Garcia’s solid in victory with Cutters

Julian Garcia looked toward catcher Rodolfo Duran and could only laugh. A smile strewn about his face, the Williamsport Crosscutters pitcher waved off his catcher after catching a rocket of a line drive headed for his face.

There weren’t many hold-your-breath moments in Garcia’s start Sunday in the opener of a three-game series against West Virginia, but that missile through the box from Brett Pope was surely one of them. But like nearly every other batter who stepped to the plate against Garcia last night, Pope could only walk back to the third-base dugout, another victim of a sterling outing by the 22-year-old Garcia.

Garcia got back to form after two rough starts last night, pitching five hitless innings and striking out a career-high 11 as the Cutters opened a key midseason series with a 4-1 win over the Black Bears. Garcia, David Parkinson and Connor Brogdon combined on a two-hitter, and both hits came off the bat of West Virginia catcher Deon Stafford, a Harrisburg native and Lower Dauphin graduate. The rest of the Black Bears lineup was a combined 0 for 27 against those three pitchers.

They combined for 16 strikeouts and Brogdon picked up his first professional save since being drafted in the 10th round out of Lewis-Clark State.

“I think I needed it more as a wake-up call,” said Garcia, who improved to 3-2. “Bear down and go with what you know and how you throw.”

After allowing eight hits and nine earned runs in just six innings over his last two starts, Garcia got back to the form which saw him allow just three runs in his first four starts of the season, including two scoreless outings. Last night his fastball was firm with late life, and more importantly it hit Duran in the glove more times than not.

He coupled it with the curveball which he manipulated to either drop in the zone or bury in the dirt. That and an improved slider allowed Garcia to induce 15 swings-and-miss in his five innings. Eight of his 11 strikeouts were swinging.

It was a vastly different performance to his last two outings when he was constantly up in the zone with his fastball. Garcia worked between starts with pitching coach Hector Berrios on getting back on top of the baseball and getting that good downward plane to get the ball to the bottom of the strike zone. He threw 56 of his 88 pitches (63 percent) for strikes, and with the exception of a 28-pitch fourth inning, was efficient in how he worked.

He went to an 0-2 count on 8 of the 20 batters he faced, striking out six of them. He reached a new career high when he struck out Chris Sharpe for the second out of the fifth inning, but added one more to end the frame for his 11th. He pounded his right hand into his glove as he bounded off the mound.

“My curveball is my out pitch, but the only way to get there is to command the fastball,” Garcia said. “Not allowing any hits, that’s the big thing. If you make your pitches, strikeouts are going to come. But I think the no hits is the biggest thing. It keeps guys off the basepaths and it makes things easier for you.”

“When his fastball has the little extra life and he gets it down in the zone –and obviously if he locates it in and out — it makes him better,” Cutters manager Pat Borders said. “What I saw (Sunday) was he had more late life to get some swings and misses, especially early.”

West Virginia didn’t get its first hit until Stafford led off the sixth inning with a double to the corner to cap an eight-pitch at-bat against Parkinson. But he never got past third base as Parkinson picked up the first two of his four strikeouts and induced a routine ground ball to second base to end the inning.

Stafford spoiled the shutout with a solo home run, his fourth of the season, into the West Virginia bullpen with two outs in the eighth inning. But by then, the Cutters had already built a 4-0 lead, and it never felt like it was in jeopardy with the way the Williamsport pitchers were firing.

The Black Bears were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, stranding the bases loaded in the fourth inning, and leaving a runner in scoring position three other times.

Williamsport took a 1-0 lead in the third inning with a Greg Pickett (2 for 4, RBI) RBI single to score Jake Scheiner, who led off the inning with a double. An inning later, Malvin Matos launched his first home run of the season, ambushing a 2-0 pitch from West Virginia starter Ike Schlabach for a two-run home run and a 3-0 lead.

It was the first extra-base hit for Matos since he had three doubles in an 8-7 win over Mahoning Valley on July 9. Since then, Matos was just 3 for 19 (.158) over the course of eight games with a .431 OPS.

“He needed that,” Borders said. “That helps a lot with young hitters, to get into one good hit. Usually it leads to confidence and bumping into a couple more hits in the days to come.”

Adam Haseley drove in Williamsport’s final run with an RBI single to center field later in the fifth inning. Haseley went 2 for 4 with a walk yesterday, only his second multi-hit game since July 7. And even his first out was a productive out as he pulled a ball to the right side.

The Cutters pounded out 11 hits last night and each of their nine starters reached base at least once. Eight of the nine starters recorded a hit.

“(The Matos home run) was big time,” Garcia said. “Any time you can get runs, it gives you motivation and helps you pitch.”