In the wake of a disappointing road series with last-place Tri-City a week prior, the Hillsboro Hops rebounded, taking four of their six games with Vancouver in what's become a bit of a crosstown rivalry.
With Vancouver playing their home games in Hillsboro this season due to Canadian border complications with the coronavirus pandemic, the Hops and Canadians have been and continue to share Ron Tonkin Field. Hillsboro manager Vince Harrison said it's always fun to win games, but he added that this season's unique situation made last week's series win just a bit better.
As added "incentive," the Hops and Canadians kept up a running gag on social media, with the losing team changing its profile picture on Twitter for the next day as a tip of the cap to the victors.
But for the men on the field, Harrison said, it was mostly business as usual.
"Wins are wins, but sure, it's good to take some games from them due to them being in town," Harrison said. "But to be honest, we really never cross paths with them, so in a way, it's just another series."
After dropping the series opener 3-2, the Hops responded with four straight wins before dropping the finale 6-4. The series win was the first for Hillsboro since they took three of five from Tri-City in a rain-shortened affair the second week of June.
Harrison attributed much of the Hops' success to a balanced hitting and pitching attack, the product of a couple of months' worth of experience at the High-A level.
"We've been challenging these guys to pitch when you don't have your best stuff and find a way to put the ball in play when you're not at your best at the plate, and it's starting to pay off," the manager said. "The conversations and the work has continued, and at this time of the year, guys are just progressing and making bigger strides. It doesn't always happen at the pace we'd like, but statistically, we see things changing."
Those statistics include a team batting average that has improved from .227 for the season to roughly .250 over the past two weeks. On the mound, the trend has been similar, with the team ERA going from 4.34 over the season to 3.17 versus Vancouver, 3.89 over the last two series, and 4.01 over the last month.
Harrison said those numbers are encouraging, both for the players and the coaching staff whose job it is to inspire that development.
"Going back to the beginning, we probably had a lot of guys that this level was maybe a little challenging for them," Harrison acknowledged. "But they're getting better, and that's a good sign because we're in player development."
One of those developing players is starting pitcher Brandon Pfaadt, who in just his fourth start at the High-A level threw a complete-game shutout against the Canadians Wednesday, July 14, allowing just four hits while striking out five and walking one.
Harrison said Pfaadt has been a pleasant surprise since being picked in the fifth round of last year's abbreviated draft. For him, success starts with his work off the field.
"As far as preparation, the guy's top-notch," Harrison said. "He understands the idea of a plan and how to execute it. It's fun to watch."
Against Vancouver, Pfaadt was especially efficient even without dominant stuff. The first-year pro from Kentucky threw just 92 pitches over his nine innings pitched, and with just five strikeouts, he proved more than capable of befuddling Canadians hitters without throwing it by them.
"I think what he does is a special talent," Harrison said. "He throws a lot of strikes, reads swings well, controls the game and makes adjustments throughout. I think a lot of people who watch baseball want to just see home runs and strikeouts, but you know, the people who understand the game realize how impressive that is."
The Hops traveled to Eugene this week to face the second-place Emeralds, a team that entered this week's series having beaten the Hops in nine of their last 12 meetings. But while yet to get the best of Eugene, Harrison believes his team might be in a position to do just that over this week's six-game set.
"I think we're starting to understand what type of team they are," the manager said. "Their roster has changed a bit, but for the most part, we know these guys and we have a plan — now it's up to us to go out and execute it."
High-A West Standings
Last week's results
Vancouver 3, Hillsboro 2
Hillsboro 2, Vancouver 0
Hillsboro 7, Vancouver 4
Hillsboro 12, Vancouver 6
Hillsboro 4, Vancouver 3
Vancouver 6, Hillsboro 4
C Axel Andueza hit .294 with two home runs, four RBIs and a stolen base over five games against the Canadians.
2B Cam Coursey tallied six hits in just four games against Vancouver, batting .400, scoring three runs and stealing a base.
P Brandon Pfaadt threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout, striking out five while walking just one in just his fourth start since joining the Hops June 24.
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