STOCKTON — During what was otherwise a majestic first half of the season for the Stockton Ports, Sandber Pimentel was in a woeful place offensively.
Pimentel, Stockton’s 6-foot-3, 220-pound first baseman, was injured to start the year and did not hit a home run (despite already having over 50 in his professional career), recorded only two RBI and his batting average hovered just above .100.
But Pimentel never stopped swinging. And now it’s paying off.
Pimentel belted a two-run home run in the sixth to give Stockton a 6-5 lead over the San Jose Giants in a Cal League game on Thursday at Stockton Ballpark. The Ports beat the Giants 8-5, earning a series split after a disastrous start to Thursday’s finale — falling behind 4-0 in the first inning.
Pimentel has rediscovered his swing, and quickly – blasting nine homers in 20 games. Not to mention, Pimentel has 24 RBI in that stretch, and his average was at .199 after Thursday’s long ball.
Ports manager Rick Magnante said that the past two years have been a struggle physically for Pimentel after a back injury in 2017 and a hand injury and required surgery and recovery in 2018.
“He’s been a bit of an enigma this year,” the fourth-year Stockton skipper said. “But it’s nice that he’s had an opportunity to get in that lineup everyday regardless and fight his way through it.”
The Dominican Republic native played for the A’s Dominican summer league team from 2012-2014 before joining Low-A Beloit in 2015. Pimentel was promoted to Stockton in 2016, and has hit 44 home runs since.
His average soared from .237 in his Stockton debut in 2016 to .279 in 2017, and appears to be on the rise again.
Pimentel even made a difficult catch on a foul pop-up in the top of the seventh, directly after his cinematic blast gave Stockton the lead.
The Ports scored their first three runs in the third as Nate Mondou looped a double inside the third base bag and into the outfield, scoring Luis Barrera (RBI No. 60 in 2018 for Mondou). Mondou would come home on Luke Persico’s double over the center fielder’s head.
Stockton’s Chase Calabuig, a recent call-up, roped an RBI single to center to score Luke Persico in the sixth.
The Giants’ biggest punch, at least early on, came from Lodi’s Gio Brusa, a former player for St. Mary’s High and University of the Pacific.
The switch-hitting Brusa — from the right side — tagged a line-drive, three-run home run to right field for a 4-0 lead in the first. A Brusa fan club sitting down the third-base line, including his dad and St. Mary’s High president Jim Brusa, went crazy.
That first inning was laborious to say the least for Ports starter Zack Erwin.
Erwin surrendered hits to four of the first five batters he faced, and allowed all of those first five batters to reach base.
San Jose boosted its lead to 5-3 in the fifth as Sandro Fabian plated Wander Franco with an RBI single to left.
It wouldn’t be enough, though, as Pimentel doomed San Jose with his big swing.
“To get off to such a slow start and persevere is a testament to how hard he’s worked at it,” Magnante said of Pimentel. “We expect that when he does get a pitch that he can handle, he’s going to be capable of doing damage.”
NOTES: Former Ports catcher Jonah Heim, one of the team’s eight Cal League all-stars, was promoted to Double-A Midland, Texas, on Tuesday. With that, catcher Santiago Chavez was brought down from Midland to Stockton. … The Ports’ hot first half meant a North Division championship and a guaranteed playoff berth, but they’ve come back to reality in July. Stockton recently snapped a season-high five-game losing streak, and had dropped six of seven entering Thursday. … The first out Stockton recorded on Thursday was an odd one. After San Jose’s Johneshwy Fargas singled and stole second base, he tried to score on a single from Jalen Miller. But the Ports tagged him out on a 7-2-4-3-2-5-3 rundown (in layman’s terms, that’s left fielder-catcher-second baseman-first baseman-catcher-third baseman-first baseman).