With win, Cutters stay in playoff hunt in Pinckney Division
For one swing Thursday night, you could see Luis Encarnacion be the player the Philadelphia Phillies thought he would be when he signed as a 16-year-old.
The baseball jumped off his bat, streaking through the abnormally cool August air like a comet illuminating the night sky. The Williamsport Crosscutters’ designated hitter showcased the effortless raw power on the first pitch of the third inning. It’s eyebrow-raising power. The kind he showcases every day in batting practice but had shown off just once previously this year.
Encarnacion picked a good time for the second. His solo home run was one of two runs scored by the Cutters in the third inning last night, and brilliant pitching from Kyle Young and Randy Alcantara helped Williamsport avoid playoff contention elimination with a 2-1 win over Batavia.
Coupled with a Mahoning Valley loss, the Cutters’ elimination number in the Pinckney Division is still two. In the Wild Card race, it’s just one. There are seven games left in the season.
But on this night, on this last day of August of a season which spiraled out of control from being full of potential to finishing in disappointing fashion, Encarnacion gave Bowman Field fans one last “ooh” and “ahh” moment.
“It was awesome to see,” said Young, who allowed just an unearned run in six innings in his final home start. “It’s great to see him break through for another one like he has the potential to do.”
Spending his second summer in Williamsport, Encarnacion is still just 20 years old. He was signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic and given a $1 million signing bonus by the Phillies, but has never quite lived up to the hype which came with his signing.
He’s shown short flashes of brilliance in his two-year stay in Williamsport, ones much like last night where the raw power shows up in game, providing a glimpse of what the Phillies liked so much about him. But his career has been plagued by an inability to adjust to off-speed pitches. And this summer has been plagued by a lack of playing time. Last night he recorded just his 56th at-bat of the season, less than 30 percent of the number of ABs he had a year ago as a lineup regular.
His third-inning solo home run was his third hit in the last two nights, though, as he has taken a regular spot in the lineup with injuries depleting the Cutters’ roster. When he stepped into the box last night in the third, none of that mattered. He tattooed the first pitch he saw well over the left-center field fence to give Williamsport a 1-0 lead.
“First of all, all thanks go to God. I’ve been working hard every day and that is going to help me out,” Encarnacion said through the Cutters’ Jesus Azuaje, who interpreted. “I’ve been working with Pat (Borders) every day and talking to him about giving me a chance to execute. It feels good to be able to execute and to hit a home run.”
“In batting practice, you see it every day. It’s like ‘there it goes again,'” Young said. “It’s so cool during a game. It’s more fun in a game because it counts.”
When Brian Mims scored three batters later on a wild pitch after tripling, it was all the run support Young needed in his final appearance at Bowman Field. The 19-year-old left-hander threw whatever pitch he wanted in whatever spot he wanted last night.
It was a far cry from his previous start against Batavia when he allowed seven runs in just 2 2/3 innings, the most runs he’s allowed and the fewest innings he’s pitched in a start this season.
Take away that start and Young is going into his final start of the season holding a 1.76 ERA. But he didn’t worry about any of that last night. Instead, the 7-footer kept the same gameplan he’s always had, attacking hitters with all three pitches.
He stranded a runner at third base after a one-out triple in the second inning with a fly ball and a ground out. He worked around a one-out error which put two runners on base in the third inning by rolling a double play ball. And Nick Maton turned a line drive into a double play to strand runners in scoring position in the fourth inning.
“Sometimes you have to read the situation and find out what can work best for you,” Young said. “There is a time to go for a strikeout and there is a time to make sure the ball is low for a ground ball as your best chance to get two.”
He struck out four and threw 63 of his 91 pitches (69 percent) for strikes. But more importantly, he threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 24 batters, getting ahead and forcing hitters to put his pitch into play.
“I felt comfortable with the curveball so I kept flipping it over the plate,” Young said. “It was working so I kept doing it. Just our sequencing was a little different in a way, but it was still the same gameplan, just go out and attack them.”