Bullpen helps secure big win for Express

By Jeff Nations

STRASBURG — Don’t start calling Butch Barnes “Captain Hook” just yet.

The Strasburg Express manager has shown a certain resemblance to former Major League manager Sparky Anderson, who earned that very moniker during his time in the big leagues due to a penchant for pulling starting pitchers at the first sign of trouble.

Barnes did go out to retrieve Strasburg starter Patrick McGavin with plenty of game left against the Harrisonburg Turks, but Barnes had his reasons. Hot weather and rapidly rising pitch count were two — the luxury of a shutdown bullpen was another.

Strasburg’s relievers came through in a big way, hurling a combined 3 2/3 scoreless innings to lock down a 5-3 victory over the South Division-leading Turks on Tuesday at First Bank Park.

“With the exception of a couple nights, our bullpen has been pretty good,” Barnes said. “It’s a no-brainer for me because we’ve got some really good arms down there. They should fire me if I don’t go to them.”

Strasburg (12-15) needed a lead to use that bullpen to best advantage, and the Express got it with a four-run rally in the bottom of the second inning.

Cameron Johnson ignited the outburst with two outs against Harrisonburg starter Jake Harper by slapping a single into left field. Terry McClinton followed with another single to left and Kyle Bynum reached on an error when Turks third baseman Joe Napolitano bobbled his hard grounder.

Ninth-place hitter Chris Perkovich, generally not the ideal batter to come up with the bases loaded, came through with one of the biggest hits of the season for Strasburg. Perkovich turned on a 2-2 pitch from Harper and ripped it just inside the third-base bag. The ball rolled to the outfield fence for a bases-clearing double. Jordan Tarsovich, the current batting leader in the Valley Baseball League by a comfortable margin, followed with another run-scoring double to right to plate Perkovich.

Harrisonburg (22-8) went right to work in the top of the third against McGavin. Andy Perez stroked an RBI single to center field and R.J. Peruki followed with a run-scoring double to pull the Turks back within two runs. McGavin worked his way out of further trouble, escaping a bases-loaded jam by inducing an inning-ending fielder’s choice by Napolitano.

McClinton’s RBI double to center in the bottom of the third plated Anthony Payne, who led off with a single for the Express. It was part of an eventful night for McClinton, one of the few two-year players for Strasburg. The South Carolina-Beaufort rising senior spent most of the game manning third base, but had to shift to second when Perkovich went down with an injury and ended up making a nice play to record the final out.

“Definitely, this is the push time,” McClinton said. “We talked together as teammates and decided that it’s time to play more consistently and just have more fun, pick each other up. So that’s where all the high energy has come from.”

The Turks pulled closer in the top of the sixth with Thomas Smith’s one-out, solo home run off McGavin. When Napolitano followed with another single, Barnes made the move for the bullpen.

Brandon Hallford, a hulking right-hander from South Alabama, came on to replace the lefty McGavin and got two outs to limit the damage.

“Brandon is our dirty inning guy,” Barnes said. “When guys are on base, we usually go to him. He usually ends up getting us out of it, and he did again.”

Evan Kirsch and David Hafer followed with a scoreless inning apiece to get the lead to Strasburg closer Daniel Bridgeman, who needed just eight pitches to record the final three outs and pick up his seventh save of the season. McGavin got the win, improving his season mark to 3-1.

“We got a couple breaks, they kicked a couple balls and you’ve got to be able to take advantage of those,” Barnes said. “Tonight we did. That’s something we haven’t done very much of this year, but it’s not because our guys aren’t working. They’re coming in here at 2 o’clock, doing their work. So they’re working hard, and hopefully they’ll start seeing some results.”

Tarsovich, Strasburg’s leadoff hitter, added to his lead-leading batting and on-base percentage totals with a 2-for-3 night. McClinton also had two hits for the Express.

McClinton said the Express are really starting to pull together for that playoff push.

“We got together as a team amongst each other, started hanging out and building some more camaraderie,” McClinton said. “We started to click from there, playing good ball and having fun.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>