By CONOR NICHOLL
For the second straight contest, the Hays Larks' starting pitcher struggled. Right-hander Jose Gomez, in his Larks' debut, worked 12βΡ3 innings, allowing six runs, five earned. His performance put the Larks in a 6-3 hole after two innings.
"We've got to stop giving up the big runs," Larks manager Frank Leo said.
Other than that, though, Hays had plenty of positives. A red-hot offense scored 13 unanswered runs and the bullpen pitched well as the Larks won 16-6 over Denver on Monday night at Larks Park. Hays took two of three from Denver to open the season.
"Any time you can start a season off two wins out of three especially not knowing any of the players that you are playing with, it's always a good thing," catcher Nathan Orf said. "We have got guys from everywhere coming in. All kinds of different styles of play. You don't even know how good of a hitter or how good of a pitcher is."
Offensively, the Larks collected 14 hits, including four doubles and a homer from infielder Ethan Leiter. Hays hit .402 as a team and scored 30 runs in the series. The Larks also collected 14 extra-base hits with nine doubles and five homers. Cam Brown, a returner, is 9-for-12, including a homer and a double.
"This is a relentless offense," Leo said. "We are pretty strong 1 through 9. We keep coming at them. The middle of that lineup, Cam Brown is just on fire to start the summer and really focused. I kind of like the focus of him and the focus that all of our guys are bringing to the park each night. I know it's early, but that's a good thing. We just need to keep doing that."
Five players drove in two or more runs, including three each from Leiter and Jon Ryan. Brown finished 3-for-4 with three runs scored. He hit .292 last summer with 21 extra-base hits and a team-high 43 RBIs.
"I notice that he is working hard on going the other way in BP and he has driven some balls," Leo said. "His home run (Sunday) night was oppo. He had an opposite-field double today. That seems to be a little bit of a change for him because he was more of a pull guy last year."
On Sunday, infielder Kelton Rule, a Hays High School product, had a ball hit off his eye.
But Rule didn't miss any time and entered Monday's game as a reserve. He was hit by a pitch and struck out in two plate appearances.
"He is doing good," Leo said. "The eye looks ugly. He has got a lot of the colors of the rainbow in there. Man, that's a tough kid to come back today and be ready to play."
Gomez, a freshman from Pima (Ariz.) Community College, walked three batters and permitted a run in the first and five in the second.
"He is a control guy," Leo said. "He has shown control in the spring. Just some rustiness there in our starters."
Hays, though, responded with four runs in the third and fourth, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and two in the seventh. The bullpen, which posted a 5.34 earned-run average last season, has a 2.76 ERA in three games. Right-hander Matt Schmit picked up the win Monday with 41βΡ3 innings of relief. Jorge Guarneros, expected to start against Haysville in league play on Saturday, worked an inning and Justin Ziegler worked for the second time in as many days.
"The one thing that I really liked that I saw is that they have a lot of different arm angles," Denver general manager Mark Cerullo said. "They didn't have that last year, so it was really keeping us off-balance."
Hays will open Jayhawk League play Wednesday at Dodge City. Left-hander Tory Doerr from Bradley University will make the start for the Larks.