A lot was expected of the Albuquerque Isotopes’ bullpen this season.
After all, with three pitchers who were relievers last year moving into the rotation, it was going to take a while before any of them could go deep into games.
Throw in short outings, four innings apiece, by the top two starters, and the Isotopes’ relief corps has been tested early and often.
So far the bullpen has passed those tests with flying colors, including a dominant run by four relievers in Saturday night’s 8-3 victory over the Iowa Cubs in front of 7,774 fans at Isotopes Park.
Chris Withrow, Red Patterson, Geison Aguasviva and Josh Wall combined for six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and three walks while striking out six.
“These guys are capable of making pitches when we command the strike zone,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said.
“We’re at that stage of the year where we’re trying to protect guys at the beginning, no back-to-backs or anything like that. We really, really need just a few more innings from our starters.”
Starter Blake Johnson allowed three runs on five hits and two walks in three innings, throwing 71 pitches before he was pulled.
On came Withrow, who used a fastball that hit 97 mph to wipe out six of the seven Iowa hitters he faced, three by strikeout.
“Like I’ve said, that’s a quality arm right there,” Bundy said. “You can see why he was their No. 1 pick a couple years ago.”
Next up was Patterson, who scuffled a bit with his command Thursday. This time he walked the first batter he faced, then shrugged it off to retire the next five he faced, with some help from a 5-4-3 double play to end the sixth.
“That’s the thing, you can’t do anything about it after you do it, you have to move on, turn the page and make pitches,” Bundy said. “He gave us two big innings tonight, no doubt about it.”
Aguasviva got the first two hitters he faced in the eighth to ground out, but then came an infield single by Donnie Murphy, a single to right by Ryan Sweeney and a full-count walk to J.C. Boscan to load the bases.
Wall came on and promptly wiped out Edwin Maysonet, freezing him for a called strike three on a slider that caught the outside corner.
In the ninth, Wall was hit in the back by a liner off the bat of Darnell McDonald. He stayed in the game, gave up a single to Logan Watkins, but then induced a 6-4-3 double play and finished off his first save of the season by getting Brian Bogusevic to ground out to first base.
“We were fortunate it got him in a good spot if there is a good spot,” Bundy said. “It wasn’t any arm area or anything like that. It was just above the back and below the shoulder blades. He toughed it out for us.”
Through three games, the Isotopes bullpen has thrown 16 innings, allowing just four runs on 16 hits and six walks while striking out 18 batters.
“Fortunately the guys have stepped out of the pen and done a great job for us,” Bundy said. “Great job tonight, no doubt about it.”
While the relievers were doing their thing, the Isotopes’ hitters had their moments early and late.
Scott Van Slyke’s two-run single in the first and RBI single in the third put Albuquerque ahead and then tied the game up at 3-3 after Iowa had battled back. Rusty Ryal’s double to right then scored Van Slyke and put the Isotopes ahead for good in the third.
Albuquerque would tack on four insurance runs in the eighth, all with two outs, on RBI singles by Alfredo Amezaga and Elian Herrera and a two-run single by Van Slyke.
All told, Van Slyke went 4-for-5 with five RBI and is now batting .583 (7-for-12) through three games.
“I felt good tonight,” Van Slyke said. “Me and Stubby (hitting coach Franklin Stubbs) looked at some film before the game. I felt good in BP, so I was hoping it would carry over into the game. Sometimes it doesn’t but tonight I felt good.”
The Isotopes will go for the series sweep Sunday at 1:35 p.m.