Dozier's clutch hit overshadows top pitchers in Peoria victory
Despite solid performance from Surprise ace Walker, Royals prospect's knock wins game
The Opening Day matchup between Peoria and Surprise on Tuesday began with a much-anticipated pitchers' duel between Kyle Zimmer and Taijuan Walker. But the hard-throwing right-handers had long since given way to the bullpen when third baseman Hunter Dozier came to the plate in the eighth inning.
Surprise led Peoria by a run and the Javelinas had already scored a run in the inning. Dozier stepped to the plate to face right-hander Stephen Landazzuri with two outs and runners on second and third. He had been in a similar situation in the fifth inning against right-hander Sam Wolff and struck out chasing a curveball in the dirt. He wanted to avoid a similar fate with the game hanging in the balance.
"Going into that at bat, I wanted to force [Landazzuri] to bring the ball up," said Dozier, the Royals' No. 4 prospect. "He gave me pitch I could hit and I made good contact." Dozier drove a 1-1 pitch the other way for a double, scoring both runners to give Peoria the lead. Right-handers Chris Perry and Sam Tuivailala each threw a perfect inning to make Dozier's hit stand up and the Javelinas defeated the Saguaros, 5-4.
Dozier, ranked No. 86 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, finished the day 2-for-5.
"It's always good to get that first win," Dozier said. "It was good we were able to come back. Now we'll be ready to get back out there tomorrow and continue the season."
In addition to Dozier, Peoria's offense was led by shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher Justin O'Conner. Lindor, the Indians' No. 1 prospect and No. 4 on the Top 100, went 1-for-4 with a run and a walk and O'Conner, the Rays' No. 14 prospect, added three hits.
Before Dozier's late-game heroics, Surprise had taken an early lead thanks to right fielder Hunter Renfroe and first baseman Patrick Kivlehan. Renfroe, the Padres' No. 4 prospect and No. 71 on the Top 100, went 2-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI. Kivlehan, the Mariners' No. 6 prospect, added a solo home run.
Walker led the Saguaros staff Tuesday. Pitching for the first time since throwing a complete game for the Mariners during their late push for the Wild Card, he held the Javelinas to one run on five hits. He struck out five batters and walked none.
While Walker excelled, Zimmer, ranked No. 47 on the Top 100, wasn't quite as sharp. The Royals' No. 2 prospect allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings. He struck out three batters and threw 59 pitches.
Dozier came away impressed by both starting pitchers.
"They're going to be very good in the big leagues," Dozier said. "They're two dominant pitchers. It was fun to play defense behind Zimmer and it was fun to face Walker."
The Royals selected Zimmer and Dozier in the first round in back-to-back Drafts (Zimmer in 2012 and Dozier in 2013), but Tuesday was the first time they played together. Injuries sidelined Zimmer for almost the whole year, limiting him to just 4 2/3 innings at Rookie-level Idaho Falls during the regular season and six innings with Triple-A Omaha in the playoffs.
Tuesday was Zimmer's longest outing since Aug. 6, 2013, when he threw 4 2/3 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Despite his setbacks this season, Dozier said he has already been impressed by Zimmer.
"I had heard great things about him and everything was true," Dozier said. "He's going to help our big league club big time in the future."
The fall season has barely begun, but Dozier has already had a fruitful campaign. He won the Bowman Hitting Challenge on Saturday night, before colleting the game-winning hit on Opening Day. While that may set a high bar for the rest of the fall season, Dozier said he's just hoping to improve his overall game over the next six weeks.
"We're going to face some really good competition out here, so we have to be patient with ourselves," he said. "By the end of the season just to get better and feel more comfortable against good competition."