Express sputters in loss to Turks

STRASBURG — The Strasburg Express couldn’t keep pace with visiting Harrisonburg on Monday night at First Bank Park.

The Turks erupted for 15 hits, including three home runs, while Strasburg struggled to find the timely hit in Harrisonburg’s 9-2 Valley Baseball League victory.

“We had multiple opportunities in the first five innings with runners on base and we just couldn’t come up with that big hit,” Express manager Stephanos Stroop said. “We get a couple hits, we score a couple runs and that changes how we use our bullpen and probably changes how they play, and who knows how the second half of the game goes.”

Strasburg (12-6) mustered only five hits against Harrisonburg (13-6), who took over sole possession of first place in the South Division with Monday’s win and have won seven of eight. Even with the low hit total, the Express still put plenty of runners on base but stranded 15 of them, including 10 in scoring position.

The Express scored single runs in the fifth and eighth innings on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Flick and a Turks error, respectively. Strasburg left the bases loaded in both the sixth and ninth innings.

“The one run we got early, we manufactured,” Stroop said. “First and second, no outs or one out, moved up on a passed ball and scored on a sac fly. I mean, you’ve got to find ways to be creative to score but you’ve got to get at least one or two of those hits in.”

The Turks left a lot of runners on base themselves — 13 total — but still found plenty of success against Strasburg’s pitching staff. Five of Harrisonburg’s 15 hits went for extra bases, including home runs by Tripp Shelton, Tyler Straub and Jesse Baker.

Harrisonburg, which scored eight combined runs in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, entered Monday’s game with seven homers in its first 18 contests.

“We haven’t hit that many home runs this year,” Turks manager Bob Wease said, “but we do have guys that can hit the ball a long ways. I’m really proud of the team.”

Strasburg starting pitcher Drew Avans (3-1) began the night with a 0.60 ERA but saw that number rise after allowing four earned runs on seven hits, two walks and four strikeouts in six innings of work.

Avans, a left-hander from Southeastern Louisiana University, caught a bit of bad luck in the top of the sixth inning with his team trailing 2-1. Avans got Harrisonburg No. 9 hitter Steven McLean swinging for strike three with two outs in the frame but the pitch got away from catcher Jeff Scott and allowed McLean to reach safely. McLean later scored on a delayed steal of home plate, and a two-run homer to left-center by Shelton gave Harrisonburg a 5-1 lead.

Strasburg has given up a VBL-worst 17 home runs this summer.

“Drew Avans threw well,” Stroop said. “He was a little bit missing up in the zone but that [sixth inning], it should’ve never came to him giving up that [home run].”

Express reliever Forrest Kirsch was also hurt by a Strasburg error in the eighth that was followed by Straub’s three-run blast to left field.

Strasburg committed two errors in the loss, giving the Express 43 in only 18 games.

“We’ve been moving in the right direction but it’s still not where we need it to be,” Stroop said of Strasburg’s defense. “That’s what summer ball’s about, trying to get these guys better and moving in the right direction. Am I satisfied? No, but I do understand it’s moving in the right direction defensively.”

For Harrisonburg, starting pitcher Matt Hartman pitched five innings to pick up his third win of the season. Hartman, a sophomore right-hander from the University of Arizona, allowed one earned run on two hits, three walks, three hit batters and five strikeouts.

In all, Turks pitchers allowed six walks and hit four batters but they also struck out 11.

“Our pitching, I think our ERA is right at two for the whole team and I’m sure that’s a league best,” Wease said. “We pitch it pretty doggone good.”

Jared Baker and McLean (three runs scored) each went 3-for-5 to lead the Turks.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com