The Los Angeles Dodgers decided their system needed left-handed starting pitching, so they made 17-year-old Ron Walden of Blanchard, Okla., their top draft choice. He was the No. 6 player taken in the June raffle.
He's not been a disappointment through his first three starts with Pioneer League-leading Great Falls, and Wednesday night he earned even more respect from his manager, Joe Vavra.Walden pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-hit, shutout ball at the Salt Lake Trappers before a holiday crowd of 9,050, and 12-2 Great Falls took its second straight win over 8-6 Salt Lake, this one 5-1.
The Trappers' sole run came on a ninth-inning home run by designated hitter Kevin McMullen.
"One hit," said Trapper Manager Nick Belmonte, noting the eighth-inning figure. "I felt like the Maytag repairman at third base, except that one inning we got the bases loaded."
That was the sixth when Walden tired and walked three to buy a seat on the bench. Until then, he'd allowed no one past second and only one that far. The lone hit was a flare over second, and Walden could claim some credit for that since his pitch broke Rob Bargas' bat.
"It bothered me it was a dink base hit," said Walden with a grin.
"He showed us something," said Vavra, recalling how Walden responded to men on base and pitched harder when the Derks Field message board got the crowd yelling. "That kid out of Blanchard, Okla., has never seen that many people at one time," said Vavra. "He took the bull by the horns."
"It's the first time I've pitched in front of this many people, and I liked it," said Walden. "It fired me up."
Walden's fastest pitches were clocked at 94 mph.
Walden has now thrown 14 2/3 innings and given up six hits and one run.
Reliever Jason Kerr, another lefty, threw 90 mph and gave up just two hits.
He left with two out in the ninth with bases loaded and batter Butch Harris representing the tying run. Gordon Tipton got Harris on a fly to second base to end the game.
The Dodgers' Eric Blackwell was the night's top hitter with two doubles and a single, a run scored, a stolen base and a run batted in - all as the No. 9 man in the order. He had two hits in Tuesday's series opener.
"Ninth is a good place for another leadoff man," reasoned Blackwell, who considers that his role. "I take advantage of good pitches; that's why I'm there," he said. A 21-year-old out of Spartanburg (S.C.) Junior College, he's not used to big crowds and fireworks, either. "I love this," he said. "To me it's the psyche factor."
Tuesday, the Trappers jumped to a 5-0 lead, only to lose 7-6. Wednesday, the Dodgers got the 5-0 lead. They had one each in the first and second, two in the fourth and one in the fifth. The first four were charged to Trapper starter Ken Whitworth, greeted in his home debut by Dodger leadoff man Gary Ingram's double to the left-field corner. He scored on two flyouts to center.
In the second, Junior Perez got a double when Trapper shortstop Bargas called for a popup behind third base, then couldn't handle it. Two infield grounders scored Perez.
The fourth would have been worse for Salt Lake had not Whitworth and then reliever Rod Nettnin each picked off runners at first base.
The Trappers, in fact, picked off four men through the fourth and fifth innings, and there were six pickoffs in the game, two by Great Falls. The Pioneer League record book lists no records for pickoffs.
The Traps cut their errors to two Wednesday. Belmonte was unimpressed, noting the missed pop-double. "Zero will satisfy me," he said. He was also disturbed that Trapper leadoff men failed to get on base in seven of the nine innings.