A foundation for success in baseball is to not walk the leadoff batter, or surrender free base runners. period.
After an 0-2 start to the season, the West Virginia Miners can give you 18 reasons why.
After allowing nine runners to reach base between walks and hit batsmen in the season opener against Lafayette Thursday, they replicated that performance on Friday, allowing nine more to reach in the same manner in dropping the second game of a four-game series 6-4 at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
Despite free base runners leading to three runs early in the game, the Miners battled back to tie the game, but miscues on the mound were again the deciding factor.
“It’s just understanding what our sequences need to be in certain situations,” Miners manager Mike Syrett said. “The fastball is the best pitch in baseball and it’s my job to reiterate that to them. We’re working through some kinks right now. It’s early on but there’s a lot of room for improvement. We’re not playing bad baseball, so that’s good.”
The inconsistencies on the mound were evident early.
After the Aviators’ leadoff batter in the second inning was plunked, a one-out single advanced him to second before a fielder’s choice put runners on the corners. The Miners worked out of the jam, but they were not as fortunate when faced with similar circumstances in the third.
West Virginia opened the frame issuing walks to the first two batters. Both scored when No. 2 hitter Mason Sykes lined a double into the gap, giving Lafayette a 2-0 lead. Sykes himself eventually scored on a two-out single, and the Aviators exited the inning with a 3-0 lead.
Slowly but surely the Miners chipped away, though.
After being handcuffed in the first four innings, sending the minimum amount of batters to the plate, the hosts eventually broke through. A solo home run over the left field fence by Ross Mulhall made it a 3-1 game. Brock Randels made it 3-2 in the following inning with a two-out RBI single, but a hit batsmen in the top of the seventh eventually scored, padding Lafayette’s lead at 4-2.
That still didn’t deter the Miners.
Runs in the seventh and eighth innings tied the contest at four heading into the ninth, but struggles finding the strike zone gave the Aviators the edge.
“We’ve got to make the in-game adjustment,” Syrett said. “Good hitters are making adjustments during the at-bat. It’s my job, the catcher’s job and the pitcher’s job to make those adjustments and see what they’re trying to do so that we get the advantage. We’re trying to play chess, not checkers.”
Four of the first five batters the Aviators sent to the plate in the top of the ninth reached base, two by walks and two as hit batsmen as the visitors broke the tie with two runs and sealed the deal.
The Miners will now look to dispel their early pitching woes and break even in the series today and Sunday.
“I like to say that we play the game of baseball against ourselves,” Syrett said. “Regardless of what the other team’s trying to do, if we execute our plan, we’re hard to beat. That goes for any team. I think it’s a matter of understanding what our roles are, executing our plan and going where the game takes us. If we beat ourselves, that’s one thing. We’re working out some kinks and it’s early, but once these boys learn each other, that’s the most important thing.”
First pitch tonight is set for 6:35 p.m., and a fireworks show will follow the game.
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @TjackRH