D.J. Peterson knows a nasty pitcher when he sees one.
The University of New Mexico’s All-America first baseman has squared off against plenty of big-time pitchers, but he much prefers having them on his side.
Such was the case Friday when freshman Drew Bridges took the mound for UNM. Bridges and two relievers combined on a five-hit shutout as the 24th-ranked Lobos rolled to a 9-0 win over UNLV in the opener of a three-game series at Lobo Field.
It was the eighth consecutive win for UNM (25-16, 15-4), which stretched its Mountain West Conference lead to four games over the second-place Rebels (27-14, 11-8).
Bridges, a converted infielder who recently earned a spot in New Mexico’s weekend rotation, allowed just three hits, walked one and struck out three in six dominant innings. The 6-foot-4 right-hander from Fruita, Colo., threw 80 pitches in his longest outing of the season, improving his record to 3-1 and his ERA to 3.13.
Peterson provided on-field support, going 3-for-4 with a double and his 13th home run of the season. The Lobo first baseman also delivered postgame praise for Bridges.
“He’s been tremendous,” Peterson said. “Drew’s tall, he mixes his pitches well, and he’s got that good, high arm angle. He’s hard to hit.”
Peterson batted against Bridges during fall drills and did not especially enjoy the experience. He later talked to the young pitcher about maximizing his natural advantages.
“Yeah, D.J. told me about keeping a downward plane on the ball,” Bridges said. “It makes it tougher for hitters to square the ball up.”
UNLV’s hitters certainly had their problems.
Mark Shannon connected on a pair of hard-hit balls that were caught by Lobo right fielder Chase Harris, but that was about it. All three Rebel hits against Bridges were ground-ball singles.
“Drew Bridges is a huge addition for us,” Lobos coach Ray Birmingham said. “He doesn’t get emotional; he doesn’t give himself problems. He just throws strikes and gets ground balls.”
UNM’s offense gradually built a lead behind Bridges, racking up 15 hits off Rebel pitchers Erick Fedde and Tyler Iodence. All 10 Lobos who batted had at least one hit.
Four of the hits and three runs came in the second inning, when the Lobos did plenty of damage without benefit of a hard-hit ball. Josh Melendez and Alex Allbritton had infield hits, Ryan Padilla blooped a double just inside the left-field foul line, and Sam Haggerty flared a single into left field.
Melendez’s infield roller extended his hitting streak to a career-best 20 games.
New Mexico began to make better contact in the fourth, however, turning four straight two-out hits into a pair of runs. Jared Holley and Chase Harris doubled to start the rally, which increased UNM’s lead to 5-0.
Peterson made it 7-0 in the sixth, lining a two-run homer over the right-field fence. It was his first home run in 11 games at Lobo Field this season.
“The swing wasn’t very great and it was an (opposite-field) shot,” Peterson said with a smile. “Hopefully, that gets rid of my bad juju, and I can hit a few more at this place.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal