By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- When Matt Hockenberry learned that his coaches at Temple University wanted to shift him from a starting role to the bullpen this past spring, the rising senior accepted it.
That doesn't mean he liked it, though.
"I started out the year as a starter, then other guys showed that they could get the job done in a starting role so I came out of the bullpen," Hockenberry said. "It was a little frustrating at first because I'd been starting my entire life, but I just did what my coaches asked me to do."
Making his first start for the Woodstock River Bandits against the visiting Aldie Senators on Wednesday night, Hockenberry dusted off those starting-pitcher skills to fire six scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory.
Hockenberry, just about a week removed from playing with the Owls during the spring when he arrived last week in Woodstock, said his arm felt fresh after logging just 50 innings for Temple this past season. Woodstock coach Phil Betterly has imposed a 95-pitch limit on his staff for now, but Hockenberry is ready and willing to surpass that already this season.
"We came right out of the gate with all four pitches -- five, if you count a two-seamer as a different pitch," Hockenberry said. "The reason I like doing that is it keeps the hitters off balance. They've got to think about four different pitches are coming."
Woodstock (3-1) had its own troubles early against Senators starter Brent Cobb, who matched his fellow right-hander zero for zero through the first three innings.
In the bottom of the fourth, though, the River Bandits broke up the deadlock. Drew Cole and Steven Korkenny led off with back-to-back singles. Jordan Edgerton followed by laying down a sacrifice bunt toward third base. Cobb stumbled as he lunged for the ball, and his throw to first base sailed high and wide all the way to the chain-link fence down the line. Both runners scored, and Edgerton ended up on second after the error. Two outs later, Justin Weaver drove him in with an RBI single to push Woodstock's lead to 3-0.
"He's a good pitcher," River Bandits manager Phil Betterly said. "It took us one time through the order to see what he had. Our guys did a great job of making adjustments. Most of these hitters, almost all of them have played every day in the spring, and they know how to make their adjustments. They've all been successful hitters at the schools they're at."
Woodstock applied more early in the fifth when Jonathan Popadics led off with an infield single, then moved up two bases on a pair of wild pitches by Cobb. Edgerton delivered another big two-out hit with an RBI single to plate Popadics.
That recipe worked so well, the River Bandits did it one more time in the sixth. Brian Mauro led off with a single, and two outs later Andrew MacLatchie drove him in with a ground-rule double.
"That is our goal, to keep the pressure on the defense," Betterly said. "We executed very well at the little things tonight, picking up the two-out hit, moving guys over on the bunt. We're going to win a lot of ballgames if we keep doing that."
That was plenty of run support for Hockenberry, who exited after another scoreless inning in the sixth. Hockenberry got the win, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out four.
"It was a lot of fun to watch, him filling up the strike zone with all three pitches and just getting quick outs," Betterly said. "I'm looking forward to having him. He's going to do well the whole summer. I'm glad he's in the rotation."
Aldie (3-1) broke through in the top of the seventh, when the Senators' Sean Hagen greeted reliever Cody Tollison by depositing a first-pitch offering over the center-field fence for a solo home run.
Tollison got through the rest of the inning unscathed, and Ryan Griffith fired two scoreless innings to close out the win.
Cole, Edgerton and Mauro finished with two hits each for the River Bandits, who have won three straight.
"From what I've seen so far, every one of our guys that have gone out on the bump has impressed me. Every one of them has the ability to get it done," Edgerton said. "We've got some pretty good hitters, too."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>