By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's offense has been inconsistent at best during the early part of the Valley Baseball League season, as the Express has continually struggled to find ways to get hits with men on base.
But the Express does have plenty of firepower, too, and both the good and the bad of Strasburg's offense was on display in Wednesday's 7-4 win over visiting Rockbridge. The Express tallied 14 hits in the victory, but also stranded 13 runners, including nine in scoring position.
The inability to get the big hit has been a frustrating flaw for Strasburg so far, but manager Butch Barnes said he has noticed a steady improvement in his team's approach at the plate each game out.
"We're just leaving way too many people on base and striking out way too much right now. But it's coming around ... our first three games we struck out 40 times, so it has getting better. So I'm not complaining," Barnes said. "I'm pretty pleased with what I'm seeing with our adjustments as we go through the season."
The Express (6-5) found itself in prime position to deal a decisive blow early against Rapids starting pitcher Dakota Balser, as Strasburg loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the first inning on a single and a pair of walks.
But Strasburg's threat fizzled quickly when cleanup batter Erik Armstrong grounded into a double play that scored Jordan Tarsovich, and Balser got Ryan Welling to strike out swinging to escape further damage.
Strasburg then left the bases loaded in the second inning without scoring a run.
"We have trouble leaving men on base. It's been inconsistent," said Tarsovich, who entered Wednesday with a league-leading .514 batting average and added three more hits against Rockbridge. "It can be mental for some guys. I definitely think it is a mental thing."
The Express scored a run each in the third, fourth and fifth innings to extend the lead to 4-0 before the Rapids managed a run in the top of the sixth to cut the lead to three runs.
Strasburg starter Patrick McGavin gave the Express a solid 5 2/3 innings, allowing a run on four hits while striking out four, but McGavin was pulled in favor of reliever Brandon Hallford in the sixth after walking his third batter of the night and second of the inning.
"I thought he had lost his location a little bit and I thought he was getting a little tired," Barnes said. "He's not usually a guy to walk somebody. When he starts to lose control and walks one and leaves one in the middle of the plate, it's time to go get him."
Strasburg answered by erupting for three runs in the bottom of the sixth, finally getting some timely hitting to help widen the gap.
Tarsovich led off with a single against Rockbridge reliever Jacob Christensen and moved to third with two outs in the inning. Armstrong walked to put runners on the corners, and Welling delivered a two-RBI double to widen the margin.
Tyler McDonald followed with an RBI double of his own down the left-field line to give the Express a 7-1 lead.
"I wasn't trying to do too much, I was just trying to get a usable pitch," said McDonald, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs. "He threw me a fastball in and I just attacked it."
Strasburg reliever Bryan Bierlein held the Rapids hitless in his two innings of work before giving way to Adam Emerson in the top of the ninth.
Rockbridge (5-8) immediately loaded the bases on three singles, and RBI hits by Eduardo Sorondo and Patrick Marshall and an Express error cut Strasburg's lead to 7-4. But Emerson was able to get leadoff man Will Leathers to fly out to left-center to end the ballgame.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org