It has been a season of transition for Tulsa pitcher Joe Gardner. The right-hander pitched as a reliever in spring training for the Colorado Rockies before converting back to his normal role of starting pitcher to open the season with the Tulsa Drillers. If his outing on Saturday night is any indication, he is getting comfortable with his move back to a starter.
Gardner was outstanding in a six-inning outing against Midland, allowing only one hit as the Drillers defeated the RockHounds 7-2 at ONEOK Field in the opening game of a three-game series. The win increased first-place Tulsa's lead to three games in the North Division standings.
Gardner joined Drew Pomeranz and two others in coming to the Rockies last season in the trade that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians. Pomeranz has spent most of this season in the big leagues with Colorado, and Gardner pitched Saturday as if he could also be a future contributor in the majors.
The 24-year-old held the RockHounds without a hit through the first four innings before Jeremy Barfield ended his no-hit bid with a soft single to right field. Gardner walked two batters and struck out four in his six-inning stint.
Just as impressively, the sinkerball pitcher recorded eight outs on grounders versus only two fly balls. The victory evened his season record at 2-2.
"I just pitched to contact and the defense made some great plays behind me," said Gardner. "A couple of weeks ago Dave Schuler and I went over some video, and I located the ball better tonight. Lars Davis called a great game, and I just threw what he wanted."
The Drillers used a pair of unearned runs in the second inning to stake Gardner to a lead. The rally began with one out when Kiel Roling reached safely on an error by third baseman Josh Horton. After Kent Matthes popped out, Roling swiped second base and scored on a double by Tim Torres. Lars Davis drew a walk, and Mike Mitchell singled home Torres to make it 2-0.
Tulsa struck again in the bottom of the fourth. Matthes walked, swiped second and scored on a two-out hit by Davis.
After being held without a hit through the first four innings by Gardner, the RockHounds scored on their first hit of the night in the fifth. Michael Spina drew a leadoff walk from the Drillers right-hander and advanced on an infield grounder. With two outs, Barfield ended Gardner's no-hit bid when he dropped a soft single over the head of second baseman Angelys Nina that scored Spina to make it 3-1.
The Drillers got the run back in the bottom of the fifth when Josh Rutledge doubled and scored on a single by Nolan Arenado.
Tulsa put the game away with a three-run seventh. Three straight singles to open the inning from Torres, Davis and Mitchell produced the first run. Rutledge plated the second run with a base hit, and Arenado brought home the final run with a sacrifice fly.
Barfield struck again in the top of the eighth to complete the scoring. His solo home run off Will Harris was his fifth of the season. The homer completed a big night for the Midland right fielder as he also picked up two outfield assists in the game.
Tulsa out-hit Midland 10-3 with a lot of the damage coming at the bottom of the lineup. Torres, Davis and Mitchell, hitting in the 7, 8 and 9 spots in the order, had two hits each. Rutledge, hitting in the leadoff position also collected a pair of hits.
The two teams will resume their series Sunday night at ONEOK Field. The Drillers will send Edwar Cabrera to the mound, while the RockHounds are expected to activate Sonny Gray from the disabled list to make the start. Starting time is scheduled for 7:05PM with a special Memorial Day Weekend Fireworks Show planned for after the game in downtown Tulsa.