Andy Tracy sat behind his desk looking down at the scorecard he keeps for every game. He pursed his lips together and shrugged his shoulders.
"I know we lost," the first-year manager of the Williamsport Crosscutters said. "But I thought we played a pretty good game."
It'd be hard to argue, even after the Cutters lost for the 11th time in their last 15 games, this time 4-2 to Tri-City. Williamsport got a well-pitched game from starter Jordan Guth and relievers Andre Kinder and Jeb Stefan. The offense even had eight hits.
The problem was twice in the first four innings the Cutters left runners stranded on second and third, and only once did the offense manage to piece together more than one hit in an inning. On a night where the New York-Penn League's third-worst offense put together one of its better-pitched games, the league's second-best offense scored just two runs.
"It seems like that's what happens with us," Cutters catcher Logan Moore said. "When the pitchers do well, we don't come out swinging it as well as we need to. It's tough to win a game when you only score two. The pitchers did all we could ask them to."
Chris Serritella continued his torrid hitting pace, going 2 for 4 with a double. It was his seventh consecutive game with an extra-base hit, and the college All-American is hitting .422 over his last 11 games. Larry Greene Jr. had two more hits to raise his average to .304, and Roman Quinn was 3 for 5.
But the Cutters, as a team, came up empty when needed most Wednesday night in the start of a six-game homestand. They were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners in scoring position.
"That's huge, especially when we're struggling like this," said Serritella, who's hitting a team-best .330. "Someone has to step up and just put the ball in play. You just have to fight and and I think when we start doing that, things will fall our way."
Williamsport ran into a pair of pitchers - Joe Bircher and Jeremiah Meiners - who pitched backwards when they got themselves into jams. They'd get into hitters' counts only to start throwing good breaking balls both in and out of the strikezone, and an occasional change-up.
Serritella faced Bircher, Tri-City's starting pitcher, during college and he had an idea of how Bircher would pitch to the lefties. But even with an idea of how they were going to be pitched, the Cutters struggled to make the adjustment.
In the second inning with runners on second and third and one out, Tyler Greene struck out on a breaking ball after a great battle in an eight-pitch at-bat. Quinn followed with a strikeout on a breaking ball in an eight-pitch at-bat.
With runners again on second and third with two outs in the fourth, Bircher got Brian Pointer swinging at a 3-2 breaking ball to end the game.
"That was a good case of some older pitchers throwing against some younger kids and in hitters' counts throwing some off-speed pitches," Tracy said. "A good breaking ball gets a lot of people out, even at the upper levels. There's a point where if you're 2-0 or 3-1 and you're getting breaking balls, it's tough to hit sometimes, especially at this level if they're throwing them for strikes."
"It's tough to adjust to because you can't sit on (a breaking ball) because you don't want to get beat with a fastball," Moore said. "They did their job and threw their off-speed pitches for strikes."
Guth went six innings for the first time in his professional career last night, throwing two brilliant innings to start his outing. He ran into trouble in the third, fourth and fifth innings when he started leaving a few pitches up in the zone. Ryan Dineen led off the third inning with a solo home run to left field on a 1-0 fastball up in the zone.
The ValleyCats started the fourth inning with three consecutive hits, including a double from Dan Gulbransen. Tyler Heineman singled in Gulbransen, and Jesse Wierzbicki scored on a double play ball off the bat of Jobduan Morales. Dineen doubled to lead off the fifth on another pitch up, and scored on Joe Sciafani's single to left field.
"He was pitching really well," Moore said of Guth. "He really was a couple pitches from throwing a shutout, basically. A couple balls got up and one went out of the yard. Overall he did real well."
"We, as a staff, hope other pitchers watch the pitchers that work off their fastball like Jordan did and see how that dictates the game," Tracy said. "Next thing you know you're in the fifth or sixth inning as a starter because you're working off your fastball."