Batting session, 'unbelievable' defense lift Pickles
A 6-1 win over the Port Angeles Lefties marked two milestones for the Portland Pickles on Saturday at Walker Stadium.
The victory was the college summer baseball team's first as a member of the West Coast League. It was also Justin Barchus' first as the Pickles' manager.
"It feels good," Barchus said. "I take winning and losing personal. I'm hard to live with. You can ask my fiancee when it doesn't go our way. I'm happy for the kids. I think we'll really carry some momentum off of this."
Barchus, 30, coached the now-independent Gresham GreyWolves to a 48-62 record from 2016-2017. He moved over to Lents Park when Rose City Baseball LLC bought the GreyWolves in November.
A night after striking out 19 times in a 3-2 loss to the Lefties, Portland bested its opponent in all three phases of the game. The Pickles had 10 hits to the Lefties' five, turned four double plays and never trailed.
Most of an announced crowd of 1,670 was on hand to see Portland assume its largest lead, 6-0, in the sixth inning. Shortstop Gio Diaz placed a soft liner on the edge of the right field foul line to score runners from first and second.
Diaz, a soon-to-be sophomore from Saint Mary's, led the offense with three hits, two doubles and three RBIs. He also laid down a sacrifice bunt in the first inning to set up a two-RBI double from cleanup hitter Jack Murphy, also from Saint Mary's.
Diaz said a pregame batting practice session with assistant coach Mark Magdaleno got the offense in sync. Players were behind fastballs and did not have as many scoring opportunities in Friday's loss.
"I felt a little bit more nervous at the plate with all the fans," Diaz said of Friday's season opener. "Coach Mags today, he brought us in and really refined our approach at the plate. I think that's what changed the outcome of tonight's offensive performance."
Barchus said Friday's sizeable crowd — announced at 2,507 — added to the offensive jitters.
Murphy's first at-bat was a tone-setter. The designated hitter had tweaked his back in his first plate appearance Friday and left a void in the middle of the order.
"Losing him yesterday after his first at-bat killed us," Barchus said. " It was big to have him back in the middle of the lineup. He's going to continue to progress with more at-bats, and I think he's going to be a big threat at the plate for us."
Third-year Pickle Joey Cooper lifted an 0-2 fastball from Lefties starter Tyler Tan over the right field bullpen to put Portland ahead 3-0 in the third. Consecutive doubles from first baseman Jace McKinney (University of Portland) and Diaz added a run in the fourth.
After Friday starter Alex Roth (Western Oregon) surrendered two runs and six hits over three innings, left-hander John Beller (USC) allowed the Pickles' offense to build a cushion.
The freshman cruised through the first two innings on 26 pitches. Beller pauses midway through his delivery, after he raises his lead leg. The delay, coupled with his ability to locate his fastball on the corners, kept Port Angeles off-balance.
"We really wanted to establish the fastball and get ahead with the fastball so we didn't have to show what else was in our arsenal," Beller said. "Once we got into strikeout situations, we were able to bring in those secondary pitches."
Beller was backed by a strong infield. Diaz and second baseman DQ Lee turned a double play in the third to strand two.
Beller had two strikeouts in the fourth as he completed his night at 70 pitches. He allowed one hit and struck out five.
Barchus compared Beller's performance to that of former MLB pitcher Jamie Moyer.
"He wasn't sharp late, but he did a good job getting them out," Barchus said. "His location is unbelievable. It's next-level for a freshman in college. They didn't square up any balls, and we played good defense behind him."
Portland's defense again stranded Lefties runners in scoring position. In the fifth inning, right-hander Connor Pellerin (Tulane) struck out the Lefties' No. 2 hitter, then observed as catcher Daniel Edson (USC) fired to Diaz at second to catch a runner stealing to end the frame.
Port Angeles scored via three consecutive walks from Pellerin and a single off right-hander Zach Espinosa (Cal), but Portland then gunned down two base runners attempting to take second base on the infield relay.
Third baseman Daniel Lopez (UP) and McKinney turned a double play to close the game in the ninth. Three walks from right-hander Colby Wyatt (Cornell) had loaded the bases, but Lopez snared a hard ground ball hit by shortstop Tyler Rosenburg to thwart the rally.
"The last two nights, the defense has been unbelievable," Barchus said. "Diaz is just different at short. He's just a different-level kid. And Lopez is really good at third base.
"We have some more guys showing up, too, on the left side. When you can keep playing defense like that, we're going to be in a lot of ballgames."
The other side of turning multiple double plays were the free passes that put base runners in scoring position. Portland walked eight batters over the last three innings and 10 total.
Trust in the Pickles' infield, though, which was error-free again, allowed pitchers to induce contact with the fastball when behind in counts.
"Double play is a pitcher's best friend," Beller said. "You just got a get-out-of-jail-free card. I knew they weren't squaring it up well, and the defense was making plays, and sure enough, it worked."
Pellerin picked up the win for Portland. He struck out five over the fifth and sixth innings.
Tan took the loss for Port Angeles after allowing four runs — three earned — in 3 2/3 innings.
Both teams are 1-1. The series finale begins at 5 p.m. Sunday at Walker Stadium.?