Cutters win fifth consecutive game

The pass through the baseball was nice and easy. There was no overexertion, no trying to lift the ball in the air. Just a smooth, easy pass through the baseball.

And when Dylan Cozens connected in the third inning Friday night, the ball jumped off his bat. The former second-round draft pick hit his first home run for Williamsport last night, a two-run shot in the third inning which sparked a four-run frame as the Crosscutters won their fifth consecutive game, 10-5, over Mahoning Valley at Bowman Field.

It’s an easy swing Cozens learned quickly he was going to need last year during 50 games in the Gulf Coast League.

“Having a big, heavy swing, you don’t make a lot of contact, so I finally got rid of that,” Cozens said. “I figured I’m strong enough to hit it out with a short, compact swing. It’s one of the biggest transitions to pro ball.”

His home run in the third – one of two in the inning for the Cutters – was exactly what he wanted his swing to be. The natural strength in his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame shined as the ball went out in right-center field on a line. It was his first home run of the year after hitting five in the GCL last summer.

It was just the second extra-base hit of the season for Cozens, an Arizona native. He was hitting just .192 coming into Friday night’s game, but had posted a .382 on-base percentage. He’s shown great plate discipline, taking eight walks and striking out just four times, but he had yet to see the discipline transfer to hits.

He showed a flash of starting to get it earlier this week against Batavia when he one-hopped the center field wall with a frozen rope for a double. Last night, was another flash with his two-run home run which gave Williamsport a 5-1 lead over Mahoning Valley.

“I’ve been hitting it pretty good lately, just not a whole lot is falling for me. I just have to stick with it and sooner or later they’ll fall,” Cozens said. “I’m seeing it pretty good right now. I just feel like they’re not giving me a whole lot to hit. I’m sure it’s going to turn around soon.”

Part of the change has come in his preparation during batting practice. He doesn’t stand in the batters’ box pulling every ball as far as he can to the right side of the field. He uses that smooth pass through the ball to hit line drives from gap to gap.

Oh sure, he’ll occasionally hit a moonshot off of or over the scoreboard at Bowman Field, but those are few and far between. Cozens learned in one summer of pro ball that swinging from the heels during BP doesn’t translate into home runs during games. In fact, it usually translates to strikeouts and less consistent contact.

“I talk to our coordinators and they worry about him hitting one-something. But it’s not really one-something,” Crosscutters manager Nelson Prada said. “Every game he takes a walk and he hits a ball hard. He’s going to start to hit at some point. That’s why I’m hitting him third and I’m fine with him hitting third because he’s one of our best hitters. As soon as he takes off, it’s going to be more runs for us.”

More runs for this Williamsport offense is a scary idea for the rest of the New York-Penn League. Last night was the fifth consecutive game the Cutters have scored at least five runs, and the fourth time in five games they’ve scored at least seven.

Williamsport’s 61 runs scored are the third-most in the league. Last night the Cutters recorded 11 hits. Gabriel Lino hit his second home run of the season three batters after Cozens hit his in the third inning.

Second-round draft pick Andrew Knapp, still in the designated hitter role because of a sore elbow, was 2 for 3 last night with an RBI. Logan Pierce was 2 for 4 with an RBI from the seven hole, and Malquin Canelo, who was recently added to the roster after Angelo Mora was promoted to Lakewood, was 2 for 4 with two runs scored from the eight hole.

And the Williamsport offensive onslaught has come despite Cozens now hitting .219, and Andrew Pullin, one of the team’s best hitters in extended spring, now hitting .175.

“From the first day I said we might be able to hit,” Prada said. “When we hit (Justin) Parr ninth and Pierce seventh, it’s because we have good hitters at the top of the lineup.”

“We’re getting a ton of at-bats every game and everyone is a part of it,” Cozens said. “Everyone gets hyped up when a couple people start getting hits, and everybody jumps on the train to start getting hits.”

The offense was more than enough to back starting pitcher Drew Anderson who allowed seven hits and four runs (three earned) in five innings. It was a far cry from Anderson’s last start when he threw six no-hit innings and the Cutters pitching staff took a no-hitter 8 2/3 innings before being broken up.

But the right-hander battled, stranding at least one runner on base in three of his five innings. He gave up a single run in the first inning but stranded a runner at third to end the inning. He allowed three runs in the fifth, all with no outs, but got a great 3-6-3 double play from Pierce and Canelo to wiggle out of the jam.

He threw 48 of his 85 pitches for strikes and got eight ground-ball outs.

Felix Santos, Chris Burgess and Robert Marcello combined to allow just one run over the final four innings out of the bullpen. The three struck out seven in those four innings.

“We’re very confident in the bullpen,” Cozens said. “We have a lot of good pitchers on this team and everyone is doing a good job right now. I feel like that’s the reason we’re winning games.”