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Chatham's offense, starter falls flat in 5-2 loss to Brewster

by Andrew Crane, 06-25-2021

Chatham's offense, starter falls flat in 5-2 loss to Brewster

BREWSTER — Brandon Sproat’s command had already faltered by the time Kurtis Byrne dug into the batter’s box. He’d walked a batter and allowed two stolen bases in the first. Then he fell behind 3-0 on the opening two Brewster batters in the second and walked them both. It mirrored an inconsistency that overshadowed his redshirt freshman season at Florida, where he allowed just six combined earned runs across his first 14 appearances before allowing 10 in his last two — collapsing during his final 4.1 innings.

When Byrne leveled his bat across the plate, flashing a bunt and placing it in between the pitcher’s mound and third base, it presented a chance for Sproat to record an out, to provide a foundation that stabilized his second inning and whatever distance followed it. Instead, when Sproat bare-handed the ball and fired it toward first base, no one hovered over it. Caden Grice, the first baseman, had charged. And Seth Stephenson, the second baseman, didn’t sprint over to cover in time.

“That just can't happen,” Chatham catcher John Michael Faile said.

The defensive miscue put Brewster up 1-0 and put runners on second and third with no outs. Both of those runs scored. Sproat’s second inning opened with 10 balls and three strikes, prompting a mound visit from his catcher, and the Whitecaps found a groove that their dormant offense — sitting last in the CCBL for batting average and slugging percentage — had failed to find through their opening three games.

But the main problem for Chatham on Friday, the one even more profound than the defensive errors and wild pitches and passed balls, stood 6-foot-7 on the mound for Brewster and struck out six batters in the first three innings. Brian Fitzpatrick painted the outside corner with his fastball, keeping the Anglers off-balance and mixing in his changeup that approached the plate 10 miles per hour slower and resulted in waving swings that continually missed his pitches.

What resulted was a 5-2 Chatham loss at Stony Brook Field, one where more negatives shone through than positives even after David Falco and Chase Hampton entered out of the bullpen and provided more than six innings of one-run baseball to give their offense continued chances to tie the game. The offense struck out 14 times, and its slump that dates back to the first week of practice, continued.

“We strike out way too much, me included,” Faile said. “Just going up there, and I don't know if it's not having an approach or just not seeing the ball, swinging at bad pitches, but we gotta change something.”

The first glimpses of this season-long hitting problem came after players first arrived in Chatham earlier this month, some fresh off NCAA tournament losses and others with a week or two of rust to work off. They took round after round of batting practice, but then when the first intrasquad scrimmage started on June 16, so did the strikeouts. Cam Chick hit a home run the first day, but that was the only hit resulting from solid contact. The next day, they struck out at least nine times.

Those live-hitting problems translated over into the season — even when home runs drowned them out at times — and reached a breaking point against the Whitecaps. Postgame, Holiday pulled the Anglers into a huddle next to first base for almost 10 minutes, and Faile said that the third-year Chatham manager told his players changes needed to start in batting practice. They just tried to hit balls as far as they could. There was no approach. Hitting rounds resembled a home-run derby than it did a way for tangible swing improvements to surface.

On Friday, strikeout after strikeout continued to plague Chatham as it attempted to claw back, just as it had for its first four games to open the 2021 Cape Cod Baseball League season. Its pitchers continued recording double-digit strikeout games, but so did its hitters. They sat at the top of the CCBL standings with 40 through four games, including four by Jake DeLeo Wednesday against the Whitecaps and a handful by Lyle Miller-Green after igniting the Anglers’ offense with a home run and a bases-clearing double the first two games.

For Holliday, it presented a need to manufacture runs with balls in play whenever he had the chance. Grice led off the fourth with a single to right field, lifting his helmet off his head as he rounded first to keep it from blowing off, and advanced to second on a wild pitch to give the Anglers their first runner in scoring position of the night. Kevin Parada moved him to third, stole second, and they both scored when Jake DeLeo snapped a stretch of five straight strikeouts when he laced a two-run single to center.

DeLeo’s hitless streak encompassed the issues that followed the Anglers even as they won two games, tied another and nearly constructed a comeback against Yarmouth-Dennis on Tuesday. He was someone who Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall told Holliday to take a chance on heading into the summer — “I don't question Danny,” Holliday said during the first week of practice — and turned into the consistent centerfield who continued to slide up in the batting order until reached the second slot, where his strikeout stretched started two days ago. After his single that ended Fitzpatrick’s night, though, Chatham couldn’t capitalize on a bases-loaded opportunity when Rivera grounded out to second.

Sproat’s inconsistency in his two-plus innings gave the Anglers’ offensive lapses heightened importance as the game stretched on. When he walked the first batter of the third inning and started the next one with a ball, Holliday called time and strolled out to the mound to make a pitching change. A trainer had followed Sproat to the mound at the start of the inning, and met him again when he reached the first-base line. David Falco — the reliever from Maryland who saved Victor Mederos’ final line in the opener on Sunday — inherited the 1-0 count, walked the batter, but recorded three outs and helped the Anglers to escape while allowing just a run.

Falco bridged the gap until Chase Hampton (Texas Tech) took over, found a groove with his fastball and changeup, and allowed just two hits, one more and struck out seven Brewster hitters. The one miscue came when Jake Thompson rocketed an RBI double to add an insurance run.

“I knew that they wanted me to stretch it out to four, at least get four,” Hampton said. “So that was what my sights were on — at least get four.”

He barely missed that mark, logging 3.2 innings before Adam Scoggins finished the eighth inning, but Hampton still kept the game close for the offense to stage a comeback. The Anglers couldn’t score a run with runners on second and third, one out and their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Grice and Kevin Parada, due up. Then in the eighth, DeLeo reached on an error, and Garcia drew a walk with two outs, and, to put both of them in scoring position, Chatham called for a double-steal.

But Brewster’s catcher gave up the shorter throw to get DeLeo and instead hosed out Garcia, who sulked back toward the dugout, handed his helmet to first-base coach Mickey Tettleton and adjusted his pants — now tainted with dirt from the failed steal and the eight pickoff attempts from the last time he reached base, the final, fresh layer reflecting the final chance that Chatham and its offense squandered.