Prada wants cleaner defense

It was the slightest of bobbles, nothing out of the ordinary which isn’t seen daily in a baseball game. Sam Dove was ranging to his left at second base in the ninth inning and couldn’t cleanly come up with the baseball.

Brooklyn’s Patrick Biondi beat Dove’s throw to first base. One batter later, Biondi was standing at third base, the potential tying run in a 1-0 game with the Cyclones third and fourth hitters due up to face Williamsport’s Tyler Buckley. Biondi never crossed home plate. Buckley made sure of it by striking out L.J. Mazzilli and Jared King to end the game.

But the play from Dove raised a key point with Williamsport manager Nelson Prada after the game. It was a point he spent a good portion of a 15-minute interview hammering home.

The bobble from Dove inevitably didn’t hurt the Cutters’ chances to win the game, but it definitely put the team in a less-than-advantageous position clinging to a one-run lead and facing the top of Brookyln’s lineup.

“We should make that play. (Monday) I talked to the players before the game and I said the difference between .500 clubs and winning clubs is defense,” Prada said. “You can be a winning club just by making the plays.”

The first-year skipper of the Crosscutters made a very valid point. Just take a look at the recent funk Williamsport has been wading through. The Cutters are 6-7 in their last 13 games entering Wednesday’s game with the Cyclones. And in their six wins during the stretch since their first off day of the season, Williamsport had committed just one error. In the seven losses, it had committed 13.

In those seven losses includes a five-error performance on Sunday at Mahoning Valley in which the Scrappers overcame a five-run deficit in the eighth inning to come back and win on a walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth inning.

This 13-game stretch has seen Williamsport fall from as few as game behind Jamestown in the Pinckney Division to six games back. The Crosscutters have also fallen to two games behind in the Wild Card standings behind Lowell, a team it split a pair of games with two weeks ago.

Prada pointed to last week’s two-game series against Jamestown as the perfect example of what effect defense has on the game. In the opener, Williamsport let a ball fall between right fielder Dylan Cozens and center fielder Gustavo Martinez because of some miscommunication to lead off an inning. That baserunner eventually scored. Two innings later, Jairo Cardozo misplayed a potential double play ball which would have limited the Jammers to just one run in the inning.

Williamsport lost the game, 4-3.

The next night Logan Pierce was robbed on a brilliant leaping catch in left field, and the next batter, Dove, was robbed on a sliding stop at third base. It killed a Cutters rally in the third inning before it could ever get started.

The Crosscutters were held to just three hits that night and lost, 3-0.

“I think we need to go back to being a club who makes the plays,” Prada said. “We’re going to start working a little more on defense. We might take more ground balls. We might start working with the defense a little earlier. For me, you have to work on your weaknesses.”

Prada was not happy despite Williamsport’s 1-0 win Tuesday night because the offense, which has seen its collective batting average fall from around .270 to .249. The Crosscutters struck out 12 times Tuesday and was 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position. But those are things Prada felt will eventually come back to normal.

The Cutters have shown through the first half of the season the offense is capable of carrying the team to a big season. But now as the pitching staff continues to reach the same heights as the offense did early in the season Tuesday was the first shutout of the year for the staff good defensive play is becoming exponentially more important.

There are only two teams in the New York-Penn League with fewer strikeouts than the Williamsport pitching staff’s 288. So it’s a pitching staff which pitches to contact and relies on the defense to make the most basic of plays, much like the ball hit to Dove in the ninth inning Tuesday.

“If we have consistency to making plays, we can change from a .500 team to a winning team,” said Prada, whose Cutters entered Wednesday’s game with a 21-20 record. “The season is not that long, so you have to see what you need to do at particular times. Right now I think if we can catch the ball and we can pitch like we’re pitching now, we might only win 2-1 or we might win 3-2.

“Maybe we’re 5-5 in our last 10 games and we’re battling because we pitch well. But of those five games we lost, we lose two or three because we don’t catch the ball. I can count three of the last 10 games that we hit and pitch enough to win the games. That’s enough to put us in first place in the wild card and two games out of first place (in the division).”

COMING BACK: Prada said Tuesday night he expects two of the Cutters’ injured regulars to return during the homestand. Second-round draft pick Andrew Knapp, who hasn’t caught since June 20, could be ready to catch by Friday. Prada said he may catch five innings in the series opener against Staten Island.

Knapp has been relegated to a designated hitter role since he was diagnosed with a strained tendon in his right elbow. The injury came from overuse and was something Knapp said he had dealt with during the season at Cal but it flared up again with the extensive work which comes with pro ball. Knapp was hitting .243 coming into Wednesday’s game.

Also, second baseman Andrew Pullin could return as early as Sunday, Prada said. Pullin rolled his ankle last week during infield drills when he stepped on a baseball.

Pullin said late last week he was feeling much better and didn’t expect to be out much more than a week. He had taken full batting practice and defensive drills since the team returned to Bowman Field.