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Jones pitches Reading to win in AA debut

Damon Jones
After an impressive start to the season with Clearwater, lefty Damon Jones made his AA debut against Harrisburg and set a new career-high for strikeouts. (Photo courtesy Clearwater Threshers.)

Back on June 1st, in one of his final starts with Clearwater, Jones had set his career mark for Ks when he struck out 11 Dunedin Blue Jays. While Jones wasn’t officially added to the Fightin Phils roster until about 30 minutes before first pitch in Sunday’s series finale against the Senators at FNB Field, his Double-A debut couldn’t have gone much better. Jones, joining Reading in the final days of their push for a first-half Eastern League crown, set a new career-high with 12 strikeouts over six innings, becoming the first Fightins starter to accomplish the feat since Ben Lively on May 15, 2016 in Trenton. In another low-scoring and well-pitched game between the teams, Darick Hall’s eighth inning double scored Mickey Moniak to give the Fightins the weekend series with a 2-1 win on Father’s Day.

After getting shut out in the middle game on Saturday, the lineup had more juice early on against Senators starter Jackson Tetreault, who had won his Double-A debut in Reading on April 29th. He worked around a pair of singles from Major League rehabber Roman Quinn and Austin Listi in the first, but was greeted rudely by Henri Lartigue in the second with a no-doubter to right for his third homer and a 1-0 Reading lead.

Jones’ debut started perfectly with five strikeouts the first time through the lineup, and he didn’t allow his first baserunner until center fielder Hunter Jones led off the fourth with a walk. On a hit-and-run, Luis Garcia singled down the left field line to put a pair at the corners for the Senators, who tied the score when Austin Davidson drove in his 17th run with a sacrifice fly. Jones brushed it off, and finished his six innings by retiring the last eight batters he faced, with seven coming on strikeouts.

The score remained tied until the top of the eighth inning, which started when Moniak drew a four-pitch walk against Jacob Condra-Bogan to reach his second 16-game on-base streak of the season. Two batters later, Hall hit a gapper into left center, scoring Moniak with his 16th double and 40th run batted in for a 2-1 lead.

Jakob Hernandez soon got help from Moniak to close out his second perfect inning of relief in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and the bases empty, shortstop Luis Sardinas drilled a ball into the right field corner, where Moniak leapt up at the top of the wall to pull it back in for the catch of the year. That game-saving play kept Reading in front at 2-1, and gave Addison Russ the save chance in the ninth inning.

Despite blowing a 2-1 lead nearly two months prior on City Island in a 3-2 loss, Russ got redemption this time around. Pinch-hitter Ian Sagdal led off with a base hit to bring up the winning run, but Russ retired the next three in order for his ninth save and a series win. With no more regular season games remaining against the first half champs in the Western Division, the R-Phils and Senators finish the season series an identical 8-8 (3-3 at FirstEnergy Stadium, 5-5 at FNB Field).

The first half in the Eastern Division will be decided on Tuesday night when the Fightin Phils (38-28) return home to face the Akron RubberDucks, while the Thunder (37-27) will host the Flying Squirrels. If Reading wins and Trenton loses, the Fightin Phils will be the first-half champions. A Trenton win will eliminate the Fightin Phils regardless of the outcome against the RubberDucks.

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