Andrew Knapp found an extra focus in the late innings Sunday night for the Williamsport Crosscutters. Usually in an 8-0 game he's trying to find ways to help his pitchers get outs as quickly possible.
This was different, though. He wasn't just trying to help close out a lopsided game late in the New York-Penn League season. He was trying to make sure the Crosscutters closed out a no-hitter.
He already knew the disappointment of missing out on a professional no-hitter, watching from the dugout as the Cutters' designated hitter when Rob Marcello lost a potential no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning on June 23. He wasn't letting this one slip away as he worked with pitchers Mark Meadors and Manny Martinez over the final four innings Sunday night.
So his focus intensified. Every pitch he called had a purpose. He tried to get each pitcher throwing his best pitch in the best possible scenario.
If starter Yacksel Rios and reliever Meadors and Martinez were the carpenters who built Sunday's no-hitter against Mahoning Valley, Knapp was the architect. The Phillies' second-round draft pick in June found a way to take three pitchers Sunday night, find their particular strengths for that day, and turn it into just the second no-hitter in Williamsport Crosscutters' history.
"You have control over every pitch that's thrown, you're calling the game," Knapp said. "We were working back and forth. I was trying to call their best pitch at the best time and sometime they shook and it worked out."
Make no mistake, though, Knapp was in complete control. He was relying on his past experiences - even though he's only been catching full time for a couple weeks - to get to the pitches which best worked for each of the three pitchers.
When it got to crunch time to try and close out the Cutters' first no-hitter since 2006, Knapp had Meadors using his sinker in any count. When Martinez came in to close out the game in the ninth inning, Knapp went right to the slider because it's what the two had utilized last time he worked.
Although it was an adjustment for Knapp to try and keep the no-hitter intact while transitioning between three pitchers, he said it was probably more difficult for the Mahoning Valley offense to make the adjustment.
The three pitchers are so different in terms of velocity, repertoire and arm angle that they never got similar looks. But the approaches were similar from each of the pitchers.
"We did a real good job of pitching inside, and when you command the inside part of the plate, it opens up your off-speed," Knapp said. "We were throwing (off-speed) late and it was working. I think it was good that everyone came out and had their best stuff. It was pretty cool."
Knapp's job in the ninth was exponentially tougher than it was the first eight innings. He was dealing with a pitcher who he hadn't gotten in rhythm with yet that night, and Martinez was debuting a new arm slot with his pitching. Although it was an arm slot he had been working on for a couple weeks, it was the first time he had used it in a game.
Martinez, who throws a mid-90s fastball and a hard-biting slider, has ditched his extreme three-quarters arm slot - think Roy Halladay - for a slot just south of sidearm. It's not quite low enough to be considered submarine style - no Chad Bradford comparisons here - but it's low enough.
Knapp went back to what he knew. And what he knew was Martinez was going to be throwing in the low to mid-90s even from his new arm slot and the slider was as good as it's been all year. It was as easy an inning as Knapp had all night. Martinez was filthy and he closed out just one more piece of baseball lore to go along with 87-year old Bowman Field.
"It proves, even late in the season like this when guys are tired, they the pitchers are getting their work in and working hard every day," Knapp said. "They're relying on their stuff and not trying to do too much. Because when you get tired, it's easy to go out there and try to just throw it as hard as you can and start missing spots. They showed their discipline."