AUBURN — The first game of a crucial series in the Doubledays' season turned into a forgettable night.
Auburn, the current Pinckney Division leaders, opened up a three-game series against second-place Mahoning Valley with a sound 8-2 defeat Monday at Falcon Park. The loss moves the Scrappers to within 1 1/2 games of the Doubledays in the division standings.
The series is the second between the two teams in less than a week, as Auburn swept the last meeting in three straight games.
Offensively, Auburn couldn't muster much throughout the evening. Jacob Rhinesmith hit a one-out double in the Doubledays' second at-bat of the game, but Mahoning Valley starter Zack Draper went on to retire 19 straight batters through the seventh inning before running into some trouble.
Draper was bouncing back from a quick outing against the Doubledays on Aug. 15, in which Auburn knocked him out after 2 1/3 innings and five runs against. In the rematch, Draper held the Doubledays to two runs over 6 2/3 to pick up the win.
"He did a good job of keeping us off balance, mixing in all of his pitches. We had a tough time making adjustments to that," Auburn manager Jerad Head said. "He had his A stuff last night compared to last week."
Meanwhile, the Scrappers' bats ambushed Auburn starter Ryan Tapani, normally a reliever, with three runs in the top of the first. That included a two-run home run from Hosea Nelson.
Tapani (0-2, 3.81 ERA) now has a 9.00 ERA in seven innings as a starting pitcher this year, compared to a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings out of the bullpen.
He gave way to Alfonso Hernandez for the third inning, and Hernandez was strong in his first New York-Penn League outing. The right-hander struck out eight over 4 1/3 innings.
"If you ask him, he'd probably say he didn't have his best stuff as far as secondary and off-speed pitches," Head said. "For the most part he competed for four-plus innings and gave us some much-needed help."
While Auburn's bats were quiet, their gloves proved to be a detriment as well. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, the Scrappers' Jason Rodriguez hit a dribbler to Doubledays shortstop Jose Sanchez for a potential inning-ending double play.
Sanchez, normally one of Auburn's slickest defenders, tried to start the double play with a behind-the-back toss to Carson Shaddy at second. His throw badly missed Shaddy, allowing two runners to score.
Mahoning Valley added another two runs on Simeon Lucas' double to go up 7-0.
"Obviously nobody is more disappointed in that play than (Sanchez)," Head said. "He's been great for us this year and is kind of our strong man on defense. Mental things happen like that and I'm sure he'll be back ready to go tomorrow."
Auburn ruined the shutout bid on Shaddy's RBI double and Jamori Blash's RBI single in the bottom of the seventh, but it wasn't enough against a Mahoning Valley club determined to make amends for last week's Doubledays sweep.
The Doubledays (35-27) look to pitcher Niomar Gomez to guide a bounce-back effort Tuesday against Mahoning Valley. Gomez looks to repeat last week's performance against the Scrappers, which he threw six scoreless innings and allowed only one hit.
"Hopefully he'll take that mentality again to the mound and attack hitters," Head said. "Offensively I think we'll bounce back."