Bill Hass on Baseball:Twine, Perez play key roles in 7–4 win

Twine, Perez play key roles in 7–4 win
from Bill Hass, with Bill on Baseball at

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and Thursday night’s game was a perfect example.

Justin Twine began the game with a .144 batting average and no home runs. Sam Perez carried an 8.79 earned run average into the contest. But their contributions were crucial as the Hoppers beat Delmarva 7–4 for their 10th win in the last 13 games.

Twine drilled his first homer, a three-run shot in the second inning that staked the Hoppers to a 4–1 lead they never lost. And Perez stopped a comeback by the Shorebirds in the sixth inning when the lead had been shaved to one run.

“We might not be the most prospect-built team, but from what I see we’re the best team,” said manager Todd Pratt.

“They care for each other, they play hard, they hustle out balls and they’re consistent. Someone does something every night.”

That was the case in this game. After the Hoppers had scored a run to tie it 1–1 in the second inning, Twine stepped up with two runners on base and no outs. He jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Zach Muchenhirn and drove it well over the fence in left center field.

“With two runners on, I was looking to drive the ball in the gap,” Twine said. “I was on time with the swing and put the barrel on it. I didn’t even feel the vibration. There’s a tiny sweet spot on the bat, and if you catch it right, the ball can fly.”

Pratt had to laugh about it because he had given the bunt sign and Twine missed it. Players who miss signs pay a small fine, but not this time.

“I’m happy to pay that one,” Pratt said. “It was huge for us. That’s what you should do with a first-pitch fastball.”

Twine later added a broken-bat single to finish with a two-hit night. He said he has been working with the coaches to develop better plate discipline, trying to remain confident without worrying about results, which he admits is easier said than done.

Perez entered the game with two outs and a runner on first base in the sixth inning. Delmarva had scored twice off starter Dustin Beggs to slice a 5–2 deficit to 5–4. Perez went to a full count on Cole Billingsley and got him to line out to right field to end the inning. In the seventh, he gave up a two-out single but ended things by striking out cleanup hitter Colin Woody.

Even though the box score credits him with a hold, Perez essentially got the save with his work.

“I knew I had to kill their momentum.” Perez said. “With Billingsley, I didn’t want to be too cute, so we peppered him with fastballs, then went to off-speed. We went to the full count and got him to fly out. In the seventh inning, I knew they were capable of a comeback so it was a matter of bearing down.”

Perez had some rough early outings, giving up five runs (four earned) in a two-inning stint at Delmarva and seven runs in two-thirds of an inning at Greenville. He had a bloated 13.50 ERA after that one.

But in the five games since, he has pitched 6 1/3 innings and given up no runs, just two hits, no walks and six strikeouts. His demeanor on the mound has been different, with the confidence coming through.

“I was up in the zone,” Perez said, “so I wanted to regain that downward angle. I wanted to pitch with conviction, not just be a guy throwing strikes. After Greenville, I was done feeling sorry for myself. That’s not me and that’s not how I pitch. It’s all mental.”

Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said Perez is being stretched to be a long reliever.

“He put out the fire in the sixth inning,” DiFelice said. “He throws 90–94 (miles per hour) with a good slider and changeup. He’s one of the guys we have total faith in and he’ll get more opportunities.”

Beggs picked up his third win and Kyle Keller notched his sixth save. Offensively, Walker Olis and Aaron Knapp had RBI doubles and Jarett Rindfleisch and James Nelson added RBI singles. Eric Gutierrez had two hits and Luis Pintor scored twice.

The teams play again Friday at First National Bank Field. Dylan Lee will start the 7 p.m. game for the Hoppers.

NOTES: Pratt will miss the games Friday and Saturday while he attends the high school graduation of his son, J.R. Pratt … Pitcher Alex Mateo was sent back to extended spring training, where he will be groomed as a starter.