If any loss could be held as an example for how the Hillsboro Hops season has gone thus far, Sundays would be a good one.
Close, but just not quite.
Hillsboro closed out a three-game homestand, its second stint of the year at Hillsboro Ballpark, with a 4-3 loss to Northwest League South-leading Salem-Keizer in front of 3,721 spectators. Coupled with a 4-0 defeat at Eugene on Monday, the Hops fell to 4-14 on the season and ran their losing streak to five games. Hillsboros last win (through Monday) was a 3-2 victory at Boise on June 26.
We got a little momentum there towards the end, said Tyler Linton, whose fifth-inning home run brought the home team to within 2-1 at the time. We just gotta learn how to capitalize. Its still kind of early, and were still figuring each other out.
On Sunday, the Hops battled back and forth with the Volcanoes and tried to rally late but fell short. The visitors took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second on John Polonius RBI groundout that scored Jeremy Sy. The Volcanoes doubled their lead three innings later, when Ryan Jones sacrifice fly brought in Kentrell Hill, who was called safe at home under Hops catcher Elvin Sotos tag.
Leading off the next inning, Linton knocked his first home run of the season over the left field fence and into the Frontier Family Berm.
An outfielder, Linton was drafted in 2010, but most recently he has been recovering from surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee about 10 months ago. Sundays game was just his seventh appearance of the season, and he was playing in the designated hitter role as he continues to come back from his injury.
I dont mind, he said. Im happy to be out on the field. Im happy to do what I can to support the team.
But Salem-Keizer did just enough the rest of the way to stay out front. The Volcanoes made it 3-1 in the sixth on back-to-back doubles by Sy and Sam Eberle before the Hops answered in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, Soto tripled to score Jordan Parr, who had singled to reach base and then stole second.
Salem-Keizer scored what would prove to be the winning run in the top of the ninth. With two outs, Ryan Jones rifled a ball into left field that just eluded an outstretched Parr at third base and scored Hill, who had doubled to lead off the inning.
Parr gave the Hops life to start the bottom of the ninth, when his second home run of the season pinged off the foul pole in left field, cutting the Volcanoes lead to 4-3. But a Soto groundout and strikeouts by Ryan Kinsella and Linton ended the game.
Ross Gerdeman (0-1) picked up the loss for Hillsboro. The Ohio native and third-year pro went six innings, giving up five hits, three runs and three walks while striking out three. Daniel Gibson gave up one hit in two innings of relief, and Johnny Shuttlesworth yielded two hits and a run. Andrew Leenhouts earned the win for Salem-Keizer and Raymundo Montero was credited with the save.
Overall, theyve been doing a solid job, Soto said about the pitching staff. We just have to, as a team, just come up and finish games, pretty much.
Even with the loss, Soto likes the progress he has been seeing.
Overall, I think were starting to mesh well, which is pretty good ... especially early in the season, said Soto, who joined the team last month after playing college ball at Pittsburgh. Hopefully its all coming together and we can turn it around.
And there is good reason for that optimism. Hillsboro has been competitive in practically every outing. Of the Hops 14 losses, seven have come by just a single run, and three more by two runs each. In most statistical measures, though they occupied the bottom of the Northwest League standings early in the week, the Hops fell in the middle of the eight-team league.
As a team, the Hops were batting .218 through 18 games, sixth in the league and just .002 out of fifth. They were also sixth in runs (64), hits (125) and RBIs (55). But they were eighth in walks (50) and led the league in strikeouts (151.
In a similar vein, the pitching staff was fourth with an earned run average of 3.43, but first in hit batters (19), second in hits allowed (143) and tied for third in runs allowed (76). Only 56 of those runs were earned, however, the third fewest in the league. Hops fielders also had committed 27 errors through Monday, which is 1.5 per game.
All of this suggests that a little more patience at the plate and even a small amount of tightening on defense and by the pitching staff (particularly in walks and hit batters) could be what the Hops need to swing the numbers on the scoreboard to their favor.
As a member of the pitching staff, Patrick Smith does not make an appearance in every game, giving him the chance to do some observation.
Thats what were waiting for, as a team and as a whole, just really trying to find that comfort zone, Smith explained. Were playing good baseball right now. Its just weve got to catch some breaks. Were pitching the heck out of it. Our hitting is going to be timely, its going to come around, so weve just got to have faith in the guys.
The team was scheduled to play two more games against the Emeralds on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning home for the start of a five game series against Vancouver on Thursday (games after press deadline).
Of the games against the Canadians that are slated for today through Monday, first pitch is at 7:05 p.m. except for on Sunday, when the game will begin at 1:35. After that, the Hops have a rare day off on July 9, followed by a five-game series scheduled for July 10-14 at Tri-City.
Note: Braden Shipley was expected to make his season debut on Tuesday night at Eugene. The North Medford native was a first-round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks this spring. He joined the Hops on June 19.