WOODBRIDGE If Eric Welsh keeps hitting home runs like the one that soared out of Pfitzner Stadium Friday night, it might not be long before the Winston-Salem Warthogs designated hitter winds up with his own bobblehead doll.
On a night when 1,000 fans received a limited edition likeness of a bobbing Barry Bonds, it was a laser beam homer by Welsh that sparked the Southern Division’s last place team to a 5-0 victory over the Potomac Cannons.
“I just got a good pitch to hit. It was a long at-bat and I got to see a lot of pitches,” said Welsh, who wound up going 3 for 5 and now has four homers and 14 RBIs in his past 17 games.
All three of Welsh’s hits Friday night led to runs as the Warthogs (16-24) roughed up Cannons starter Juan Mejia for nine hits in six innings. Before he homered, Welsh doubled and scored on Ryan Sienko’s two-out single in the first.
The home run, Welsh’s 18th of the season, left the park in a hurry. All Cannons’ right fielder Skip Schumaker had time to do was take one step before the ball cleared the two-tier outfield wall and landed in the gravel parking lot.
“It’s been a battle for me,” said Welsh, who leads the team in homers and RBIs, but is batting only .246 overall. “I’m just trying to shorten my swing and get a little better balance at the plate. I’ve been having some better at-bats.”
Welsh hasn’t been alone in his struggles. The Warthogs came to town with the league’s lowest team batting average (.240), but last night they combined for 13 total hits, including three from Sienko and two by right fielder Normand Martel.
Winston-Salem scored its third run in the fifth on a Spencer Oborn double and Martel’s two-out base hit.
Then Welsh struck again in the seventh.
He followed a leadoff single by Martel with his second double of the evening as the Warthogs scored two insurance runs against Potomac reliever Jeremy Cook. That wound up being more than winning pitcher Wyatt Allen needed to even his season record at 7-7.
Thanks to Allen, who carried a no-hitter into the sixth and earned his first complete-game victory of the season, the Cannons missed an opportunity to pick up a game on Wilmington in the Northern Division pennant race. While the Blue Rocks were losing in Frederick, the Cannons were shut out for the third time in seven games.
“He came out real focused. He had a great game,” Welsh said of Allen. “He’s been trying to get his stuff back and to see him throw like that was great for the ball club.”
The 22-year-old right-hander faced the Cannons four times prior to Friday night and though he went 2-0 in those appearances he also compiled a 5.23 ERA allowing 17 runs in 22 1/3 innings. Last night’s performance was much more convincing and perhaps more indicative of Allen’s talent.
He allowed only two base runners through the first five innings on a first-inning walk and a fourth-inning error before No. 8 batter Dan Moylan singled sharply down the left-field line leading off the sixth.
That was the only hit of the game until the ninth inning for the Cannons, who fell to 20-19 and are now two games behind division co-leaders Wilmington and Lynchburg.
“Tonight you have to tip your hat to the kid,” Cannons manager Joe Cunningham said. “He pitched a nice game.”
The two-hitter was a welcome reprieve for Allen, who took the mound searching for his first victory in nearly a month. Since beating Wilmington on June 26, he’d lost four consecutive decisions over a span of six starts and was coming off arguably his worst outing of the summer a nine-run, 12-hit performance at Myrtle Beach.
“He’s been battling,” Welsh said. “It was nice to see him bounce back.”
The White Sox selected Allen with the 39th overall pick in the 2001 draft and he immediately made an impact. His fastball was rated by Baseball America as the best in the South Atlantic League last season and he burst onto the White Sox’s top-20 prospect list debuting at No. 15 in his rookie season.
Allen is still making progress in his first full season since leaving the University of Tennessee, where he led the Southeastern Conference with 110 strikeouts and led the Volunteers to a berth in the College World Series. He was named the outstanding player of the NCAA Knoxville Regional and finished his career ranked among Tennessee’s all-time leaders in strikeouts (203) and appearances (53).
Against the Cannons, Allen looked like the college star and the former first-round draft pick for nine terrific innings. He struck out three and allowed only four hitters to reach base. Potomac never even threatened until the ninth, when Milko Jaramillo singled into left field and Mark Burnett drew a one-out walk. But Allen recovered to retire Skip Schumaker on a fly ball and Billy Munoz on a groundout to finish off the first shutout of his career.