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June 5, 2022 at 7:00 AM

Cup of Coffee: Mata begins rehab stint in Salem; Wong powers WooSox

6/5 Cup of Coffee:
Beyond any game results, by far the biggest news on Saturday was the return of Bryan Mata (pictured, right) to the mound. Mata was the consensus top-ranked pitcher in the system three years ago but had not pitched in game action for just over 33 months due to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season followed by Tommy John surgery in April 2021. The 23-year-old helped Salem to a victory. Elsewhere, Worcester got a solid start from the system's current top pitching prospect, as Brayan Bello was supported by Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez. Portland split its doubleheader, while Greenville suffered yet another one-run loss.


After getting out to a comfortable 6-1 lead, Worcester overcame two game-tying rallies to walk off with the victory. Brayan Bello turned in another strong start in his fourth Triple-A appearance. The right-hander surrendered a run in the first, then cruised through five innings without allowing another. Bello ran into some trouble in the fifth, departing with a pair of runners on base who would go on to score. He finished with three runs allowed on five hits in 5 1/3 innings, striking out eight while walking only one. Bello has now racked up 34 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings since his promotion.

Eduard Bazardo allowed the two inherited runners to score and then gave up two of his own on four hits in 1 2/3. Syracuse evened the score with an eighth-inning run off of Frank German and did the same in the ninth when a home run by the recently-optioned Dom Smith off of Kaleb Ort knotted the game at 7-7. A Roberto Ramos base hit in the bottom of the ninth made a winner out of Ort. 

Connor Wong
 (pictured, left) and Ronaldo Hernandez led the way at the plate for the WooSox. Both doubled and homered as part of three-hit efforts. Wong added a walk, scoring two runs and driving in three. It was a Hernandez single in the ninth inning that started Worcester's game-winning rally. Johan Mieses also homered for Worcester.


The Sea Dogs were held to just three hits in the opener of Saturday's doubleheader, with two of those knocks coming off the bat of Devlin Granberg. Pedro Castellanos doubled for Portland's lone extra-base hit. Jay Groome allowed two runs on three hits in five innings but suffered through inconsistent control, walking four batters against three strikeouts, and needing 81 pitches to get through the five frames. 

The tables were turned in the nightcap, with a trio of Portland hurlers combining on a two-hit shutout. Kyle Hart made the start in his return from the injured list, allowing one hit and striking out one in two innings of work. Dylan Spacke surrendered just one hit in his 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out three and walking a pair. Brandon Nail retired the final two batters to get credited with the save. At the plate, Granberg was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat and was forced to leave the game. Izzy Wilson entered in his place and notched a pair of hits. David Hamilton added a triple, while Castellanos singled, walked, and scored a run.


Greenville missed several key chances, going 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position on the way to dropping its fifth straight contest and the 18th in 23 games. Brian Van Belle was solid but continues to struggle with the long ball. He allowed two runs, both on solo shots, in five innings of work, and he's now allowed 14 round-trippers in 54 2/3 on the year. Robert Kwiatkowski was saddled with the loss after giving up two runs in 1 2/3 innings. Ceddanne Rafaela continues to be a highlight at the plate for the Drive. Getting the start in center field, he went 3 for 5 to boost his South Atlantic League-leading batting average to .326. Rafaela doubled and stole two bases in the loss. Matthew Lugo picked up a double and a triple, while Gilberto Jimenez doubled as part of a two-hit evening.


For the first time since August 31, 2019, Bryan Mata took the mound in an official, regular season baseball game. Mata's rehab assignment begins in Salem, where he was starring as he rocketed up the prospect rankings in late 2018 and early 2019. The return went as well as anyone could reasonably have hoped, as he threw two hitless innings surrendering one unearned run, and striking out two against two walks. A quartet of relievers continued to hold Columbia in check, with Graham Hoffman getting credit for the win. 

At the plate, Philip Sikes continues to make pitchers work. A day after working four walks and reaching base five times, the center fielder worked two more free passes to supplement a triple, three runs scored, and two stolen bases. Marcelo Mayer was 0 for 2 but still contributed, scoring a run and swiping a base after working a walk and driving in a run on a sacrifice fly. Blaze Jordan and Nathan Hickey both doubled for the Sox.


Player of the Day: In the shadow of Bryan Mata's return and Brayan Bello's continued ascendance, Connor Wong continued his resurgence to lead the Worcester victory. Wong has been scorching in his last 13 games, recording a .407/.475/.611 slash line across 61 plate appearances. He added a double and homer today, giving him seven extra-base hits during that stretch. He has raised his season line from .167/.254/.183 to .281/.359/.386.

Photo Credit: Bryan Mata, Connor Wong by Kelly O'Connor