant.

That’s the situation they found themselves in after Sunday afternoon, as they fell to the Frisco RoughRiders 11-8 in a rare daytime game at Hodgetown. Instead of a series split and remaining two games behind the RoughRiders with 12 to go, they’re now four games back as they host a six-game series with Arkansas to close their 2022 home schedule.

Sunday’s game was a painful reminder of both the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Sod Poodles got a big early inning with five runs in the second along with a solid start by left-hander Blake Walston to take a 7-1 lead. However, the bullpen broke down in the seventh and eighth innings, surrendering 10 runs as Frisco left town with the division lead.

“Probably about 90 percent of the time we played pretty well,” Sod Poodles manager Shawn Roof said. “After a couple of innings here and a couple of innings there you can look back and say what if, but you’ve got to give credit to (the RoughRiders). They’ve got a pretty good team and they put pressure on us. One through nine they put together great at-bats and they have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

A split seemed fairly assured after the third inning. The Soddies took advantage of a lack of command from Frisco lefty Antoine Kelly, who started the second by hitting two batters and walking another before he was pulled. Jorge Barrosa’s two-run double helped give the Sod Poodles a 6-0 lead.

Walston, meanwhile, lived up to his billing as the top pitching prospect for the Soddies parent club Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a solid series for Walston, who threw 6 2/3 outstanding innings to open the series but took no-decision in a game the Sod Poodles won 5-4.

The second time around, Walston threw five innings and gave up one hit and one run. What happened with the bullpen was another matter.

Austin Pope threw a scoreless sixth, but with two walks and a double loaded the bases in the seventh. When a single by Jonathan Ornelas drove home a run with one out and the bases still loaded, he was pulled for left-hander Jake Rice. That’s when things really went south.

Rice issued back-to-back walks to bring home two runs and cut it to 7-4, then Blake Crim blasted a grand slam to left-center to give Frisco an 8-7 lead and knock Rice out of the game.

“The guys have been grinding and working hard,” Roof said. “It’s been that way the whole season and they’ve got to get better every single day.”

The Soddies tied it 8-8 in the bottom of the seventh when highly-touted shortstop Jordan Lawlar hit a solo homer to left. But Frisco immediately took the lead back against Soddies lefty Mack Lemieux in the top of the eighth, as five straight batters reached base with two outs, helped out by an error.

By the end of the series, the memory of cutting the division lead to a game on Monday was far in the rearview mirror. The Sod Poodles opened the series impressively, winning the first game on Tristin English’s walk-off single to drive in Barrosa for the victory.

Now with Arkansas coming to town, there’s that much less margin for error if the Soddies hope to reach the postseason as second half division champs.

“We’ll just come out one day at a time and try to play our best baseball,” said Roof, who wouldn’t reveal a pitching rotation for the series.

Like the Frisco series, the first three games with Arkansas are scheduled for a 6:05 p.m. start with Friday’s and Saturday’s contests starting at the traditional 7:05 p.m. slot.

Wildly mixed bag for Lawlar

Lawlar made his Hodgetown debut this week for the Sod Poodles after joining the club a week earlier in Corpus Christi, following a call-up from Class A Hillsboro. He showed why the Diamondbacks selected him No. 6 in the Major League Baseball draft last year, but also that he has some work to do at Class AA.

After not driving in a run in Corpus Christi, Lawlar, a native of Carrollton, had an RBI groundout to get the Soddies on the board Tuesday. Lawlar had only two hits in the series, but they were both homers which either tied the game or gave the Sod Poodles the lead, including a two-run shot for his first Hodgetown hit in Wednesday’s 16-10 loss.

“Obviously Jordan can do a lot of things on the baseball field,” Roof said. “He can run, he can hit, he can play defense, he can throw, he’s a five-tool player. You can see some glimpses of a lot of things he can really do. He’s going to be a special player and it’s been fun to have him here so far.”

Lawlar has been batting No. 2 for the Sod Poodles behind Barrosa.

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