First-timers Wirkin Estevez and Darian Sandford set the tone in 9-6 Senators victory

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Newcomers Wirkin Estevez and Darian Sandford, both making their Double-A debut, set the tone early while home runs from Osvaldo Abreu, Jose Marmolejos, and Raudy Read paced the Senators to a 9-6 victory over Richmond at FNB Field on Friday night.

Estevez earned the win over the Flying Squirrels allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out two over 5.1 innings. The 6’1” right-hander, who looks more imposing on the mound than that, overcame a case of adrenaline and nerves in the early going to settle down.

“I think he was a little amped up which is okay. I expected that,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “He survived those first three innings up, but he made some adjustments.”

The other first-timer in the lineup, Sandford, wasted little time showing what he brings to the table as a centerfielder and leadoff hitter. In the first inning he tracked down a ball easily in the left-centerfield gap and then gave the Senators a 1-0 lead in their first at-bats. The 30-year-old reached first on an infield single, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a RBI groundout.

“I think this will be a good thing for everybody,” LeCroy said about the addition of Sandford. “He can be a spark at the top and a guy that can make things happen. I think it turned [Richmond starter Jordan Johnson’s] outing around in the first inning.”

Harrisburg then proceeded to put up five runs in the next two innings all off the long ball as Marmolejos hit a solo shot and Abreu and Read each jacked two-run homers.

“We were able to come out and score after they scored, which I thought kept that momentum our way,” LeCroy said knowing all too well how that affects the team psyche. “If you don’t get that shutdown inning, it can be debilitating.”

The Senators did it again in the sixth. After Richmond plated a run, Harrisburg put up a three spot as they got RBI hits from Abreu, Stephen Perez, and Neftali Soto to go up 9-3 on their way to the victory.

*****

After losing Zach Collier to injury on May 12, the Senators turned to Alec Keller to fill that role both in centerfield and from the leadoff position. It was a job that Keller filled admirably, but neither was a natural fit for him as he navigated the ups and downs of his first season at Double-A.

“You’re asking a kid that can play center, but on an everyday basis is a tough job,” LeCroy said. “It’s like a second baseman having to play shortstop every day. Over time it wears on you with the responsibilities you have. He can handle all that, but he’s not used to it.”

After batting .300 and getting on base at a .333 clip in April, Keller saw those numbers go down since he had to take on the new role. The 25-year-old has hit only .246 since the Collier injury. The addition of Sandford to the roster, will ease Keller back to a corner outfield position and a spot farther down in the batting order.

“He did a good job but I think it’s time to take a little heat off of him,” LeCroy said. “He has that grinder mentality and he loves to play.”

*****

Corban Joseph left the game after taking a grounder off his throwing hand. LeCroy said: “It took a hop on him, he tried to catch it, and hit him on the fingers. Hopefully, he won’t be as bad as it looked.”…Perez was the lone Senator to reach base three times as the third baseman singled and walked twice…Phillips Valdez was the only Harrisburg reliever credited with a scoreless outing, but he did allow one of two inherited runners from Estevez to score.

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