It has been a long bend, one that has taken weeks to navigate, but the Wild Things believe they have finally turned the corner. And J.J. Fernandez and Shaine Hughes have been driving the engine.
Washington won its second consecutive series as Fernandez and Hughes continued their hot hitting in a 9-2 victory over Southern Illinois on Thursday night.
Fernandez capped a big series against the always tough Miners with three hits, including a two-run triple and solo homer. In the three-game series, Fernandez was 8-for-13 with five extra-base hits.
"I've never had a stretch like this," said Fernandez, who is in his ninth season of professional baseball. "I fell really comfortable at the plate. I'm seeing the ball well and hitting it. It's pretty simple."
Washington manager Gregg Langbehn says there's more than that to Fernandez's success.
"J.J. had a good series. He didn't miss pitches over the plate. He's been better recently because he's using all fields," Langbehn explained. "He's trying to drive the ball to the gaps instead of being so pull happy."
Hughes matched Fernandez in the series finale with three RBI and a solo home run. He also raised his batting average to .400.
Even two newcomers, catcher Drew Bene and left fielder Cameron Baranek, got into the act with two hits each in their Wild Things debuts.
The numbers that have the Wild Things feeling better about themselves is they have won five of their last eight games and consecutive series for the first time all season.
"We're gaining a little bit of traction," Langbehn said. "We put ourselves in an ugly position to start but we're playing better. We're pitching better."
After losing a zany 14-inning game Wednesday night, Washington promptly fell behind 2-0 in the top of the first inning in the series finale. That, however, was all the scoring the Miners would do against four Washington pitchers.
A.J. Bogucki, a former North Carolina pitcher, made his second start with Washington but went only four innings. He was followed by Carter Johnson (1-2), who pitched into the eighth inning. B.J. Sabol and James Meeker combined for the final six outs.
Hughes hit a double that scored Bene, a former Shippensburg University catcher, and Saige Jenco, capping a three-run third inning that gave Washington the lead for good.
Fernandez led off the fourth against Southern Illinois starter Austin Dubsky (2-2) with a home run and Miakeal Mogues followed with a double. Mogues scored on a single by Bene and an ensuing error in the outfield, pushing the Wild Things’ lead to 5-2.
Fernandez had a two-run triple in the fifth inning and Hughes’ solo homer was part of a two-run seventh.
"We're having fun now," Fernandez said. "We're playing the game the right way. There's no worries, no pressure. That approach is working. We've added some guys who have really helped. We're moving runs and bringing them in."
Washington had been playing with 23 active players, one under the Frontier League roster limit. To make room for Bene and Baranek, the Wild Things put outfielder Mick Fennell on the inactive list because of a contact lens issue. … Washington begins a three-game home series tonight against the Florence Freedom.