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Las Vegas taking advantage of momentum gained from big wins

It’s not often you face World Series winners or Cy Young award winners in Triple-A but when doing so, it can change the trajectory of your season. For the good or the bad.

This year’s Las Vegas Aviators have taken the former approach after going 2-0 against former Cy Young winners in a 10-game span last month. The team squared off against pitchers Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel respectively in an 11-day period.

“That’s two horses right there,” manager Fran Riordan said. “If you’re talking about Justin Verlander, who’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Dallas Keuchel, who’s had a really great career in the big leagues – won a Cy Young award. I think the guys amped up their focus on those two games. I’d like to see that focus remain no matter who we’re going up against on any given night.”

At 41 years old, Verlander was making his first rehab start of the season with the Sugar Land Space Cowboys of the Houston Astros organization. Battling back from a shoulder injury, he was on a pitch limit of 65.

Keuchel on the other hand, finds himself in the Triple-A ranks of the Seattle Mariners franchise with the Tacoma Rainiers. The 36-year-old is hoping to make it back to the big leagues which would be his seventh team in the last seven seasons.

Combined the pitching tandem has racked up 11 all-star appearances, four Cy Young awards and three World Series titles.

“If we faced Cy Young award winners every game, I think we’d be undefeated,” Riordan said with a smile. “Verlander and Keuchel are two different pitchers, two different styles, they throw with different hands and they’re both really good. I thought our approaches were good, we swung at good pitches, we hit the ball hard, we took what they gave us and it led to really good things.”

With Verlander on the mound, Las Vegas put up seven runs on the way to a, 10-6, win over Sugar Land. That went down as the team’s second win of the year in eight outings.

Verlander would go three-plus innings, giving up seven runs (six earned) on seven hits with six strikeouts and a walk. Catcher Carlos Perez took the 19-year veteran deep after having a hitless history against him in three previous plate appearances in the majors.

Five of the next six hits went for extra-bases as four more runs scored.

On the 18th, the club trotted out onto the field with Keuchel listed as the scheduled starter for Tacoma. By the end of the night, he’d be saddled with his first loss of the season.

Shortstop Darrell Hernaiz took Keuchel deep for two runs in the third inning while center fielder Daz Cameron’s solo shot two innings later served as the eventual game-winning run. Keuchel would give up three runs on five hits in six innings on the mound with two strikeouts.

“It’s something that the guys can tell their grandkids about,” Riordan said. “Wherever their careers may lead them, ‘I got a hit against a Hall-of-Famer,’ ‘I got a home run.’ Whatever the case is and to go and beat those two guys – not quite in the primes of their careers but still pitching and playing at a high-level, I think it’s definitely a feather in the cap.”

The latter win of the two sparked a season-high four-game win streak for the Aviators. Eventually, that would be pushed to a 12-7 stretch for Las Vegas since that win against the Keuchel-led Tacoma team.

As a result, the Aviators are now tied for sixth place in the Pacific Coast League standings.


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