BATAVIA — Starting with last Saturday’s win over Jamestown, the Batavia Muckdogs have had a string of solid outings from their starting pitchers.
And Tuesday’s starter, Joe Cuda, wasn’t about to be the one to be the bump in the road.
Moreover, relievers Jose Almarante and Yunier Castillo wanted in on the action as well.
Cuda went five strong innings, while Almarante and Castillo combined to pitch two-hit ball for the final four and Batavia pounded out 11 hits in a 3-1 win over visiting State College at Dwyer Stadium.
“Our pitching really did a nice job tonight,” said Batavia manager Dann Bilardello. “Cuda did a nice job throwing strikes and kept them off-balance, Almarante was outstanding for three innings and Yunier just keeps improving.”
The win moved the Muckdogs to within one game of .500 at 4-5 and evened the three-game set with the Spikes.
The rubber game is at 7:05 tonight at Dwyer.
Following his first start in which he allowed four hits and struck out four in four shutout innings, Cuda was sharp yet again as he scattered five hits and allowed just one run and struck out two.
“It feels good, it’s nice to get off on a good start,” said Cuda. “Having confidence in the guys behind you and being able to throw strikes, it’s nice to be able to let the game play out.”
Almarante was dominant in his three innings of work as he worked around two singles in the eighth inning and struck out four.
Castillo, who appears to have been thrust into the closer role less than a year after making the transition from being an infielder, struck out one in a perfect ninth for his second save.
Third baseman Garrett Wittels continued his hot hitting as he went 3-for-4 with a pair of booming doubles and two RBIs and David Washington moved his average back to .400 with two hits, including his sixth double of the season.
“I’ve been working a lot with (Batavia hitting coach) Roger Lafrancois,” said Wittels. “He really knows my swing well. I was with him all of last year. And there were a couple of things I was getting away from, so we got back to doing the right things and using the whole field.”
The loss snapped State College’s five-game winning streak and let the Muckdogs move to within two games of first place in the Pinckney Division.
Batavia got all the offense its hurlers needed with a run in each of the first two innings as it struck early against State College’s big right-hander Luis Heredia.
In the first, Breyvic Valera reached on a one-out error by Spikes second baseman Jodaneli Carvajal and three pitches later Wittels hit a blast to the opposite field that hit off the ‘Fireworks every Friday’ sign in right to score Valera and make it 1-0.
The bottom of the lineup then got things going in the second.
Backup catcher Jonathan Keener — in as Jesus Montero got the night off — ripped a one-out triple to right-center than deflected off the glove of Barrett Barnes and rolled to the wall.
Jordan Walton then singled hard up the middle to score Keener and it was 2-0 Muckdogs.
Steven Ramos singled on the next pitch and Batavia was in business with runners at the corners and one out.
But Anthony Melchionda fouled out to left field and Valera grounded to short to end the threat.
Despite the win, Batavia eventually left a runner at third base in four more innings and stranded 10 baserunners in all as it was just 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
“We had some opportunities, that we need to capitalize on to give us more of a cushion,” said Bilardello. “But it was enough tonight.”
Cuda allowed lone hits in the first three innings before State College finally got its only tally in the fourth.
With two outs and no one on, Yhonathan Barrios singled up the middle and promptly stole second to get in scoring position. Walker Gourley then tripled to the wall in right on a 2-2 count to score Barrios to close the gap to 2-1.
It was Gourley’s eighth RBI on the year but he was stranded at third when Cuda got Jared Lakind to ground harmlessly to first.
“If somebody gets on, I really just try to minimize the damage each time,” said Cuda.
Cuda then set State College (6-3) down in order in the fifth before giving way to the bullpen, which didn’t allow a runner past first base — with the help of a caught stealing and a pickoff.
The Muckdogs got an insurance run in the seventh when Valera singled with one out and Wittels blasted his second double of the game to the right-field wall to close out the scoring at 3-1.
After nine games of the New York-Penn League season, Batavia leads the league with a .286 batting average and is fifth in ERA at 3.17.
“We’ll be fine,” said Wittels. “We’ve got a really good team. Our pitchers are doing a great job keeping us in games and we’re getting a lot of hits. The only thing is that we’re not getting the hits when we need to right now.”
Almarante worked around a leadoff single in the eighth when he picked Alex Fuselier off first base and then struck out Barnes after Ryan Hornbeck singled with two outs.
Batavia also played error-free baseball for the third time in four games with wins in each of those three contests.
“It’s huge because everyone’s picking it up and feeding off of each other,” said Cuda. “Everyone’s out here for the same reasons. Everyone wants to get better and everyone wants to do well. It’s a great atmosphere.”
“That’s why you win some games like this,” added Bilardello. “You’ve got to eliminate those mistakes and we did that tonight.”