Superhero Night at PK Park didn’t find the Eugene Emeralds packing their capes and tights.
Those likely wouldn’t have helped, anyway, given the way Hillsboro’s Franklyn Soriano was pitching.
Soriano threw five innings of one-hit middle relief, and catcher Andy Verzy homered to lead the Hops to a 5-1 Northwest League baseball victory over the Ems on Saturday night before a crowd of 3,704 that included a small army of costumed crusaders to open the three-game series.
The loss was Eugene’s 12th in its last 15 games, sending the Ems (8-15) deeper into the South Division cellar. The Hops (16-7), who’ve won 10 of their last 11, lead the South with the league’s best record.
Soriano (2-1), who’d made three starts before being bumped to the bullpen, struck out five, walked none and set down the first 11 batters he faced.
“He mixed his pitches well, kept us off-balance,” Eugene manager Steve Lerud said. “He stayed at the bottom of the zone, got a lot of ground balls, and he didn’t make any mistakes there. He did a good job.”
The only hit off Soriano came in the sixth inning on Nico Hoerner’s two-out, opposite-field homer into the Ems' bullpen in right field. It was the first for the former Stanford shortstop, the 24th overall pick by the Cubs in last month’s MLB draft, in his fifth game as a professional.
“Especially doing it at home here, it’s pretty sweet,” Hoerner said. “Actually, I hit my first college home run at this same field, so that’s a weird coincidence.”
Horner said that previous shot came off former Oregon pitcher Matt Mercer, a fifth-round pick by Arizona, who also made his return to PK Park for his third pro start. It lasted just 12 pitches for the right-hander, who retired the first three Ems on fly balls in his lone inning of work per the Diamondbacks’ cautious plan for the ex-Duck.
Brailyn Marquez (1-2) took the loss for Eugene. The 19-year-old left-hander, the team’s youngest pitcher, was equal parts electric and erratic — his fastball was clocked at 96 mph — before he exited after four innings trailing 1-0. He gave up four harmless singles, struck out four, walked two and hit a batter.
“He was just battling his mechanics a little bit, finding that release point,” Lerud said. “You see that when he’s able to repeat that delivery, it’s going to be pretty special.”
The first run scored on a walk, a steal attempt that drew a wild throw by Marquez into center field and allowed Ryan Dobson to take third, and a wild pitch. The Hops stole six bases, four against Marquez, and now have a NWL-leading 48 steals in 23 games.
“He’s a little slow to the plate, and that’s something we’re working on with him,” Lerud said. “We’re trying to get him to command that fastball and stay in the zone with it first.”
Yerzy led off the Hillsboro sixth with an opposite-field homer to left, his third of the season, to make it 2-0. Dan Swain’s two-out single off Ems reliever Paul Richan, the third Eugene pitcher, scored Keshawn Lynch from second for a 3-0 lead.
Verzy collected three of Hillsboro’s 11 hits as the Hops had at least one baserunner in every inning but two. The Ems, coming off a season-high 14 hits in their 4-3 win at Boise on Friday night, managed just four hits.
Beyond Hoerner’s homer, the other three came on consecutive singles by Jonathan Sierra. Nelson Velazquez and Christopher Morel that left the bases loaded in the second.
Ems reliever Dalton Geekie exited in the eighth inning when he dropped to his knees after just two pitches to Verzy, with Geekie’s right arm dangling at his side. He was replaced by Cam Sanders, Eugene’s fifth of six pitchers in the game.
“We’re not sure,” Lerud said of Geekie. “He felt a little shooting pain down that arm and he’s seeing a doctor right now.”
On his first pitch, Sanders gave up a double to Verzy off the center-field fence. Verzy came around to score on a groundout and wild pitch for Hillsboro’s fourth run. Ryan Dobson’s RBI single in the ninth produced the game’s final run.
Notes: Right-hander Ryan Williams (1-3, 5.66 ERA) is slated to make his fifth start for the Ems in the second game of the series at 5:05 p.m. Sunday. Hillsboro’s probable starter is left-hander Adrian Del Moral (0-1, 6.28).