NILES - Through 18 games since becoming a part of the Cleveland Indians organization, Bradley Zimmer hadn't drilled a home run as a part of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, something he did 14 times his last two seasons at the University of San Francisco.
During his first two plate appearances on Saturday against Aberdeen, Zimmer came close, fouling off multiple pitches deep down the right field line, but both times, Aberdeen starter Bennett Parry got him to pop out. When Zimmer came up to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning with a runner on base, though, the 6-foot-5 center fielder connected on a 2-2 count and sent it over the Scrappers' bullpen in right field and out of the stadium.
"I had some quality at-bats against that guy in my first two at-bats, didn't get any results," Zimmer said. "I was seeing the ball well, hit the ball hard. So, I told myself, 'This guy isn't going to get me out again.'
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Mahoning Valley’s Bradley Zimmer, back, is greeted at home plate by teammate Greg Allen after Zimmer’s first professional home run on Saturday night against Aberdeen.
"I knew it was gone, definitely off the bat. I hit it pretty well, and I think everyone else did (know), too."
That homer proved to be a turning point in the game, as it allowed the Scrappers to draw even after a rough top of the fifth inning. From that point, the Scrappers' bullpen shut down the Ironbirds, while Mahoning Valley picked up a couple of runs in the eighth for a 5-3 win at Eastwood Field.
Yonathan Mendoza, who drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth with a grounder that passed through the left side of the infield, said Zimmer's monster shot raised the team's morale for the rest of the game.
"(Zimmer's homer) was a huge motivation for the entire team - that made us believe we can come back and beat (Aberdeen)," Mendoza said through a translator.
The Scrappers (13-22) were down on themselves a bit after the top half of fifth inning, when starting pitcher Juan Santana struggled following four solid innings of work. Three of the first four Ironbirds (10-24) reached base, with two of the three hits being doubles. All three eventually scored, giving Aberdeen a 3-1 lead.
Pitching coach Greg Hibbard said Santana, who holds an 0-4 record, doesn't respond well to pitching with a lead, which is something Hibbard said Santana needs to improve.
"His M.O. is when we score runs, he tends to give up a run or two or three," Hibbard said. "He probably has an issue with, 'Hey, I have to hold a lead.' He kind of puts a little pressure on himself."
The bullpen picked Santana up, though, as J.P. Feyereisen, who hadn't made an appearance since June 21, and Luis DeJesus combined to toss four scoreless innings and strike out nine batters. DeJesus himself fanned six batters through three innings en route to the win.
"(Feyereisen) was really sharp," Hibbard said. "Fastball looked really good, slider was very consistent, late break and he had some swings and misses to that. He did a nice job, and DeJesus was just really good tonight. He was commanding all of his stuff, executing his pitches to both sides of the plate with his fastball command and he's got weapons versus left and righties."
With the win, the Scrappers are on a bit of a roll, winning three of their last four games and five of their last seven. For his part, Zimmer said he believes the team has turned a corner.
"It was only a matter of time before we clicked," Zimmer said. "We were kind of struggling at the beginning. The hits and the pitching will come along. I think in the last week or so, they've both kind of come together."