By Matt Feldman
July 17, 2016
Justin Hooper (UCLA) is going to be pitching in the major leagues some day, Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts said. But right now, the young left hander’s control is shaky, and his command of his blistering fastball was lacking Sunday night against Falmouth.
The Falmouth Commodores (19-12) jumped on Cotuit (11-19-1) early Sunday night, cruising to a 3-run lead in the fourth and fifth innings that would hold for the rest of the game. The Commodores took advantage of Hooper’s touchy control and quieted Cotuit’s bats for much of the game, taking their third win of the season over Cotuit, 3-0, at Lowell Park in Cotuit.
Hooper came out firing Sunday for the Kettleers, touching 96 MPH on the radar gun on the scoreboard in the first inning. But as strong as his velocity was, the left hander struggled with his control.
Hooper worked Falmouth batters into deep counts from the start, but was still able to get the Kettleers into the fourth inning unscathed, still locked in a scoreless tie with the Commodores. It seemed that even with a less than flawless performance, Hooper’s powerful fastball might carry Cotuit deep enough into the game to put a few runs of its own on the board.
Roberts said he thought Hooper pitched well, and even though he struggled with control, he has a lot to grow into and he handled himself well in his longest start of the season.
But in the fourth, Hooper ran into trouble, allowing a leadoff single into left field to Michael Gigliotti (LSU). After a quick strikeout, Hooper allowed another single to J.J. Matijevic (Arizona), which quickly put two Commodores on base with just one out.
With Josh Watson at the plate, facing an 0-2 count from Hooper, Gigliotti and Matijevic played the double steal. Watson swung through the pitch, but Gigliotti and Matijevic reached third base and second, respectively, putting two runners in scoring position for Falmouth.
“The double steal, (Susnara) probably should’ve thrown the guy out on the back side,” Roberts said. “But again, it just boils down to the little things.”
A Willie Burger (Penn State) single scored the two runners for Falmouth, and it was 2-0 Commodores early. After getting out of the fourth, Hooper again struggled with his stuff in the fifth, walking Grenier to start the inning.
After Roberts sent the relief pitchers out to the bullpen to begin warming up, Hooper walked Cantu, putting runners on first and second with no outs. The back to back walks spelled the end of the game for Hooper, as Roberts called Alec Byrd (Florida State) in to relieve the starter.
Roberts said that in a case like Hooper’s, when a pitcher struggles with command, he coaches them to take their speed down to 60-70% and focus on throwing downstairs and to both sides of the plate.
But with the in-game adrenaline, Hooper said that calming down isn’t always easy.
“It’s tough, as soon as a batter steps in the box, its definitely hard to tone it down,” Hooper said. “I’m just trying to get my feel.”
And though Hooper gave up three runs in the first five innings Sunday, the Kettleers offense failed to help him out much, posting just five hits and failing to put a run across the plate.
In the third, after a Quinn Brodey (Stanford) ground ball into the second base hole, Jack Klein (Stanford) smashed a double into left field. Brodey rounded third, slowed down, then was waved home by Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts. Unfortunately, the indecision at third proved costly for Brodey as he slid into the tag at home plate for the third out of the inning.
And with no Kettleers passing third base the rest of the game, Falmouth’s three early runs were all it took Sunday, as the Commodores took their third win over Cotuit this season, 3-0.
“We had five walks, and I think that pretty much makes the difference,” Roberts said. “Every game is a missed opportunity; you’ve got to add up (the wins) at the end.”