When his stuff is working, Gregory Paulino looks like the best pitcher in the Pacific Association. With a 92 MPH fastball, a wipeout slider and a disappearing changeup, the young right-hander from the Dominican Republic has one of the best three-pitch mixes you'll see at this level of baseball.
That's what made it so great when he put it all together on Tuesday night. He notched his second shutout of the season, allowed only six hits, walked none and struck out eight in a masterful performance to lead Sonoma to a 4-0 victory in their series opener with the Pittsburg Diamonds.
Paulino (8-3) was on top of things from the get go and never let up. He didn't allow a runner to get to second base until the seventh inning, and even after Mike Taylor's double or a stolen base by Brandon Williams to put a runner in scoring position with two outs, Paulino wouldn't let Pittsburg (15-13 2nd half, 33-33 overall) get a run in after Rubalcava grounded out in the seventh and Nick Oddo flew out to end the eighth.
Even in the ninth when Pittsburg had their best chance to score at least one run with runners on the corners, Paulino got Rubalcava to strike out swinging and end the ball game, pumping his fist hard to celebrate the victory. He threw 103 pitches in all, with 80 strikes for a 77.7% strike rate.
Sonoma's (15-13, 41-24) offense came through when they needed to in all phases. Mark Hurley doubled to lead of the second and came home after stealing third and drawing a bad throw from Oddo behind the plate to score the first run of the game. Danny Baptista got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the fifth and Yuki Yasuda singled home a run in the seventh.
Gered Mochizuki provided the big blast of the night, hitting a home run to right center field off reliever Tony Guerra for his fourth long ball of the season and his first home run that wasn't an opposite field shot at Arnold Field.
There were some highlights on the losing team's side as well. Rob Ellis struck out a Diamonds-best 13 batters in the game, but allowed eight baserunners in his seven innings and saw the Stompers make the most of their opportunities.
From a strategy standpoint, what Sonoma did against Pittsburg's top hitter in Scott David might have been the highlight of the night, Paulino aside. Beginning in David's second at bat, Sonoma deployed a five man infield, bringing in newcomer Connor Jones from right field to play on the right side of the infield along side Mochizuki.
It was done in an effort to see if David, who pulls the ball on the ground from the left side, would alter his approach at the plate. In the three times Sonoma did it, David did not alter a thing, going 2-for-3 against the shift with a single past a diving Jones and a dribbler just past Paulino where he reached for an infield single.
Nevertheless, the approach looked like something that could work against David, as he didn't try and hit the ball into the near 200 foot gap from left center field to right center field. Matt Hibbert moved over towards right center when the infield was in place and not once did David offer at going the other way.
It'll be something to watch for in the other two games of the series between the two teams, as Sonoma will welcome Pittsburg for game two of their three game series at Arnold Field on Wednesday. First pitch is set for 6:05 p.m. with the gates opening at 5 p.m. for a Wine Down Wednesday, with glasses of Leese-Fitch wines costing only $4 each for fans 21 and older.
Tickets begin at just $4 and can be purchased online at StompersBaseball.com or at the Stompers Fan Shop, located at 234 W. Napa St. in beautiful downtown Sonoma. Tickets can also be purchased at the gates at Arnold Field before any home game. For more information, call the Stompers at (707) 938-7277 or email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.