Scrappers stay hot

NILES – Wins have been hard to come by this year for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, so whenever a winning streak seems plausible, it’s a major plus.

On Monday, the Scrappers earned their fourth-straight win of the season, shutting out the Aberdeen IronBirds, 7-0. This comes the night after the Scrappers put up 14 runs on the IronBirds.

Not only did they continue their best win streak of the season, the Scrappers completed their first series sweep.

“They’re aggressive, they’re loose, they’re in a good frame of mind right now, which is what I look at more than anything,” Scrappers manager Ted Kubiak said.

The Scrappers’ bats exploded in the first inning as leadoff hitter Ordomar Valdez jumpstarted the offense with the first hit of the game – an infield single. Yonathan Mendoza advanced him to second on a single down the left-field line. Indians first-round pick and center fielder Bradley Zimmer drove in Valdez and Mendoza with two-run RBI triple that rattled all the way to the wall in left field. He scored after a Francisco Mejia single to left and just like that, what started out as an innocent infield hit by Valdez, quickly translated into a 3-0 lead for the Scrappers.

“I try to remain focused in every single at-bat, trying to get on base (and) trying to keep the team’s high-energy level,” Valdez said.

Valdez has been a leadoff hitter in past games but hasn’t filled the role recently. He has typically appeared as a bottom-hole hitter, but Monday night, Kubiak tried something different. He rested right fielder Greg Allen – the Scrappers normal leadoff man – and made Valdez the first hitter in the lineup.

Kubiak said there wasn’t a science to the strategy of pushing Valdez and Mendoza to the front of the order. The coaching staff doesn’t intend to experiment further with the move in the future, but Kubiak admitted the plan worked well in the Scrappers’ favor.

“I keep mixing guys in, I’ve got to play certain guys and give them all certain at-bats,” Kubiak said. “They’ve just been responding to everything.”

Now well-versed in batting in virtually any spot in the lineup, Valdez said he doesn’t care where he’s placed as long as it benefits the team.

“It doesn’t matter where I’m thrown in the lineup, as long as I continue to work hard and I have opportunity, I will do my job.” Valdez said. “I don’t have a choice (where I play in the lineup), but I feel comfortable anywhere.”

Mendoza seems to have finally gotten into a groove along with Valdez. Slugging out of the number-two hole, he notched three hits, one RBI and one run Monday night.

Mendoza, who also normally hits in the bottom of the lineup, is only batting .212 on the year, but over the past 10 games, he is batting .395 with 15 hits, nine runs, eight RBIs and six walks.

Kubiak attributed Mendoza’s recent hot streak to an important decision in batting approach Mendoza made just a few weeks ago.

“He finally decided he wanted to stay as a switch hitter,” Kubiak said. “I guess he got frustrated and realized being right-handed was a little tougher than he thought, so hitting left-handed kind of helped, and he’s been doing, so I don’t think he’ll switch again.”

MERRYWEATHER SHARP ON THE HILL: Scrappers starting pitcher Julian Merryweather (1-1, 3.86 ERA) pitched five scoreless innings to collect his first win of the season.

“He pitched well, he kind of had a bit of a slow, wheezy motion, but he was effective,” Kubiak said.

Though Merryweather threw a lot of balls and tallied five strikeouts in the same amount of innings of work, he only allowed three hits and issued no walks.

“I was just really trying to slow everything next to each pitch, not trying to strike guys out, not try to do too much, just let them hit the ball and let the defense work.”

NEXT UP FOR MAHONING VALLEY: The Scrappers will hit the road the rest of this week to take on the State College Spikes for two games and Williamsport Crosscutters for a three-game series.

“We’ve been doing extremely well the last couple of days, and I want to see it continue,” Kubiak said. “We’ll see how it goes on this road trip because we’re going against some pretty good clubs.”

The Spikes are 26-10 this season and lead the New York-Penn League, Pinckney Division, by eight games, and the Crosscutters currently sit in third place in the division with an 18-19 record.