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Armitage bends, breaks through

May 03, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Jonathan Armitage found a way to stand up and be counted for the Hagerstown Suns.

He bent his knees a little.

Armitage debuted his new slightly crouched batting stance with three hits, including two home runs, and five RBI on Sunday to help the Suns post an 8-7 victory over Lexington at Municipal Stadium, lifting Hagerstown to a season-high third straight victory.

Armitage's three-run homer to right against the prevailing 20-plus mph wind blowing to left moved the Suns into a 7-7 tie in the fifth. It set the stage for Jay Knowlton's game-winning homer in the sixth and for reliever Jesse Floyd to nail down the victory with four dominant innings of work.

"I've been working with Hector (Torres), the hitting coach, and he got me to change my stance a little," Armitage said. "He got me to crouch down a little bit and swing more freely. I was standing too straight up and, because I'm a little taller, I was giving too much of a strike zone."

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Armitage had been struggling thus far this season, hitting just .203 entering the game. But his 3-for-4 game - with a solo homer bomb to dead center in the second, run-scoring single to left in the third and the three-run homer in the fifth - allowed Hagerstown to come from behind.

With the outing, Armitage jumped his average 26 points to .229 while raising his home run total to three, all against Lexington.

"That's the best I've felt hitting since the first game of the year (at Lexington when he hit his other home run)," Armitage said.

Armitage did the background work, giving Knowlton and Floyd the opportunity to finish the game off and give Hagerstown its third win in the four-game series.

"Armitage has a solid swing, but has a habit of flicking at the ball sometimes," Hagerstown manager Mike Ramsey said. "He's going to be hitting (in the middle of the order) and he has power ... we just want him to use it. He was moving the bat today and did a good job.

"But Armitage's hits and Knowlton's homer aside, Floyd was key to what we needed today. He wasn't real sharp early, but after he got out there awhile, he got sharper and sharper, especially in the last two innings."

Lexington roughed up Hagerstown starter Kelyn Acosta in the first four innings, starting with a four-run second. The Legends built a 7-4 lead, scoring all their runs on 10 hits in the second through fourth innings.

Floyd (1-1) came on in the fifth and was immediately tagged with Beau Hearod's double to left. After Armitage's three-run homer, Floyd allowed a one-out single to Edwin Maysonet before striking out the next six Legends he faced over the next three innings, including all three in the seventh after Knowlton's go-ahead homer.

"Those kind of shutdown innings are huge," Ramsey said.

"That was huge," Armitage said, who watched Floyd work from center field. "He got strikes and was putting the ball where he wanted it. He was on. The big thing was he was pumping strikes. If they can't get on base, they can't score."

Knowlton, who also had an RBI double and scored in Hagerstown's three-run third, connected on reliever Raymar Diaz's two-out, two-strike offering and launched it over the left center field wall to give the Suns their only lead.

"Knowlton had a key hit for us," Ramsey said. "He's been big for us the last week. He got hurt in spring training and I didn't expect him to be back so soon. He's can play a couple of different places for us and has been hitting the ball."

Floyd used a double play to get out of a bases-loaded situation in the eighth before Tim Alvarez came on in the ninth for his third save, despite issuing two walks. Knowlton and Armitage finished with three hits each in the Suns' 12-hit onslaught.

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