Bill Hass on Baseball:Davis, Buckelew take on different roles in 5-4 win

Davis, Buckelew take on different roles in 5-4 win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

The Hoppers played against type with “Christmas In July” at NewBridge Bank Park Saturday, so Mason Davis and James Buckelew went along with that idea.

Davis is not a home-run hitter, but he belted a two-run shot that helped the Hoppers build a 5-0 lead over Savannah. Closing hasn’t been Buckelew’s role, but he got an opportunity and recorded his first save to preserve the 5-4 victory.

The homer by Davis, hit well to right field, was just his third of the season. He has been working on his swing lately with hitting coach Luis Quinones.

“He wants me to swing down on the ball to get the loop out of my swing,” Davis said. “So I went up trying to stay on top of the ball and accidentally got into one. I pretty much knew it was a homer when I hit it.”

K.J. Woods hit his 13th homer and Arturo Rodriguez added his 10th. Asked to grade all three, Davis smiled.

“I think I got them today,” he said, then quickly added a qualifier. “But I can’t compete with them. They’re the power hitters.”

Quinones wants Davis to remember that and work on his strengths.

“At times he makes a loop with his swing and gets underneath the ball,” Quinones said. “When he does that, he hits fly balls instead of line drives. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter. That’s his game. He’s got a little pop and tonight the pitcher made a mistake and he put a good swing on it. But that’s not who he is.”

Since Josh Hodges was promoted to Double-A a couple of weeks ago, Kyle Fischer has claimed the closer’s job. But he was unavailable Saturday so when it came to protecting a one-run lead in the ninth, the call went to Buckelew, who has been used anywhere from the middle innings to a setup role. Pitching coach Jeremy Powell told him to “be alive” as the game went along.

And was Buckelew ever alive when he came in, throwing six pitches to end the game.

“It felt a little different but it was fun,” he said. “My adrenaline was pumping and my mental approach was to go right at them and not be too fine.”

The first hitter, Michael Katz, drilled Buckelew’s second pitch deep to straightaway center. Davis, who is still learning the position, was playing deep anyway but still had to turn and track down the ball. He made the catch about on the warning track about a foot from the wall.

“My heart stopped for a second,” Buckelew said, “but when I when I saw Mason’s route to the ball I knew it wasn’t going to go out.”

Davis said he knew it was over his head but he didn’t want to let it drop.

“I thought for a moment it might sneak out of there,” he said, “but I knew I had it when it was about 20 feet from me.”

Buckelew retired John Mora on a routine groundout with one pitch, then struck out Jean Rodriguez on three pitches, the last a called strike on a knee-buckling curve.

“I threw a changeup for a strike, then a high fastball (that Rodriguez missed),” Buckelew said. “He was assuming I would throw something up again and the curve had a good late break.”

The Hoppers got an important 5 2/3 innings from starter Enderson Franco. He had been awful his previous two starts, giving up 16 runs, 14 earned, in a total of just 4 1/3 innings. He held Savannah to four hits and two runs, one unearned, while striking out seven and earning his first win as a Hopper.

“The first five innings were easy because he commanded his fastball,” Powell said. “He threw strikes with it and nailed the outer half of the plate, which enabled him to command all three pitches.”

Sam Alvis contributed 1 2/3 innings of shutout relief. He got himself into a jam in the eighth by hitting the leadoff batter and walking the next, but he settled down to retire the next three.

“He really showed some fight there,” Powell said. “There was a 10-pitch at-bat and he bounced back from that. It was nice to see him maintain the lead.”

A win is a win, the second straight for a team that has been scuffling. But manager Kevin Randel still wants to see his club play better. The Hoppers committed three errors and once again failed to move runners over and drive them in.

“It’s not the way we like to win, with the errors and our situational hitting,” he said. “We had a chance for some add-on runs (in the bottom of the eighth) and didn’t get them in.”

NOTES: Woods had a double and single to go with his homer and Rodriguez had a single in addition to his homer … The teams play Sunday at 4 p.m. with Tyler Kolek starting for the Hoppers.