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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Lansing’s Justin Jackson, left, chases the Wizards’ Drew Cumberland back to first base during a rundown Thursday at Memorial Stadium.
Wizards 7, Lansing 1

Wizards open season with a bang

Despite seeing his team open the season in sparkling fashion with a 7-1 victory, Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo made sure to remind everyone that this was “only one game.”

But what a way to start a season.

The Wizards got stellar pitching, 11 hits and used their speed to generate runs to beat Lansing on Thursday in the final opener at Memorial Stadium.

Starter Jeremy Hefner allowed three hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out five in five innings. Allen Harrington struck out six, allowed three hits and one run in four innings for the save.

The dual-starter approach is a tweak to the rotation this season. It allows Dascenzo to take advantage of the depth – he said he has eight pitchers capable of being in the rotation – and keep guys rested. He’s pairing up pitchers and limiting their pitch counts.

The approach got great results Thursday.

Hepner allowed two hits in the first inning, but he struck out the last two batters to strand runners on second and third. He used good command of his fastball and mixed in a change-up to allow only one hit thereafter. Add that to Harrington’s “relief” appearance, and Dascenzo was pleased.

“There will be days when one of the guys won’t be able to get through the second inning, and we’ll have to go to our bullpen and work it that way. But it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.

Hepner was able to relax because the Wizards’ bats were hot from the start.

The fourth batter of the game for the Wizards, designated hitter Angel Mercado, ripped a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall for a two-run home run in the first inning.

Mercado fouled off multiple pitches and broke his bat during the at-bat.

“I got a pretty good change-up, and I hit it pretty good,” he said.

The offensive production didn’t stop there, because Fort Wayne was aggressive on the bases. The Wizards didn’t steal or use the hit-and-run often last season, but they have the players to do that this season. So expect to see more runs generated by speed, like Thursday’s four-run fifth that featured three runs scored from second on singles.

“We have a ridiculous amount of speed on the team,” said Wizards second baseman Lance Zawadzki, who went 2 for 4 with an RBI. “One through nine almost, there’s no guys who are slow. Anyone can take a base pretty much at any time. It’s nice to have Dougie, who was a big speed guy when he played, because he loves that, and he’s given the green light to a lot of us who can run.

“It puts so much pressure on the defense. All of a sudden, pitchers forget they’re making pitches and they’re just worrying about the runner. We’ll be looking forward to doing that all year.”