BY CHAD DARE email@example.com
---- — DANVILLE — In baseball lingo, a double play is considered the pitcher’s best friend.
But, in reality, a good all-around defense is the lifeblood of every pitching staff and on Tuesday night, Danville used an exceptional defensive effort to defeat Butler 5-2 in the opening contest of a six-game homestand before 1,101 at Danville Stadium.
“We played great defense and Dalton (Lundeen) pitched a great game for us,’’ said Danville Dans manager Eric Coleman. “We want the opposing teams to put the ball in play and we trust our defense to make plays behind him.’’
The Dans, which improved to 9-8 in the Prospect League’s West Division, turned three all-important double plays in the contest, but no one was more important than the first as center fielder Derek Herrington gunned down Butler catcher Russell Clark trying to score on a fly ball to center.
“Derek showed off his arm right there and that’s why he is going to be fine Division I player,’’ Coleman said. “We want to be strong up the middle defensively and we are with him in center.’’
That toss allowed Lundeen to maintain a 1-0 lead and the left-hander from Valparaiso went on to toss seven shutout innings as he improved to 2-1 on the season.
“Derek helped me out a lot when he made that big throw in the third inning,’’ Lundeen said. “It felt good tonight and it’s a lot easier to do when you get ahead of people.’’
Lundeen also ended his night with inning-ending double play as first baseman Keith Shumaker started a 3-6-3 twin killing in the seventh.
“That’s the pitcher’s best friend,’’ said Lundeen, who struck out four and walked just one in his seven frames. “Keith made a great play on that last one.’’
And both Lundeen and Coleman admit having a good defense is vital to good pitching.
“It’s makes it easier to be confident,’’ Lundeen said. “Because you know if you make a mistake, which happens sometimes, you know the defense can pick up with a solid play.’’
The captain of the defense has been shortstop Austin Bryant. The senior-to-be from Middle Tennessee State has made several highlight-worthy plays already this season and he was a part of two double plays in Tuesday’s game. The second one came in the ninth as he handled a bad hop, made the quick throw to second baseman Cody Gardner, who made the relay for the two outs.
“I think Austin Bryant is one of the best shortstops in the league, if not the best,’’ Coleman said. “He made some big-time plays for us tonight. We tell our pitchers to pitch to contact, and they are not afraid to do it because our defense is making plays behind them.’’
Bryant quickly deflected any praise, saying that the entire team is playing really good defense right now.
“Derek made a pretty big play in center, Ronnie (Jebavy) has made some big plays in left and Paddy O’Brien is probably one of the best catchers that I’ve played with. He has an unreal arm,’’ Bryant said. “That’s one of the strengths of this team.
“The three double plays and the big home run in the second inning (by O’Brien) probably won us this game.’’
But Bryant didn’t included his pivotal two-out, two-run double in the fifth inning that gave the Dans a 3-0 lead.
“Austin got a pitch that he could drive there,’’ Coleman said. “It was a 3-2 pitch, we had our guys moving and he laced the ball into the gap.’’
In his first 11 games with the Dans, Bryant is batting .400 with nine RBIs. That’s just the type of summer he was hoping for when he came to Danville.
“I’ve always had the good defensive scouting report beside my name, I just want to get stronger and faster this summer,’’ he said. “Staying consistent on the offensive side is mostly what I’m looking to get accomplished.’’
Tuesday’s victory was not only the start of a six-game homestand in four days for Danville, but it was also the team’s first home game in nine days after having two contests rained out last week.
“It was fun being in front of the home crowd again,’’ Bryant said. “It was like playing my first game here.’’
Bryant was also thankful for last week’s rain as he said it helped soften the infield.
Danville will play its first doubleheader of the summer tonight when the Dans host the Springfield Sliders at Danville Stadium. First pitch in the opening game is set for 6 p.m. and Danville will send right-hander Bryan Baker to the mound in the first game, while Ben Braymer will get the start in the second contest.
DANS ON DECK Final score -- Danville Dans 5, Butler BlueSox 2 Key player -- Danville left-hander Dalton Lundeen tossed seven shutout innings, allowing six hits, while walking one and striking out four. Up next -- The Dans continue their six-game homestand with a doubleheader tonight against the Springfield Sliders. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. Probable starters -- Danville: Game 1, Bryan Baker (1-0, 2.89 ERA), Game 2: LHP Ben Braymer (0-2, 5.90 ERA). Springfield: Game 1, LHP Jose Marin (0-2, 9.00 ERA), Game 2, TBD.