The West Virginia Power hasn’t exactly shown a bunch of it at the plate during the early stretch of the South Atlantic League season.
The Power entered Wednesday’s doubleheader versus the Asheville Tourists last in the 14-team SAL in hitting and third from the bottom in runs scored. In splitting two versus Asheville, the Power took some steps to climb from the bottom.
A three-run Asheville first inning led to a 5-4 Tourists win in Game 1, as the Power couldn’t capitalize on a season-high 13 hits. West Virginia rallied in the second game, thanks to a tie-breaking Danny Collins home run in the sixth that led to a 3-2 Power win.
The Power (6-8) came into Wednesday just a hair under Rome for last in the league in batting, hitting .220 as a team and third to last with 40 runs scored. It’s a different view than where West Virginia finished last season, ranked fourth in the league with a .256 average and second with 660 runs scored.
Power manager Michael Ryan said a slow start can be expected for players in low-Class A beginning their first full seasons in professional baseball. It’s not just the change from short season to full season. West Virginia second baseman Erich Weiss said it’s also the change in pitching between those two seasons.
“Now a lot of the pitchers have more control,” Weiss said. “They can spot a fastball up or a curve ball up pretty well. In short-season, most were a lot of college players and a lot of younger pitchers, so they might not have had as much work doing that.”
The Power didn’t have much trouble getting contact on Tourists pitching in the first game. West Virginia’s hit total bested their previous season best of nine set April 11 in a 6-3 win over Lexington. It just didn’t translate into runs. The Power rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to cut Asheville’s lead to one, but could get no closer.
West Virginia’s pitching did it no favors. Starter Buddy Borden couldn’t make it out of the first inning, leaving with two outs and the bases loaded having walked in a run. Henry Hirsch walked in two more to put the Power in an early 3-0 hole.
The Power bats weren’t as hot in the second game, but they got the job done to split the doubleheader. West Virginia’s first two runs came on sacrifice flies. The first came from JaCoby Jones in the first inning, which scored Justin Maffei. It was Jones who scored in the fourth, thanks to a Wyatt Mathisen sac fly. The Tourists (8-6) tied the game in the top of the sixth before Collins’ bomb.
Asheville tried to extend the game in the seventh, but Wilfredo Rodriguez was thrown out at home, then the Power turned a double play to end the game. Cody Dickson got the win for West Virginia, giving up six hits and two runs, one earned, over six innings.
West Virginia takes to the road for a three-game series at Kannapolis starting tonight at 7:05.
The key to maintaining hot bats and turning those hits into runs is about patience, Ryan said. For players that young, that’s not always an easy thing for which to ask.
“We’ve had some times where we’ve had some runners in scoring position,” he said. “We’ve had guys trying to drive in both runs or all three runs, including themselves. You just try to simplify it and try to drive in one, to stay with your plan when they get to the plate. Shorten their swing up a little bit, simplify it and they should be OK.”
Yet Weiss said the players understand that strategy. He saw it work for him after he struggled during West Virginia’s first series of the season. He entered Wednesday as the Power’s leading hitter and the fourth-best hitter in the league with a .366 average. He went 3 for 6 in the doubleheader.
“I kind of thought about that in the first series, when I wasn’t doing very well,” he said. “I just kind of thought about the fact I have probably 450 more at-bats. Each person on the team is going to get so many at-bats and so many games. They’re just going to, by the second month into the season, be feeling really well and in a groove.”
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.