Derek Eitel makes it look easy in 1-0 win over the Flying Squirrels

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The last time Derek Eitel was on the mound at FNB Field was 11 days ago when the Erie SeaWolves strafed him for four runs in only 1.2 innings. The 29-year-old had failed to get out of the second frame before reaching the Nationals’ 40-pitch limit per inning. Eitel’s performance on Monday afternoon against Richmond went a long way to making that game a distant memory. His outing was so impressive and so effortless that if this were a soap opera, one would wonder if that was really an evil twin that pitched the first game.

The 6’4″ right-hander cruised through six innings allowing one hit while striking out six batters. The Flying Squirrels managed only three baserunners off Eitel for the game, thanks to one walk and a hit batsman, but no Richmond batter advanced past first base during his tenure on the hill.

“He filled the zone up with strikes,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “He mixed it up. He did a nice job of keeping those guys off balance.”

Eitel was efficient with 71 pitches, but challenged the Richmond lineup with 43 strikes to notch his first win of the season. “I got ahead with my fastball,” Eitel said.  “I had some 2-0 outs which were big.”

“I kept them off-balance and changed speeds. When my slider is on, I’m going to use it. (Spencer) Kieboom did a great job back there. I didn’t shake him off a whole lot. We got inside especially on righties pretty well and set up sliders.”

Runs and hits were hard to come by for both teams, but the Senators finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth inning. With two outs, Alec Keller singled and advanced into scoring position on a walk to Jose Marmolejos. That brought up Yadiel Hernandez who fought off a 1-2 pitch into center field to plate Keller and give Harrisburg the 1-0 advantage. R.C. Orlan, Andrew Robinson, and Wander Suero would make the lead stick each going a scoreless inning apiece.

For Eitel, it was his first win as a starting pitcher since the last time he started a game in April 2013 before being converted to a reliever. “When I moved to the pen I didn’t think I’d ever want to start again,” Eitel said. “I’m a much better pitcher now than I was when I was starting early in my career.”

“I think my stuff is better now and I know how to pitch a lot better with reading swings and sequencing and things. It’s fun, I enjoy it.”

*****

Wander Suero picked up his ninth save of the season with a scoreless final frame as he worked around two walks in the inning. The 25-year-old right-hander has pitched to a 0.82 ERA over 11 innings in May while holding batters to a .195 batting average. Those are numbers that could see the 6’3″ Dominican soon plying his trade at Triple-A Syracuse.

“The biggest thing is he is throwing more strikes and getting ahead of more hitters,” LeCroy said. “That breaking ball is nasty, but he’s got to be able to get ahead to use it. That’s what he’s been doing.”

*****

Chris Heisey began his rehab assignment with the Senators on Monday and went 0-for-2 with one strikeout at the plate. The 32-year-old played five innings before being replaced by Hernandez in right field. After the game, LeCroy said he came out of the game feeling fine and the plan for Tuesday’s game was to have him in the lineup as the designated hitter.

*****

Neftali Soto extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a double that was pulled back over the wall by Richmond rightfielder Dylan Davis. Next up on the Senators’ all-time list for Soto is Cliff Floyd, Jalal Leach, Michael Barrett, and Jesus Feliciano with 17 straight games with a hit…the shutout was the Senators second of the season…with his walk in the sixth inning, Marmolejos has now reached base in all 14 games he has played in for Harrisburg.

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