O'Grady, Sparks go long, Blandino goes up as Mustangs win

2014-07-28T23:32:00Z 2014-07-29T00:22:04Z O'Grady, Sparks go long, Blandino goes up as Mustangs winBy GREG RACHAC grachac@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The Mustangs got three-run home runs from two of Cincinnati’s best rookie prospects. Then they said goodbye to maybe its best.

Shortstop Alex Blandino was promoted on Monday by the Reds to Single-A Dayton of the Midwest League. Blandino learned of his call-up after the Mustangs beat Helena 10-5, a game in which Brian O’Grady and Taylor Sparks each hit balls well over the right field barrier at Dehler Park to produce a combined six runs.

The plan called for Blandino to fly out of Billings early Tuesday and join the Dragons for their three-game series in Lansing, Mich.

“I’m a little bit surprised,” Blandino said after being told of his promotion by Mustangs manager Dick Schofield. “It’s a little bittersweet. I’ve been here just long enough to really get to know my teammates. But it’s exciting to move up towards the final goal of playing in the Major Leagues. It’s another step on the road.”

Blandino was a supplemental first-round draft pick (29th overall) in June out of Stanford, one of two Reds first-rounders along with Virginia pitcher Nick Howard. He was an All-American in college, and was one of the most touted infield prospects in the draft.

Blandino, 21, had what amounted to a cup of coffee in Billings, playing 29 games. He hit .309 (34 for 110) with four homers and 16 RBIs, and his on-base percentage of .412 led the Mustangs and was among the Pioneer League’s best.

“It’s about being consistent day in and day out, and doing the things that are necessary to help your team win,” Blandino said. “Playing good defense and putting quality at-bats together -- I think that’s what they’re looking for.”

“Guys like (Blandino) and Sparks hadn’t played pro ball, and you’d like them to kind of ease into it,” Schofield said. “Both can play at either Class A team, Dayton or Bakersfield, I think. But you have to find out what you’ve got because you really don’t know. College and high school are a lot different than this, and they both have held their own very well.

“Blandino’s done a very nice job. Defensively he’ll have a few things to tighten up, but he swings the bat well. I hope he does well. He will do well.”

KEY MOMENT: Sparks’ three-run homer with two outs in the fifth put the Mustangs up by four runs. Sparks had struggled during the homestand, and was hitting .095 with 11 strikeouts in his previous 21 plate appearances. “He was actually smiling between second and third, so that was huge,” Schofield said. O’Grady’s three-run shot came in the third on a 3-1 count with two outs, tying the game 4-4.

ON THE MOUND: Brandon Diaz and Sthervin Matos hit back-to-back two-out, two-run singles to put the Brewers up 4-0 in the second. But none of those runs were charged to Mustangs starter Wyatt Strahan because the inning began with a throwing error by Blandino. Other than that, Billings’ pitchers strung a whole bunch of zeros together while striking out 11 and walking four.

AT THE PLATE: Kevin Franklin had a big night with a double and a triple. The 19-year-old Mustangs infielder continues to fight to improve at the plate. It was his second triple of the homestand, and both went into right field corner 350 feet from home plate. Franklin is hitting .157 in 31 games.

ON DECK: The Mustangs finish their homestand with another game against Helena at Dehler Park on Tuesday. Tyler Mahle will get his ninth start of the season. The Mustangs right-hander is seeking his first win since throwing a complete-game shutout on July 13 against Ogden.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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