The Team USA pitching staff did it again Saturday night.
Brandon Finnegan started out against the Cuban National Team with seven scoreless innings.
David Berg and Chris Diaz followed by taking care of the eighth, working around the fourth and final Cuban hit.
Ryan Burr then stormed through the ninth, hitting 95 mph-plus with his last few pitches as Team USA frustrated the Cuban hitters for a third straight night in a 1-0 victory in front of 3,418 at Werner Park.
“We knew pitching was going to be our strength going into this whole deal, and that’s obviously proven itself out,” said Jim Schlossnagle, the Collegiate National Team manager from TCU.
That actually might qualify as an understatement as Team USA sits with a 3-0 lead as the five-game friendship series heads to North Carolina.
The American pitchers have now allowed one earned run (and three total) in 30 innings. They have chalked up 33 strikeouts with just five walks, and Cuban hitters are batting .158 in the series (16 of 101).
“It’s a stupid staff,” said Burr, the freshman from Arizona State who picked up his fifth save as Team USA improved to 18-3 overall. “I mean, you got a group of guys who all have first-round (draft) talent for next year. You’ve got confidence in everybody. It’s fun to be around.”
Finnegan set the tone Saturday night by making a fourth-inning Team USA run stand up until he departed. The sophomore from TCU scattered three singles and at one point set down eight straight Cubans in the middle innings.
Finnegan was 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA in five previous appearances (three starts), but over a total of only 16-2/3 innings. Schlossnagle let the left-hander get to 93 pitches, noting that his last clocked at 95 mph.
“I knew if I had it, I was going to be in for a while,” he said. “I had a good slider, so from the first inning I thought I’d go pretty late.”
Finnegan said it didn’t hurt to be following good starts by Carlos Rodon on Thursday night in Des Moines and Luke Weaver on Friday night at Werner. Not to mention the solid work from the Team USA bullpen.
“It definitely amped me up, after how our pitchers have been doing,” Finnegan said.
Team USA needed it all Saturday night as right-hander Norge Ruiz pitched a gem for Cuba, surrendering just three hits and striking out 11 over 7-1/3 innings. Team USA outfielder Michael Conforto said the chatter in the American dugout was that Ruiz, 19, would be a Friday night starter for most NCAA teams.
“Their guy was phenomenal,” Schlossnagle said. “I mean, 19 years old, to go out there and pitch the way he did ... you’ve got to tip your cap to him as well.”
After Ruiz was perfect through three innings, Team USA scratched out its only run in the fourth.
Trea Turner and Alex Bregman hit back-to-back singles, and Turner advanced to third base as Bregman was erased on a force play. Conforto then followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to score the speedy North Carolina State shortstop.
“It’s always nice to get off to a lead, especially as early as you can,” Turner said. “Then Finny was dealing today, so we only needed one — luckily.”
Turner singled again in the sixth but was left stranded at second. The Americans also couldn’t do anything with base runners in the seventh and eighth.
Team USA isn’t having much more success offensively than Cuba, but Schlossnagle said the team won’t panic after winning 2-1 in 11 innings, 3-2 in 10 and now 1-0 in nine.
“We’ve been grinding hard,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ll get some rest. We have a travel day tomorrow, and we’ll just get back in our routine on Monday.”