Zach Stewart made the most of his Class AA professional baseball debut Friday night at AT&T Field.
The hard-throwing right-hander got some run support early and was in control of his pitches from the outset in the Carolina Mudcats’ 4-1 win over the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Stewart, who made seven starts for the high Single-A Sarasota Reds this season, allowed five hits in seven scoreless innings, with eight strikeouts and two walks. He also had an infield single and doubled and scored a run.
“He worked ahead, he worked quick and that’s the name of this game,” Lookouts catcher J.D. Closser said of Stewart, who had a 2.13 earned run average with 32 strikeouts and just eight walks in 42 1/3 innings for Sarasota.
“He also ended up getting two knocks — that’s a pretty good start here.”
The Mudcats (18-23) staked Stewart to a 2-0 lead before the crowd of 4,334 had even settled into their seats. Shaun Cumberland opened the game with a triple off Lookouts pitcher Jesus Castillo. Zach Cozart drove Cumberland home with a bloop single and Juan Francisco followed that with a slap to right field. Two batters later, Cozart scored on a Logan Parker single.
The Lookouts (18-23) appeared to be in business against Stewart in the second. Mike Rose led off the inning with a single and Andrew Lambo followed with a drive into the corner in left. As Rose raced toward third base, manager John Valentin, coaching at third, waited to see what kind of throw Parker made from left field.
Seeing the ball coming in quickly, Valentin put up the stop sign as Rose rounded third. Rose slid as he hit the brakes and was tagged out diving back to the bag.
Francisco homered for the Mudcats in the third inning, and they went up 4-0 in the seventh when Stewart belted a leadoff double off reliever Travis Schlichting and scored on a Cozart sacrifice fly.
After a rough start, Castillo settled down and kept the Lookouts in the game. In six innings, he allowed three earned runs, eight hits and struck out four.
“They hit his fastball,” Valentin said of Castillo. “He was trying to pound the strike zone and they hit him pretty good today.”
Stewart was cruising along for several innings before he got out of a jam in the bottom of the seventh. After a one-out walk to Lambo, Eduardo Perez doubled off the wall in center, putting runners at third and second. Stewart then struck out Closser and got Juan Gonzalez to ground out.
Lambo, who was 3-for-4, produced the Lookouts’ only run in the bottom of the ninth, drilling a Ramon Geronimo pitch high over the wall in right. But there was no rally; Geronimo struck out the next three batters to end the game.
Travis Wood (2-3, 1.60 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Mudcats tonight at 7:15. The Lookouts hadn’t announced their starter as of Friday night.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...