Success and failure in baseball are often determined by the smallest of adjustments, most of them imperceptible to the casual fan. In Rome’s 3-2 nail-biter against Asheville, the team’s first win in four tries this young season, the difference proved to be Ozhaino Albies’s front foot.
“The hitting coach (Bobby Moore) told me to get my front foot down faster,” said Rome’s slick-fielding shortstop, who on Sunday afternoon added keen, aggressive base-running to his nascent but fast developing 2015 resume. “I wasn’t putting it down early enough, instead swinging with my foot in the air. I’m getting it down sooner so I’m better prepared for the ball.”
The adjustment’s results included a 2-for-3 afternoon in which Albies figured in all three Rome runs. This after struggling at the plate along with the rest of the team against Asheville’s starting rotation. Coming into the game, the Braves were collectively hitting just .186.
Albies “hit with authority this afternoon,” said Moore, who has only begun working with his hitters. “In the field, we’d heard good things about him. He’s got a lot of confidence, and he knows how to play the game.”
The Curacao native put his front foot into a 2-1 pitch from Asheville starter Carlos Polanco and dropped it into shallow centerfield, finding just enough grass to bring in Omar Obregon, who had walked to start the inning, and Joseph Daris, who had singled. The 2-0 lead represented the first time thus far in the 2015 campaign that either Rome had owned a lead or that Asheville faced a deficit.
Albies’s opportunistic hitting offset continued torrid hitting from Asheville’s Wes Rogers, who collected in Rome the past four days seven hits in 13 at-bats, four bases on balls, seven stolen bases in eight attempts, and his first roundtrip of the season, a no-doubter in the eighth inning that brought the Tourists to within one.
“Wes is a dynamic baseball player,” said Warren Schaeffer, manager of the Tourists, and at 30 years old, the youngest skipper in all of professional baseball, according to Asheville’s game notes. “I’m especially happy for him because his family got to see him do it.”
Rogers’s family made the trip from their home in Greenville, S.C., to witness the center fielder’s one-man highlight reel.
In picking up their first win, the Braves (1-3) showed a resilience that caught the eye of pitching coach Gabe Luckert.
“These guys compete,” Luckert said of his starting rotation. “They aren’t backing off when they struggle a bit, and our bullpen has really been doing the job.”
Rome needed a strong afternoon from its bullpen Sunday. Starter Alec Grosser’s inconsistency produced a high pitch count and an abbreviated day of work. He was pulled after the fourth. A trio of relievers held the offensive-minded Tourists to just one run the rest of the way, Rogers’s centerfield blast.
“These are starters who can pitch deep into games,” Luckert said.
As impressive as Albies’s at-bats was his base running. He noticed that Asheville’s outfield had shifted against Keith Curcio, playing the gaps instead of straight up. He decided standing on first that if Curcio could get it into centerfield, he would challenge the throw by heading all the way to third.
Curcio could, so Albies took off. From third, he scored the winning run standing up on a grounder to the shortstop put into play by Jordan Edgerton.
“You saw two really good shortstops today,” Shaeffer said, referring both to Albies and his own Emerson Jimenez, who dazzled in the field. Jimenez snuffed out no fewer than three seeming Braves hits, one of them Edgerton’s sharply hit grounder. He had six putouts in a busy day of work.
Also shining for Asheville was relief pitcher Blake Shouse, who played collegiately at Middle Georgia State College in Macon. In facing the minimum nine batters over three, Shouse induced six groundouts and kept the Tourists in the hunt.