After catching a 7:30 ride to the stadium Tuesday morning after finishing Monday night’s game just after 10, the Tri-City ValleyCats could have blamed a quick turnaround for their 2-1 loss to the Lowell Spinners.
They could have blamed bags under their eyes for leaving nine runners on the bags, for not being able to find pitches to hit in key situations, but manager Ed Romero doesn’t allow that.
“I’ve always believed the conditions you’re in, it’s for both teams,” Romero said. “It’s not only for your team. There’s no excuses for that. Both teams have got to play at 10 o’clock.”
Neither does he allow lollygagging, and after right fielder Ariel Ovando sleep-walked out of the box, failing to run out a soft fly into shallow left in the bottom of the fourth, he was pulled from the game, one of the few players who has a big timely hit in the five-game season-opening homestand at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. Ovando drove in the winning run in Sunday night’s win over the Connecticut Tigers.
“There’s a rule here, in this organization, that you’ve got to hustle when you hit the ball,” Romero said. “Ovando didn’t, so he comes out of the game. Anybody who doesn’t run the ball out comes out of the game.”
Timely hitting has been hard to come by for the ValleyCats (3-2). Tuesday, in front of 5,507 fans, most of them children bused from area schools for the franchise’s first Education Day, they had a runner on second with one or no outs five times, and got just the one run. They twice led off innings with back-to-back batters reaching safely, and the second time got a two-out RBI double from Mott Hyde in the sixth inning to pull within a run at 2-1.
Infielder Alex Hernandez — who played second base Monday night before starting at shortstop Tuesday, then moving to third base in the fifth — was 2-for-3 with a walk, stranded twice by groundouts and once by a check-swing strikeout.
“We’re just lacking the big hit. We got one from Ovando the other day for the walk-off, and we’re getting men on base. It’s just that we’re lacking the big hit. Once we get that going, we should be pretty good.”
Hernandez is hitting .500 (5-for-10) through his first four games with a double, two RBI and a run.
Despite the early start, Hernandez said the team was actually energized a little bit by the atmosphere created by the standing-room-only crowd.
“It’s great, especially because we’re at home and they’re cheering for us and they want us to do well,” he said. “It’s exciting because you want to do well for them as much as you want to do well for yourself and your team.”
The Spinners (2-3) put up a run in the second inning after Nick Moore led off with a double, stole third and came home on a fielding error by starting third baseman J.D. Davis. In the fourth, Mauricio Dubon led off with a single, took second on a passed ball and scored on Nick Longhi’s single.
Tri-City starting pitcher Francis Ramirez, though, looked solid through five innings, allowing three hits while walking one and striking out three.
Lowell starter Dioscar Romero lasted 32⁄3 innings. He was clipped by a comebacker in the third and walked four of his next five batters. Willie Ethington worked 41⁄3 innings for the win, scattering six hits, and Carlos Pinales set down the side in order in the ninth for his second save.
The ValleyCats will travel to play three games against Vermont before a two-game swing through Lowell.