By MITCH RUPERT
If there's a rock bottom for the Williamsport Crosscutters' offense, the last nine days might have been it.
Williamsport shortstop Emmanuel Marrero grabs a grounder for a throw to first during Friday night’s game against Connecticut at Bowman Field.
The Philly Phanatic gives Ali Day of Williamsport a kiss during Friday nights Williamsport Crosscutters game at Bowman Field.
Capped with another dreary performance in Friday night's 5-1 loss to Connecticut, the last nine days have frustrating at best, and infuriating at worst, for a team which at one point was the best hitting team in the New York-Penn League.
That's not the case in recent days, though. Last night was another example of how this once high-powered offense has deteriorated in recent weeks as the Cutters recorded just three hits and scored one run or fewer for the fifth time in the last eight games.
"It's just one of those things every team goes through," Williamsport manager Shawn Williams said. "It's a stretch where guys are trying too hard. It happens."
It's happened to an entire roster since the Cutters began a series with Mahoning Valley just over a week ago. The Cutters felt to 2-7 in their last nine games with last night's loss, scoring an average of 2.2 runs per game after Connecticut's Fernando Perez and Gabe Hemmer combined on a three-hitter at Bowman Field.
Entering last night's game, 10 of the 15 position players on the active roster were hitting under .200 over the last 10 games. Things didn't get better against Perez who was effective and efficient in tossing seven stellar innings. His only hiccup was surrendering a leadoff triple to Aaron Brown in the seventh. Brown then scored when Rhys Hoskins' roller up the third-base line hit the bag and deflected away from third baseman Steven Fuentes.
Perez threw 11 or fewer pitches in five of his seven innings against an aggressive-swinging Cutters team. Hemmer followed with two innings of just nine pitches to close out the game.
"It's hard to work counts when you're not getting hits because you press to try and get hits," Cutters left fielder Matt Shortall said after a 1 for 3 night. "We've been pressing in certain situations to get hits and not just hit the ball hard. We need to simplify our mindset and hit the fastball because we're missing fastballs. It's something that we're going to have to buy in to."
"You see your teammates struggling and you're trying to pick them up and trying to do more instead of doing what you normally do," Williams said. "Once you get back to each individual guy have good at-bats, moving guys, getting on base and driving them in - those simple things - is when you start to see some success."
The offense wasn't able to back another strong outing from Ricardo Pinto who didn't have his best stuff, but was able to grind through five good innings. The 20-year old Venezuelan struggled to command the strike zone, but flashed a plus change-up in big spots, including striking out clean-up hitter Michael Gerber twice with runners on second and third.
The only blemish on Pinto's record was a two-run home run surrendered to catcher Tim Remes who jumped all over a pitch up in the zone for his first home run of the season. Even though he was constantly working out of trouble, Pinto kept the Cutters in the game, stranding five runners on base.
"He's the ultimate competitor. He wants to be perfect out there every time," Williams said. "Maybe he didn't have his best stuff, but they get guys in scoring position and he turned it up and left those guys there and gave us a chance. That's all you can ask for."
The loss dropped Williamsport to 22-26, and the three-game sweep at the hand of Connecticut left the Cutters four games behind the Tigers in the New York-Penn League's Wild Card race with just 28 games left.
It's not something Williams or the team is concerned about at this point. They're convinced that when things get turned around offensively, their record will take care of itself.
"The game will balance you out and completely humble you," Shortall said. "It's an every day grind against guys who have good stuff. It's a matter of making the game simple and making the game fun."