Donny Sands smacked an early solo homer, and four pitchers — Shawn Semple, Jefry Valdez, Michael Perez and Keegan Curtis — combined to allow just one run on two hits to beat the Harrisburg Senators, 3-1.
“It was good to come out on top,” said Patriots manager Julio Mosquera. “The pitchers did a tremendous job today, and we put some runs on the board, so it was good to see.”
Diego Castillo had a big night with three hits, while Michael Beltre (RBI single) and Hoy Jun Park (sac fly) also drove in runs to secure the win.
But, without question, the pitching has been the story over the first two nights of the season. Somerset leads all Northeast League clubs with just one run and five hits allowed through 18 innings of work, and their 24 combined strikeouts are behind only Altoona’s 33…and somehow, the Curve are 0-2.
The Patriots, however, are 2-0 now. And they’ve got their arms to thank.
“I’ve said it before, but we have a tremendous pitching staff,” Mosquera said. “We trust those guys, and we believe in them…it’s something that I’ve said from the beginning would be one of our strongest points. We have some guys that go and dominate out there, guys that will fill the strike zone and attack hitters. They’re not afraid to go after guys.”
Tonight, it was Semple who set the tone; he allowed just one hit and one walk over four innings of work in his team debut, striking out five Senators batters along the way. The Voorhees native said he had a big crowd of friends and family in attendance to bare the brisk conditions, and was happy he was able to put on a strong showing for them.
“It was phenomenal,” Semple said. “Every year as I grow up, you get those jitters — especially not playing baseball for almost two years and not being able to pitch since like 2019 — and with today being in New Jersey, just being on that mound today, it felt good. I knew I worked my tail off for the last one and a half, two years just refining what I needed to work on and working on mechanics. It feels good to show what I have after all that hard work.”
And for that first outing back to be home in Jersey?
“It meant everything,” he said. “As soon as I heard I was going to be on the Somerset roster, it was just awesome to know that I was going back to New Jersey…it’s just good to do what I know I can do, and it was good to have them there to support me in every way.”
Semple and the rest of the staff had some support from the bats tonight as well, although not quite as much as would ordinarily be ideal, it still was enough to get the job done.
The big blow came from Sands, not ordinarily known for his power, who smacked a long home run to left field on the first pitch he saw to lead off the second inning.
“My biggest thing has been, for the last couple years, I’ve been taking a lot of first pitches,” he said. “And so, a big thing for me has been being more aggressive early in counts. As a catcher, I know we’re trying to get ahead early in the count, so it’s not taking those mistake pitches and just taking advantage of them.”