In retrospect, Portland’s 6-4 victory over the Connecticut Defenders was a microcosm of the season for Aaron Bates and to an extent for Lars Anderson.
Bates cracked three singles in five at-bats and drove in two runs while Anderson was 2-for-5 (single, double) with an RBI.
And manager Arnie Beyeler continued his “mix-and-match” routine Sunday with T.J. Large and Bryce Cox who combined to make a winner out of starter Jarod Plummer (4-1).
Bates, who’s in his fourth season with the organization, leads all Boston minor leaguers with a .348 average, seven home runs and 35 RBI.
“He’s been doing it all year,” Beyeler said. “He’s a veteran guy who made some adjustments. He played in Puerto Rico and realized he could play with those players. Guys kind of blew him up inside and now they can’t do that anymore.
“He’s made some adjustments. He knows the zone and he’s doing a great job.”
In fact, Bates may shed a tear when May is ripped off the calendar.
During the month, “all” Bates did was hit .370 (40-108) with six home runs and 28 RBI.
In Sunday’s game, Bates’ ripped an RBI single during a three-run first inning and added another RBI single in a two-run fifth.
“He’s shortened his swing,” Beyeler said while discussing Bates’ adjustments. “He had a big leg kick last year and it slowed him down. When he came up here he was that way. Against teams like Trenton and the teams with the good fastballs, they abused him a little bit last year.
“He shortened his swing playing with the big league guys this winter, and he’s learned. He’s a big, strong kid who uses the whole field. The power’s going to come as he goes. We’re fortunate to have him. We’ll keep him around here as long as they’ll let us.”
The same could be said of Anderson who’s received enough hype to fill the Grand Canyon (Baseball America, for example, rates him Boston’s No. 1 prospect).
Anderson’s first-inning single drove in the game’s initial run and he smoked an RBI double into the right-field corner in the fifth. And in the eighth, he bashed a grounder that almost ate up first baseman Brett Pill who barely was able to snare the ball and toss to pitcher Mike Musgrave for the out.
Despite this performance, the big first baseman still is hitting only .245 (12-49) – albeit with 10 RBI – over his last 13 games.
“Here’s a guy who gets a lot of attention,” Beyeler understated. “He’s hitting in the middle of the lineup so people work around him and pitch carefully to him. We’ve faced a lot of left-handed pitchers and people are situational in pitching him. People aren’t going at him. You pick out guys that aren’t going to beat you and he’s the one they’re not going to let beat them.
“But as we saw today, he’s hitting the ball hard. He’s having good at-bats but he hasn’t had a lot of balls fall in. Lars is having some quality at-bats. People get caught up in the numbers but he’s developing and he’s learning.
“He’s handling a little adversity which is probably going to help him out down the road,” Beyeler added. “He’s going to have to work through some things and learn how to hit in the middle of the lineup. And he’s a young kid (22) still. He’ll be fine.”
Plummer was “fine” except for one of his five innings – the third, when Pill belted a three-run homer that tied the game at 3-3.
After Anderson and Bates drove in fifth-inning runs, Jon Still hit a solo homer in the ninth – which offset an eighth-inning run Connecticut scored off Large, who came into the game having allowed zero earned runs in his previous 7 1/3 innings.
Cox breezed through a two-strikeout ninth for his third save.
“Guys pitch,” Beyeler said. “When it’s their day to pitch, they pitch. These guys have roles but sometimes it works out you pitch when it means something and sometimes it doesn’t. Large closed early. Now, Cox and Large split the closing duties. I wouldn’t hesitate to close with either one of them.
“It worked out where they were both available today and we were able to use both of them. T.J.’s been doing great. He’s another one of those guys that’s ready whenever they need him but we’ll enjoy him while we can keep him here.”