The good news for the Albuquerque Isotopes was that rehabbing Dodgers pitcher Stephen Fife threw six effective innings Sunday night.
The bad news was that Marlins prospect Brian Flynn threw seven even more effective innings to lead the New Orleans Zephyrs to a 3-2 victory over the host Isotopes.
“When you have a well-pitched ballgame like that it usually comes down to execution or taking advantage of opportunities,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said.
Albuquerque (61-48) fell back into a first-place tie with Round Rock (61-48), which defeated Memphis 4-3 in 11 innings.
The Isotopes made things interesting in the ninth as Scott Van Slyke drew a leadoff walk and Chili Buss singled to left. Justin Sellers then doubled down the right field to pull his team within one run.
Brian Barden bunted Sellers over to third base but that would be as far as he would get. Chris Hatcher then got John Baker to pop up and struck out Rusty Ryal looking to earn his Pacific Coast League-leading 28th save.
“We pushed across a couple but if we’d executed possibly a little better early in the ballgame it might have been a different result at the end of the ballgame,” Bundy said.
Fife, making his second rehab start as he works his way back from bursitis in his right shoulder, went six innings. He allowed just one unearned run on three hits and one walk while striking out seven batters. The right-hander threw 55 of 81 pitches for strikes.
“He was pretty good,” Bundy said. “Command-wise he had all of his pitches working, offspeed-wise and locating his fastball.”
Fife’s self-assessment was not quite as glowing.
“I felt better as the game went on,” Fife said. “I worked a lot with (pitching coach Glenn Dishman) on keeping the arm in motion. I’ve kind of been in a slump with my fastball.
“The changeup’s been good for me just to get me back on track. Curveball was kind of half there tonight. I really didn’t feel like I was out in front with it. Fastball command was really pretty poor but I was able to stay in the zone. Misses weren’t wild misses they were just kind of misses in the zone.”
Fife retired the first seven batters he faced and nine of the first 10.
“For the first few innings the fastball stayed down, I got some poor contact,” Fife said. “Baseball’s a little bit of luck involved. I had some pretty loud outs throughout the game that could have gone either way but they were caught tonight.”
Fife’s most impressive inning may have been the fifth when he struck out the side.
“I felt pretty good overall physically,” Fife said. “Right now pretty standard. No serious pains but that hasn’t really shown until the next day or the following day. We’ll see what happens (Monday) and I’ll be ready to go again in five days.”
Flynn (4-10), however, was even better. He tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing just four harmless singles and two walks while striking out seven.
Miami’s No. 10-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, lowered his ERA from 3.36 to 3.14.
“Mr. Flynn was very good,” Bundy said. “He kept us off-balance. We had a couple of opportunities early, didn’t score. To his credit he was able to pitch out of those jams.”
New Orleans (53-56) struck for its only run against Fife in the fourth inning. Gil Velazquez drew a leadoff walk and Jordan Brown followed with a double to right. Alex Castellanos tried to throw Brown out at second but the ball deflected into left field and Velazquez came around to score on the error.
The Zephyrs tacked on additional runs on Kyle Jensen’s sacrifice fly in the seventh and Josh Smolinski’s solo home run in the ninth, the latter proving to be the game-winner.
The Isotopes can still win the series with a victory in Monday’s 12:05 p.m. finale.