AUBURN — Anxious to play a real game against another team after months of extended spring training, it was the Doubledays' youth that sparked a season-opening win.
Guided by five strong innings from 20-year-old pitcher Malvin Pena and a two-hit, two-run, two-RBI game from Ricardo Mendez, Auburn topped the Batavia Muckdogs 5-1 Friday at Falcon Park. It's the eighth time in the last nine years that the Doubledays have started the season off with a win.
Pena, an international free agent from the Dominican Republic, struck out five batters, walked none and allowed four hits over five innings, while Mendez delivered a two-run single in the second that opened the scoring.
"The guys came out great, especially for being so young," Doubledays manager Jerad Head said. "Pena did an unbelievable job pounding the zone, attacking hitters and not shying away from any contact. Mendez came up with some big hits.
"There was a lot of energy. I know it's opening night, but if we keep that up and keep that going forward it's going to be really fun."
Mendez was one of four Doubledays that recorded multi-hit games, finishing 2-for-4. Nick Choruby, Jamori Blash (double) and Adalberto Carrillo (double, run) also chipped in with a pair of hits each.
With three runs in the second and two more in the sixth, the Doubledays held a comfortable 5-1 lead entering the final third of the game as the pitching staff, led by Pena, overmatched the Muckdogs.
The game nearly went sideways for the Doubledays in the seventh. Reliever Aaron Barrett allowed a single and a walk to start the inning, and then was forced to exit with an injury. David Smith replaced him and the Muckdogs' Igor Baez welcomed him by working a walk to load the bases with none out.
In a do-or-die situation, Smith worked his way out of the jam. The 2017 25th-rounder from Long Beach State struck out Gerardo Nunez before Demetrius Sims lined out to first base for an inning-ending double play.
"The first batter got away from (Smith), but he attacked and Blash made a good play on a soft liner," Head said. "David came out and competed and forced contact when he had the bases loaded and allowed his defense to make plays behind him."
Smith carried that momentum into the eighth with two more strikeouts before handing the baton to Connor Zwetsch for a perfect ninth to close out the game.
Overall, Auburn racked up 11 hits and held Batavia to six.
Even in the stands the Doubledays had a strong evening. Falcon Park's attendance for the opening game was 2,924, up from last season's home opener of 2,624.
The lone blemish on an otherwise solid opener for Auburn comes in the form of an injury. Barrett, who was making his first appearance since pitching for the Washington Nationals and Advanced-A Potomac in 2015, was forced to exit during the seventh inning.
Barrett missed both the 2016 and 2017 seasons due to Tommy John surgery that was followed by a broken arm suffered during a simulated game. His first inning back was a net positive — all three of his outs in the sixth came on strikeouts — and there's hope this will be a minor setback.
"We'll talk to the doctors and figure it out in the morning," Head said. "He's in good spirits right now and we'll see what the diagnosis is tomorrow and go from there."
Auburn (1-0) returns to action Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. start back at Falcon Park. Yonathan Ramirez, who went 4-3 with a 3.86 ERA last season for the Doubledays, will start on the hill.