Harrison, Helena survive Medina's big night
With the challenge of the Midwest League set aside for the moment, Monte Harrison's mind is clear and focused, even when things aren't falling his way. On nights when they are, he's a talent to be seen.
Harrison ripped five singles for the highest single-game total of his career and accounted for seven runs on Friday night as Rookie-level Helena survived a three-homer effort from Reydel Medina in a wild 12-9, 14-inning win at Billings.
Friday night's seesaw matchup saw lead changes befitting a basketball game in the eighth inning. Though the Brewers had led since the first inning, Medina willed his offense back into the game with a leadoff blast to right-center in the seventh and another to right-center that brought home the first three tallies of a five-run eighth.
"He's been better with his pitch selection, definitely," Mustangs hitting coach Jolbert Cabrera said of the Cuban slugger. "He's setting his foot down early, and that's helping a lot. When he's not chasing bad pitches, he has a pretty good swing, he has a big league swing. The ball just jumps off his bat."
While Medina and the Mustangs roared in front, the Brewers didn't fold. Helena responded with three runs in the top of the ninth as Harrison, who had hits in the first, fifth and eighth as well and scored twice, bounced another single to center to drive home Troy Stokes. After stealing second for the second time, the Brewers' No. 3 prospect scored on Jake Gatewood single to center that gave Helena an 8-7 lead.
It didn't last long.
Billings evened things in the bottom of the ninth and forced extra innings on an RBI groundout by Reds first-round pick Tyler Stephenson.
"It's a lot just to know that even though those guys can come back and score a couple runs, we've always got time," Harrison said. "We've always got bats in the lineup that can do things. I have a lot of trust in my teammates that we're going to get the job done either way."
It took a while, but Harrison and Helena did just that. After three Brewers walked with one out to load the bases in the 14th, Harrison broke the tie. He ripped his fifth hit of the night to left field to drive in two runs, took second on the throw, moved up on a passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly by Steven Karkenny.
After batting .157 through his first 13 Pioneer League games with no multi-hit performances, Harrison affirmed a belief in his approach with Friday's breakout night.
"I'd rather go 0-for-4 with three lineouts," he said. "That's just me personally. Anybody can tell you they'd want to go 3-for-4 with three little bloops or infield singles. No, I want to square the ball up every time. This is about player development. This is about learning how to be consistent, learning how to square balls up and have good timing and stuff like that.
"I've been hitting balls hard, just lining out, getting unlucky, you could say, but this is baseball. I just tell myself, don't get frustrated. Just keep swinging the bat and good things happen when you put the ball in play."
The five hits were two more than Harrison's previous single-game high, set twice as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Arizona League last summer. This season, the Brewers gave the Missouri native an aggressive Opening Day assignment to Class A Wisconsin, where he batted .148 in 46 games against older competition. Harrison is resetting himself in the Pioneer League.
"I grew up with older brothers and always competed on their level," he said of his Midwest League experience. "I was always told growing up don't let nothing stop you. Age doesn't mean anything to me. Talent level, that's a whole different thing, but I feel like I have a different approach to it now. I have a routine, and when all goes bad, I know where to go to have at least some type of calm."
While Harrison put Helena ahead for good, Medina cracked his third homer of the night to right field with one out in the bottom of the 14th to match the single-game Pioneer League record. The feat was last accomplished by Ogden's Justin Chigbogu on July 18, 2014.
"He's been pretty good since extended spring [training]," Cabrera said. "He's more calm at the plate and, like I said, his pitch selection is way better. That's the whole key for him.
"Pitchers were behind in the count. With better pitch selection, he's getting ahead in the count and making pitchers fall behind. That's when he's getting into fastball counts and putting good swings on the ball."
The teams combined for 31 hits, but the Brewers made theirs count in big spots -- Helena was 7-for-22 with runners in scoring position, while Billings went 2-for-15.
Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.