WENATCHEE — All of a sudden, the Wenatchee AppleSox — the same team that struggled to score more than five runs the first month of the season — is looking like an offensive juggernaut.
Wenatchee continued to pound the ball Tuesday, winning its first of nine games against its West Coast League, North Division foe — The Victoria HarbourCats — 7-2.
The AppleSox recovered from giving up a run in the top of the first due to shaky defense, including errors by both first baseman Connor Spencer and second baseman Grant Palmer, by plating a run of their own. Brock Slavin pulled a two-out single to right, Spencer reached on an error by the Victoria third baseman, and designated hitter Andre Real hit a single to left to bring Slavin home. Slavin went 3-for-5 with a double.
Wenatchee continued to hit HarbourCats starter Scott Kuzminsky in the second inning, when third baseman Stockton Taylor led off with a double. Shortstop Joe Mello got a two-bagger of his own two hitters later to plate Taylor. Then Palmer hit a single, followed by Slavin scoring Mello on a single, running the score to 3-1, which gave Wenatchee starter Stuart Patke a lead that he would not give back.
AppleSox head coach Ed Knaggs’ lineup gave Patke even more insurance runs in the bottom of the third, when right fielder Ryan Barr hit a double to the wall in the right-center power alley. After a Taylor fly out, catcher Joey Harris hit a single, putting two runners on base for UCLA-bound Brett Stephens. Stephens watched two pitches go for balls and then crushed a fastball to one of the deepest points of the ball park for a three-run home run — his first of the season — which made the score 6-1.
“We have tended to not score a ton early, but Brett Stephens had a big play in this game,” Knaggs said. “He was on it, it was neat for him.”
Wenatchee finished the game with 13 hits — including four doubles. Barr leads the WCL in doubles with 11.
“I thought we were seeing the fastball well as a team,” Stephens said. “We put a lot of good swings on it. It was a team effort, we were hitting some line drives. Luckily mine got in the air and got out.”
Victoria didn’t touch home again until the top of the fifth, when Patke left a handful of balls over the plate. John Schucknecht led off the frame with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Brandon Smith single.
“It definitely helps as a pitcher (to play with the lead),” Patke said. “It’s hard to pitch when you’re losing, but when you get that run support, man, that’s great.”
But those two runs were all the HarbourCats could muster, even when reliever Lars Rider — of Wenatchee Valley College — struggled with his control in the seventh. Rider ran the bases full when he walked catcher Greg Fettes, surrendered a double to Schucknecht, and walked Smith. With no one out, Rider looked to be in trouble, but Victoria shortstop Timmy Richards bailed the hard-throwing righty out by swinging at the first pitch of his at-bat and flying out to center. Then Rider got a strikeout and a groundball to Mello to exit the inning unscathed.
“You have to look at that hitter (who popped out on the first pitch) and think, ‘(Rider) was struggling to throw strikes,’ ” Knaggs said. “I thought that was a big at-bat.”
Mello has been an invigorating presence for the AppleSox since he joined the team six days ago. He is 10-for-21, while maintaining the strong defensive presence at short that the Sox had grown accustomed to with Nate Steffler manning that position. Steffler has been nursing a sore ankle, which opened up a spot for Mello — a future Lewis-Clark State Tiger.
“He’s just an aggressive son-of-a-gun,” Knaggs said about Mello. “He just has that I’m-getting-on base swing. He takes a hack every time he goes to the plate.”
“He’s been a big plus for us.”
Steffler will be available for today’s game.
Tuesday’s win puts Wenatchee one game back from Victoria in the North Division standings. The HarbourCats raced out to a 7-1 record to start the season, but have lost six of their last ten. Wenatchee, on the other hand, started the season 2-5, but has won four of its last five.
“We’ve been playing well,” Knaggs said. “Offensively we’re swinging the bat better, putting some pressure on the defense, making some things happen.”
The Sox will look to continue their strong play tonight when Trevor Lubking takes the mound looking to reverse his bad fortune he’s had this summer. Lubking is 0-3 despite giving up only 10 earned runs in five appearances. He lost his last start in Medford, Ore., despite throwing a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings. He gave up a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh of a game that was shortened because of a rain delay and got the walkoff loss.
“I thought we played some really good baseball, weren’t real lucky with Lubking’s game (against Medford), when with just one swing the game was lost,” Knaggs said. “I think we’re just playing better as a whole.”
The lefty is tied for eighth in the WCL with 19 strikeouts.
“(Lubking) deserves (the run support other AppleSox starters have been enjoying), but you never know, you can only do what you can control,” Knaggs said. “(Lubking is) pretty good at that, he’s savvy.”
Tonight is fireworks night at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium. The game starts at 7:05 p.m., and would close the gap in the standings between the HarbourCats and the AppleSox if Wenatchee wins.
“We’re starting to really know what guys can do and where they need to be to be in a position to succeed,” Knaggs said. “I think we’ll continue to play better.”