Pickett returns slowly from injury
Greg Pickett was out of Williamsport’s lineup for about only a week. It felt like a month.
It’s the nature of perspective when your job is an everyday grind with minimal days off. But when he tweaked his groin doing some extra fielding work at Bowman Field last week, it caused the Crosscutters’ first baseman to four games to close out the team’s homestand last week.
By the time he found his way back in the lineup earlier this week against Connecticut, Pickett admitted he was feeling a little rusty. In a game which is all about routine and rhythm, he felt like he had lost the latter.
“You get out of your groove,” Pickett said following batting practice Saturday at Bowman Field. “I know it had only been a week, but it felt like a month. But you play one game and you’re back.”
Pickett was 1 for 6 in his first two games back from the injury prior last night’s middle game of a three-game series with Lowell. But that one hit was a ringing double down the right-field line which helped him feel like he was back in his groove.
As he sat in the dugout yesterday afternoon, Pickett said he’s fully recovered from the groin injury which stole four games from his season. He said in reality he could have played after just a couple days, but they were a little more cautious with him.
“I had a few rough games in Connecticut,” Pickett said. “But it’s only a few at-bats. It was nice to barrel one (Friday).”
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Pickett. He was on an eight-game hitting streak which had him near the top of the New York-Penn League in hitting. Even with his 1 for 6 run since coming back from the injury, Pickett started Saturday third in the league in hitting with a .355 batting average.
It’s a surprising number for a player who is more of a power hitter than a true hitter. But Pickett has made an adjustment at the plate this year which has helped drive up his batting average.
As pitchers began pounding the outer half of the plate, he’s just taken what they’ve given him. Eight of his 22 hits this season have gone to the left of second base, including a home run he hit into the Cutters’ left-field bullpen in West Virginia.
Most of his damage (five of his eight extra-base hits) has gone to the pull side in right field. But it’s because he’s been willing to go to the opposite field that it’s opened up some opportunities to pull the ball and do damage. It’s all a conscious effort from Pickett to be a more complete hitter.
He started the season trying to drive every pitch thrown at him instead of picking his spots with pitches he knows he can drive. It took a week or so, but he’s determined the right times to try to drive the ball and the right times to just knock it the other way and get a hit.
“I had to realize that I can’t try to drive every pitch,” Pickett said. “I need to swing at pitches I know I can hit hard. That’s what I need to do to hit homers and stuff. I don’t need to try to hit every pitch over the fence, I just need to hit the mistakes over the fence.”
After striking out 13 times in his first six games, he’s struck out just 12 times over his next 10 games, thanks in part to that new approach.
“Everybody was throwing me a lot of junk away, so I just slap it that way for a base hit or a double,” Pickett said. “In State College then, they missed in a couple times and I got robbed of a home run and hit one off the top of the fence. That’s the perfect game for me, slap the hard pitches the other way, then when they miss, try to get the ball in the air.”
Despite the injury, Pickett is still putting in extra work at first base. He knows he needs to in order to improve on his defense. The 20-year-old who missed last season with an injury is still transitioning to being an infielder after growing up as an outfielder. He’s still learning the nuances of the position, and has put in a good amount of time with Phillies roving infield instructor and former Cutters manager Chris Truby on trying to figure out those nuances.
NOT ONLY A HITTER
The praise for Cutters right fielder Jhailyn Ortiz was hearty Friday night after the 18-year-old homered, doubled and drove in three of Williamsport’s four runs in a 4-0 win over Lowell. And it was well deserved because of both his approach and execution at the plate.
But a forgotten play in the second inning was maybe more impressive than anything he did with the bat in his hand. With runners on first and second with nobody out, Lowell right fielder Marino Campana roped a sinking line drive at Ortiz. Ortiz made a great, quick break on the ball and caught it on a full extension dive toward the infield.
The catch helped starting pitcher Kyle Young escape a second-inning jam and allowed him to pitch his third consecutive scoreless outing.
“That’s a good catch for a light, athletic kid,” Cutters manager Pat Borders said. “He’s 260 pounds and six-four. That was astonishing.”
Ortiz has played a very good right field all season for Williamsport. For as big as he is, Ortiz moves with grace, shows incredible athleticism, and speed which belies his size. But he’s a very good defender who has made a number of superb diving catches and has shown the ability to go in all directions to make a play.
“There’s things he needs to get better at and things he needs to work on still,” Borders said. “But I think there’s some upside because he is so athletic and does have the ability to run. You can be athletic and slow, but he’s athletic and he can move around real well.”