A roller coaster season did not stop Braden Shipley’s pursuit of Reno Aces’ history.
The right-handed pitcher went through role changes, nagging injuries and tough stretches throughout the year. But in the end, Shipley came out of it on top.
He etched his name in the record books on Aug. 10 with his 25th career win against the Oklahoma City Dodgers, passing Charles Brewer for the most in franchise history.
“It’s great to be in the books for something,” he said. “I knew I was close at the beginning of the year and I strived to get it accomplished. … It was a goal of mine this season.”
Shipley, 27, has become a familiar face in downtown Reno. He suited up for the Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team from 2011-13, just over a mile away from Greater Nevada Field.
Following a breakout junior season, Shipley became the highest-draftee in Nevada history when the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him 15th overall in the 2013 MLB Draft.
Shipley has spent four seasons with Triple-A Reno. In 94 career games, he’s pitched 374.2 innings and racked up 277 strikeouts. Both figures rank second in franchise history behind Brewer.
His record-breaking win with the Aces was a full-circle moment.
“To be able to break the record it in a town that I’m familiar with is pretty special to me,” he said. “Playing college ball here and coming back to do the same thing is great.”
Shipley’s historic 2019 campaign didn’t come without its hurdles. Constant struggles in the starting rotation forced him to transition to the bullpen as a mid-inning reliever. He had 10 appearances out of the bullpen to start the year, putting his career wins record in jeopardy.
“Bouncing between the bullpen and starting, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to accomplish (the record),” he said. “I was fortunate enough to pick up a couple wins and get my confidence back.
“When I first got moved to the bullpen it felt a bit different. It was a struggle in the beginning for me. … But I felt comfortable doing it as the season went along.”
When May rolled around, Shipley earned a second chance as a starter. The organization’s young arms in Taylor Clarke and Jon Duplantier were called-up to Arizona, leaving holes in the rotation.
Shipley helped fill the void. The right-hander started 12-straight games, tossing six outings of five or more innings. He struck out a season-high eight batters against the Albuquerque Isotopes on May 29.
Just as Shipley found his groove on the mound, another obstacle came in the way. He suffered an upper-body injury when he took a come-backer to the chest on July 7 against the Sacramento River Cats.
He was placed on the seven-day injured list and didn’t return until Aug. 2. To make matters worse, he was sent back to the bullpen.
“It kind of derailed my season,” he said. “I didn’t let it affect me. When I got back, I was asked to move back to the bullpen and I took it without hesitation. It was important for me to do whatever the team needs me to do.”
Shipley’s transition back to reliever has provided stability for Reno’s pitching staff. He’s thrown three-straight shutout outings as the Aces gear up for a late playoff push.
“It’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for me,” he said. “I’ve been going back and forth just trying to see what works for me. … I just learned to go out there and trust my stuff. I just try not to do too much and attack the zone and it’s been working for me.”
Shipley has big-league experience, totaling 14 starts and 12 bullpen appearances for the Dbacks. A return to Arizona may be in the cards when MLB rosters expand to 40 active players in September. (Starting in 2020, MLB rosters will be reduced to 28 after Sept. 1.)
For now, his flexibility and selflessness in Reno has rubbed off on the team’s younger prospects.
“He’s a guy that gives it his all,” Aces pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru said earlier this season. “Even if he doesn’t have his best stuff, he will put in the extra effort to improve. That means a lot to the younger guys on this team.”
No matter what inning Shipley toes the rubber, his love for the diamond stays the same.
“It’s taught me to be mentally strong more than anything else,” he said earlier this season. “It’s all about having fun playing the game, and that’s helped me get to this point.”
River Cats blast five home runs in win over Aces
Sacramento topped Reno 17-7 on Friday night at Greater Nevada Field with the help of the long ball.
The River Cats launched five homers in the win. Three home runs and five RBIs came off the bat of outfielder Jaylin Davis.
Davis took Aces starting pitcher Matt Koch deep in the first three innings to give Sacramento an early advantage.
Reno trimmed the deficit to one run in the eighth, but Chris Shaw’s two-run blast kicked-off a five-run eighth inning to pad the River Cats’ lead. Abiatal Avelino joined the party in the ninth with a three-run shot over the Family Berm in right field.
The four-game series is tied at 1-1. Reno is seven games behind Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division.
The Aces had 13 hits. Kevin Cron clubbed his league-leading 37th home run over the batter’s eye in center field. Carlos Asuaje was 1-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs. Domingo Leyba was 2-for-5 with an RBI. Tim Locastro added two hits in his return to Triple-A Reno.
Koch was tagged with his eighth loss. He gave up seven runs on 11 hits and one walk in five innings. Robby Scott and Marc Rzepczynski each pitched one scoreless inning in relief.
Utility player Josh Prince went 1-for-1 with an RBI double. In his first pitching appearance, he recorded the final out in the top of the ninth.
Sacramento led 6-4 after three innings of play. The River Cats plated on run in the fourth. Reno answered with two runs in the sixth. Sacramento poured it on with five runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
The Aces scored one run in the bottom of the ninth, but Sacramento’s rally was too much to handle.
Notes: The Aces are 25-for-42 on save opportunities this season. … Ildemaro Vargas has 15 multi-hit games with Reno. … Reno is hitting a combined .293 in 19 games played on Friday. … Joey Krehbiel appeared in his 45th game last night for the Aces. He had a team-high 48 appearances last season. … Jaylin Davis has four home runs against Reno this season.
On Deck: Reno, 58-65, faces Sacramento for the third game of the four-game series at 7:05 p.m. at Greater Nevada Field. Starting pitchers for the contest have not been announced.