CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Knights took to Truist Field in front of their biggest crowd of the season, at an official attendance of 9,615. Coming off of their third straight win against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Knights sent righthander Jonathan Stiever to the mound.
Lauded as having the best curveball in the White Sox system according to Baseball America, Stiever, the 6´2´´ native of Cedarburg, Wis., has been a consistent part of the Knights rotation this year. After a five-inning outing against the Durham Bulls saw him come away with a loss in his last outing, Stiever aimed to bounce back on Friday night against Jacksonville.
A bump in the road
Stiever started the game off by retiring the first eight batters he faced, before surrendering a double to Jacksonville designated hitter Chris Chinea. After he put away the next batter on a strikeout to end the third inning, Stiever gave up a pair of two-run home runs in the fourth as part of a four-hit barrage before an out was recorded. Stiever had only allowed three home runs in his previous seven starts combined, but watched four sail over the outfield wall in 5 ⅓ innings of work on Friday night.
With a 5.19 earned run average coming into the game, it was likely that Stiever would be tagged for a few runs on Friday night, but the home runs came as a surprise. Friday night’s outing saw Stiever allow a season high of six earned runs before the bullpen took over with one out in the sixth inning.
Stiever’s curveball command was not quite as advertised, but even as his pitch count climbed over 80 in the sixth inning his fastball was still hitting 96 mph on the radar gun. The home runs were not cheap by any means, but Stiever struggled to hit his spots and paid the price.
Second base is up for grabs
Fans attending Thursday night’s game got to see Jake Burger make his debut at second base, a move that came by the suggestion of Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development. On Friday night, Burger stepped aside and hot-swinging infielder Tim Beckham got the start at second. Beckham kept his hot streak alive, homering for the fourth straight day as part of a 2-for-4 night.
As the White Sox continue to explore a solution for the second base gap at the major league level it is possible the Knights, or other affiliates further down the line, may try more players at second base. Danny Mendick and Leury García still are splitting time at second base for the White Sox, but whether that is the plan for the rest of the season remains to be seen. With players starting to log innings at new positions in the minor leagues and the trade deadline looming at just six weeks away, the Sox have options.
General manager Rick Hahn is on record as saying he does not want the White Sox to become the kind of team that hoards prospects, so seeing some bigger prospect names (and possibly a major leaguer) put together in a package for a second baseman might not be too far-fetched.
Order another Burger
Named by the Knights as the player of the game, Friday night’s designated hitter Jake Burger continued on his torrid pace with a two-hit night, including a near home run-turned triple to lead off the eighth inning. Burger walked and struck out in his other plate appearances.
Players talk a lot about how consistency helps in all facets of the game, but bouncing from third base to second base to designated hitter has not seemed to throw off Burger’s approach at the plate. Coming into the game with a batting average of .264 and leading Charlotte in a handful of categories, Burger’s return to professional baseball has been exciting to watch.
The Knights came away with a disappointing loss against the Jumbo Shrimp, putting the series split at two games a piece. Jacksonville’s four-run fourth inning proved to be too much for the Knights offense to come back against, and the Knights fell, 7-2.
The bullpen did a great job of stopping the bleeding, holding Jacksonville to just one run over 3 ⅔ innings. Will Carter, Ofreidy Gómez, and Tyler Johnson all made appearances out of the bullpen and put on an impressive performance of overpowering fastballs, but by then it was too late.
Charlotte and Jacksonville will finish the series with a night game on Saturday and an afternoon matinee on Sunday before heading separate ways.