The Harrisburg Senators’ homestand ended the same way it began with the offense mired in a week-long slump as the Reading Fightin’ Phils won 4-2 on Wednesday night.
Despite seven hits and two walks, the Senators struggled to cobble sustained rallies together. The Senators put the leadoff batter on base in six of the nine innings but two double plays and poor at-bats contributed to only scoring once off those opportunities.
Harrisburg was hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position and the two runs they scored were a product of the two extra-base hits they had on the evening: a triple by Andrew Stevenson and a solo home run by Drew Ward.
“Running that lineup through we get guys in scoring position but it seems like it’s with two outs,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “The at-bats lately have been quick and early. A lot of early outs. It’s looking like they’re trying to not to strike out, instead of competing and battling.”
In the five games at FNB Field against the Baysox and Phillies, the Senators scored only 10 runs and collectively batted .191 while striking out 48 times.
“It’s just been a tough time offensively scoring runs,” LeCroy said.
Erick Fedde took the hill for his fourth start this season and although the righthander scattered only four hits in seven innings the Washington Nationals’ top pitching prospect collared the loss.
The big blow happened in the fifth inning when Fedde grooved a fastball to opposing pitcher Tom Eshelman who crushed it for a three-run home run. But both manager and pitching coach Chris Michalak pointed to another at-bat earlier in the frame when Fedde walked Mitch Walding as the key to the sequence of fateful events.
“It might not have been the pitch to the pitcher that got him trouble, but it was three hitters before with the walk,” Michalak said. “They always come back to bite you.”
“I thought what got him was when he pitched around the guy that was hitting a buck fifty,” LeCroy said with a slight exaggeration of Walding’s numbers so far this season.
ICYMI — Last Night’s Roll Call
Drew Ward popped his second home run of the season…Wander Suero and RC Orlan each threw a scoreless inning of relief…Ozzie Abreu was removed from the game after the bottom of the second inning for failing to run hard out of the box on a play he was thrown out at second base.
The entire Eastern League has a day off on Thursday before resuming play the next day. The Senators turn to starter Mark Blackmar when they take on the Curve at 6 PM in Altoona at Peoples Natural Gas Field on Friday night.
The Senators and Reading Fightin Phils play the final game of the series Wednesday night. Tuesday’s game was postponed due to weather and will be made up as part of a doubleheader on June 27. The Senators dropped the series opener on Monday 9-1 as Reading scored seven runs in the final two innings to break the game open. This is the first series of the year between the Senators and Fightins. The Senators were just 3-8 against Reading in 2016, with all three wins coming at FNB field.
RED HOT RAUDY
Senators catcher Raudy Read went 2-4 on Monday and is now hitting .387 over his last ten games. The 23-year-old is tied for second on the team with five multi hit games and leads the team with two home runs. Read is the 21st ranked prospect in the Nationals organization according to MLB.com.
TODAY’S STARTING PITCHERS
Erick Fedde starts game two for the Senators Tuesday night. The right-hander leads the Eastern League with a 0.50 ERA. Fedde has allowed just one earned run in 18 innings this season and did not allow an earned run in the first 15.2 innings he pitched. Fedde is the 2nd rated prospect in the organization according to MLB.com and Baseball America. The Fightins counter with starter Tom Eshelman. The right-hander is 1-0 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts this season. The former second round pick was one of five players acquired by the Phillies from the Astros in exchange for Ken Giles and Jonathan Arauz.
The early April beginning to the baseball season usually uncovers things that can be improved as the weather begins to turn warmer. For the Harrisburg Senators that has included situational hitting, shoring up the defense at times, and most notably the bullpen.
Over the season’s first 17 games, Harrisburg relievers have a cumulative 5.72 ERA over 56.2 innings of work. But upon closer inspection, much of that can be attributed to two pitchers: Jake Johansen and Jimmy Cordero. Without their numbers in the calculations, Senators’ relievers work at a very respectable earned run average of 3.05 with a 1.38 WHIP.
Johansen and Cordero were both called upon on Monday night out of the Senators pen in relief of starter Jaron Long. It was more of the same from them as turned a 2-1 game into a 9-1 laugher in favor of the Reading Fightin’ Phils.
“It got away from us there at the end,” manager Matt LeCroy said.
For Johansen, 2017 marks his first season at Double-A after four years in the lower levels of the Nationals system. The second round draft pick has struggled at Potomac the last two seasons and put up inflated numbers, but a strong showing against top prospects in last year’s Arizona Fall League helped ticket him for Harrisburg.
Johansen worked a commanding sixth frame on Monday night as the 26-year-old righthander struck out Mitch Walding and Jiandido Tromp before retiring Malquin Canelo on a routine groundout. But Johansen ran into trouble in his second inning of work as Kyle Martin punctuated the scoring with a two run home run to push the Reading advantage to four runs.
“It’s a tough league when you come up here and struggle because there is no wiggle room,” LeCroy added.
Cordero, on the other hand, is an Eastern League veteran. The 25-year-old fireballer was a member of the Fisher Cats and Fightin’ Phils the past two seasons before being acquired by the Nationals in a trade last November.
He has allowed at least one run in five of his six outings this season and opponents are batting .483 off the righthander. But it’s his last three appearances, including surrendering a grand slam on Monday, that are the ones I’m sure he’d like to forget. In only two combined innings, Cordero has allowed 14 runs on ten hits and seven walks.
“It’s just been a struggle for the both of them right now. That’s why they’re here,” LeCroy said. “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching them up and hopefully give them a chance.”
“We have to get those two guys right where they feel confident and comfortable.”
The Senators welcome the Reading Fightin Phils to FNB Field for a three game series beginning Monday night. The Senators are coming off a series win over Bowie following their 2-1 victory in the rubber match on Sunday afternoon. This is the first meeting of the year between the Senators and Fightins. The Senators were just 3-8 against Reading in 2016, with all three wins coming at FNB field. Following Sunday’s win, the club has now won five of its last seven contest.
TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY
With the Senators win on Sunday afternoon, the club improved to 4-0 in day games on the season, as opposed to 5-7 in night contest.
TODAY’S STARTING PITCHERS
The Senators turn to opening day starter Jaron Long in the series opener against Reading. Long is coming off one of the best performances of the year by a Senators pitcher, limiting the Yard Goats to just one run on five hits over seven innings. Long has not allowed more than one earned runs in any of his first three starts this season, and is 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA overall. The Fightins counter with starter Brandon Leibrandt. The left-hander has allowed only two runs in ten innings through his first two starts of the season. The 24-year-old is in his first season with Reading, after splitting time between high-A Clearwater and the GCL Phillies while rehabbing from an injury.
Harrisburg starter John Simms impressively worked through the top of the potent Bowie batting order in the first inning recording all three outs via strikeouts. But things started to unravel quickly for the righthander in the second frame.
Eastern League veteran Garabez Rosa led off the inning with an eight-pitch at-bat that culminated in a flare over the outstretched glove of second baseman Stephen Perez. Glynn Davis followed with a bunt that caught the Senators off guard with Perez late to cover first base.
The next batter, Adrian Marin, laced a single back up the middle that chased Rosa home from second base to give the Baysox a 1-0 lead. Bowie appeared on the verge of breaking the game wide open with a big inning. Reliever Ryan Brinley got up quickly in the Senators bullpen and started throwing with a purpose.
Simms struck out Jay Gonzalez to record the first out of the inning although it came at the cost of nine additional pitches. Erick Salcedo followed with a pop-up into shallow left field that Ozzie Abreu tracked down moving away from the infield dirt.
Despite settling down to record back-to-back outs, Simms got a visit from pitching coach Chris Michalak. Deep counts and tough at-bats had the 25-year-old quickly approaching the 40-pitch per inning limit imposed by the Nationals. If Simms were to hit that number, manager Matt LeCroy would have no choice but to remove him from the game regardless of the situation.
And coming to the plate was the hottest hitter on the Baysox, D.J. Stewart, who was already 6-for-10 in the series with a home run and two doubles. Simms fell behind 2-0 before getting Stewart to ground out to end the rally on the 35th pitch of the inning, a full count breaking ball. “I got out of there and I was just thankful I didn’t have to turn it over to the bullpen too early,” Simms said.
“That was a big inning,” LeCroy added. “It could have gotten pretty ugly, but he only gave up the one.”
Buoyed by the change of momentum, Harrisburg responded in the bottom half of the inning with a run-scoring double off the bat of Raudy Read and an RBI groundout from Spencer Kieboom to give the Senators a 2-1 advantage.
Pitching with the lead, Simms made some adjustments as he breezed through the next three innings facing the minimum number of batters. “I’m just happy to have gotten out of that inning when I did and then after that it was just going back to attacking them,” the Rice product said. “I got back into the zone and forced the action.”
Brinley and Phillips Valdez each worked two scoreless innings of relief to preserve the slim margin of victory as the Senators topped the Baysox in the rubber match of the series.
The Senators and Baysox play the rubber match of the three game series Sunday night at FNB Field. The Senators evened the series with a 3-1 win in game two, aided by starter Mark Blackmar tossing five innings of one run ball. The Senators are now 2-3 against the Baysox this season after they dropped two out of three to Bowie on the prior road trip. The Senators look to finish off their third series win of the season.
STARTING PITCHING ON A ROLL
After Mark Blackmar limited the Baysox to just two runs in five innings, Senators starting pitchers have allowed two runs or less in four consecutive starts. three of the past four Senators starting pitchers have held the opposition to just a single run, highlighted by Jaron Long and Erick Fedde’s back to back seven inning and one run performances in the final two games against Hartford.
TODAY’S STARTING PITCHERS
John Simms gets the start in the rubber match of the series for the Senators. Simms pitched against Hartford in each of his first two starts, going 0-1 with four runs allowed over ten and two thirds innings. The right-hander went 1-0 in two appearances out of the bullpen last season, allowing three runs across six frames. Brandon Barker gets the ball for the Baysox. Barker is 1-0 with a 4.85 ERA in three starts this season. The right-hander threw six shutout innings against Richmond in his last start. The 24-year-old is in his second season with the Baysox and was originally drafted in the 14th round of the 2014 draft out of Mercer.
After posting a .285/.336/.425 slash line in 64 games with the Harrisburg Senators last year, Zach Collier earned a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse in late June. The veteran player had impressed the Nationals’ brass in his first season with the organization for his ability to play all three outfield positions as well as his considerable tools at the plate.
Despite the praise and extensive experience, Collier’s name was absent from all affiliates when minor league rosters were announced just days before the season began. An injury to his ankle late in spring training forced him to start the year on Harrisburg’s disabled list and assigned to extended spring training.
“The timing of his injury was bad for him,” manager Matt LeCroy said.
So instead of heading north with fellow Nationals minor leaguers, Collier toiled away in Florida recovering and rehabilitating. But like much of the struggles and hurdles that have come Collier’s way in the past, he doesn’t dwell on the negative but instead learns from every step so he can apply it in the future.
“I just had to keep in mind that while I was down there I could take advantage of that time to work on some things and I feel like my swing was one of those things,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I had the greatest spring. I didn’t feel all that comfortable. So I think that time I had down there was big for me.”
For the 26-year-old it was just another example of finding the positive when so many others wouldn’t.
In his young life, Collier has already undergone two heart surgeries for a defect, an anomalous left coronary artery, that restricted the amount of oxygen his heart could receive. His first procedure took place when he was a 16-year-old high school sophomore and his second after his career in the Philadelphia organization washed out after six middling seasons in the minors. Collier played the entire 2015 season with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers to prove to Major League organizations that he was both healthy and still as talented as ever.
After his ankle healed and he was game ready, Collier joined the Senators before their series last weekend in Bowie. The outfielder played sparingly in the last week and had amassed only 12 at-bats in limited action before Saturday night’s game against the same Baysox at FNB Field.
In his first at-bat, Collier crushed an 0-1 offering over the bullpen and boardwalk in right field to pace the Senators an early 3-0 lead off pitcher Chris Tillman, who was starting on a MLB rehab assignment. It was an advantage on the scoreboard the Senators would never relinquish. “I take an at-bat at a time regardless of who is on the mound,” Collier said.
“That was good for him and good for our club,” LeCroy said. “That was a big run.”
Getting consistent playing time is going to be difficult with Andrew Stevenson, Alec Keller, and Yadiel Hernandez entrenched as the starting outfield. “I think he can be a big part of this team even though he’s not going to be in there every day,” LeCroy said.
But once again Collier finds the positive attitude in the circumstance. “Going through this is helping me to prepare myself to come off the bench when we play National League games,” the outfielder said. “Learning how to have a quality at-bat and put the bat on the ball.”
LeCroy is relying on the veteran to be a presence in the clubhouse and on the diamond for his young squad. “Once he gets going, we saw what can happen last year. He can carry you for a while.”
The Senators and Baysox play game two of the three game series Saturday night at FNB field. Bowie took the opener 8-2 as the Senators finished 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position. The Senators are now 1-3 against the Baysox this season after they dropped two out of three to Bowie on the prior road trip.
The Senators drew 4,047 fans to FNB field for Friday’s series opener, the largest crowd they have played in front of this season. Their previous high at FNB field was 3,471 on April 8 against Altoona. The game also lasted three hours and 17 minutes, which is the longest nine inning game the Senators have played this season.
TODAY’S STARTING PITCHERS
The Senators send Mark Blackmar to the mound in game two of the series Saturday night. Blackmar allowed three runs across four innings in game two of a doubleheader against Altoona on April 8 in his only start this season before pitching out of the bullpen for two games. The right- hander is 1-1 and has surrendered five runs and ten hits over eight innings pitched, Blackmar will be opposed by Baysox starter Chris Tillman. The right-hander is on a rehab assignment recovering from a shoulder injury. This is Tillman’s second rehab appearance for Bowie after he allowed one run in two and two-thirds innings on April 17 against Richmond. The former all-star went 16-6 for the Orioles last season, with a 3.77 ERA and 140 strikeouts.
It’s a phrase that often gets bandied around clubhouses and locker rooms for any sport at almost every level. Baseball is no different as it causes managers to lose their hair, grow ulcers, chain smoke in the tunnel, or always wonder ‘what if’.
After struggling offensively for most of the game like the Senators did on Thursday night in Hartford, a manager hopes his players deliver in the clutch when that chance finally comes up in a key spot but he knows the odds and reality of the situation.
But when that chance comes up again and again like it did on Friday night against the Baysox, a manager expects his players to come through at least once or twice. Instead, the Senators came up short with every opportunity they were given as the team went 0-for-15 while batting with runners in scoring position.
This was not a collective stretch of bad luck, either, as the Senators hit exactly one ball out of the infield and struck out eight times in those 15 plate appearances. It was a pitiful display of situational hitting by the team as a whole.
“To me you have to have some confidence in that situation that you can do it,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “I feel like some of the guys now are a little tentative. Taking pitches they should hit, and swinging at balls they should take.”
“Some of it is lack of experience, but those things can get you to the big leagues if you do them well.”
The game was a nip and tuck affair through the first seven innings when it was still an eminently winnable contest. Don’t let the final score fool you. The game was much closer than that until Senators reliever Jimmy Cordero dumped a tanker full of gasoline on the small campfire. But early in the game, when it still mattered, the Senators had three opportunities to score by making an out as long as the ball was put in play to anyone other than the pitcher or third baseman.
They failed all three times.
“We just have to get better at it. That’s how you win games,” LeCroy said. “We work on it every day, but you have to be able to carry that over into the game.”
The Senators return home for a six game homestand starting with a three game series against the Bowie Baysox. The Senators dropped two out of three to Bowie in the first series between the two on the prior road trip. The Senators have won three of their last four games after winning two of three against Hartford to finish out their seven game road trip. The club was shutout 1-0 in Wednesday’s series finale despite Erick Fedde allowing just one run in seven innings. The Baysox split their last series against Richmond, losing the final two games of the series.
STREAK UP TO 10
With his second inning single, Neftali Soto extended his hitting streak to ten games, the longest such streak by a Senator this season. The Manati, Puerto Rico native has hit safely in every game he’s started this year, and is second on the club with five multi hit efforts on the season. He is second on the team with a .354 batting average and .918 OPS.
TODAY’S STARTING PITCHERS
Austen Williams starts the series opener for the Senators. Williams makes his second consecutive start against the Baysox as he took the loss his last time out at Bowie, surrendering three runs and seven hits over five innings. The right-hander has allowed five runs and 12 hits in 11 innings this season, with 12 strikeouts. Tanner Scott takes the bump for the Baysox. The left-hander threw three hitless innings against the Senators in his last start. The former sixth round is the 11th rated prospect in the Orioles organization per MLB.com.