CLINTON — The Clinton LumberKings grabbed their second win in a row and took the lead in the series against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in a 4-2 win on Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s getting information and applying it, and it’s believing in what we’re doing and execution,” Clinton manager Denny Hocking said.
It was a game where everything seemed to click for Clinton, starting with the pitching.
Reliever Matt Clancy made things look easy as he struck out the side in the top of the ninth to end the game. He wasn’t the only one: starter Clay Chandler and reliever Austin Hutchison both pitched solid outings in the win.
“We could have been better getting ahead of guy, and we will improve that,” pitching coach Doug Mathis said. “I think overall, that’s where we need to go with this pitching staff is get them to understand they are pretty good and they are going to strike guys out, we just have to control the strike zone a little better.
“We will do that. We have the ability to do that.”
Plus, the defense flowed smoothly from play to play, adding some confidence to the pitching effort.
“I’ve been impressed with the positioning, these guys are always in the right spot,” Hocking said. “They’re always looking to the dugout when I want to move guys, thinking about what pitches we’re going to throw and then just staying ready. We preach every single day to stay ready, and they’ve done that.”
After taking an early lead in the first, Wisconsin’s KJ Harrison hit one into the left field corner for a double, recording the Timber Rattlers’ first hit of the game. He advanced on a groundout, and then Gilbert Lara drove another one down the left field line. That landed just fair and tied the game up at 1-1.
The go-ahead run came with two outs, when Jay Feliciano looped one over the infield into the center field grass.
It was maybe the only slip up in a solid outing from Chandler, who wasn’t pitching in his normal role.
“He fell in love with his cutter a little bit and lost command of the strike zone,” Mathis said. “They grabbed a couple doubles but I’m not worried about it, he threw really well. He’s making a spot start for us anyway, he’s normally a bullpen guy for us.
“We need him to do exactly what he did today, pitching into the fourth inning. He kept us in the game and threw out standing.”
The LumberKings knew they were still fine.
“We are not going to panic this year, and I know that for a fact because I’m not going to panic,” Hocking said. “These guys are going to follow what’s going on and the reactions of the staff members and I wasn’t concerned about it, we were in the second inning.”
It didn’t take long, either.
Nick Thurman drew a walk to start the bottom of the third, and Billy Cooke did the same thing in the very next at-bat.
“We’re trying to control the zone, trying to sit in the middle of the plate and know what we want to hit. When we get it, we’re ready to hit it,” Hocking said. “It’s a pretty simple philosophy, and it’s nice to see the work they do in the batting cage and the extra work transitions into the game.”
Joseph Rosa then drilled one up the middle into the grass to score one and leave runners on first and third.
Rosa got caught off base, distracting the infield, allowing Cooke to score just ahead of the throw to the plate.
One runner would be stranded, but LumberKings had the 3-2 lead heading into the fourth.
Some cushion was added in the bottom of the seventh when Rosa came up and smashed his first home run of the season over the right field wall.
“When you get in hitters’ counts and you stay in the middle of the plate, we’re going to be OK,” Hocking said.
Austin Hutchison (1-0) picked up the win for the LumberKings. He pitched 3.1 shutout innings, striking out four. Clancy earned his first save of 2018.
The four-game series wraps up Thursday with a regular 6:30 p.m. start time at Ashford University Field. Nick Wells (1-0) will take the mound for the LumberKings and look to win three in a row.