Zach Vincej remembers the slow start of a season ago when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos stumbled out of the gate.
They dropped six of their first eight games and would go on to win just 25 in the first half of the Southern League season before earning a playoff berth in the second half.
A year makes a big difference.
The Blue Wahoos are off to the best start in the five-year history of the franchise, their latest win coming on a chilly Thursday night on the bay in the form of a 4-1 win over the Jacksonville Suns.
Pensacola is 6-2 and in first place in the South Division. It’s the best record in the league overall.
“It’s great,” said Vincej, Pensacola’s talented shortstop. “Last year we got off to a slow start but this start relieves the stress a little bit and allows us to just go out and play the game. We’re playing relaxed and playing with confidence.”
Vincej played a pivotal role in Thursday’s win at Blue Wahoos Stadium, providing his team with insurance in the sixth inning with a two-run hit to centerfield that extended Pensacola’s advantage to 4-1. It was his only hit of the night and served as a little redemption as well.
“I was trying to get a good pitch to hit ultimately,” Vincej said. “In the previous at-bat I swung at a bad pitch and popped up with guys on base. I was looking for something in the middle of the plate, put the barrel on it and make something happen.”
Earlier in the inning Joe Hudson drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game at 1-1 and Ray Chang delighted the crowd of 3,240 with a hit to shallow center that dropped in front the outfielder and pushed Pensacola in front for good with a 2-1 lead.
Four runs was more than enough for a pitching staff that has been nothing short of sensational. Blue Wahoos starters have combined to allow only 10 runs and strikeout 42 in eight games.
Sal Romano went five innings, striking out seven and not walking a batter. He gave up just one run.
Three innings of scoreless baseball by relievers Barrett Astin and Wandy Peralta, who closed out the seventh and eighth innings with strikeouts, helped seal the deal. Alejandro Chacin pitched the ninth but did not allow a run despite loading the bases.
“It’s been nice to have great pitching. Sal was really good tonight. I really liked the fact that he didn’t let that one run bother him,” Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said. “We weren’t scoring for him but he gave us five quality innings.”
And the Blue Wahoos came through with another win.
“It’s a lot of fun compared to the start last year,” Kelly said. “We’re getting great pitching, which allows us to scrape runs in. We haven’t hit the ball like we are capable of yet but we’ll get there.”
Read more about the Blue Wahoos in the April 21 edition of Navarre Press or subscribe online here.