Craig Cooper is hitting a team-leading .350 with 14 RBIs and a team-high .453 on base percentage. He’s recorded at least one hit in 16 of 20 games this season including Thursday when Cooper went 3-for-4 with two RBIs – one being the game-winning solo homerun in the eighth – to help the Emeralds win their second straight game against the Yakima Bears, 3-2.
“He’s got a very, very good idea of how to hit and it’s starting to pay off for him,” Eugene manager Doug Dascenzo said. “He’s got enough power to hit the ball out of the ball park, he’s got enough bat control to do some things if you’ve got a runner on base and he’s just a very, very good hitter and it’s only going to get better the more games he plays.”
Cooper said just sticking to his approach that led to a successful collegiate career has helped him transition professionally.
“I had a successful college season and I’m just trying to continue on with what my philosophy’s been – get in good hitter’s counts and get my pitch and drive it, and it’s been working well,” said Cooper, who comes to Eugene after concluding a stellar four years at Notre Dame in which he led the nation in runs scored per game and ranked sixth with a .425 batting average in 2006. He was a seventh round selection as a first-baseman this season.
Thursday, Cooper took Yakima pitcher Roberto Familia’s 2-1 fastball over the left-field fence to break a 2-2 tie in the eighth before closer R.J. Rodriguez recorded his third save of the season with a perfect ninth inning.
“I knew I wanted to go out and drive the ball into the gap and get into scoring position and help our guys get a chance to drive me in,” Cooper said about his plate appearance in the eighth. “Luckily, I got a good piece of it and it went out.”
Cooper’s homerun came after Yakima tied the game at 2-2 in its half of the eighth inning. Eugene’s Orlando Lara walked the ninth hitter, Edwin Roman, to start the inning before surrendering a double to Blake Sharp. Joey Side then laid down a bunt to first base allowing Roman to score. Sharp scored when, with two outs, Brad Miller, the league’s active-leader in RBIs (second overall only to former Eugene slugger David Freese), lined a shot over the head of second baseman Brian Lauderdale to tie the score.
Eugene took the first lead of the game in the third inning when centerfielder Mike Epping hit a one-out blooper that landed down the left-field line between the third baseman, short stop and left-fielder. Epping hustled all the way and beat the throw to second for a double. He scored when Tom King laced a line-drive down the left-field line for another double.
With two outs, Cooper picked up the first of his two RBIs with a single that scored King from second to give Eugene a 2-0 lead.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and I got in a hitter’s count at 2-0 and the guy left a fastball over the plate and I was able to do some damage with it,” Cooper said.
The two runs in the third was all Yakima starter Scott Souther allowed in his impressive six innings in which he struck out three and walked only one. Familia picked up the loss after giving up the homerun to Cooper, the only run he allowed in two innings.
Five Eugene pitchers saw action on the mound led by starter Andy Underwood who pitched 4.2 innings, allowing five hits, no runs and one walk while striking out three.
“The results turned out good. I was a little wild and inconsistent tonight but I got the job done,” Underwood, a fifth-round selection in 2006 out of Fresno State, admitted. “I threw the pitches where I needed to throw them at the right time. When I got behind hitters, I threw good fastballs down and away so they’d have nothing to hit.”
Ben Krosschell came on in relief and gave up no runs in 1.1 innings while Lara was given a blown save for allowing the two runs in the eighth. He pitched 1.2 innings and was replaced by Ernesto Frieri, who got the final out in the eighth to pick up the win, his first of the season. Rodriguez closed the door in the ninth for his third save.
“They’re coming together,” a pleased Dascenzo said of his ballclub. “So we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.”
Eugene again hosts Yakima Friday night for the third game of a five-game series. The Emeralds are 13-11 and in last place, three games behind first-place Salem-Keizer in a tight Northwest League West Division.