The Kokomo Jackrabbits had trouble generating hits and didn't have much time to figure out how to approach Traverse City pitcher Evan Gates differently in a 6-1 loss to the Pit Spitters on Tuesday night at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
Gates threw seven innings of two-hit ball and worked quickly for the win. He departed with a 6-0 lead in the eighth after a walk and a hit batter to start the inning. The Jackrabbits scored a run on an RBI double by Logan Jarvis two batters later, but weren't able to do any other damage.
"He was throwing strikes, he was commanding more than two or three pitches and he was working extremely quick," Kokomo manager Hayden Carter said of the Traverse City starter. "When you do all three of those things it's tough on an offense to try and score."
The loss dropped the Jackrabbits (8-7) a game back of Kalamazoo for the lead in the Northwoods League's Great Lakes East Division.
Kokomo leadoff hitter Jarvis was 2 for 4 with two doubles on the day. No. 3 hitter Austin Elder and No. 5 hitter Chase Keng each singled. The Jackrabbits drew three walks and were hit twice by pitches. Kokomo only had multiple runners on base in three innings.
To generate more offense, Carter said the Jackrabbits have to disrupt the timing of an opposing pitcher.
"We've just got to find a way to look for offense in any possible fashion, whether it's laying down a bunt, whether it's putting the ball on the ground. I think of our first nine outs we had eight lazy pop outs," Carter said. Gates was perfect through the first three innings. "That just can't happen, especially for the first third of the game with eight of your nine outs not being hard-hit balls. Find a way to put barrel on the ball and get above baseballs. We can't pop out against a good pitcher like that."
Kokomo starter Caleb Reinhardt gave up just two hits in the first four innings before Traverse City got on the scoreboard with a run in the fifth. The visitors manufactured a run with a leadoff bunt single, two walks and an RBI groundout. Traverse City then loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, ending Reinhardt's night.
Sidearm reliever Joey Haass got a ground out for the second out and Traverse City scored on the play. Then a two-run single by Daniel Head made the score 4-0.
"[Reinhardt] got us to the sixth. I think if you ask him he probably would have wanted to stay in the ballgame," Carter said. "I made a gutsy call to go with a sinker-baller [Haass], trying to get a ground ball double play. He got two ground balls, one took [the second baseman] away from second base, the other found a hole. I'll probably make that same type of call later down the year. I thought [Reinhardt] did really well. he gave us a chance to win, which is all we ask from our starters."
Traverse City turned two walks and a single into two more runs in the seventh off Kokomo's third pitcher, Creede Jeffers. Jeffers also threw a scoreless eighth. Kokomo High School product and IUK player Chase Pearce threw the ninth without giving up a baserunner. Right fielder Chase Keng made two good catches on hard-hit balls in the ninth.
"From a pitching standpoint, I thought Caleb pitched well enough to win," Carter said. "Haass got his ground balls, it's just one took him away from the bag. Jeffers pitched all right, he pitched like a freshman, and it's nice to get Chase in there — a local kid."