BY RYAN ABER
Just before he left the bullpen to head to the dugout in the middle of the tenth, RedHawks outfielder Drew Locke was stopped by relief pitcher Jose Valdez.
“Hit a home run,” Valdez said in Spanish.
Locke had to ask Valdez for a translation but came through minutes later, delivering a two-out, walk-off home run toward that same bullpen as the RedHawks won 4-3 in front of 2,951 at RedHawks Field at Bricktown.
“All you can do pinch hitting is try to do that,” Locke said. “I was just sitting on that pitch and got it.”
Locke was forced to the bullpen to catch for the relievers after backup catcher Robinson Cancel had to be pressed into action when starter Carlos Corporan broke his hand midway through the game.
Corporan is expected to be out 4-6 weeks after being hit with a bat on his throwing hand.
The RedHawks have won a season-high three in a row headed into Thursday’s series finale.
The team’s surge has been keyed by a different approach at the plate.
After struggling at the plate in their recent series in New Orleans, the RedHawks had a team meeting before the series against the Sounds to discuss a different approach.
RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco and hitting coach Keith Bodie are asking the hitters to take a more disciplined and patient approach.
It’s paying off so far.
After drawing seven walks in the three games ending Saturday, the RedHawks have now drawn 31 in their last four.
It goes beyond the walks.
“It gets us deeper into counts and forces pitchers to throw more pitches and hopefully get them out quicker,” DeFrancesco said. “It’s working for us right now.”
Nobody’s illustrating that shift more than outfielder Collin DeLome right now.
After going 4 for 5 in Wednesday’s win, DeLome is 6 for 9 at the plate in the last two games and drew three walks in the first game of the series Monday.
The change at the plate has taken DeLome out of his comfort zone but it’s paying off.
“I’m a first-ball, fastball hitter,” DeLome said. “But I’m changing that up and just looking for the pitch exactly where I want it and if it’s not there, I’m letting it go. I’m trying to be more disciplined at the plate with less than two strikes.”
The RedHawks trailed 3-2 entering the eighth but kept the game got singles by Koby Clemens and DeLome to start the inning and Tommy Manzella tied it with a fielder’s choice.
The RedHawks got a solid performance from their starting pitcher once again as Jordan Lyles allowed two runs in six innings, striking out nine.
The bullpen through four innings, allowing just three hits and one unearned win as Sergio Escalona picked up the win.
“We’re more relaxed now,” DeFrancesco said. “We’re settling in and doing the things we need to do to win.”