Parr adjusts to role as a leadoff hitter
Justin Parr made his point quickly Tuesday afternoon with a smile, making sure there was no mistake about it. He’s capable of hitting home runs, just not in a position to be swinging for them.
He knows what his job is, especially now when he’s finding himself in the leadoff spot more and more frequently. The Williamsport Crosscutters’ outfielder is a line-drive hitter, someone whose power numbers are more likely to come from doubles to the gap or triples down the line than it is to come from 400-foot bombs over the outfield wall.
“I can (hit home runs). I’m not saying I can’t,” Parr said following batting practice Tuesday at Bowman Field.
Parr has found a little jumpstart to his season in the last week as he’s spent more time in the leadoff spot as Williamsport manager Nelson Prada tries to take some pressure off of a struggling Gustavo Martinez. Parr has played twice as many games hitting in the nine-hole this year as he has anywhere else in the lineup.
And hitting in the leadoff spot carries a different set of challenges and a different approach. But it’s a part of the change Parr has tried to make anyway.
He’s become more selective, making sure the fastball he wants to attack is also in the best spot.
“I’m being patient, trusting my hands and not flying forward and moving my weight as much,” Parr said. “That first at-bat of the game, yeah, I’m trying to be more patient to see what the guy has. But I’ve always been an aggressive hitter. If a guy makes a mistake and puts a fastball down the plate early, I’m going to try and hit it. I’m just being more selective with the first few pitches. He really has to put it in a good spot for me to swing at it.”
Parr was 6 for 13 in his first three games in the leadoff spot since moving there more consistently about a week ago. He’s just 2 for 18 in his last five games in the leadoff spot, but has also had four walks in those games.
And for Parr, it’s not about how high his batting average is. It’s about getting on base in any way possible. He has found a way to get on base this year in a multitude of situations.
He’s got a .341 on-base percentage when leading off an inning. It improves to .370 with runners on base and two outs, .512 with runners in scoring position and .548 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
They’re the kind of positive situational numbers you’d expect from a player who was the Big Ten Player of the Year in the spring for Illinois. But the season hasn’t quite been what Parr was hoping. He entered Tuesday’s game against State College hitting .257 in 48 games for the Crosscutters this year. Twelve of his 43 hits have gone for extra bases and he’s driven in 18 runs.
But the self-professed speed player has just six stolen bases in nine attempts.
“I need to bunt more,” Parr said. “At the start of the season I wasn’t getting on much and when I did it was always behind someone, so I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to run. Since I’ve been in leadoff, I’ve had more opportunities, but it’s something I want to do more than I have.”
MORE ON MITCH: The battles for Mitch Gueller this year have been plentiful. Prior to Monday night’s start, the Crosscutters had lost his previous seven starts. Not exactly a sterling first full season for the former Phillies supplemental first-round pick.
He’s battled control issues and inconsistent velocity as he’s also tried to improve upon his secondary pitches. Friday night all those troubles seemed to shine through as he couldn’t get through five innings in a game where his offense scored 10 runs.
Three of the four innings Gueller pitched Monday night were as expected. They were solid innings in which he worked around a baserunner or two, but nothing which ever seemed threatening. And then there was the second inning.
Staked to a 7-0 lead, Gueller got two quick outs before walking back-to-back hitters and then giving up back-to-back run-scoring doubles. It was an inning which took him 31 pitches to get through and eventually cost him a shot at getting through five innings to qualify for the win.
“It was a learning experience,” Gueller said. “(Pitching coach Les Lancaster) knows me well and told me something to think about. He said I have to pitch like it’s a 1-0 game, and that’s exactly what I should have been doing, and that’s what I did the last two innings.”
Gueller admitted he coasted too much in the second inning which was why he got in trouble. He went from attacking hitters and getting outs, to nibbling around the plate and getting himself in trouble.
Although his fastball velocity was consistently 91-93, he struggled to find a second pitch to use as a put-away pitch. After striking out David Washington looking at a curveball in the first inning, Gueller, who’s been searching for control of the breaking ball all season, couldn’t seem to find that same curveball in his repertoire.
After those two quick outs in the first inning, he had six plate appearances over his final 2 1/3 innings which lasted at least six pitches.
“Maybe (Monday) it was just the lack of an outpitch. He’s got to use his breaking pitch to get people out,” Williamsport manager Nelson Prada said Monday night. “When the breaking pitch is not working, he’s basically using a fastball to try and get out a good hitting club and he’s not really fooling anybody.”
The positive in his outing was that his velocity was up around 93. Scouting reports when Gueller was drafted said he’d topped out at 95, but he hasn’t seen much of that velocity this year. In a start last week in State College, he was consistently around 89 mph according to the radio broadcast.
“(Monday) he was 88-93, but that’s him, and he was more 91-93,” Prada said. “I’ve seen a couple (charting) sheets from him where he’s been 86-88. So he definitely had more velo.”
“I think (the velocity) is there,” Gueller said. “Sometimes you want to locate it and I let up on it a little bit, but there have been times where I felt like I had it. But I feel pretty good. I’m not tired. I’m not really worried about it.”