Roberts continues to rake as Javelinas blast Dogs
Twins prospect leads AFL in hitting, on-base percentage, slugging percentage
Peoria needed a win on Tuesday, having lost three in a row and having seen its AFL West Division lead shrink to a half-game. The Javelinas got one in an 8-1 blowout of Phoenix, to whom they had lost just yesterday.
Leadoff man Nate Roberts continued his domination of AFL pitching, going 2-for-4 with a solo homer, a walk and three RBIs and lifting his league-leading batting average to a remarkable .474.
A fifth-round pick out of High Point University in 2010, Roberts underwent knee surgery before the 2011 season and reinjured the knee in July of that year. He returned to the Beloit Snappers in late May of this season, and, after a slow start, put together a .299/.433/.427 line in 76 games. Roberts' .433 on-base percentage was higher than any of the hitters who qualified for the Midwest League batting title.
Roberts has been even hotter in the AFL. The 23-year-old Twins prospect has collected multiple hits in eight of his 17 games during the fall campaign and failed to reach base just once. He's even discovered his power stroke, with both of his longballs coming in the last three games. Roberts' .592 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage are also tops in the league.
"I'm just doing what I normally do," he said. "I'm a top-of-the-order guy, so I try to see as many pitches as I can and get good wood on the ball. I've been hitting pretty well and been lucky with balls finding holes for me."
After striking out in the first inning -- just his sixth K, to go along with 11 walks, in 57 AFL at-bats -- Roberts delivered a two-out, bases-loaded single in the second, giving the Javelinas a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish. The left-handed hitter lined out to center in the fourth before leading off the sixth with his second longball.
"[Phoenix reliever Cory Rasmus] started with a couple fastballs away, then he left a changeup that got a little more of the plate," Roberts recalled. "I hit it square and was lucky to get it over the fence."
The blast extended the Javelinas' lead to 8-1, with the Peoria pitching staff holding Phoenix to just four hits -- all off starter Logan Darnell (Twins), who gave up one run while fanning two over four innings to improve to 2-0. Relievers Drew Hayes (Reds), Caleb Thielbar (Twins), Josh Ravin (Reds), Bobby LaFromboise (Mariners) and Curtis Partch (Reds) tossed one hitless frame apiece.
Each of the top seven hitters in the Javelinas lineup collected multiple hits, with Mariners prospect Mike Zunino going 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Peoria went 6-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
Phoenix starter Jimmy Nelson fell to 2-3 after allowing four runs on six hits over four frames. He struck out three and walked a pair. Fellow Brewers prospect Kyle Heckathorn took over in the fifth, but each of the five hitters he faced singled, with three of them going on to score.
The Javelinas' win allowed them to maintain their half-game lead over Surprise, which topped Mesa, 10-8. Both teams have two games left, though neither are against each other.
"We're really pushing for [a spot in the AFL Championship]," Roberts said. "Getting a win today was big."
John Parker is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.