The second half of the Pioneer League season began Sunday afternoon just as the first half ended Saturday night — with the Mustangs beating Helena to bolster their winning streak.
The Billings bullpen, volatile at times during the first six weeks of the season, got into some hot water but survived to close out a 5-3 victory at Dehler Park. The victory was the Mustangs’ fourth in a row and also completed a three-game sweep of the Brewers.
Alejandro Chacin, the team’s most consistent reliever, worked 2 1/3 innings to get the victory and stretch his record to 4-0. The right-handed Chacin labored to finish the game in the ninth and was replaced by Sean Lucas, who threw one pitch to earn his fourth save.
But Chacin was otherwise solid, lowing his ERA to 2.30 through nine appearances.
“He can throw his breaking ball for strikes, and in this league if you can do that you can be successful,” said Mustangs manager Pat Kelly. “He’s not afraid to throw it — in any count. For an 18-year-old he’s got a lot of poise on that mound. Nothing seems to bother him.”
The bullpen did its part to strand nine Helena baserunners and was aided by three double-play ground balls from the fifth inning on.
Though Billings’ pitchers posted the second-best ERA in the league in the first half, and regardless of the fact that the team is 15-3 when leading after six innings, Kelly knows the bullpen needs to be a little more reliable to snap a three-year postseason drought.
At the very least, the Mustangs got a bump Sunday with the return of Mo Wiley to the roster.
Wiley, their primary closer, had been out with a shoulder injury since June 29 but returned to Billings after an extended rehab stint at the Cincinnati Reds’ training facility in Goodyear, Ariz. Kelly said he didn’t yet know when the right-handed Wiley would make his next appearance, but acknowledged his presence shores things up for the later innings.
“That really solidifies the bullpen,” Kelly said. “Lucas and Chacin and (Jimmy) Moran have been throwing so well, but they can’t throw every day. So now we’ve got another option out there, and that’s good.”
Mustangs third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean entered Sunday carrying the league’s longest active hitting streak, and he extended it to 15 games with a single in the eighth inning.
Mejias-Brean popped out to first base and flew out to both center and right field in his first three at bats, but he punched an offering from Helena reliever Damien Magnifico (0-1) through the right side of the infield to keep the streak alive in his last plate appearance of the day.
“He’s just a great hitter,” shortstop Brandon Dailey said of Mejias-Brean. “He stays back and doesn’t chase too much. He has a knack for putting the ball in play. He’s been hitting real well lately. He’s been real hot.”
Mejias-Brean will try to extend the streak when Great Falls visits Monday for the first game of a quick two-game series at Dehler Park. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m. The Mustangs will send right-hander Tony Amezcua (0-4, 4.94 ERA) to the mound to oppose Voyagers righty Keegan Linza (3-0, 4.12).
Inside the series
The sweep of Helena marked the first three-game sweep of the season for the Mustangs. … LHP Richard McCaffrey made his debut with Billings on Sunday, relieving starter Drew Cisco in the fifth inning. McCaffrey, a 34th-round pick in the 2012 draft by the Reds out of Santa Barbara City College, gave up five hits and one earned run. … Helena 1B Adam Giacalone finished the series with seven hits, raising his average to .322. … Mustangs RF Jeff Gelalich was robbed of extra-bases twice Sunday by spectacular on-the-run catches by Helena LF Ruben Ozuna. Kelly said he thought Ozuna “had absolutely no chance of catching those balls.” Gelalich, who had 12 hits in the previous nine games, finished 0 for 2 with a walk and a run scored.