Hillsboro bounces-back for series split with Vancouver
A week removed from being swept by Spokane, the Hops rebounded, salvaging a split of their six-game series with Vancouver.
Hillsboro batted .322 as a team and scored 45 runs versus Vancouver. But while hot at the plate, they were cold on the mound, with Hops starting pitchers combining for a 5.50 ERA against the fourth-place Canadians.
"I thought we put together some really good offensive stretches and overall were better collectively as a group," Hops manager Vince Harrison said. "As far as the pitching, we've got some guys kind of grinding through a lot of things, but our main goal is to give these guys experiences and opportunities to be put in spots. We want these guys to pitch in big moments in a game, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
For the bulk of the season, the Hops have used their starting pitchers in traditional roles throughout the week, ensuring that their best arms stay on turn, settle into a good routine and stay fully stretched out. But as the season winds to a close, Harrison said the Hops will be using bullpen days — in which a handful of relievers pitch in succession, rather than having the first several innings handled by a starter — in an effort to manage usage rates of starting pitchers getting their first taste of this level of innings pitched.
"There's no question that we're trying to keep some of these guys' innings down," the manager said. "So, we can look at it two ways: We're resting guys a bit, but at the same time getting bullpen guys more opportunities to pitch."
While not a pitcher, one of those players getting their first taste of this extent of games is highly touted shortstop Blaze Alexander. The 22-year-old is in just his second full season of professional baseball, and by his own standard, he has struggled from a numbers standpoint this year, batting just .227 — which is down 35 points from his first full season in 2019.
On the flip side, the speedy Alexander has hit 10 home runs in 82 games, and over the past 15 games, he has batted .318, so he's trending in the right direction.
Harrison — who also managed Alexander in Low-A Kane County, when he was a teenager — said he's been pleased with Alexander's progression. He thinks much of his struggles could be attributed to the absence of minor league baseball in 2020.
"I think he's in a really good spot right now," Harrison said. "From a numbers and ability standpoint, I think even he'd tell you he hasn't performed to what he can, but he's played really solid defense, and even though he struggled at the plate in the middle of the season, he never really shut it down and he continued to battle, and I think what you're seeing the last couple of weeks is that work's paying off."
In general, Harrison added, "I think you're seeing the effects COVID had on these guys. You can simulate stuff for pitchers, but for position players … it's hard to replace that game experience, and I think you're really seeing that this year. Especially with strikeouts."
Now, with just three series remaining in the season, Harrison said it's about keeping his team focused and trying to end in a positive direction. The Hops have already been eliminated from playoff contention, so the focus is entirely on player development now — which is the primary function of the minor leagues as a whole.
For most players, the regular season's final game will mark the beginning of what will be a four- to five-month offseason. Harrison thinks he and his coaches have worked to keep their players in the proper headspace, and he added that these last few weeks can go a long way towards their reputation going forward with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
"I think it's helpful for them to see the finish line, but at the same time not to shut it down," he said. "We want these guys to know how important the finish of the season can be as far as putting you in place for next year. We've tried to hammer that home, and I think we've done a pretty good job with that."
The Hops host Eugene for six games this week, with Friday night's game offering postgame fireworks and Saturday being a "Green Out."
For additional information visit hillsborohops.com.
High-A West Standings
Hillsboro 8, Vancouver 2
Hillsboro 11, Vancouver 4
Vancouver 8, Hillsboro 6
Vancouver 8, Hillsboro 7
Hillsboro 9, Vancouver 6
Vancouver 8, Hillsboro 4
3B Tristan English was 10-for-24 with a double, two home runs and five RBIs in six games versus Vancouver.
SS Blaze Alexander batted .318 with two home runs, eight RBIs and a stolen base in five games versus the Canadians.
P Marcos Tineo allowed a single earned run and five hits in his outing this past week versus Vancouver, and has just a 1.50 ERA over the last 15 days, with 13 strikeouts and five walks.
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