Nelson Prada could see through the first week of the season Andrew Pullin was just trying too hard. So he sat the 19-year old second baseman for the Williamsport Crosscutters' series finale in Jamestown.
It gave Pullin a chance to regroup and settle in. Monday night against Batavia, the left-handed hitter finally looked comfortable in the batters' box. He went 3 for 4 with a game-tying home run in the second inning and a game-tying double in the sixth inning as Williamsport won its third consecutive game, this one 7-3 over Batavia.
Hitting just .210 through his first two games, Pullin drove in his first two runs of the season and hit the third home run of his career last night. Both his extra-base hits came against left-handed pitchers, and more importantly, they were hit to the opposite field.
The Crosscutters’ Andrew Pullin is congratulated by teammates after his second-inning home run Monday night at Bowman Field.
"Before I was swinging at pitches I probably shouldn't be swinging at," Pullin said. "Now I'm more patient at the plate and waiting for my pitch."
The Cutters' coaches have been on Pullin about letting the ball travel deep, using his quick hands and hitting the inside part of the baseball. Admittedly, Pullin said he'll sometimes get too pull happy, especially with a swing and power which has seen him hit balls over the scoreboard at Bowman Field during batting practice.
Last night he got a first-pitch fastball up and away and drove it out of Bowman Field to left-center field to tie the game at 2-2. In the sixth inning, after Batavia brought in left-hander James Wooster to face Pullin with two outs and runners on first and second in a 3-2 game, Pullin drove a 1-0 pitch off the wall in straightaway left field to score Dylan Cozens. Cozens started what turned out to be a three-run rally in the sixth inning with a two-out double down the third-base line.
"I felt more comfortable at the plate and like I could recognize my zone better," Pullin said. "That's something Prada and (hitting coach Lino Connell) have been working on, staying the other way to keep my bat through the zone longer. Sometimes I pull off too much and I roll over it. So staying the other way is helping out a lot."
"He's got some of the quickest hands that we have on the club," Prada said. "He has quick hands and not everyone has quick hands to hit. He's starting to understand he can use the whole field. I think he went up there thinking about it. All he did was use the opposite field and stay inside the ball."
Pullin's ability to hit has never been a question. He hit .321 in more than 40 games in the Gulf Coast League last year after being drafted out of Centralia High School in Washington. He had such a productive season he was named the Philadelphia Phillies No. 19 prospect by MLB.com following the season.
He struggled, though, out of the gate, because he was so happy to finally be out of Florida after the GCL season, instructional league and extended spring training. He said the home run in the second inning last night finally allowed him to relax and get back to what helped him hit so well a year ago.
"I was trying too hard," Pullin said. "Before I was just barely missing pitches I thought I should be hitting, and (Monday) I finally made some decent contact."
Williamsport recorded nine hits last night, the biggest of which may have been Gabriel Lino's two-run single in the sixth inning which followed Pullin's RBI double. Lino's hit gave the Crosscutters a 5-3 lead and put starting pitcher Josh Warner in line for the win.
Warner worked quickly in his second start for the Cutters, painting the corners of the plate and getting ahead of hitters. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 24 batters he faced in six innings. He allowed eight hits in six innings and three runs because five of the hits he surrendered went for extra bases.
But Warner got induced an around-the-horn double play in the fourth inning to erase a first and third, one-out situation. He got another tailor-made double play ball in the sixth with runners on first and third to escape the jam.
It was the Australian's first win since he was demoted from Lakewood to extended spring training in May. He gave up two runs in the first inning when Luis Ortiz doubled and Austin Dean tripled with one out. Dean scored on a ground ball to first. The other run he gave up game with a two-out double from Yefri Perez and an RBI single from Ortiz.
Ortiz was 3 for 3 off Warner with a pair of doubles. But the right-hander still never faced more than five batters in an inning and he threw 57 of his 82 pitches (69.5 percent) for strikes.
"I was talking to (Gabriel) Lino during the game and he was (Warner) was hanging too many pitches," Prada said. "When it happened there was already two outs, or he found a way to get a good pitch for a double play. He makes pitches at the right time."
Tyler Buckley and Manny Martinez combined for three hitless innings of relief last night to preserve the win. The three Cutters' pitchers combined to throw first-pitch strikes to 25 of 33 batters last night.
And during the Cutters' three-game winning streak, the bullpen has combined for 10 innings pitched, just five hits and two runs allowed.
"Guys are starting to get the ball where they want," Prada said. "As the season goes on, they're going to know the hitters and they're going to throw their fastballs more because we have good arms. We got a lot of guys that throw more than 90. Once again, if the pitchers are doing their job, we're going to have a chance to win."