The Brisbane Bandits finally returned home to the RNA Showgrounds on Thursday night and they couldn't have had a better greeting if an enthusiastic puppy had come to the door to lick their faces.
A 4-2 victory over the Adelaide Bite was a welcome salutation to begin Round Seven of the Australian Baseball League, brought to you by 'Be the Influence: Tackling Binge Drinking'. Even for the few Brisbane players who had never been to their home diamond before, it's nice to know that the ballpark shuffle is over.
"It was good to be back to where we're actually supposed to be at as a team," Bandits manager Kevin Jordan said. "We had a light batting practice there yesterday for most of the position players, so that was the first time some of these guys had ever even been at the RNA. At least they got a couple swings yesterday so they could try to get an idea about the backdrop and see the baseball here."
Brisbane put an end to the Bite's four-game win streak at the Showgrounds thanks in part to a strong start from southpaw Chuck Lofgren. The California native went six innings and allowed just one run on two hits with three walks and seven strikeouts.
Lofgren's (2-1) last two starts have shown the dominance that the Bandits expected out of him from the beginning of the season and Jordan expects much more of the same for the future.
"I think with him it was like any of the import players, just trying to get them built up in their pitch counts," the second-year skipper said. "We've been pretty slow with him, trying to build up his pitch count, and he's definitely getting stronger the more pitches he's thrown as of late."
The 26-year-old lefty was helped out by some timely hits on the home side. Ryan 'Boof' Battaglia led the offence going 2-for-3 with his first home run of the season, a double, and two runs scored in the game. The young backstop got the start at first base as Jordan wanted to give David 'Goofy' Sutherland the day off against Adelaide's left-handed pitcher Zac Fuesser (2-2).
"[Battaglia] had some good at-bats in Perth and I just wanted to throw him out there against a real good left-hander," Brisbane's manager said. "I thought it was a real good day or a good time to give Goofy a game off, facing a tough lefty. Boof had some good at-bats tonight for us."
Though the Team Australia All-Star catcher was a little bit surprised to be manning first base, he handled himself well. Battaglia has spent time at the position before while playing overseas and Jordan had a lot of confidence in his experience.
"Like most of these guys, he's played it in club ball," Jordan said. "He's played first, third; catcher. One of the benefits of having these guys play club ball is most of these guys play almost every position on the field, at one time or another in club ball. He was fine over there. He looked comfortable."
World All-Star catcher Cody Clark, third baseman Carlos Alonso and left fielder Andrew Campbell also each drove in a run against Adelaide. Second baseman Brad Dutton was the only other player to have a multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with two singles.
Brisbane's relief corps continued their success against the opposition on Thursday night. In addition to setup man Justin Erasmus and closer Ryan Searle dominating once again for Searle's third save of the season, another player made his debut in a Bandits uniform.
Robert Boothe came on in relief of Lofgren to start the seventh inning. The Tokyo-born right-hander threw 1 2/3 frames and allowed one run on two hits with two strikeouts.
Boothe is yet another addition made in the recent days to bolster the Bandits pitching staff. The 26-year-old has spent four minor league seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, most recently in the Class Low-A Midwest League with the Great Lakes Loons in 2011. He has played independent ball in Japan since then.
"He came out and he threw a bullpen for us on Tuesday, he and a couple other guys," Jordan said. "We just were impressed with him and we figured let's give him a shot. We thought it would be a good time to go ahead and let him get on out there. We were hoping that we were able to use him the first game tonight just so he could get his feet wet."
The Japanese righty certainly did get his feet wet, and both Jordan and pitching coach Gary Nilsson were happy with what he showed them in his first day on the job.
"He's a strike thrower," Jordan said. "He's aggressive, in the zone against the guys, and we were happy. He attacked the zone and that's what we're looking for with our pitchers."
Next up for the Bandits is Friday night's doubleheader. Brisbane will send both James Albury and Chris Smith to the mound in the hope to continue their winning ways against the Bite.