More of the same

NILES – The Mahoning Valley Scrappers dropped their third game in a row and fifth out of their last six after losing to the Williamsport Crosscutters, 6-3, on Friday night at Eastwood Field.

The only highlights for the Scrappers came in the first inning. After a lead-off walk to start the bottom of the first, second baseman Paul Hendrix drove an RBI double to right. Two batters later, Nellie Rodriguez hit a towering two-run home run to straight away center field. The shot was his first long ball of the year, and it gave the Scrappers a 3-1 lead.

“It felt great coming off the bat,” Rodriguez said about the home run. “I knew it was gone right when it came off the bat.”

A power hitter in high school, Rodriguez was wondering when his first professional homer would come.

“I wasn’t thinking about it, but I was just like, ‘When is it coming,’ ” he said. “It’s a relief that it came today.”

After the first inning, however, things went south for the struggling Scrappers. For back-to-back nights, the Mahoning Valley defense committed three errors. Along with the miscues, Scrappers’ pitching added three wild pitches and the defense failed to make at least three plays that could have been ruled errors but were ruled hits.

The Crosscutters tied the game in the fourth inning by scoring two unearned runs. With two outs and a runner on third, Scrappers’ third baseman Robel Garcia failed to field a groundball ball cleanly, allowing the run to score. Williamsport’s Justin Parr then drove in the second run in the inning with a single to right.

“Unfortunately, two nights in a row now Robee (Garcia) made an error and opened the gates for them,” Scrappers manager Ted Kubiak said.

Poor defense and pitching continued in the sixth, resulting in Williamsport putting three more runs on the board.

Although the defense played poorly, it can’t receive the entirety of the blame. After the strong first inning, the Scrappers sent 26 total batters to the plate, managing only one hit in the final eight innings. After the home run in the first, the Scrappers failed to get a runner into scoring position the remainder of the game.

The struggles for the Scrappers, both offensively and defensively, may be due to the physical difficulty of playing every day at a high level.

“They’re kind of worn out, I can see what’s happening already,” Kubiak said. “Even though it’s only three weeks, they’ve been playing since March. That’s a long time for them.They’re not sharp and they’re not able to execute things.

“I’m just gonna back off and see if we can give a little rest. You’ve got some guys that can handle the everyday play and some guys that can’t. Not very many guys can. The guys that can, that usually have the ability, are gonna play in the big leagues.

“It’s one of the toughest parts of the game, other than how hard the game is to play, it’s hard to do it everyday.”

Putting the negative aside, the Scrappers saw a promising performance from third-round draft pick Dace Kime, who made his first professional start. This was Kime’s first time pitching since being eliminated in the College World Series, as a part of the Louisville Cardinals.

Kime walked the first batter he saw of the game on four straight pitches, but bounced back to strikeout the next two hitters.

With two outs and a runner on second, Crosscutters third baseman Zach Green hit an RBI double down the left-field line. The inning then ended on a weak chopper to the first baseman.

Kime allowed the lead-off hitter in the second to reach with a single, but got out of the inning 1-2-3 after designated hitter Jiandido Tromp was caught stealing.

“With the first hitter, I struggled a little bit,” Kime said. “But then after that I settled down. I felt good most of the night.”

Kime will increase his innings per game as the season progresses and he gains more experience.

Another strong performance for the Scrappers came behind the arm of Alexis Paredes. Paredes pitched the final three innings for the Scrappers, allowing no runs and striking out seven. Paredes improves his ERA to 1.80 on the season.