Bill on Baseball: Harrer's Simple Approach Pays Off
by Bill Hass
Keep it simple.
Sometimes baseball players forget that basic rule and become their own worst enemies. Just ask Hoppers' outfielder Justin Harrer.
Harrer continued his hot hitting Wednesday afternoon with a home run, a double, two RBIs and two runs scored to lift the Hoppers to a 3-2 win over Asheville.
"I had a terrible June," Harrer said. "I talked with Petey (hitting coach Chris Petersen) and some teammates and I was swinging at balls out of the (strike) zone. So I decided to simplify things. I made a few little tweaks and began hitting the ball up the middle."
The statistics back him up. Harrer hit just .162 in June, but is thumping the ball at a .389 clip in July. In his last 10 games, he's hitting .452 with three home runs, nine RBIs and 11 runs scored. Almost all of that has been done hitting out of the 8 and 9 spots in the lineup, which he doesn't seem to mind.
"If I'm in the lineup at all that's great," he said. "I might get one less at-bat than guys higher in the order, so I want to try to make them count."
He did just that Wednesday. In the bottom of the second inning, with Zack Kone on base, Harrer drove a fastball to right-center field for his fifth homer. That gave the Hoppers a 2-0 lead, but the Tourists came back to tie the game.
In the eighth inning, as the first batter up, Harrer laced another drive, this time to left-center, that wound up as a double when Asheville's Nico Decolati missed a diving catch. Ji-Hwan Bae laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to send Harrer to third.
Fabricio Macias followed with a high popup toward right field. Asheville played the infield in, so second baseman Terrin Vavra couldn't reach it racing back. Right fielder Daniel Montano sprinted in but couldn't get there and the ball fell safely as Harrer scored from third with the go-ahead run.
"I wanted to keep close to the base," Harrer said, "and I knew it would be a tough throw for the second baseman if he caught it because of his momentum. When I saw it fall in and then the outfielder picked it up, I took off."
Harrer, with manager Miguel Perez urging him on from the third base coaching box, beat the throw easily.
In 2015 Harrer was drafted in the 18th round out of high school by the San Diego Padres but chose to go to college at Washington State. Three years later, he lasted until the 35th round when he was selected by Pittsburgh.
"Pro ball is a lot different lifestyle and I wasn't sure that I was mature enough to handle it," he said of passing up pro baseball out of high school. "I may have sacrificed some money, but I made the right decision and I'm here now."
Petersen said Harrer has made an adjustment at the plate.
"He's calmed down so he's more relaxed and can see the ball better," Petersen said. "If you're too tense and excited, it takes away the visual aspect. He's very strong and he keeps things simple. He's not your average 9-hole hitter."
Osvaldo Bido pitched well in his bid to become the all-time Hoppers' leader in wins, but got no decision. He allowed two runs on five hits in six innings. Bido had a 2-1 lead going into the top of the sixth but allowed a run that tied the game and kept his record at 11-5.
The Hoppers' bullpen pitched very well, particularly the 8th and 9th innings. Cristofer Melendez struggled in the 7th but managed to strand a runner on third with one out. Cam Alldred retired the side in order in his inning, picking up the win, and Yerry De Los Santos did the same to record his seventh save.
After losing three straight in Augusta, only the second time all season the Hoppers have done that, they rebounded to take the last game of that series and then the opener of three at home against Asheville.
The teams continue the series with a doubleheader Thursday, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
NOTES: Alldred is the last member of the Hoppers' 8-man bullpen that opened the season after Connor Loeprich was promoted to Bradenton ... Kone, Macias and Jonah Davis all joined Harrer with two hits ... Kone, playing third base, ended the game with a nifty short-hop pickup and good throw ... With Michael Gretler on the injured list, the Hoppers have added shortstop Victor Ngoepe, who was born in South Africa ... Also new are reliever Michael LoPresti and Winston Nicacio, who will make a spot start in Thursday's second game.
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