NILES - With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Mahoning Valley's Claudio Bautista stepped up to the plate having a chance to at least extend the game.
Robel Garcia, who pinch-ran for catcher Martin Cervenka, stood on third and represented the tying run, while Cody Ferrell was on first and represented the game-winning run. The third baseman had a chance to end the second-longest losing streak in franchise history.
Bautista couldn't drive in Garcia, however, striking out swinging, and the Scrappers' current losing streak stretched to 10 games following a 2-1 loss to the Tri-City ValleyCats on Friday night at Eastwood Field. The 10th straight loss tied a club record set in 2001.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Mahoning Valley Scrapper Juan Romero makes a run-saving catch off the bat of Tri-City’s Jake Rodriguez during Friday’s game at Eastwood Field. Mahoning Valley lost to the ValleyCats, 2-1, the 10th straight loss for the Scrappers.
"We had a lot of soft hits," Mahoning Valley coach Ted Kubiak said. "We just didn't get any hits and bunch them together. That's the problem."
Bautista's ninth-inning at-bat isn't the only time in the game when the Scrappers (7-19) failed to punch in runners when they were on base. In fact, it was the theme of the night.
Mahoning Valley went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, but the one hit didn't drive home a run. In the seventh inning, Ferrell recorded an infield single when left fielder Josh McAdams was on second, but McAdams couldn't go past third. Bautista flied out to ValleyCat third baseman Ryan Dineen in foul territory to end that chance.
- PITCHING POWER:?During the current 10-game losing streak, the offense has played a major role.
The bats have struggled to put runs across the plate, scoring more than three runs just two times over the streak, and the offense has averaged 5.6 hits per game.
Scrappers coach Ted Kubiak said that the hitting needs to improve, but some of the problems for the bats have come from the opposing teams' pitching.
In the last two series, the Scrappers faced the top two teams in team ERA in the league, with State College first at 2.50 and Tri-City in second at 2.74. Against those two teams, Mahoning Valley lost four games in which neither team scored more than four runs.
"We've seen some pretty decent pitching," Kubiak said. "Those guys look like they've been able to throw their breaking balls over, and at a level like this, it's always a real plus."
- BULLPEN REST: In Friday night's 2-1 loss to Tri-City at Eastwood Field, three pitchers came out of the bullpen to pitch four scoreless innings.
Both Manuel Carmona and Kyle Crockett threw just one inning apiece, and Kubiak said that he did so to keep their arms well-rested, citing a lack of action before joining the Scrappers as a reason to keep their innings limited.
"We're just giving them innings," Kubiak said. "We had a good draft. I think the arms that we got are really good, and they all throw the ball really well. We're just being careful with them so we don't overwork them because they haven't thrown that much. It's been a long time since some of them have been in the game."
- PLUTKO SIGNING: The Cleveland Indians' 11th round draft choice, Adam Plutko, signed with the team earlier this week and has been assigned to the Scrappers. He should join the team this weekend when the team faces Vermont at Eastwood Field.
When UCLA won the College World Series this June in Omaha, Neb., Plutko, the ace of the pitching staff, earned the Most Outstanding Player of the World Series award, going 2-0 in the tournament and allowing two runs in 13 innings of action.
The Scrappers amassed nine hits, more than double the number of hits by Tri-City (17-9).
"We need to do a better job of getting hits when we need them," said Ferrell, who went 2 for 4 at the plate. "We've got to get hits with runners in scoring position. We haven't been doing that lately, and that's why we've been struggling."
The Scrappers scored their only run in the eighth inning, when first baseman Nellie Rodriguez parked a solo shot over the left-field wall with one out and nobody on base off of the ValleyCats' Andrew Thurman, the second-round draft pick of the Houston Astros in the 2013 draft.
This was Rodriguez's second home run of the season.
"He's been good - what else can you say?" Kubiak said. "He's putting everything into play that we're trying to get him to do. He's been aggressive, he works extra in pre-game, and it's paying off. He's been able to implement everything."
Starting pitcher Luis Lugo was struck with the loss, although his only blemish came in the first inning - once again due to an error. Shortstop Juan Herrera had an opportunity to end the inning with a double play from a Michael Martinez grounder, but he missed second baseman Paul Hendrix's glove. One run scored on that play, and Dineen drove in another the next batter.
Other than that, the pitching staff held the ValleyCats scoreless, including four shutout innings from the bullpen.
In relation to the losing streak, Ferrell said that he's never been a part of one that lasted this long in his career, but he's also optimistic about the team's chances to get out of the rut.
"We're not giving up," Ferrell said. "We're still playing hard. We come out and practice hard everyday. We're still pushing - we're not letting up by any means. We're just having a rough stretch.
"We'll get through it."