By Brendan Nordstrom
Orleans Firebirds baseball returned to the Cape Cod Baseball League last Saturday as the first week of play has officially wrapped up. Manager Kelly Nicholson’s team finished the week with a 2-3 record.
The Orleans pitching staff has been lights out so far, tying for the fourth-best team ERA in the league at 4.50. The team allowed three or fewer runs in three games this season with the main outlier being a 10-3 loss to the Harwich Mariners.
“They’ve thrown the ball extremely well all summer,” Nicholson said, admitting Harwich was an anomaly. “We keep pitching like that, the Birds are going to be just fine.”
The offense has been hot and cold with a huge six-run inning against the Bourne Braves that led to a 6-4 victory, as well as a one-hit performance against the Chatham Anglers. Orleans also has some pop in their bat with three different batters — Johnny Olmstead, Jake Casey and Eddie Micheletti Jr. — putting one over the wall.
The Firebirds came out the gate hot with a 4-1 low-scoring victory in Hyannis. Behind four shutdown innings from starter Daniel Avitia, who struck out six and allowed no earned runs, the Firebirds kept Hyannis at bay. A lead-off walk from infielder Jack Penney, who also hit a sac fly later in the game, led to two runs in the third inning. Outfielder Eddie King Jr. pinch hit to lead off the ninth and chopped a single through the infield to add insurance on the Opening Day victory.
The following day, Orleans fell 10-3 to a high-powered Harwich Mariners squad, which owns the fourth-best batting average in the Cape. The game was neck-and-neck in the sixth inning when Micheletti launched a ball over the right field fence to cut the lead to 3-2. The game quickly got away with the Mariners scoring in the following three innings, including a monstrous four-run ninth.
The Firebirds batted through the order in the third inning of Monday’s game against the reigning champion Bourne Braves to get back to the win column. That third inning was topped off by an Olmstead three-run shot over the wall in left-center. Reliever Derek Clark went four innings with four strikeouts to keep Bourne stagnant the rest of the game.
The team hit the road on Tuesday, facing off against a formidable pitching combination with the Chatham Anglers. Anglers pitchers Brody Brecht and Matthew Wilkinson allowed only one hit and one walk, striking out a combined 13. The Orleans pitching from Dillon Jacobs, Jonathan Gonzalez and Konner Eaton was equally impressive, but a couple of wild pitches proved to be the difference as the Anglers took the 2-0 victory.
The road trip continued on Wednesday against the Wareham Gatemen, but the game didn’t finish all nine frames. Lightning and eventually rain in the area canceled the game after the fifth inning, chalking in a 5-2 loss for the Firebirds. Penney recorded two hits as Orleans struck first with a two-run second inning, but it was all Gatemen from there.
Daniel Avitia: The Opening Day starter for the Firebirds was exceptional through his four innings of work. Grand Canyon University’s righty kept true to his college game plan attacking batters early with a high tempo, sitting down six Harbor Hawks on strikes. He mixed his fastball and changeup with a slider, which he “surprised himself” with how well it was working. Avitia is slated to start Friday against Cotuit with a 6:30 p.m. first pitch at Eldredge Park.
Derek Clark: The Northwood University product came in relief in the fifth inning of Monday’s contest against Bourne. Originally not planning to go a full four innings, Clark retired batters left and right while keeping his pitch count low in the 6-4 victory. Clark mentioned his fastball was locating well early, while he gained confidence with his slider and changeup as the outing continued. After the game, Clark agreed saying, “I thought I had all my stuff.”
Jack Penney: Penney, who hails from Notre Dame, hit .247 for the Fighting Irish last season. He brought an even better number to the Cape, hitting a team-leading .300 batting average through the first week. Penney, who has played in every game so far this season, has also been a standout at his station at third base.
The Firebirds return to Eldredge Park on Friday against Cotuit for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch. This week will be huge for league play as Orleans will get their first look at East Division rivals the Brewster Whitecaps and Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. The Firebirds will look to get revenge on the Harwich Mariners on Sunday back at Eldredge.