Osprey Preview: Game #4

Missoula takes on Billings at 7:05 p.m. (MT) with coverage on ESPN 102.9 Missoula

Who: Missoula Osprey (1–2) at Billings Mustangs (2–1)

Where: Dehler Park — Billings, MT

When: 7:05 P.M. (MT) first pitch

How To Listen: ESPN 102.9 FM | TuneIn Radio App | MiLB.com

THE MATCHUP

All-Time:

One of the most contentious rivalries in all of Minor League Baseball, Billings and Missoula have gotten together 284 times since 1999. Of those contests, the Osprey have won 136 and the Mustangs have taken 148. Historically, the O’s have been more successful at home than in Billings, posting an all-time mark of 75–67 in Missoula and 61–81 in Billings. Monday night’s 5–4 loss snapped the Osprey’s 5-game winning streak at Dehler Park, dropping the O’s to 6–2 in their last 8 games in Billings.

Last Night:

Billings notched two home runs in the first four innings off Missoula starter Kai-Wei Lin and the Osprey committed four errors in the field, sinking them to an 8–2 loss, their second defeat in three games.

Andy Suglilio homered off Lin in the first inning-his second of the series. Leandro Santana added a solo blast of his own in the fourth inning, marking the third time in Lin’s career that he has surrendered multiple home runs in a game.

Following Santana’s homer, Billings tallied three additional runs in the fourth inning, thanks to three base hits, a walk, a hit batsman, and a fielding error by right fielder Juan Araujo. Lin was lifted before finishing the fourth inning, as the Osprey turned to their bullpen for the remainder of the game.

Araujo’s fourth-inning error was one of two that he committed on the night. The right-fielder’s pair of misplays accounted for half of Missoula’s errors on Wednesday night and brought his total to three in the last two games.

At the plate, Araujo led the Osprey with two hits, including a double, and a walk. It was his first multi-hit game of the season and just the second multi-hit performance by any member of the club to date.

Billings added one additional run in the fifth on an RBI triple by Jake Turnbull to run their lead to 7–0 before Missoula finally busted into the scoring column in the sixth on an RBI single by Andy Yerzy, his fourth RBI of the series. The Osprey then added their second and final run in the seventh on a wild pitch. In the bottom of the eighth, Billings pushed their lead back to six runs with an RBI single.

Lin, who made his first start of the season after appearing in six games for Missoula last season, took the loss after pitching 3.1 innings and surrendering six runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks, while striking out four.

Tonight — LHP Brady Muller (0–0, 0.00) vs. RHP Matt Blandino (0–0, 0.00)

As the Osprey look to salvage a series split to open the season in Billings, manager Mike Benjamin will hand the ball to left-hander Brady Muller. In one of the most compelling stories around minor league baseball this season, Muller — a Billings native — is expected to become the first player in MSU-Billings history to pitch a game for a Major League-affiliated farm squad. His debut comes after parts of three seasons spent in the Frontier League, and independent circuit plotted throughout the midwest.

For Muller, his debut comes on the heels of an exceptional start to the 2017 season with the Windy City Tunderbolts in which he was leading the league in wins and ERA at the time of his signing. Reaping the rewards of a recent change to the grip on his slider, Muller’s beginning to 2017 is the best stretch of his professional career.

Based on their pattern of building a lineup based on match ups, Muller figures to face a heavy dose of right-handed hitters when he toes the rubber on Thursday night. Through the first three games of the O’s opening series, Billings has shown the willingness to overload one side of their lineup depending on the handedness of the starting pitcher for Missoula.

While he hasn’t pitched previously in affiliated baseball, Muller figures to feel right at home, having scaled the Dehler Park mound during his four seasons of college baseball at MSU-Billings and his American Legion career with the Billings Scarlets.

Countering Muller for Billings will be right-hander Matt Blandino, a second-year pro drafted by the Reds last year from Felican College. The start will be Blandino’s first for the Mustangs and his fifth overall appearance (third start) of 2017. Previously Blandino laced up for the Low-A Dayton Dragons in the Midwest League, posting a 1–2 record and a 4.40 ERA in 14.1 innings on the mound.

Last summer in his debut campaign, Blandino pitched exclusively for the AZL Reds and enjoyed success at the rookie level, notching a 1–1 record and a 2.30 ERA in eight appearances (five starts) spanning 31.1 innings of work. One of the more mature pitchers that Missoula will see in the Pioneer League, Blandino exercises masterful command of the strike zone. In 45.2 professional innings to date, Blandino has piled 41 strikeouts, while walking only three batters — all three coming last season in the AZL.

Blandino last pitched on June 17 for the Fort Wayne Tincaps in the Midwest League, throwing four innings and allowing two runs on five hits with three strikeouts. The Connecticut native becomes the second starting pitcher from the Northeast to face the O’s in as many days.

GETAWAY DAY:

Following tonight’s game, the O’s will board their bus and return to Missoula to prepare for Friday night’s home opener against Great Falls. The projected pitching matchup from game one features a pair of former Frontier League pitchers, with Tyler Vail going for the O’s and Kyle Von Ruden toeing the rubber for Great Falls.

NOTES: Juan Araujo’s two-hit game last night was the second of the season for Osprey hitters…Kai-Wei Lin tied a career-high last night by allowing two homers in a single outing. It’s the third time he has done so…West Tunnell, formerly an infielder as a college player, made his professional debut last night on the mound, pitching one inning and giving up a run… In the first three games, the O’s have used only two different lineup configurations and a total of 10 hitters…