Ben Eckels and the Hillsboro Hops have followed the same trajectory.
Eckels scattered six hits over 81/3 innings Monday night to pitch the Hillsboro Hops to their third consecutive victory, 2-1 over the Spokane Indians at Avista Stadium. The Hops lead the season series 6-3.
Eckels, who started the season 1-5, won his fifth consecutive start for a team that has heated up during the second half of the Northwest League season.
The Hops, who opened the season by losing 15 of 19, are 14-11 in the second half and two games behind South Division-leading Salem-Keizer with 13 games to play.
“The first half (of the season) was just me trying to get settled in and getting focused on throwing strikes, because I was trying to change my mechanics a little bit,” said Eckels, a second-year professional from Davis, Calif.
The Indians, who began the five-game series with a 5-1 victory to run their winning streak to six, dropped to 12-13 in the second half but remained in first place in the North Division for an eighth consecutive day. Everett, which lost, and Vancouver, which won, both trail Spokane by one game.
Jose Jose relieved for Eckels after Eduard Pinto’s one-out single in the ninth. Jose earned his second save after some shaky moments, starting with a passed ball and walk to Marcus Greene. Hops second baseman Denver Chavez saved the day by holding on to Jordan Akins’ fly ball despite a collision with right fielder Brian Billigen. Jose struck out Joe Jackson on six pitches to end the game.
Indians manager Tim Hulett and shortstop Gabe Roa missed the ninth inning, having been ejected by home-plate umpire Jon Felczak for arguing about the strike zone. Roa struck out to end the eighth with Barrett Serrato on second base.
“It was a tale of two zones tonight,” acting Indians manager Vinny Lopez said. … “But we’re not making excuses. We had opportunities to win the ball game and we didn’t come through.”
Eckels hadn’t pitched beyond seven innings this season until Monday.
“I thought I might get a chance at (a complete game), but I’m sure they have a good reason for taking me out,” Eckels said. “The pitch count was probably pretty up there.”
Indians starter David Ledbetter (3-2), looking for his first win since July 16, handcuffed the Hops for five of his six innings.
Ledbetter’s one poor inning was the second, when he allowed four hits, capped by Chavez’s two-run double into the right-field corner. Ledbetter had a 2-2 count on Chavez before the big hit.
Roa’s one-out infield single to score Janluis Castro in the third was all the Indians could muster off Eckels and Jose.
“We’re all starting to buy in to throwing strikes and letting the ball be put in play,” Eckels said. “Getting through innings quick, quick, quick. Let the batters get themselves out.”
“A lot of credit goes to them,” Lopez said. “They’re pitching to contact and they’re making us swing the bat early in the count. We preach to our guys to be aggressive.”