Cutters’ offense comes alive in victory

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamsport’s Jesus Henriquez scores on a double hit by Edwin Rodriguez in the fifth inning against the Auburn Doubledays on Monday at Bowman Field.

If hitting in contagious, it passed through the Williamsport Crosscutters on Monday night. The Cutters pounded out a season-high 13 hits from eight players in a 7-3 win over Auburn at Bowman Field.

After struggling to consistently produce runs through the first three games of the season against State College, something seemed to click for the Cutters last night. Maybe it was nine-hole hitter Edwin Rodriguez who had three hits, including a double and an RBI.

Maybe it was the injection of fifth-round draft pick Matt Vierling into the two-hole where he produced two hits, an RBI and his second stolen base in as many nights. Or maybe it was Danny Mayer continuing his hot start to the season with an RBI double, or Ben Pelletier’s ringing single up the middle in the eighth inning to score Rafael Marchan with the go-ahead run.

Whatever the reason, Williamsport’s offense took off last night.

“We’ve been together a little bit now,” Pelletier said. “There are some new guys, but we’re starting to be a team.”

Williamsport entered Monday night’s series opener with the fourth-lowest team batting average in the New York-Penn League. Obviously, small sample size warnings apply, as does the caveat of having played a State College team which pitched exceptionally well in the opening series.

But the Crosscutters were one of just four teams to enter Monday with a team batting average under .200. After posting 13 hits last night, the Cutters are hitting .238 as a team, which is the sixth-best mark in the league.

Monday night wasn’t just about getting hits, though. It was about getting timely hits and extra-base hits. The Cutters were 6 for 11 with runners in scoring position, and five of its hits went for extra bases. And four of those extra-base hits drove in runs.

Williamsport didn’t stop when Pelletier’s single through the middle in the eighth inning gave the team a 4-3 lead. Instead, it added a two-run triple from Seth Lancaster and an RBI triple from Jesus Henriquez two pitches later.

After playing back-to-back extra-inning games and three consecutive games decided by two runs or fewer, Cutters manager Pat Borders was happy to have some breathing room.

“It was kind of nice and relaxing,” Borders said. “I thought we were heading for extra innings and I wasn’t really looking forward to that again.”

Williamsport dominated for much of the game thanks to a brilliant outing from starting pitcher Juan Escorcia. The 22-year-old right-hander who didn’t play professionally last year after being released by the New York Yankees dazzled in his first start in the Phillies organization.

He was perfect for 3 2/3 innings and carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning. He dominated the Auburn lineup the first time through the order primarily with a fastball he wasn’t afraid to locate to either side of the plate. The second time through the lineup he mixed in a filthy change-up and a curveball which generated swings and miss.

The Colombian allowed just one hit in five innings and struck out a career-high seven. Primarily a reliever in his three seasons in the Yankees rotation, pitching coach Hector Berrios saw an opportunity to slide him into the rotation with the Cutters and took it. Last night was just the seventh scoreless outing in 29 career appearances for Escorcia, who had a career 7.92 ERA before last night.

“He was good,” Pelletier said. “He was nasty. I saw that from him in extended. I was expecting that from him.”

“For me, it’s about attack, attack, attack with the fastball and then start adjusting when you have to,” Borders said. “I saw it a few times from him in spring training where he was really good. Better than that, actually. Just dominating stuff.”

Four Cutters starting pitchers have combined to allow just four runs in 19 1/3 innings in the team’s first four games. They’ve combined for just four walks and 21 strikeouts during that span.

“You don’t know what to expect when they get under the lights because some people do really well and some people don’t react too good to it,” Borders said. “But knowing the percentage of guys who react well to it, I thought we’d be all right with our pitching.”