Trailing 0-2 in the divisional round of the Double-A Eastern League playoffs, the Reading Fightins return home to FirstEnergy Stadium and will need to win out to advance to the league championship series next week.
The Fightins will face the division rival Trenton Thunder beginning Friday night with three wins needed to not go home prematurely. At 89-52, Reading sported the best record in the league during the regular season. Trenton finished two games back in the Eastern Division, entering the playoffs as the Wild Card entrant.
Game three will see left-hander Elniery Garcia making his Double-A debut after posting a 12-4 record with a 2.68 ERA and 7.0 K/9 mark in 20 outings with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers this season.
The 21-year-old Dominican native asserted, following game two, that he doesn’t feel pressure heading into a crucial situation.
“There’s no pressure. I don’t feel pressure,” Garcia said with a calm delivery. “I feel normal. Like every game is the same.”
In the outing, Garcia will pair up with a brand new battery mate, promising catching prospect Jorge Alfaro. The two have never been paired together before. Garcia doesn’t foresee the lack of experience together presenting any concern. Afterall, he says, they both speak Spanish.
Garcia joined the Fightins prior to the series opener on Wednesday and he feels that he saw enough of the Thunder offense in the first two games of the division series to have a solid game plan when he faces them on Friday.
Trenton will counter with 20-year-old lefty Justus Sheffield on the mound. Sheffield was the 31st overall pick in the 2014 draft by Cleveland. He was acquired by the Yankees in July in the Andrew Miller trade. The Tennessee native made his Double-A debut against Reading last Friday, allowing one unearned run in four innings of work.
Reading’s premiere offensive contributor, league Most Valuable Player Dylan Cozens (.276 avg, 40 HR, 125 RBI in the regular season), feels the Fightins are in a good position to advance. In fact, the 22-year-old lefty batting slugger expressed confidence.
“We’re real comfortable at home,” Cozens said. “We play well there, we’ve got good fan support and there’s just something about being there in Reading, we seem to play better. ”
At home this season, the Fightins sported a .718 winning percentage. Obviously, they’ll need it to be 1.000 for three days, if their season is to continue.