Encarnacion’s home run propels the ValleyCats

RALPH WILSON/For The Sun-Gazette Williamsport Crosscutters first baseman Matt Kroon reaches to make a play as Tri-City’s Jeremy Pena dives back to the base during the game Thursday at Bowman Field.

For a moment Thursday night, it was easy to see why the Phillies gave Luis Encarnacion a $1 million signing bonus in 2013. His damage at the plate is no longer being done for the Phillies, having signed with the Houston Astros in the offseason.

But last night at Bowman Field, he made his previous team pay. The 20-year-old launched a first-pitch fastball from Ethan Lindow beyond the left-center field wall in the top of the third inning to give the Tri-City ValleyCats a lead it never relinquished in a 5-3 win over the Williamsport Crosscutters.

The home run was the third of the season for Encarnacion, who played each of the past two seasons for the Crosscutters and manager Pat Borders. He hit just four home runs combined in those two seasons.

But last night’s power display was everything scouts thought he was capable of when he was signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. The ball came off his bat at 102.8 mph. It flew 397 feet. And, more importantly, it gave Tri-City its first lead.

“First pitch, you go after it and see what happens, and it just happened to be a bad ending for Lindow,” Borders said. “He’s a big kid with a lot of power. You’ve seen that in our (batting practice) with him for a couple years.”

Encarnacion entered last night’s game hitting just .157. But his 13 RBIs were the second-most on the team, and he’s victimized the Cutters each of the first two games of the series. Wednesday, he had a ninth-inning RBI single.

His home run was one of a few bumps Lindow hit during his five-inning outing last night. He started off the game with three consecutive strikeouts in a 12-pitch first inning. But from there he lost his fastball command which ran his pitch count high.

The former fifth-round draft pick struck out a career-high nine batters last night, topping his previous best of seven, which he achieved in the Gulf Coast League last year. He did it by mixing in a strong change-up to right-handers and a cut fastball to left-handers which left Tri-City off-balance.

Lindow allowed just two runs in his five innings. It was his fifth consecutive start allowing two runs or fewer, but the left-hander is still looking for his first win despite a 2.49 ERA.

“First inning I was lights out. But after that I lost command of the fastball,” Lindow said. “I had my off-speed working, so I worked with what I had.”

A night after putting together a season-high 14 hits, the Williamsport offense wasn’t able to match that production. The Cutters had just one hit until Jonathan Guzman singled with one out in the eighth inning. That hit led to five consecutive baserunners reaching base for Williamsport.

Two of them scored on a triple to the right-field corner by Madison Stokes. Another scored on Jesus Henriquez’s sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 5-3. Brayan Gonzalez flew out as the potential go-ahead run to end the eighth inning.

Williamsport hasn’t won back-to-back games since June 22 and 24 when it beat Mahoning Valley and Batavia consecutively. The Cutters have lost 12 of its last 16 games and are six games behind Mahoning Valley in the Pinckney Division one-third of the way through the season.

“I thought they threw some pretty good arms at us,” Borders said. “The first guy (Shawn Dubin) was OK. The second guy (Brett Conine) was pretty good. And the third guy they threw (Mark Moclair) had plus stuff, he just struggled with his control. The last two guys were really good. We threw up three runs and we didn’t roll over.”

Lindow left the game trailing just 2-0, but reliever Austin Ross allowed the first four batters he faced to reach base, two with singles and two with walks. Ross limited the damage to just two runs by getting a strikeout and a comebacker to end the inning.

But to that point, the Cutters’ offense had yet to send more than four batters to the plate. After Matt Kroon’s infield single in the second inning, Williamsport went 23 plate appearances before getting another hit.

“We’re keeping our heads up and we’re grinding every day trying to get better,” Lindow said. “We’ve lost some tough games, and we win a couple every now and again. But we’re still working hard to try and get back on track.”