NILES - If Nellie Rodriguez is looking for a tag-team partner in the wrestling ring or for a comedy act, he's got a solid pair of Mahoning Valley Scrapper teammates to choose from.
He could go with Robel Garcia, who has been there since the beginning. The tandem has a handshake they've practiced since Opening Day.
"We do it every time we finish our throwing program and we decided to do it whenever we hit a home run," Rodriguez said.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Mahoning Valley’s Paul Hendrix tags second base and heads to third after hitting a ball over Williamsport’s Dylan Cozens during the fourth inning.
They got to do the handshake, which ends with an intimate "bro hug," twice in one inning during the Scrappers' 5-2 win over the Williamsport Crosscutters on Monday.
"Very special," said Rodriguez of his two-run, 450-foot blast to left-center field in the fourth inning. Garcia followed with his own two-run shot, two batters later.
It was their seventh and fourth respective home runs of the season.
Rodriguez also has a viable candidate in outfielder Josh McAdams.
"He's the funniest guy on the team, by far," Rodriguez said of the Calhoun, Ga. native.
McAdams went 2 for 4 with an eighth-inning double, while Rodriguez added two more hits, including an opposite-field single off the right-field wall in the seventh. These two big boppers share a similar sense of humor ("I joke with him all the time on Twitter," McAdams said), but they differ from each other on pitch selection.
"(On the double), it was an inside two-seamer," McAdams said. "My ideal pitch that I'm looking to drive is an outside fastball. It really juices me up."
Rodriguez punched the single off an outside fastball.
"That's not my type of pitch, but if it's there you got to swing at it," he said. "Middle away and middle low is what I like."
Either way, McAdams won't be upset if Rodriguez and Garcia's handshake propels them to be the next Abbott and Costello, Bill and Ted or Starsky and Hutch. Something may rub him the wrong way, though.
"If (Rodriguez) doesn't make the All-Star team, I'm going to be freaking (ticked)," McAdams said. "He's great to have in the clubhouse as a player and a leader. It really is an honor to play with a guy like that."
Rodriguez leads the New York-Penn League in home runs, slugging percentage (.554), on-base plus slugging (.963), hits (51) and total bases (82). He's fourth in batting average with a .345 and second in RBIs (29).
Mahoning Valley's 15 hits are the most since its first road game of the season. On July 20, the Scrappers (17-24) tallied 16 hits in a 14-2 win over Batavia. They batted around in the fourth inning, collecting six hits in that frame.
"It's just an everyday rally for a team that's getting hot," McAdams said. "When you get in those situations, it's fun. That's what's awesome about it. You're loose and not stressed. There's no pressure at all. You just go up there to have a blast."
The Crosscutters (20-20) collected three hits. Scrappers starter Dace Kime pitched three scoreless innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts and no walks. Matt Whitehouse pitched two innings, allowing one unearned run in the fourth, to pick up his third win of the season and lower his ERA to 0.42.
Ben Heller threw 31 pitches in the eighth inning and walked three-straight batters before escaping with back-to-back easy outs to second base.
"That's great to see," manager Ted Kubiak said. "It showed his composure."
In the ninth inning, Manuel Carmona gave up a solo home run to Dylan Cozens. It was his fifth of the year.
WHEN TED IS HAPPY, EVERYBODY IS HAPPY: During a 12-game losing streak, the Scrappers' clubhouse was noticeably somber. A five-game winning streak and a two-game sweep of Williamsport before heading on a six-game road trip has brightened the spirits of the local prospects.
"The energy is different," first baseman Nellie Rodriguez said. "Everybody is happy; (manager) Ted (Kubiak) is happier with us."
Even though Kubiak was more focused on a post-game meal than a rah-rah post-game speech, the team sensed his good mood.
"We don't actually see it," Rodriguez said, "but you can tell when he's down."
Nine wins in the last 12 games has brought out a much looser Kubiak, Josh McAdams said.
"He's such a force with us," McAdams said. "We feed off his knowledge."
WHOA NELLIE: After striking out 53 times in 47 games with Lake County, Nellie Rodriguez had a goal of seeing the ball better in Mahoning Valley. The New York native does have 28 strikeouts in 40 games as a Scrapper, but his .345 batting average leads the team.
"The consistency with my average is what I'm most proud of," Rodriguez said. "I'm not striking out as much as I was, so I just keep on swinging it. I feel like how I did in spring training. I feel good and mentally better."
GOING STREAKING: McAdams has tallied a league-best 11-game hitting streak, but he wouldn't even know it if his father wasn't in attendance on Sunday.
"He brought it to my attention when he was here and it was like, 'Oh my goodness gracious,' " McAdams said. "I try not to think about that. I go out there and take it one at bat at a time. No sense rushing it, just focusing on each pitch."
McAdams is currently batting .275 as the team's No. 7 hitter. He also has seven doubles.
DACE THE ACE: Dace Kime pitched three innings on Monday - the longest he's gone this season.
"They just want to be cautious," Kime said.
In his first three starts, he went two innings. On July 22, he went 2 1/3 innings in Staten Island. He had two strikeouts in each of his first three starts, three against the Yankees and four against Williamsport.
"I was throwing as hard as I could," Kime said. "It worked for me. It was nice to work off of that."