The Honkers improved to 25-26 this season after a 4-0 win over Eau Claire on Tuesday. Lefty Brant Alazaus fired a complete-game shutout and Alex Pimentel and Cole Fontenelle both hammered home runs. Here are five takeaways from the game.
Brant Alazaus: The next Kyle Hendricks or Dallas Keuchel?
For the second time this season, Alazaus fired a complete-game shutout. The Walsh University product has been a major bright spot for the Honkers this season and he was at his best on Tuesday. He allowed just five hits and struck out seven. And he did it all without a fastball that was in the mid-80s. It looks extremely hittable, but Alazaus is a master at touching the corners and keeping hitters off-balance with his curveball and his changeup. His ability to throw all three pitches for strikes at any point in the count is more important than any velocity he may or may not have. That's an elite trait that can get guys to the big leagues quickly. Kyle Hendricks is a fine example for the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox has another one in lefty Dallas Keuchel. Alazaus shook off back-to-back rough starts and was back dealing on Tuesday.
Changing it up
Brant Alazaus doesn't throw hard by any means. His fastball sat at 81 miles-per-hour most of the afternoon, but in tight spots, Alazaus relied on his straight changeup that was exceptionally good on Tuesday. The lefty was in a tight spot in the fourth inning after Eau Claire loaded the bases on two hits and a walk but Alazaus fanned Omar Gastelum using his dirty changeup and had Robert Hogan way out in front and coaxed a weak flyout to end the frame and get out of danger. The momentum swung the Honkers' direction and Alex Pimentel's two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth put Rochester up 3-0. Alazaus can toss his changeup at about 68-70 mph and that difference makes it extra tough to hit and is a big reason why he's had a standout season atop the Honkers' rotation.
Tapping into a power surge
Entering Tuesday's action, the Honkers had blasted six home runs in the last four games. They kept the much-needed power surge going as both Cole Fontenelle and Pimentel hammered home runs to left field off Eau Claire starter Nick Malmberg. Malmberg wasn't a fireballer by any means and Fontenelle and Pimentel made him pay for leaving pitches over the heart of the plate. That's eight homers in the last five games for the Rochester lineup. That's probably not something that's going to last for the rest of the season, but manager Paul Weidner can't complain when his lineup keeps putting the ball over the fence.
Alex Pimentel raises his ceiling when he hits for power
Alex Pimentel hasn't been a huge power hitter throughout his career but he's flashed a perfect all-around game other than for the lack of homers. That changed on Tuesday when he blasted a bomb to left field. Pimentel can run, throw, get on base and hit for average while also playing terrific defense at any spot in the outfield. He's done all of that this year for the Honkers. But adding that power to his game changes his ceiling as a prospect.
Forcing the issues on the bases
Right from the start, the Honkers were extremely aggressive on the bases against the Eau Claire pitching staff and it paid off in a big way. Fontenelle singled in the first and immediately stole second base. He came around to score on a double to left field by Benjamin Rosengard. Rosengard then immediately swiped third too. Later in the game, Jackson Forbes stole a bag. Eau Claire catcher Connor Burns has a strong throwing arm, but Rochester's ability to read the Eau Claire hurlers and get terrific jumps really took Burns out of the game. The Honkers want to be a versatile, well-rounded offense. They used the long ball and some aggressive baserunning to make Eau Claire really uncomfortable.