Making the game fun again was the top goal for Williamsport catcher Sean McHugh on Thursday night. This season has been a grind for him, coming into the game as the only Crosscutter position player without a hit.
So he wanted to simplify things, making the game fun, thinking back through the middle with each at-bat. It led to a rocket through the box for his first professional hit in a four-run third inning before closing out the night with two more hits.
McHugh's three hits an an RBI helped Williamsport to its fifth consecutive win, 5-2, over Vermont at Bowman Field. The Cutters pounded out 10 hits to back the two-run, six-inning pitching effort of Mitch Gueller who improved to 3-1 this year, matching his win total from last season.
"It's been on my mind to get my first hit. It's hard when you're not getting as many opportunities as you hoped for," McHugh said. "It's hard to get in a groove when you're not seeing live pitching. But I told myself today to relax, be a kid again."
Last night was just the fifth start of the season for McHugh, an 18th-round pick out of Purdue, and he saw just five pitches in his three at-bats. He smoked a single back through the middle in the third inning, later scoring on Jiandido Tromp's three-run home run.
He then singled on a broken bat flare to left-center in the fifth, and hit flared an RBI single to right in the seventh. It was his second RBI of the season.
"I know my swing has been long the first few games," McHugh said. "I've been trying to do too much to get off the schneid and get that first hit. I've been working with (hitting coach Eddie Dennis) and just built more confidence the last few weeks and it worked out well tonight.
McHugh was one of six Williamsport players to record a hit last night, and one of eight to reach base. The Cutters have recorded at least eight hits in each of the five games during the winning streak, and they've recorded double digit hits in the last four games.
After going down 2-0 in the top of the third last night, Jan Hernandez led off the bottom half with a towering home run to left field. Hernandez was just 2 for 20 over his last 10 games coming in and hadn't had an extra base hit since homering against State College on June 28.
McHugh followed with his first hit, and two batters later Cord Sandberg sneaked a single into right field. Tromp hit the first pitch he saw from Koby Guana, a hanging breaking ball, over the left-center field wall for a three-run home run to make it 4-2 Williamsport.
It was Tromp's seventh home run of the season, the third-highest total in the New York-Penn League behind only State College's Rowan Wick (11) and Hudson Valley's Hunter Lockwood (8).
"I was just getting on base because I know when you turn the lineup over to Cord, Tromp, (Aaron) Brown and (Derek) Campbell, we'll be OK," McHugh said. "If I'm leading off an inning and you get it to Campbell, that's a big inning. When you have those guys behind you to knock you in, I'm just trying to get on base any way I can."
Gueller recorded his second consecutive quality start, gutting through six innings allowing just two runs (one earned). The former supplemental first round pick has allowed just two earned runs over his last three starts, including a four-hit shutout in his last outing. He had never allowed as few as two earned runs over any three-start span in his career.
Last night he succeeded despite struggling to command his fastball to get ahead of Lake Monster hitters and his change-up not working very well. He allowed five baserunners to reach in the top of the third inning, allowing a run to score when Dayton Alexander laid down a perfect two-out bunt for a hit to score Jose Brizuela.
Two batters later a run scored on a fielding error by Hernandez, but Gueller minimized the damage by stranding the bases loaded with a fly ball to center field.
"Gradually, you get more confidence because you keep getting out of situations like that," Cutters manager Shawn Williams said. "Mitch threw really well again. I thought he threw better than his last start. He was making pitches and his slider is coming around big time. He's a lot of fun to watch right now."
Gueller's other five innings were relatively uneventful. He worked a perfect first and second inning, got out of the fourth on a 5-4-3 double play, and stranded a two-out double in the fifth inning. He wasn't as crisp as he was in last week's shutout of Auburn, but he found a way to give his offense a chance to win the game.
"I was a couple pitches away from having a really good outing and keeping my pitch count low," Gueller said. "When you have adversity is when you learn about yourself as a pitcher. It's good for me to struggle and still get a decent result."