In his first game back with Lynchburg since June 5, hot-hitting infielder Jhonkensy Noel picked up right where he left off, going 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBIs and lifting the Hillcats to a 10-3 win against Delmarva in the opener of a pivotal seven-game series at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, Maryland.
Noel was placed on the injured list June 28 with an ankle injury and sent to rehab with the Arizona Complex League Indians, a Rookie-level Cleveland affiliate, July 5. Lynchburg activated him prior to Tuesday's game.
The 6-foot-1 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic gave Lynchburg a 1-0 lead in the first inning when he scored catcher Yainer Diaz on a line-drive single to right.
Noel then blasted his sixth homer of the season to center as part of a fateful second inning in which the Hillcats (32-33) scored six runs and chased Shorebirds starter Brandon Young (3-1), who allowed seven runs but was charged with just two in 1 2/3 innings.
Noel also singled to left in the seventh. He was hitting .347 at the time of his injury and upped his batting average to .364 after Tuesday's game.
It was a breakout offensive night for the Hillcats, who struggled at times during last week's series against Fredericksburg.
On Tuesday, Diaz went 2 for 4 with two runs scored, two doubles and two RBIs, bringing his average to .316. And second baseman Christian Cairo went 3 for 5 with two RBIs. The Hillcats pounded out 12 hits and took advantage of two Delmarva errors.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff combining for 14 strikeouts, with 10 of them coming from starter Jaime Arias-Bautista, who improved to 5-2 by scattering three hits and allowing two runs (both earned) across 5 2/3 innings. He walked one and gave up a solo homer to Delmarva's Lamar Sparks in the third.
Delmarva (39-25) has been going through a slump recently, having lost seven of its last 10. Salem (37-29) pulled to within two games of the division-leading Shorebirds in the Low-A East North standings by defeating Fredericksburg 4-3 on Tuesday. Lynchburg is now seven games back of Delmarva. The two teams square off in a doubleheader that begins Wednesday at 5:05 p.m.