TROY — After a couple weeks of struggling to start their season, the Tri-City ValleyCats used the weekend to start to right themselves at the plate.
“It was coming,” ValleyCats manager Ozney Guillen said after Sunday’s 5-3 win against the Aberdeen IronBirds. “We’ve been saying for a couple days [that] the progress has been there. We’re still not fully there yet, but you see the improvements.”
For the second day in a row, the ValleyCats recorded double-digit hits with 14 on Sunday. Eight of the nine ValleyCats that had an at-bat recorded at least one hit.
“I think we’re just staying loose and having fun. Earlier in the year, you could see a lot of guys just pressing,” said ValleyCats second baseman AJ Lee, who was one of seven first-year professional players in Tri-City’s lineup for Sunday’s win in front of 3,052 fans at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. “When you do that, you play tight and you don’t get those hits. But, now, we’re just playing loose, having fun and enjoying it — and the hits are coming, and we’re starting to play a little bit better.”
Lee was 3-for-3 with a walk and scored three runs, while third baseman Luis Santana went 3-for-4. Right fielder Andres Santana and shortstop Grae Kessinger each added two hits for the ValleyCats.
“Baseball’s weird, you know?” Kessinger said after a weekend in which he went 6-for-9 with two doubles and three RBIs. “Three games [before that] where I didn’t swing it great, then I’ve just been seeing it well the past couple of games.”
With back-to-back wins, the ValleyCats improved to 6-9 through their first 15 games. Saturday’s 4-3 win came after a five-game losing streak for the ValleyCats.
In Saturday’s victory against the IronBirds, the ValleyCats recorded 10 hits. Prior to that, Tri-City had only recorded 82 hits in its first 13 contests for an average of 6.3 hits per game. The ValleyCats only hit .200 as a team during that season-opening stretch.
After hitting 10 for 34 on Saturday and 14 for 33 on Sunday, the ValleyCats’ team average improved to .222.
“They have a lot of talent,” Guillen said. “It’s going to show.”
Tri-City went ahead for good against Aberdeen in the fifth inning. After the IronBirds scored twice in the top half of the inning, the ValleyCats answered with two runs of their own on an RBI single from Andres Santana and an RBI double from Kessinger. In the sixth inning, Tri-City added to its lead with an RBI single from Luis Santana.
While Guillen was encouraged to see his team’s bats start to heat up, a couple miscues — both on the basepaths and with missed signs — left him still wanting more from his team. Guillen said the ValleyCats likely cost themselves some runs with their mental mistakes.
“We should have had more runs,” Guillen said. “That’s what’s in my head right now. . . . We had 14 hits. We need more than five runs.”
For the ValleyCats, Hansel Paulino was credited with the win after pitching two scoreless innings and striking out four. Julio Robaina earned the save after pitching the final three innings, in which he allowed three hits and struck out four.
Ryan Conroy took the loss for Aberdeen, which dropped to 6-10. Conroy pitched into the fifth inning, allowing four runs and 11 hits.
Next up, the ValleyCats will look to continue battling back toward .500 with a three-game road series against the Staten Island Yankees.
“I think we’re starting to get there,” Kessinger said, “and it’s fun to watch.”
Aberdeen 000 120 000 — 3 10 1
Tri-City 002 021 00X — 5 14 2