With an opportunity to inch closer to what could only be called an outside chance for a spot in this year's postseason, the Hillsboro Hops failed to answer the bell, dropping the final two games of their six-game series with Eugene to earn a split with the second-place Emeralds.
The Hops trail Eugene by nine games with just 31 remaining. They missed an opportunity to get within five, falling both Saturday and Sunday at home to the Emeralds.
"Sure, it would've been nice to creep a little closer, but I wouldn't call it a buzzkill or anything," admitted Hops manager Vince Harrison. "It's always tough to lose close games, but we're in a position where we can be aggressive, so we'll just keep grinding."
In both Thursday and Sunday's games, the home Hops were on the wrong end of late-game heroics, allowing five runs in the tenth inning Thursday, then giving up an eighth-inning run in a tied ballgame Sunday en route to a 4-3 defeat.
But despite a couple narrow losses, Harrison said he's pleased with the team's overall performance. Much of the message this time of year is about the players' well-being as the season grinds toward the finish, he added.
"A lot of these guys are going through this for the first time," Harrison said. "We just need to keep them motivated and fresh and realizing they've still got some time to do some good things."
Brandon Pfaadt and Eduardo Díaz were promoted to Double-A Amarillo Sunday after the game.
Pfaadt has been lights-out over the last few weeks, allowing just one earned run over his last 21 innings pitched. The hard-throwing first-year pro has flipped a switch since June, and Harrison said it's been a pleasure to watch him make those strides on the mound.
"You've just seen something different out of him lately, and he just seems to get stronger as things go and he's doing it on the field and off," the manager said. "The way he goes about his business and studies the hitters on the days when he's not pitching is just a reflection of how he prepares and learns from his previous starts. It's cool to see him doing well."
Díaz, too, has impressed his manager. Harrison noted his power, quality arm and ability to play any of the three outfield positions.
In addition to Díaz in the outfield, Jorge Barrosa — while not yet moving up — has been on fire of late, batting near .500 this past week against Eugene and hitting at a .364 clip over his last 10 games.
Harrison didn't shy away from superlatives when describing the third-year pro from Venezuela, raving about his maturity despite being just 20 years of age.
"He's a special player," Harrison said of Barrosa. "The way he adjusts during a game, puts together at-bats and patrols the outfield, you forget he's the youngest position player on our team. It's impressive."
Now — after three straight weeks at home — the Hops travel to Spokane to face the third-place Indians. Harrison said it's a team the Hops are less familiar with, due to having played one series against them this season.
"It's our longest road trip of the year, and they've definitely got some guys who can swing the bats, but we'll be ready to go and definitely up for the challenge," Harrison said.
High-A West Standings
Hillsboro 3, Eugene 2
Hillsboro 10, Eugene 6
Eugene 11, Hillsboro 6
Hillsboro 7, Eugene 0
Eugene 11, Hillsboro 6
Eugene 4, Hillsboro 3
LF Jorge Barrosa batted .478 with a home run and three doubles in five games against Eugene.
CF Eduardo Díaz hit four home runs in five games versus the Emeralds and hit eight home runs over his last 22 games with Hillsboro.
P Brandon Pfaadt stayed hot, throwing seven shutout innings against Eugene, allowing just three hits while striking out six and walking none. He allowed just one earned run over his last 21 innings pitched with Hillsboro, while striking out 24.
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