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Harris, Leibrandt lead Cutters to shutout
July 23, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
Scott Harris was never rattled. At least he didn't look it.
Bases loaded. Nobody out. Nursing a three-run lead. It's enough to make even the most grizzled of veterans' knees start knocking. Not Harris though. Not even in only his second outing as a Williamsport Crosscutter.
Instead, he stayed within himself in the eighth inning Wednesday night at Bowman Field, working to one batter at a time and not trying to get a bunch of outs in one fell swoop.
First it was a lazy fly ball. Then a pop-up in foul territory. Finally, a routine ground ball to shortstop and Harris was out of the jam. It was the defining moment in Williamsport's 3-0 win over Batavia last night.
Harris helped preserve the third shutout of the season by Cutters pitching. He helped preserve Brandon Leibrandt's first win as a Crosscutter. And he helped preserve a two-game series sweep of the Muckdogs which kept Williamsport just a game behind Staten Island in the NYPL Wild Card standings.
“Bases loaded, nobody out? To get out of it with nothing shows a lot of what kind of kid he is,” Cutters manager Shawn Williams said of Harris. “There's no panic. He just kept pushing.”
Harris came on in the eighth inning following six brilliant innings of two-hit, shutout baseball from Leibrandt, and a scoreless seventh inning from Ricky Bielski. And his Houdini act was nothing short of stellar.
He had pitched well enough to not even be in the situation, but Batavia's Luis Alberto-Sanz and Hiram Martinez fought off pitches for singles, and Iramis Olivencia reached on an infield single to load the bases. But it took only 11 pitches for Harris to wiggle out of the jam.
Bryan Sova followed with a scoreless ninth inning for his second save for Williamsport's second consecutive win following a 2-8 stretch.
“For me, he threw the ball really well,” Williams said of Harris. “The hits they got, all three were pretty good pitches.”
Leibrandt, in his first start at Bowman Field since being drafted in the sixth round out of Florida State last month, set the table for the three Cutters relievers by allowing just three baserunners in six innings, one of which the left-hander picked off of first base.
The son of 14-year Major League pitcher Charlie Leibrandt, Brandon battled through a rising pitch count in the first three innings as he struggled to get a feel for his slider and change-up. Of the eight outs he recorded on batters in the first three innings, it took Leibrandt an average of 5.75 pitches to get a batter out.
As his command and feel improved, it took an average of just 3.7 pitches over the final three innings of his outing to retire a batter. He matched his career high with six innings, striking out five and walking just one.
“They were battling me. I wasn't getting as sharp a slider as I wanted, and my change-up was OK early,” Leibrandt said of the early innings. “This is all about settling in and getting a feel for the zone. Once I did that, I felt more comfortable and was able to cruise along.”
Leibrandt threw just under 40 innings during the college season at Florida State after he was hit by a ball just six weeks into the season, leaving a deep bone bruise which ended his year. Although he was deemed available during the postseason, Leibrandt didn't appear in a game as the Seminoles were upset in the NCAA Regional tournament.
So while most college pitchers on the Cutters' roster are on an innings limit, Leibrandt is playing catch up. Last night that meant throwing 93 pitches in six innings (63 strikes).
And after throwing 58 pitches in the first three innings as he struggled with his feel for his secondary pitches, Leibrandt threw just 35 over the final three innings, facing just one batter over the minimum. In fact, in his six innings, he faced just two batters of the minimum.
“He's got deception and they get late swings on his fastball,” Williams said. “There's never any good swings because he uses all his pitches and his fastball has some late life. It looks a lot harder than what the radar gun says.”
And what the radar gun says is Leibrandt has an upper 80s fastball which may occasionally touch 90. But he can spot it on either side of the plate as he did last night, and by commanding the inside corner with his fastball, his plus change-up was even more deadly on the outside corner.
“Pitching is all about messing up timing,” Leibrandt said. “When you can throw one or two pitches for strikes, it gets them off their timing and makes things so much easier.”
And the Cutters' offense did enough to back the strong effort from all four pitchers. Derek Campbell's lead-off triple in the first turned into a run on a Jiandido Tromp sacrifice fly. Campbell's one-out double in the third turned into the second run on a two-out RBI single from Rhys Hoskins. And Matt Shortall's lead-off triple in the sixth turned into a run when Deivi Grullon smoked a double down the third-base line two batters later.
“They've got my back,” Leibrandt said of the offense. “Now I have to go out there and get ahead and get them back to the plate so they can swing the sticks again.”
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