Hoppers win home finale behind Munoz, Garcia

Aug. 28, 2014

Consistency, an elusive element for many hitters, has not been a problem for Felix Munoz.

Greensboro’s first baseman continued his excellent season Thursday night, driving in two runs in the first innings to propel the Hoppers to a 6-1 win over Delmarva. It was the club’s final home game of the regular season and a crowd of 8,338 turned out.

The Hoppers play out the remainder of the schedule with four games in Kannapolis, then begin the playoffs on Sept. 3 at Hagerstown. The Suns officially clinched the other playoff spot in the Northern Division when Hickory was eliminated with a loss to Lakewood.

The Hoppers will return to NewBridge Bank Park for the second game of the best-of-three series on Friday, Sept. 5, and again on Saturday if a third game is needed.

In the home finale, the Hoppers jumped on the Shorebirds for five runs in the first inning and cruised from there. Munoz had the big blow with a base-loaded double that drove in two runs.

“My goals this season were to hit .300 and drive in 100 runs,” Munoz said with teammate Yefri Perez translating. “If I don’t make it, it’s all right. I try to do my best all the time.”

His best has been outstanding. Munoz has 91 RBIs, so he may miss that goal of 100 since only four games are left and he may get a day off. His total is third-best in the South Atlantic League.

The left-handed hitter also ranks high in numerous other categories, including seventh with 31 doubles, seventh with 79 runs scored, tied for fifth with 144 hits, fourth with 229 total bases and tied for seventh with 56 walks. He’s batting .298 overall and hitting left-handers at a .310 clip.

“He’s had a hell of a year,” said manager David Berg. “He’s been out there every day and has given us a big bat in the middle of the lineup. To drive in as many runs as he has (in 123 games played) shows consistency.”

Mason Davis, playing in his third game with the Hoppers, had a single and double, drove in a run and scored one. He also made a couple of nice catches in center field, showing his speed by running down the ball in the gaps.

“I was excited to be called up (from Batavia),” Davis said. “This is a great atmosphere and a fun group of guys. I just want to play my game and help the team by getting on base, getting bunts down and playing good defense.”

Jarlin Garcia picked up his 10th win of the season. He was only scheduled to go four innings, but pitching coach Jeremy Powell made the call to let him go out for the fifth.

“He deserved it,” Powell said. “He’s been pitching with more confidence lately, getting ahead in the count and keeping his fastball down in the zone. He’s been on a roll and this is a nice strong finish for an up-and-down year. I thought it was fitting for him, in the last home game, to have a chance to win.”

In his last four appearances, Garcia has pitched 18 innings, allowed 10 hits, no earned runs and notched 17 strikeouts while walking only three.

The bullpen was solid once again as Jose Arias, Esmerling de la Rosa and Tyler Bremer combined for four innings and gave up two hits and no runs with six strikeouts. Arias struck out the side in the seventh inning.

The win was the Hoppers’ 40th of the second half and 84th of the season. That ties them with the 1960 Greensboro Yankees for the fifth-best record since 1950. One win in Kannapolis will tie them for fourth and two wins would put them in third place on the all-time list.

NOTES: Reliever Sean Donatello, who recorded 11 saves before being promoted to Jupiter, returned to the team. He had six saves with the Hammerheads … It’s likely that Sean Townsley’s season is over. The big lefty from High Point University is still bothered by shoulder trouble … Domingo German will start Friday’s game at Kannapolis in his final tuneup before pitching the playoff opener at Hagerstown.

Four hits from “All-Time” pace Hoppers

Aug. 27, 2014

As someone approached Carlos Lopez after Wednesday’s game, Austin Dean couldn’t resist a dig.

“Hey, All-Time,” Dean said. “They’re looking for you.”

“All-Time” is what teammates are calling Lopez after setting the Hoppers’ record for most hits in a season. Austin Barnes held the mark with 152 hits, accomplished two years ago. Lopez surpassed that total Tuesday, then added to it with four more hits in Wednesday’s 11-2 rout of Delmarva.

So Lopez now tops the Hoppers’ all-time hits list with 158, and there are still five games remaining in the regular season. So what’s his secret?

“Make it as simple as possible,” Lopez said. “See the ball, hit the ball. Let it get deep (in the strike zone). I came into the season wanting to hit .300 with 50 RBIs and 50 runs scored.
I really didn’t know what good numbers were in a full season.”

Lopez has far surpassed those figures. His average is now .322, he leads the team with 81 runs scored (including three Wednesday), is second with 73 RBIs, second with 26 doubles and first with 58 walks drawn.

Wednesday’s game was typical of how well Lopez, a left-handed hitter, handles the bat. After striking out in the first inning, he got an infield hit to third base in the fourth inning, a ground ball single between first and second base in the sixth, a ground ball single between third and short in the seventh and another grounder to right field in the eighth.

“He’s had an incredible year,” said manager David Berg. “He has good at-bats and doesn’t quit; he always battles. He’s a competitor.”

After being limited to five hits in Tuesday’s loss, the Hoppers were held in check through five innings Wednesday. Then they broke loose for 10 runs in sixth, seventh and eighth innings. They accumulated 15 hits — all singles. Dean had two hits and an RBI and scored twice, Brian Anderson had two hits and two runs, J.T. Riddle had two hits and two RBIs and Chad Wallach two hits and three RBIs. Felix Munoz didn’t get a hit but collected two RBIs on a bases-loaded walk and a groundout. He’s up to 89 RBIs for the year, third in the SAL.

Riddle had perhaps the game’s biggest hit when he cracked a two-run single in the sixth to push the Hoppers in front for good, 4-2.

Wallach got hits his last two at-bats to snap a 1-for-14 slump since he came off the disabled list after a concussion.

“I’m starting to feel a little better,” Wallach said. “The headaches are gone and I’m not having any side effects. That was my second concussion and it was far worse than the first. It was the first time I didn’t remember what happened. Everything was foggy.”

Berg said the coaches told Wallach to “stay up the middle and hit the ball the other way,” which is exactly what he did on his two hits.

The pitching was solid. Starter Jose Adames gave the Hoppers five innings with 10 strikeouts. He got into big trouble in the fourth when he loaded the bases with no outs and then gave up a two-run double. But he settled down and wound up striking out the side with no further runs scoring.

“He did a great job limiting the damage there,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell.

At one point Powell visited the mound with trainer Ben Cates after Adames apparently had some tightness in his calf.

“He was OK,” Powell said. “We were glad to get five innings out of him and give him a chance for the win.”

The win ultimately went to Ryan Wertenberger, who threw two innings. Miguel del Pozo and Tyler Kinley added an inning apiece. Together, the three relievers pitched four shutout innings, allowed just one hit and no runs and struck out three.

The Hoppers finish the home portion of their regular season Thursday at 7 p.m. Jarlin Garcia will start for Greensboro, although he’s limited to four innings.

The playoffs are looming and Hagerstown needs just one more win to clinch the spot opposite the Hoppers in the first round.

“We’ve been ready for the playoffs to start since we won the first half,” Lopez said. “We know playoff games are usually close, so we have to go back to doing the little things that win games — moving guys over on the bases and getting them in. You have to have those manufactured runs. You can’t get lackadaisical; you have to keep improving every day.”

Hoppers look to gain momentum for playoffs

Aug. 26, 2014

The playoffs can’t start too soon for the Hoppers.

Right now they’re playing out the string of the regular season, not an easy task when their playoff spot has long since been secure. Still, nobody refers to the remaining games as meaningless.

“We want to finish on a high note and go into the playoffs with momentum,” said Avery Romero after the Hoppers lost to Delmarva 5-3 Tuesday. “I think these guys understand what we’re playing for. We’re definitely excited to be in the playoffs and we want to finish these last games strong.”

Six games are left — Wednesday (at 4 p.m.) and Thursday (7 p.m.) against Delmarva and then four at Kannapolis.

“We still want to play good,” said manager David Berg. “You don’t want to go into the playoffs losing seven straight.”

One big concern is the starting pitching as the Hoppers try to line up their playoff rotation. They know they want Domingo German to pitch game one on Sept. 3, but things are hazy beyond that. Chris Sadberry, a possibility for game two on Sept. 5, has been sidelined with a strain in his back. Sean Townsley, who started Tuesday’s game, is still bothered by a shoulder issue. He spent a month on the disabled list and has had two outings since he was activated.

“I’m not 100 percent,” Townsley said. “I’m taking it day by day.”

The left-hander gave up seven hits and three runs, two earned, in four innings against the Shorebirds. He did record six strikeouts and, as pitching coach Jeremy Powell pointed out, limited the damage with some quality pitches.

“If he’s healthy, he can help us,” Powell said. “Right now he’s not the same guy he was before he was hurt, but maybe he will be his next time out.”

Because the starting pitchers have had their innings curtailed, either by injury or by how much they have pitched, the bullpen has been taxed. Tyler Kane and Esmerling de la Rosa combined for five innings Tuesday, giving up seven hits and two runs.

“We’re scuffling for a rotation,” Berg said. “We need to find some starters. A lot of guys have stepped up, but are they the answers?”

There wasn’t much in the way of offense Tuesday. Brian Anderson drove in a run in the first inning and that’s all the Hoppers managed until the bottom of the ninth when Anderson cracked a two-run homer. From the fourth through the eighth innings, Delmarva starter Mitch Horacek and reliever Derrick Bleeker retired 15 Hoppers in a row.

Berg will rotate days off throughout the lineup to make sure everyone is rested for the playoffs. These last games will also give him a chance to see what newcomer Mason Davis can do. A 19th-round draft pick this year out of The Citadel, Davis hit .319 with three homers and 29 RBIs in 56 games at Batavia. The switch hitter had 13 doubles, five triples and nine stolen bases in 16 attempts. Davis was the DH Tuesday and can play second, third and the outfield. He went 0-for-4 in his Hoppers debut.

Hoppers move up the ladder in wins

Aug. 25, 2014

The 2014 Hoppers have put together the best season ever for the franchise since it moved into its new park 10 years ago.

After finishing a six-game road trip, the Hoppers return home with an overall record of 82-51. That breaks the regular-season mark of 80 wins, set in 2012 by the first team David Berg managed here. There are still seven games remaining — three at home against Delmarva, starting Tuesday, and four to close the season at Kannapolis — so more wins will be added to that total.

This team could finish as high as third on the all-time Greensboro list (at least, since 1950, which is where the records stop at baseball-reference.com). The all-time best is a phenomenal 98 wins set by the Hornets in 1981. The next year, the Hornets put up 96 victories.

The third-best total, one this team can match or surpass, is 85, accomplished by the G-Yanks in 1963 and the Hornets in 1993. Rounding out the top 10 are: (5) 84 wins by the G-Yanks in 1960; (6) 82 wins by the Hornets in 1980 and the 2014 team; (8) 80 wins by the 2012 Hoppers; (9) 79 wins by the 2011 Hoppers and the 1954 Patriots.

PLAYOFFS: The field is all but officially set. The Hoppers, of course, are in by virtue of winning the first half of the Northern Division. Hagerstown is in first place in the second half and, since it doesn’t matter where Greensboro finishes, the only team the Suns have to worry about is Hickory. And the “elimination number” for the Crawdads is two — meaning any combination of Hagerstown wins and Hickory losses totaling two will clinch the playoffs for the Suns.

In the Southern Division, things are wrapped up. First-half winner Savannah and second-half leader Asheville have both qualified and will meet in the first round.

It has been an odd season in the SAL. There are only five teams with overall winning records — Greensboro, Hagerstown, Hickory, Asheville and Savannah. The other nine are below .500, ranging from one game (Charleston) to 30 games (Lakewood). Most managers heading into the playoffs would like some good competition to keep their teams sharp down the stretch. That hasn’t been possible very often this season.

NOTES: Catcher Chad Wallach and pitcher Sean Townsley were activated from the disabled list and infielder Hiram Martinez was promoted (for the third time) from Batavia. Outfielder Coco Johnson and pitcher Cody Crabaugh were sent to Jupiter and catcher Joel Jimenez to Batavia … Former Hopper Colin Moran, traded by the Marlins to the Astros last month, has played 21 games with Double-A Corpus Christi and is hitting .295 with two homers and 16 RBIs. That shows a remarkable consistency — Moran hit .299 in 42 games with Greensboro in 2013 and .294 in 89 games with Jupiter this year before the trade.

Johnson’s 6 RBIs power Hoppers to rout

Aug. 17, 2014

There was no talk in the Hoppers’ locker room Sunday afternoon about Saturday’s results.

Kannapolis pitching had shut down the Hoppers’ attack with no runs and just four hits during a 6-0 win.

“Everybody knew what happened,” said outfielder Coco Johnson. “We didn’t want to lose the series, so we focused harder.”

That approach worked perfectly as the Hoppers shellacked the Intimidators 14-2, pounding out 17 hits, including seven doubles. Five doubles came in the second inning, when the Hoppers scored six times on seven hits. Johnson had a two-run double then and later added a two-run single, a sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk to total six RBIs for the day.

“I haven’t done that since junior college,” he said. “Your confidence goes up when there are runners in scoring position. You want to be the guy that knocks in runs.”

The Hoppers gained a split in the four-game series and finished 5-2 on their final long home stand of the season. After a day off Monday, they play three games at Hagerstown, their likely opponent in the first round of the playoffs.

The Suns lead Hickory by five games with 13 remaining to play in the second half. Since Greensboro won the first half of the Northern Division to qualify for the postseason, it doesn’t matter where the Hoppers finish in the second half (at 35-22, they’re one game behind Hagerstown). Hoppers manager David Berg expects the Suns to clinch the other playoff spot and sees the serie as a big one.

“I told those guys (in the locker room) that’s probably who we’re going to play,” Berg said. “We want to go in there and play well and then go into the playoffs knowing we played well against them. I’d like us to compete like those are playoff games.”

The Hoppers scored all they needed in the second inning, then tacked on eight more runs in the late innings. When it was over, everyone had at least one hit and seven players had multiple hits. Besides Johnson, highlighs included Kentrell Dewitt with two doubles among his three hits plus three runs scored, Chris Hoo with two hits and three runs scored, and three RBIs by J.T. Riddle that included a pair of sacrifice flies.

All that came with two of the club’s best hitters and the two RBI leaders, Felix Munoz and Carlos Lopez, sitting things out.

“It’s nice when you can give those guys a day off and other guys produce,” Berg said. “Johnson and Dewitt hit well at the bottom of the order.”

Hitting coach Frank Moore offered no explanation for the way the Hoppers’ hitters turned things around.

“It’s not an exact science,” he said. “They had good at-bats, balls fell in and they did a good job of driving in runners from third with less than two outs.”

Hoo continued his stellar play since joining the club. In four games he has gone 6-for-10, drawn five walks, scored four runs and handled himself well defensively.

“I learned to stick to my approach my senior year in college,” he said, “and it’s working really well. I don’t try to do too much. I know I’m not a home run hitter, so I just try to find a gap.”

Hoo has impressed Berg in his short stint.

“He’s been awesome,” Berg said. “He blocks pitches well, he throws runners out, his at-bats are outstanding because he takes what (pitchers) give him. I wouldn’t hesitate to use him in a playoff game.”

Domingo German started but was limited to two innings and gave up a solo home run. Chris Sadberry followed with four innings and picked up his third win. He struggled, throwing 82 pitches and giving up five hits and two walks, but limited the damage to a solo homer.

“He didn’t have his best stuff,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “but he made it work. That says a lot about his ability to pitch under pressure.”

Tyler Kane, Tyler Kinley and Tyler Bremer finished with a scoreless inning apiece.

NOTES: The game tied for the fourth most runs scored by the Hoppers in a game this year. They got 20 at Asheville on June 30, 16 against Lexington on July 1, 15 twice and 14 now three times … The attendance was 6,687, an unusually large crowd for a Sunday … The odd lineup had Rehiner Cordova playing first base for the first time and center fielder Yefri Perez at second, where he has played a couple of times. Cordova looked like a natural, making several nice stretches to pull in throws. Berg said he doesn’t hesitate to play a shortstop at first because of the aggressive way they’re used to playing … Jose Adames is the scheduled starter for the first game against Hagerstown Tuesday. Ryan Wertenberger will likely start the second game.

Intimidators hold Hoppers at bay 6-0

Aug. 16, 2014

In the course of a long season, even good teams will have games where they are out-pitched, out-hit and out-played.

Saturday night was one of those for the Hoppers.

A trio of Kannapolis pitchers — Andre Wheeler, Andrew Mitchell and Matt Abramson — held the Hoppers at bay all evening, allowing just four hits and paving the way for a 6-0 win by the Intimidators. It was Greensboro’s second straight loss after winning five straight. The Hoppers are 34-22 in the second half of the SAL season and 78-48 overall.

With a crowd of 8.923 on hand, Hoppers manager David Berg was the loneliest man in NewBridge Bank Park. Only one Hoppers baserunner advanced to third base, where Berg was coaching. That was Austin Dean, who singled in the fourth with one out, moved to second on a groundout by Carlos Lopez and took third on a wild pitch. Brian Anderson grounded out to end the only threat of the night.

The game was scoreless for four innings as the Hoppers’ Cody Crabaugh and the Intimidators’ Wheeler hooked up in a pitchers’ duel. Kannapolis punched across a run in the fifth on an RBI double by Toby Thomas, then added two more in the sixth.

Crabaugh actually gave the Hoppers what they needed by pitching into the sixth inning. But with one out he seemed to tire, giving up a single, an RBI triple and a walk to consecutive hitters. He got a second out and then was lifted, having thrown 95 pitches. Reliever Jose Arias got Jeremy Dowdy, a Raleigh native who played at Appalachian, to hit a grounder to third but an error by Anderson let in an unearned run to make it 3-0.

That held until the top of the ninth. Miguel del Pozo loaded the bases with no outs, then struck out the next two hitters. He went to a 3-and-2 count on Danny Hayes, who then laced a bases-clearing double into the left field corner to put the game out of reach.

The Hoppers close this home stand with a 4 p.m. game Sunday. Domingo German will start but will be limited to two or three innings. Chris Sadberry will follow him in a “piggyback” situation.

NOTES: If you wondered why the sound system played the Olympics theme for Kannapolis DH Eddy Alvarez, it’s because he won a silver medal in speedskating at the Winter Games in Sochi in February. Listed as Eduardo Alvarez, he was the third of four skaters for the U.S. team that finished second in the men’s short track 5,000 meter relay. He signed a baseball contract as a free agent with the White Sox in June. After starting in the Arizona Rookie League, he was promoted to Kannapolis on Aug. 11 and has gone 9-for-19. Alvarez, 24, last played baseball in 2011 as a shortstop for Salt Lake Community College … The 15-game hitting streak for Felix Munoz was stopped when he went 0-for-3.

Kannapolis stops Hoppers’ win streak

Aug. 15, 2014

After 125 games of a 140-game season, it’s not unusual for signs of fatigue to show up in a team’s play.

In the Hoppers’ case, the position players aren’t a concern. They seem to be doing fine, despite a 6-3 loss to Kannapolis Friday. That stopped a five-game winning streak and overall the club is 9-5 during August’s “dog days.”

But pitching is another matter. Starters Domingo German and Jarlin Garcia are currently on limited innings. Chris Sadberry pitched 95 innings at Texas Tech and has thrown 31 more with Batavia and the Hoppers, so he’s also being monitored closely. Neither Jose Adames or Ryan Wertenberger, Friday’s starter, have ever thrown many innings in a season.

As a result, the Hoppers’ bullpen is racking up a lot of innings lately.

“Our starters can’t give us any innings and our bullpen is wearing out,” said manager David Berg. “Right now the bullpen is covering more innings than the starters.”

The last two games have been good examples. Wertenberger managed only four innings Friday, with Esmerling de la Rosa throwing two and Kyle Fischer three. On Thursday, Garcia was limited to four, so Tyler Kane followed with three, Tyler Bremer one and Tyler Kinley one. It’s a juggling match every night.

“You’ve got to pitch eight or nine innings every night and it’s definitely taking a toll,” said pitching coach Jeremy Fowler. “It’s a strain on the pen. But everyone is built up and can go multiple innings.”

Two innings in a game usually means a reliever is not available the next day. Three innings means he’s likely down for two days.

“Sometimes it’s asking a lot out of guys,” Powell said, “but it’s an opportunity to respond. You see who steps up and helps themselves.”

Several things can help the situation. One is off days in the schedule, which provide rest for everyone. One of those comes up Monday with another the following Monday. Also, Sean Townsley, who has been on the disabled list for some time with biceps tendinitis, is expected back before the regular season ends and be available in some capacity.

The other thing is for someone to go deep into a game and ease the bullpen’s load. Cody Crabaugh, who has been in and out of the rotation, gets that opportunity with a start in Saturday’s 7 p.m. game.

“Five innings would be a plus and six would be even better,” Powell said. “He gets a lot of early contact, which will help.”

NOTES: Avery Romero had three of the Hoppers’ nine hits, all of which were singles … Felix Munoz extended his hitting streak to 15 games … The defense turned three double plays … Greensboro stranded 11 runners and hitters were just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position … Austin Dean came off the disabled list and Hiram Martinez was sent back to Batavia … Brian Anderson also rejoined the lineup after missing several games with back problems.

Hoppers top Kannapolis for 5th straight win

Aug. 14, 2014

J.T. Riddle had a feeling.

“They had been pitching me soft all night,” the Hoppers’ shortstop said of the way Kannapolis approached him. “In the back of my mind I thought they might go to a fastball. I got one inside and I put the barrel on the ball pretty good.”

The result of the swing, against the Intimidators’ Brad Salgado, was a home run to right field to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning. That put the Hoppers ahead 4-3 and they made it stand up for their fourth straight win on this home stand and fifth straight overall.

“Sometimes it’s a guessing game,” Riddle said of a battle with the pitcher. “Basically you sit on the fastball and adjust to the off-speed pitches. I just wanted to make sure I got my hands through the swing.”

It was something of a bounce-back win for Greensboro. Starter Jarlin Garcia, after four sharp innings, gave way to Tyler Kane in the fifth. Kane immediately surrendered a 2-0 lead by giving up three runs. Avery Romero tied things with a leadoff homer in the sixth inning, his fifth of the year, and Riddle’s ninth homer provided the go-ahead run in the next inning.

Because the Hoppers’ bullpen was thin after a doubleheader Tuesday and a 10-inning game Wednesday, they needed more from Kane, who regrouped and pitched two shutout innings.

“That was huge,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “(Manager David Berg) told him to be aggressive out there. If they hit the ball, fine, but be aggressive, and he was.”

Kane got the win after Tyler Bremer pitched a one-two-three eighth and Tyler Kinley did the same in the ninth for his 10th save.

Garcia is in the same position as Domingo German, having his innings closely monitored. He has now pitched 124 on the season and is closing in on his limit determined by the parent Miami Marlins. That means he had to start Thursday’s game without a chance to be the winner, which German has also been doing.

“You hate to do it,” Powell said. “These guys are competitors and they don’t understand the bigger picture. We try to get them to see that it’s not about today, it’s about the future.

“He had an outstanding approach tonight. He looked relaxed, he established his fastball and used his changeup and slider effectively. It would have been nice to see how far he could go, but we couldn’t do it.”

Kinley had four days of rest and was chomping at the bit to get in a game. He threw all fastballs except for one slider, which Powell said will need to change down the road.

“I wanted to go out and attack them,” Kinley said. “We had a one-run lead and I wanted to keep them off the bases. I had worked on getting ahead in the count and then putting them away. We have a great defense, so I wanted to keep the ball down in the zone.”

The last hitter, Carl Thomore, ripped a line drive right back at Kinley. It bounced off his glove and he took his time getting to the ball and tossing to first base to get Thomore by an eyelash.

“You don’t want to rush the throw,” he said. “I was aware of where he was.”

It was a cleaner game for the Hoppers than the one Wednesday, but not without its faults.

“We’re still making too many mistakes,” Berg said, “especially baserunning. We scored enough to win and the guys pitching late (Bremer and Kinley) did well. That was the best I’ve seen Garcia. He showed a little bit of a slider tonight.”

Ryan Wertenberger is the scheduled starter for the second game of the series Friday at 7 p.m.

NOTES: Felix Munoz had a sacrifice fly that drove in the Hoppers’ first run and increased his RBI total to 82, tied for third in the SAL … The Hoppers might get two key players back for Friday’s game. Outfielder Austin Dean (groin) is close to being ready to come off the disabled list and third baseman Brian Anderson (back), who has not been on the DL but has missed several games, is feeling much better … Catcher Chad Wallach was placed on the DL with a concussion suffered Tuesday when he caught a foot in the head during a play at the plate.

Hoppers prevail in a weird one

Aug. 13, 2014

A game that had more than a touch of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (for those of you who remember that comics page feature) produced three unlikely heroes for the Hoppers Wednesday afternoon.

Coco Johnson, mired in a 5-for-36 slump entering the game, slammed a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to provide the Hoppers with a 7-5 win over the Lakewood BlueClaws.

Kentrell Dewitt, scuffling in a 6-for-37 drought, got the Hoppers back in the game with a three-run homer in the fourth inning that tied it at 4-4.

And catcher Chris Hoo, in his Greensboro debut, made an impact offensive and defensively and teamed with Avery Romero on a key play for an out at the plate.

“It was nice to see Johnson and Dewitt get some hits,” said manager David Berg. “Sometimes one hit can trigger a turnaround. Hoo was the game MVP. He caught well, got three hits, had a sacrifice, threw out two runners — that’s a great debut.”

Hoo is the team’s third catcher, which they haven’t had all season. He was added to the roster to help regular catcher Chad Wallach, just back from Jupiter, get some rest before the playoffs. And now Wallach will be out for a few days after suffering concussion symptoms resulting from a collision at home plate in the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader.

“Whenever they call my name, I’ll try my best to help the team,” said Hoo, drafted in the 27th round this summer out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. “It’s fun here. They treat me like I’m one of the family.”

The play at the plate came in the top of the 10th inning. Lakewood had runners at first and third with one out and Carlos Tocci at the plate. The Hoppers played the infielders in with the score tied 5-5. Tocci hit a blooper to short center field and second baseman Romero, who was on the infield grass, sprinted out to make the catch.

Willians Astudillo, on third, broke for home and Romero turned and got enough on the throw to get it to Hoo, who caught it and tagged Astudillo. Astudillo and Lakewood manager Greg Legg protested vigorously, but the out call held and the inning was over.

Romero, in retrospect, said he probably should have thrown the ball to first base to double off that runner, but “I was set on getting it to home.”

Hoo, who also thought Romero was going to throw to first, adjusted quickly.

“It was just catch it and make the tag,” he said. “I was on the corner of the plate and it was a bang-bang play, but I thought we got him.”

In the bottom of the 10th, Hoo singled with one out and Johnson followed with his third homer of the year to win it. He said he was trying to go to right field but he wound up pulling the ball over the fence in left instead.

“I tried to be patient and get a good pitch to hit,” Johnson said. “I hit it hard and it happened to go out. I’ve been doing a couple of drills to get me going and stay through the ball longer.”

Dewitt lined his eighth homer of the year to right center field in the fourth inning. He thought it was going to hit the top of the fence and he would wind up with a triple, but it might have gotten a little help from the wind to carry out.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “I’ve been working on letting the ball get deeper in the zone and on getting my confidence back.”

Hitting coach Frank Moore said Dewitt had been getting behind in the count and then swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Lately he’s been getting ahead in the count and being more selective on his swings.

The Hoppers finished with 15 hits. Hoo and Yefri Perez had three each and J.T. Riddle, Carlos Lopez and Felix Munoz added two apiece. Munoz collected his 81st RBI.

Starting pitcher Jose Adames wasn’t particularly sharp in his five innings, but the bullpen work was excellent from Kyle Fischer, Jose Arias and Esmerling de la Rosa, who picked up his fourth win.

AS for the Ripley’s aspect of the game, the Hoppers won despite some sloppy play. There were several base-running gaffes, a communications error on a popup and a couple of other strange plays.

“We played pretty bad,” Johnson said. “There were some base-running mistakes, including me twice.”

Berg didn’t argue with that.

“It was a weird game,” he said. “We ran ourselves out of lots of opportunities. Against better teams, that will wind up costing you. But every win is a win.”

The Hoppers moved to 33-20 in the second half with the sweep of the BlueClaws and are 76-46 overall.

“We found a way,” Hoo said. “This team knows how to win.”

The Hoppers begin a four-game series with Kannapolis Thursday at 7 p.m. Jarlin Garcia is the scheduled starter.

Hoppers post shutout sweep, get two players back

Aug. 12, 2014

Chad Wallach sported a bright red cut on his right cheek following the second game of the Hoppers’ doubleheader sweep of Lakewood Tuesday night.

Welcome back to Greensboro, Chad.

Wallach and second baseman Avery Romero were among several players having outstanding seasons in Greensboro who were promoted to Jupiter after the SAL All-Star game. On Tuesday, the Miami Marlins returned the pair to the Hoppers’ roster.

It was not that they weren’t doing well in Jupiter — Wallach hit .328 with eight RBIs in 12 games and Romero hit .320 with 10 RBIs in 26 games. But the Hammerheads aren’t going anywhere in the Florida State League and the Hoppers will be in the SAL playoffs. Those two played a big role in them winning the first half of the Northern Division and neither was disappointed to return.

“I’m excited to be back for the playoff run,” Wallach said. “It’s good to see all the guys again. This is going to be a blast.”

Romero had an identical reaction.

“It was fun playing in Jupiter,” he said, “but I’m excited for the chance to play for a championship. (The Marlins) asked us if we would mind coming back and we both said we would be glad to. I love this group of guys.”

Romero got right into the action, playing second base in both games. He had a hit and a pair of RBIs — one on a bases-loaded walk — in the first game, a 7-0 win. In the second game, his grounder in the first inning was booted for an error by Lakewood’s third baseman and Rehiner Cordova scored what turned out to be the only run in the 1-0 victory.

Wallach caught the second game and was involved in the defensive play that preserved the win. In the top of the seventh inning, with a runner on first and one out, Lakewood’s Malquin Canelo laced a line drive to the wall in left-center field. Coco Johnson hustled over to pick it up and fired his relay throw to shortstop J.T. Riddle.

As runner Drew Stankiewicz was waved around third, Riddle, standing well out in left field, pegged his throw home. Wallach caught it on the right side of the plate, then dived to his left and tagged Stankiewicz for the out. That’s when the runner’s foot apparently caught him on the cheek, under the eye.

“It was a great relay, the kind of thing we practice all the time,” Wallach said. “I didn’t feel anything, so I’m not sure what happened (to cause the cut).”

That was the second out and Canelo wound up on third base with the throw home. Miguel del Pozo then retired Carlos Tocci for the final out to earn his fourth save.

“The outfielder (Johnson) wasn’t playing deep enough,” said manager David Berg, “but he got the ball to Riddle. He made a helluva throw and Wallach made a helluva play. Riddle can really play shortstop. He’s got good arm strength and he didn’t panic.”

It was the second time in a week that the Hoppers swept a doubleheader with two shutouts. They also did it on the road on Aug. 4 at Delmarva, winning twice by 2-0.

“It’s great to see good outings day in and day out,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “We went through a stretch there were we weren’t throwing well. Now they’re feeding off each other and pitching with confidence.”

Powell liked Chris Sadberry’s “sneaky fastball” and the way he challenged hitters in the second game as the lefty picked up his second victory. In the opener, Domingo German pitched four innings, allowing two hits and two walks, then gave way to Cody Crabaugh, who threw two innings and got the win. Newcomer Tyler Bremer pitched the seventh.

“We’re watching German’s innings closely, looking out for the benefit of his career,” Powell explained. “He seems to understand, but mentally it’s not easy going out there with no chance to win the game.”

The Hoppers banged out 12 hits in the opener with Carlos Lopez hitting a three-run homer and adding a fourth RBI on a sacrifice fly. Riddle had a pair of doubles and scored twice, and Felix Munoz and Yefri Perez each had two hits.

ROSTER MOVES: Since the last home stand, the Hoppers have added three players in addition to the return of Wallach and Romero. Bremer and Jose Arias were both obtained by the Marlins in a deal with the Chicago Cubs. Arias has pitched once, picking up a save by striking out all six batters he faced in two innings at Hickory. Also new is catcher Chris Hoo, called up from Batavia. Gone from the roster are pitcher Ramon del Orbe and catcher Brad Haynal to Batavia, and infielder Juan Avila and pitchers Sam Alvis and C.J. Robinson to Jupiter.


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