Hitting slump presents a teaching opportunity

Lino Connell said it’s a good thing the Williamsport offense is in a slump.

That’s right, the Crosscutters’ hitting coach said it’s a good thing the team’s offense is slumping. There’s solid logic behind the thought though.

“That makes it easy for me to teach and they can really learn about hitting,” Connell said Tuesday following batting practice at Bowman Field.

Williamsport is in a genuine slump which has swept through the entire offense, not just a player or two. It’s been budding since the Cutters’ July 16 off day, their first off day of the season.

In the 12 subsequent games since the off day, Williamsport is just 5-7. The four-game losing streak the team carried into Tuesday’s series opener against Brooklyn brought the Cutters back to .500 for the first time since June 24.

But it hasn’t been a pitching problem. Williamsport’s team ERA has consistently fallen since a rough first couple weeks of the season.

“Right now we’re not hitting like we can,” Justin Parr said following a two-game sweep at the hands of Jamestown on Saturday. “We’ve shown in the past we’re a good hitting ballclub. Right now the baseball just is not going our way and that’s how it is.”

Manager Nelson Prada sensed the struggle following the two losses to Pinckney Division-leading Jamestown last week, and forced the team to take the day off Sunday. The Cutters didn’t hit until the game at Mahoning Valley started at 5 p.m.

For the first time this season, the slump has hit just about everyone in the lineup. Only two players are hitting .300 or better over the last 10 games, Parr and right fielder Dylan Cozens, and Parr has played in just five of the last 10 games as he splits time with Jiandido Tromp and Samuel Hiciano in the outfield.

“We know it’s going to happen,” Connell said. “We know it’s a couple guys’ first year in professional baseball, and that’s the way baseball is. It’s the way hitting is. You’re going to have downs and ups all the time and now is one of those downs.”

The goal for Connell through a time like this is to simplify the process. He wants to give players on clear focus to take with them when they go to the plate. The message isn’t much different than what he’s been preaching all season as the team’s hitting coach.

He wants them focused on looking for fastballs and putting it in play when they get it.

“We don’t ask for a lot of stuff,” Connell said. “Just look for their pitches and be ready to hit.”

What Connell can go back to is the team has had plenty of success this season before this rough stretch has hit. Before averaging just 3.08 runs per game during the last 12 games, Williamsport was averaging 4.8 runs over its previous 29 games.

It was a big part of the reason the offense kept telling the pitching staff as it struggled through the first couple weeks the team could still win if the pitching would hold opponents to 4 runs or so per game.

The offense always had a strong foundation of hitting to rely on. First it was Zach Green was got off to a torrid pace in June, hitting .292 with four home runs and 13 RBIs. Then it was Gustavo Martinez who was the spark-plug at the top of the lineup with a batting average north of .300. Then it was Gabriel Lino who was in the top 10 in the league in hitting at above .320.

But the Cutters don’t have that one person who has sparked the offense in recent weeks. Connell said as much as offense is contagious in a good way, it can also work with the team going into a slump.

“When the team hitting wise is going down, four out of six guys are struggling, I guarantee you,” Connell said. “It always happens. It only takes two or three guys to start hitting to get everyone to start hitting again.”

“That would help right now for that one person to catch fire just to get us going a bit,” Parr said last week. “But at the same time, we have a bunch of guys who can contribute every game.”

Despite all the struggles, the Cutters remain one of three teams in the New York-Penn League with a team batting average at .250 or better. Jamestown leads the league with a .290 batting average, State College is second at .276 and the Crosscutters are third at .250.

It’s what Connell is pointing to as a positive, that even as the team struggles, it’s still one of the better hitting teams in the league.

“I think we’ve had a bad couple of series that we didn’t get it together,” Connell said. “But it’s good to know we’re still third in hitting. Me, as a hitting coach, I can tell the guys that to give them more confidence. They already have done things right, so they can do it again.”