J.J. Santa Cruz knew that he needed to have a strong performance to help is team get back on track after four straight losses.
The rookie pitcher did just that as he struck out 11 over eight innings of work in a 7-2 win for the Moose Jaw Miller Express over the Okotoks Dawgs on Sunday night at Ross Wells Park.
“It was just one of those days when you couldn't do too much wrong and even when I did something wrong, they hit it right at the position players,” said Santa Cruz. “(Jeremy Stidham), my catcher, called a great game and I was just putting it in the spots today where I needed to.”
The 11 strikeouts were a season-high for Santa Cruz, who now leads the Western Major Baseball League with 59 on the season. He has a 3-2 record with a 3.47 earned run average in nine appearances.
Santa Cruz has won back-to-back starts now and said he credits some good work put in during bullpen sessions in between starts for his strong performance as of late.
“In the pen, I've been working on my slider a lot, it hasn't been there, and even though I didn't need to throw it too much tonight, when I needed it, it was there. My fastball had good movement to it tonight and I had good command,” he said. “Just going back in the pen and working on stuff is what helped.”
The Medera, California native was also helped out by his team's offence. Moose Jaw trailed 1-0 heading into the fifth inning, but the bats came alive in the bottom half of the frame.
The Millers' first six batters were able to reach base as they scored seven runs in the frame. A two-run double by Marvin Malone made it 4-1 and then with the bases loaded again, Ty Russell belted a bases-clearing double to make it 7-1 for Moose Jaw.
“It was the third time through the lineup and so we could recognize a little better and we were starting to take that down pitch that we were chasing before and that was pretty much the key,” said Russell. “When we stopped chasing than we drew a couple of walks.”
That was all the support that Santa Cruz needed as he sat down the Dawgs in order over the next three innings to hold the lead for Moose Jaw.
“As a pitcher, I love that,” he said. “I'm thankful that they got that going and got on. Especially Drew (Danzeisen) starting off the inning with that lead-off walk, it just got us going.”
Okotoks scored one run in the ninth, but Tanner McAninch shut the door to seal the win.
It was a big win for the Millers as they needed some positive momentum to end the weekend after suffering a 12-4 loss to Okotoks in their series opener on Saturday night.
The win moved Moose Jaw into the fourth and final playoff spot in the Saskatchewan Division, half a game up on the Melville Millionaires.
“We've been playing some decent baseball lately, but we haven't been getting the result we want and that's huge just to turn it around because now we've got a couple of off days and we'll have some momentum going into the games after that,” said Russell.
Moose Jaw will travel to Melville on Thursday and then host the Millionaires on Friday in two big late season divisional games.