Though Thursday's Arizona Fall League showdown between Mesa left-hander Matt Purke and Salt River right-hander Aaron Sanchez was brief, it lived up to its promise.
Sanchez, ranked No. 20 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings. Purke, the Nationals' No. 8 prospect, gave up an unearned run in three innings, but it was he and the Solar Sox who captured an 8-1 victory at Salt River Fields.
"It was a well-played game by everybody," Purke said. "I thought the guys played good defense behind me and they put some runs on the board. Just got to keep building off of that."
Purke struck out two batters and walked one in three innings. His lone blemish came in the second inning. After retiring the first two batters, he gave up a single to center fielder James Ramsey and a double to left fielder Todd Glaesmann. He still almost got out of the inning unscathed, but an error by third baseman Max Muncy allowed Ramsey to score the Rafters lone run of the night. Ramsey, the Cardinals' No. 10 prospect, finished the game 3-for-3 with a double and a walk.
As good as Purke was, Sanchez was just as effective Thursday. He twice retired the Solar Sox in order with 10 or fewer pitches, running into trouble only in the second inning. Mesa loaded the bases with two outs thanks to two walks and a single by second baseman Taylor Lindsey. But Sanchez got catcher David Freitas to ground out to escape the jam.
Sanchez threw his fastball in the mid-90s Thursday and mixed it with his sharp curveball. His mound presence and stuff impressed Purke.
"He's a phenomenal pitcher with really electric stuff," Purke said. "You definitely can tell why he's out there."
But with Sanchez out of the game, Mesa's batters went to work against Rays left-hander Mike Montgomery in the fourth inning. Designated hitter C.J. Cron, the Angels' No. 2 prospect, drove in the Solar Sox's first run with a triple, the first of the AFL season. Lindsey, the Angels' No. 3 prospect, followed with a sacrifice fly to give Mesa the lead.
The Solar Sox added a run in the fifth and put the game out of reach with five more in the ninth. All nine players in the Solar Sox lineup either had a hit or scored a run. Right fielder Albert Almora, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect, went 2-for-5 with a triple, two runs and three RBIs. Lindsey finished the game 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
With his first start of the fall a success, Purke said his primary goal is to simply keep pitching. He has battled injuries throughout his career and missed the first two months of this season as he recovered from shoulder surgery.
Purke said he is feeling healthier than he has in the past and wants to make up for some of the developmental time he's lost.
"This is really my first full year," Purke said. "I want to make sure I make all my starts and command all my pitches in the zone and then keep that feeling going into next year."