WINCHESTER — The Winchester Royals were without two of the biggest bats on their team on Thursday night against Strasburg.
The Royals were able to emerge with a 4-3 win against North Division-leading Strasburg (19-9 record) because one of the first players that Winchester manager Mike Smith signed for this year’s team might be heating up at just the right time.
In his ninth game of the season, outfielder John Servello went 4 for 4 with three doubles and three runs to help Winchester improve its record to 13-17 heading into Friday night’s game at New Market.
The Royals were playing without first baseman Jimmy Goldsmith (team-high .382 batting average, co-team leader in RBIs with 20) because of a hamstring injury suffered on Tuesday and catcher Jeremiah Boyd, who got off to a hot start with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 19 games but hasn’t played since June 25 after getting hit in the head on a backswing.
Servello — a rising sophomore from the University of Toledo — broke the hamate bone in his wrist on April 27 against Eastern Michigan, which kept him out of game action for two months. Servello did not play his first game for the Winchester Royals until June 28, the team’s 22nd game of the season.
He’s played in every game since, but Smith said it wasn’t until Thursday night that Servello — who hit .302 with 23 RBIs and 24 walks in 41 games for Toledo — looked like someone who could be a major force.
The right-handed Servello hit two long drives for his first two doubles, dropped a soft fly inside the right-field line for his third, then smashed a ground-ball single up the middle in his fourth at-bat.
Servello hit .303 (10 for 33) with three runs and no doubles in his first eight games.
“He has seen some pitching now, and he’s pretty much locked in,” Smith said. “He’s a great two-hole hitter who can do a lot of different things. He had a breakout game tonight. That’s what we were waiting on. He’s a high-energy guy. When I recruited him, this is what I expected, and that’s what we got tonight.”
Thanks to Servello, Winchester put pressure on Strasburg immediately, which was a big change from the last time the Royals played the Express. Led by Cole McMillan’s six innings, four Strasburg pitchers no-hit Winchester in a 9-0 win on Monday. The Royals managed just two walks.
But on Thursday, Servello doubled with one out in the first inning. Two batters later, Aaron Palensky blasted his fourth home run of the summer over the left-field fence to give Winchester a 2-0 lead in a game it never trailed in.
“Tonight, [the attitude was] attack,” Servello said. “[On Monday, McMillan] pitched great, but we let too many pitches come in. I felt like tonight, we were attacking first pitch and [swinging at] more of the pitches we wanted to hit.”
Servello scored on a single by Drenis Ozuna in the third inning to make it 3-0. After Strasburg tied the game with three runs in the fourth inning, Servello again doubled with one out, moved to third on a single by Ozuna, and scored what turned out to be game’s final run on a wild pitch to Palensky.
Servello said he feels good at the plate, and it showed Thursday night.
“Doctors said to go 100 percent,” Servello said. “I’m trusting [my wrist].”
Following a 10-9 loss to Purcellville on June 29, Winchester’s ERA sat at a league-worst 6.23.
Winchester then went out and gave up just five runs in a three-game winning streak. But after two rainouts and a third straight day off because of the All-Star game, the Royals fell into another pitching rut, giving up 23 runs over three games Monday through Wednesday.
On Thursday, Winchester got an outstanding effort on the mound from three pitchers with a previously unused formula one day after losing 8-4 to Front Royal, which boasts the league’s worst record and offense (4.6 runs per game).
Ryan Bywaters (three earned runs, five hits, zero walks, two strikeouts) and Kevin Ledford (1-1, zero runs, two hits, one walk, three strikeouts) each pitched four innings, and Zach Munson locked down the save in his first appearance with the team after loading the bases with walks without getting an out.
The Royals opened the game with Bywaters, whose first seven appearances all came in relief. Bywaters allowed just one hit (which could have ruled an error) while facing one batter over the minimum through three innings.
Bywaters had a rough fourth — his final inning — when he surrendered three runs on four hits, including Nick Toney’s opposite field two-run blast. But it was the type of effort that Smith was looking for from Bywaters, who pitched at least four innings for the fourth time this season.
Smith then made the unusual step of bringing in Ledford in the fifth inning. The team’s closer, Ledford has four saves this year, and he had never pitched more than two innings in any of his previous nine outings.
“We wanted to keep the game where it was at [at 3-3],” Smith said. “We couldn’t take a chance there. This game called for him [to give us a lot of innings]. [Strasburg] is a team that’s above us [in the standings] and we need to stay on track.”
For the ninth, the Royals turned to Munson for a pressurized debut.
The rising sophomore from Southeast Community College in Nebraska walked leadoff batter Nick Proto, then threw two wild pitches to Sonny Dichiara to put Pronto on third. Munson ran the count full on Dichiara and threw a 3-2 curveball, and when it was called a ball Royals fans howled with displeasure.
After pinch runner Hunter Blalock stole second on a pitch that made the count 3-1 to Toney, Smith decided to issue an intentional walk to load the bases.
Munson said he had to focus on being mentally tough after he didn’t get the called third strike. And after issuing those wild pitches, he decided to rely more on his fastball.
“I just had to slow everything down [with my delivery] and focus my head right on the glove, and try to put it in there,” Munson said.
It worked. Munson struck out the next two batters — blowing the ball past Tyler Johnson and painting the outside corner for a called strike to retire Austin Garafolo — and then got Garrett Evans to hit a high fly ball to left that Palensky ran down in foul territory.
Munson said he has experience closing games, and Smith said it was good to see him come through.
“He’s got good stuff,” Smith said. “He can run it up to 90, 91 [mph]. He hadn’t seen a live batter since May, but I think he’ll be OK.”
Alex Amos, an infielder and Millbrook graduate, played shortstop on Thursday in his first game since June 24. Amos threw wide of first base after fielding a grounder in the first inning (a hit was given on the play), but he made two excellent defensive plays later in the game.
Amos ranged far to his right and dove to catch a line drive off the bat of Brett Hawkins to lead off the sixth inning. He also charged in to field a grounder by Hawkins in the eighth and threw him out at first on the run.
Amos also added a single in the eighth inning to complete a 1-for-4 performance and raise his average to .229. In 12 games, Amos is 12 for 35 with two runs, two RBIs, a double, a stolen base and five walks.
The University of Pittsburgh rising senior said it’s been a struggle working his way back into baseball shape — he only played eight games for Pittsburgh this year because of a wrist injury — but he’s enjoying playing for his hometown team. Amos said his family hosted Royals players for 12 years when he was younger, and now he’s their 13th.
“I’ve had two wrist surgeries in the past 10 months, so I’m just trying to gradually get back in the groove of things,” Amos said. “I hadn’t played in a while [for the Royals], so I once I got the first play out of the way I was ready to go.”
Another local high school graduate, Clarke County’s Kaden Warren, also had a strong night. The catcher went 2 for 4 with a double and is now hitting .273 with a .385 on-base percentage in seven games. The rising Lynchburg sophomore has one double, one triple and five runs.
Shenandoah University rising junior outfielder Grant Thompson is hitting .235 with six RBIs, six walks, four stolen bases, and 15 runs in 68 at-bats this year.
Millbrook graduate and rising Shepherd senior infielder Trenton Burgreen is no longer on the team. He last played July 1. In four games, he hit .250 and had one RBI, one run and one double.
Prososki, Anderson to play in Prospect Showcase
Royals second baseman Masen Prososki and pitcher Mike Anderson will represent the Valley Baseball League in the Prospect Showcase on Monday and Tuesday in Cary, N.C. The competition will feature players from five leagues — the Southern, Cal Ripken, Florida and Sunbelt leagues will also participate. Rosters will feature 25 players from each league.
The Valley League is scheduled to play the Southern League at 4 p.m. on Monday and the Florida League at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Games will take place at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
Prososki and Anderson were each also picked for last Sunday’s VBL All-Star Game. Prososki is hitting .305 with 20 RBIs, 12 runs and five stolen bases and Anderson is 4-2 with 31 strikeouts, seven walks, and a 5.61 ERA in 33.2 innings.