By Gary Fauber Assistant Sports Editor
After two inconsistent efforts against league newcomer Jamestown, Tim Epling liked what he saw over the weekend.
The West Virginia Miners continued to show improvement Sunday, defeating the Richmond RiverRats 6-2 to complete a two-game sweep. The Miners climbed back above .500 for the first time since beating Chillicothe 7-2 in the season opener.
West Virginia finished with nine hits, narrowly missing a second straight double-digit output. Conor Grove had a pair of run-scoring doubles, and Mark DeYoung hit the team’s first home run of the season.
Grove and DeYoung are teammates at Judson University in Joliet, Ill.
“Yeah, it’s a little (more) consistent,” Epling, the Miners manager, said of the offense. “Over the last couple of days I’ve seen improvements from a lot of our players. Consistency overall. We ran the bases well, we kept the ball in the strike zone and we played adequate defense.”
For the second straight game, the Miners got a solid start from a pitcher making his first appearance. Austin Simms (1-0) worked five-plus innings, holding the RiverRats to five hits and a pair of runs. He struck out six and walked two.
Simms was lifted after giving up a double to Logan Blackfan and walking Braden Mosley to open the sixth. He finished with 80 pitches.
Connor Faix replaced Simms and had a much better outing than in his debut. Faix pitched in the home opener against Jamestown and gave up three earned runs and walked four batters in 1 1-3 innings.
On Sunday, Faix still had a few control issues with three walks, but he limited the RiverRats (1-4) to one hit and no runs over three innings of work.
“He went and threw strikes,” Epling said. “Nervous energy is what caused it (his previous struggles). Sometimes when you get like that it’s just better to pitch to contact. Just go back, throw the ball right down the middle, get your rhythm and throw strikes, especially when you’ve got a three- or four-run lead. You have to do that, because walks will kill you.”
“That first night was definitely a little different. I was a little bit excited,” Faix said. “Particularly being a new pitcher — this is my second year pitching ever in my life — I am a little inconsistent at times. When I work hard to make sure I’m on track mentally and physically, that’s when I could be a little more consistent. So today I tried to handle my process a little better, and so I had better results out there on the mound.”
Faix is a converted catcher who just completed his sophomore season at Case Western Reserve.
The Miners took the lead quickly on Justin Paul’s two-run double in the first.
Aiden McMahan’s RBI groundout got Richmond on the board in the third, but West Virginia answered when DeYoung crushed a solo homer over the 375-foot sign in right.
Grove’s first run-scoring double drove in Dylan Harvey in the fourth, and the same combination came through again in the sixth to make it 5-1.
Richmond got its second run when Cody Begovich reached on a fielder’s choice, scoring Blackfan.
Harvey’s single in the eighth drove in Ryan Wadkins for the Miners’ final run.
Jake Belinda — the nephew of former Major League pitcher Stan Belinda — worked around two walks in the ninth to end it.
Harvey went 3-for-3 and raised his average to .500 (8-for-16). Paul now has six RBIs in five games.
The Miners increased their team batting average to .277 and lowered their earned run average from 5.00 to 3.60 in the series.
All Prospect League teams will have today off. The Miners will begin a four-game road trip Tuesday with a two-game series at Butler and two games at Richmond. They return home Saturday for a two-game set against Chillicothe.
All games can be heard on WJLS AM 560 or online at wjlsam.com, with Garry Griffith on the call.
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