Bill Hass on Baseball:‘Professional hitter’ comes through again

‘Professional hitter’ comes through again
from Bill Hass, with Bill on Baseball at

There’s nothing that seems to faze Eric Gutierrez.

Not the low temperature or stiff wind that made Thursday a frigid night for baseball. Not a long bus ride back from Lakewood that got the team home at 8 a.m. Thursday morning. Not the situation that called for giving himself up to drive in a run. Not even the two-out, two-strike at-bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Gutierrez just did what he does?—?stay calm and respond. His single drove in the winning run to give the Hoppers a 3–2 win over Charleston Thursday night.

Manager Todd Pratt has a straightforward Gutierrez description of Gutierrez.

“He’s a professional hitter,” Pratt said. “He doesn’t succumb to pressure and that’s why he bats fourth for us.”

Gutierrez thought about the “professional hitter” tag for a moment and decided “it sounds good. I respect that.”

Pratt gave the team the afternoon off and Gutierrez said everyone felt fine coming to the ballpark.

“That was the first one of those this season,” he said of the long ride home after a night game. “We got some sleep, we rested and relaxed and we got ready to come here for the game.”

The weather was cold for the three games in Lakewood, even snowing for a time during one game. Gutierrez played college ball at Texas Tech, where the weather can be bad.

“It can be tough,” he said of Thursday’s conditions, when the game started at 51 degrees and ended at 44. “You’ve got to keep moving and stretching between pitches. Honestly, it didn’t feel that bad to me.”

Early on, players for both teams swung early in counts with little success. The Hoppers broke through in fourth inning, scoring a run on back-to-back doubles by Micah Brown and Michael Hernandez.

In the fifth, with runners on second and third and one out, Gutierrez hit a grounder to shortstop Wilkerman Garcia, whose only play was to first to retire Gutierrez. Aaron Knapp scored on the play to make it 2–0, which was all Gutierrez cared about.

“Sometimes you do what’s best for the team and you sacrifice your at-bat,” he said.

In the ninth inning, Zach Sullivan led off with a bunt single and was sacrificed to second by Garvis Lara. Knapp walked and so did Isael Soto to load the bases. That brought up Gutierrez. He worked the count to 2-and-2 against Charleston reliever Braden Bristo.

Gutierrez said Bristo made a mistake, catching too much of the plate on an inside pitch. He responded with a hard line drive that just cleared the glove of leaping shortstop Garcia to score Sullivan with the winning run.

Although he started the season going 1-for-10, Gutierrez got hot when the Hoppers went on the road. He has gone 15-for-43 in his last 10 games and lifted his average to .302.

He’s not a prototypical cleanup hitter with a lot of power, but Gutierrez had some experience there in college and feels comfortable in the spot. The truth is, it doesn’t matter to him where he hits in the lineup.

“I just try to get a good pitch, be on time and hit the ball hard,” he said.

The Hoppers are now 8–5 and and have won five of their last seven games. Four of those have come by one run.

“What that means is that in the first two weeks of the season, we haven’t been out of any games,” Pratt said. “This team has a grinding attitude. They don’t give up at-bats late in a game. That develops a winning attitude.”

If there was a downside to the game, it was that starter Ryan Lillie didn’t get the win. The right-hander was dominant through seven innings, allowing no runs and two hits while posting eight strikeouts.

Lillie turned over a 2–0 lead to R.J. Peace, who surrendered a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning. But Peace bounced back and retired the RiverDogs in order in the ninth. He picked up the win when the Hoppers scored in the bottom of the inning.

NOTES: The Hoppers made two roster changes, activating pitcher Dustin Beggs and shortstop Jose Devers … Pitcher Reilly Hovis was promoted to Jupiter and infielder J.C. Millan went to extended spring training … Beggs was a workhorse for the Hoppers last season, starting 26 games and going 10–6 with a 3.86 ERA … Beggs hurt his back late in spring training and Pratt said he’ll be used out of the bullpen to build up his innings … Devers was also injured late in the spring; otherwise, he would have broken training camp with the team … Only 18 years old, he’ll be the primary shortstop … He went 1-for-4 and made a nice diving catch of a low line drive … Pratt said Devers, one of the players obtained in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, “is very young but he’s a good player and he’s here for a reason.”