Pivotal fourth inning makes the difference for Jaron Long and the Senators

Photo courtesy Samuel Getty / Harrisburg Senators

In a scoreless pitcher’s duel, the importance of every pitch and every play is amplified. So in the top of the fourth inning when home plate umpire Erich Bacchus called an automatic ball on Harrisburg starter Jaron Long for a clock violation, it had the potential to be the defining moment for the fate of the Senators in their Wednesday afternoon tilt with the Hartford Yard Goats.

The disputed call came on a full count and granted Hartford batter Ryan McMahon first base. Since Ashley Graeter had led off the inning with a double into the right-center field gap, this put Yard Goat runners on first and second base with no one out.

Manager Matt LeCroy came out to argue the call two separate times, but Bacchus’s mind wasn’t being swayed. The umpire ruled that Long took too long to come set despite McMahon only being ready in the batter’s box for about eight seconds. “It’s odd when you’ll give a hitter a warning, but not a pitcher,” LeCroy said. “It’s just the dynamic of the clock and when to start it if a guy steps out.”

“You have to look at it as a learning experience,” Long said trying to put the call in perspective. “The whole point of the rule is to speed of the game but in reality it slowed it down.”

The 25-year-old right-hander didn’t let the call or ensuing controversy affect him though. “That bothered him for about five seconds. It bothered me more than him,” LeCroy said. “He just kept making pitches.”

Long induced cleanup hitter Drew Weeks to pop up to first baseman Neftali Soto on the infield grass, but then surrendered a hard hit single to Collin Ferguson to load the bases for Hartford with only one out. Omar Carrizales followed with a shallow pop fly down the left field foul line that Yadiel Hernandez corralled. Graeter didn’t chance tagging up on the play since Hernandez was only about 20 feet from the dirt cutout when he finally made the catch.

That brought Dom Nunez to the plate and Long quickly fell behind the Hartford catcher with three straight balls. A mound visit by catcher Spencer Kieboom settled Long down and focused him on the task at hand as he worked it back to a full count and retired Nunez on a routine fly ball to Khayyan Norfork on the payoff pitch. It would turn out to be the Yard Goats best chance to get on the scoreboard the rest of the day.

“His back was against the wall and he made some big pitches,” LeCroy said.

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise,” Long pondered about the automatic ball call. “Maybe he (McMahon) would have hit that pitch off the wall and they would have scored a run.”

Long battling back in the frame and putting another zero up on the board was the momentum shift the Senators were looking for in the bottom half of the inning. Mario Lisson doubled off the left field wall and Kieboom followed with a shot into the seats on the next pitch to give Harrisburg the 2-0 lead they would never relinquish.

“Sometimes little things like that get your team going,” Long said.

*****

As for Long, the Ohio State product went six scoreless innings allowing just four hits and the aforementioned walk in picking up his first victory of the season. Long worked quickly and coaxed early contact off the Hartford bats in tossing only 72 pitches without striking a single batter out.

“They were swinging early. They showed that the first two games of the series and I just stayed with the plan,” Long said.

“He was outstanding,” LeCroy said. “He kept them off balance and got a lot of weak fly balls.”

*****

“Two years in a row we’ve been burned by the clock. I wish the clock would blow up.” – – LeCroy on the pitch clock.

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