By CONOR NICHOLL
Joe Huwer was frustrated after he struck out and popped up to third in his first two at-bats Sunday night. After flying out, Huwer let out his anger when he slammed his bat against the front of his helmet.
"I was seeing a lot of off-speed," he said. "The coaches had played with my older brother (Josh), so they know the family and stuff like that. I was seeing basically all off-speed, but the one I popped up was the first fastball I had seen in my first two at-bats. It was a good pitch to hit. I just missed it."
In his third at-bat, though, Huwer delivered a go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning against Derby reliever Robby Dyson that gave the Larks a 6-5 lead. Huwer called the homer "definitely the hardest hit ball I've hit all summer" and paved the way for a 7-6 Larks victory at Larks Park, a win capped by a walk-off homer from Rick Devereaux.
The blast, Huwer's third of the summer, marked his first grand slam "in a long time." The blast gave Huwer, who has hit nearly 40 points under his 2008 Larks' average, with a .269 average, three homers and 19 RBI. Among players currently on the roster, Huwer is tied for first in homers and stands third in RBIs.
"I saw the Joe Huwer we saw last year where he would square up the ball and wouldn't chase pitches and wouldn't fly open," manager Frank Leo said.
"He had a pretty bad rut of chasing pitches up and flying open and chasing pitches away and that one came in his wheelhouse and he stayed back and put a good swing on it.," Leo added.
"It's like one swing of the bat can relieve you of six weeks of frustraion and now what he needs to do is take that at-bat to the next game and build on that," Leo added.
Last summer, the left-handed hitting Huwer, who redshirted the 2008 collegiate season at Washington State and had never seen college pitching before joining the Larks, was the starting left fielder for Hays at the NBC World Series. He finished the season with a .305 average, third-best on the club, with two homers and 22 RBI. He was one of Hays' top hitters with runners in scoring position and men on base.
"I thought last summer, I kind of worked the whole field more," he said. "This summer, I have been working on going the other way, but it just really hasn't happened for me. I have been dipping a lot when I have been going the other way, popping up and stuff like that."
After a spring at Wenatchee Valley Community College, Huwer came back to the Larks. He carries a line of .269/324/409, numbers below his 2008 summer.
"Last summer, it definitely felt better because it was my first summer at a collegiate level," he said. "I was probably getting after it a little more. I think now starting to realize what pitches I should hit and stuff like that and starting to calm it down a little bit. My timing has been a little lately."
On Sunday, he faced Derby, a team that had several coaches, including manager Jason Santangelo, that played or coached with Huwer's older brother, Josh, at Emporia State University or at Derby. Huwer didn't see a fastball until he popped up in his second at-bat. In the seventh, Huwer came up in a position that he excelled in last year: runners in scoring position.
"He focuses up," Leo added.
"I saw that a lot last year and I am starting to see a little bit more of that this year, getting into that, but we need Joe Huwer to get focused with men on base because he could be a big threat for us in the NBC."
Huwer saw a first pitch fastball and rocketed the grand slam well over the right-center field fence.
"That is what good hitters do," Santangelo said. "They make mistakes mistakes."