Sand Gnats bid goodbye by beating Hoppers

July 28, 2015

The Savannah Sand Gnats left NewBridge Bank Park for the last time ever Tuesday afternoon, although Michael Katz probably wishes he could hit there a few more times.

The Gnats’ franchise will move to Columbia, S.C., for the 2016 season, relocating to a $37 million, 8,000-seat facility named Sprint Communications Stadium. Savannah has been in the South Atlantic League since 1984 and won four championships, the last in 2013. One it didn’t win was in 2011, when the Hoppers beat the Sand Gnats in five games for the title.

The Gnats left Greensboro with a flourish, posting an 8-6 win. That was their third straight victory in the series after dropping the opener. Katz hit a home run for the fourth straight game, finishing the series with 12 RBIs.

It was a familiar story for the Hoppers. With two outs and two Savannah runners on base in the second inning, first baseman Austen Smith couldn’t handle a ground ball near the bag. One run scored on the error, but it opened the floodgates. Starter Gunnar Kines responded by giving up a walk, a two-run single, a one-run single and Katz’s three-run homer.

The end result was a 7-0 deficit that proved too big to overcome.

“That’s been our M.O. as a staff,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “A crucial error is followed by us not stopping the bleeding. That’s what happens when experienced hitters (like Savannah’s) face inexperienced pitchers.”

Hoppers’ pitchers did finish the game well, holding the Gnats to one run over the final seven innings. Sam Alvis and Jose Velez were especially sharp. Alvis struck out four in two innings and Velez fanned the side in his inning.

The offense at least put up a fight late in the game, cutting a seven-run deficit to two. The Hoppers scored four runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth, but failed to get anything going in the ninth except a two-out double by Brian Schales. But there were other chances earlier in the game as Greensboro wasted many of its 14 hits, stranding nine runners.

“It seemed like we had opportunities every inning,” said manager Kevin Randel, “but we couldn’t chip away at the lead.”

The Hoppers (9-23 in the second half, 38-63 overall) have Wednesday off and begin a four-game series at Kannapolis Thursday.

“If you keep playing hard and keep playing right, good things will happen,” Randel said of the 38 games remaining. “But if you start worrying about your numbers, bad things will happen.”

NOTES: Every Hopper in the lineup had a hit, with Mason Davis getting three … Zach Sullivan had two hits and scored three runs, and Schales and Smith had two hits each … Hoppers pitchers walked six batters, four by Kines, while the Sand Gnats issued none … The Hoppers finished the home stand 2-5.

Sand Gnats lay 9-0 whipping on Hoppers

July 27, 2015

Game No. 100 for the Hoppers in the South Atlantic League season was one of the most forgettable.

Savannah dominated on the pitching and hitting ends and put a 9-0 whipping on the Hoppers Monday night. The outcome left Greensboro 9-22 in the second half and 38-62 overall.

The Hoppers never solved 6-foot-10 right-hander Martires Arias, who held them to three hits over six innings while striking out six. Alberto Baldonado earned a three-inning save, allowing just two hits and adding four more strikeouts.

Greensboro starter Michael Mader pitched three shutout innings before giving up a run in the fourth and a two-run homer in the fifth, which would be plenty of cushion. The Sand Gnats tagged James Buckelew for two runs in the sixth and Nick Fuller for four more in the ninth.

Savannah pounded out 14 hits, with six hitters getting two apiece, and three home runs. One of those was by Michael Katz, who homered for the third straight game in NewBridge Bank Park.

NOTES: The teams wrap up the series with a game at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday … The Hoppers starter is to be determined after scheduled starter Ben Holmes was sent to Jupiter … Ryan Hafner was the only effective Hoppers pitcher, throwing a pair of shutout innings … Thirty-nine games are left in the season (the Hoppers had one cancelled in the first half).

Hoppers can’t overcome costly early error

July 26, 2011

One thing a team that’s struggling can’t afford is to dig itself in a hole to start a game at home.

On Sunday, the Hoppers did just that. In the top of the first, Tyler Kolek gave up a single in between two outs. He got Savannah’s Eudor Garcia to hit a routine grounder to second base that should have ended the inning. But Rony Cabrera booted the ball, leaving two men on base. Michael Katz then belted a long three-run homer — it hit the concourse in back of Natty’s Hill — to put the Sand Gnats up 3-0. And the Hoppers never really recovered.

“A two-out error cost us three runs and the game,” manager Kevin Randel summed up after the Hoppers eventually lost 6-5.

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said Kolek “left a slider over the middle of the plate and that’s what happens.”

The runs were unearned, but Kolek wasn’t sharp. He couldn’t finish the fourth inning, leaving after 84 pitches but only 44 for strikes. He gave up five runs and four walks, unable to follow up on his strong one-hit, six-inning outing in his last start.

“He’s been inconsistent the whole year,” Powell said. “That’s the difference outing to outing, a good one and then a bad one.”

The Hoppers got an outstanding relief effort from Kelvin Rivas, who faced eight batters, gave up one hit, got one groundout and struck out the other six hitters. Powell said Rivas has “an explosive delivery” with good secondary pitches to complement his fastball.

“That’s the best we’ve seen him throw all year,” Randel said.

Jose Velez pitched two shutout innings, the eighth straight appearance in which he has allowed no runs.

Patrick Biondi and John Mora had RBI doubles in the fourth for the Gnats and Katz added his fourth RBI on a single in the seventh.

Greensboro got one run back in the first an RBI groundout by Arturo Rodriguez after Cabrera’s double. Zach Sullivan had a sacrifice fly in the sixth, Brian Schales doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the seventh and K.J. Woods belted a two-run homer in the ninth off Savannah closer Jimmy Duff.

But the homer came with two outs and left the bases empty. Schales jumped on the next pitch by Duff and lined it right at left fielder Vicento Lupo to end the game.

It was not a well-played game by the Hoppers. In addition to Cabrera’s miscue, Kolek threw away a pickoff attempt. And a ball dropped between center fielder Sullivan and left fielder Mason Davis for a single that ultimately cost the Hoppers a run in the seventh.

“Neither one looked like they wanted the ball,” Randel said. “(Sullivan) didn’t take charge.”

NOTES: The third game of the series will be played at 7 tonight with Michael Mader starting for the Hoppers … Rodriguez had three hits and Schales, Woods and Cabrera had two apiece, but the Hoppers couldn’t bunch enough hits together for a big inning … They stranded nine runners and were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Davis, Buckelew take on different roles in 5-4 win

July 25, 2015

The Hoppers played against type with “Christmas In July” at NewBridge Bank Park Saturday, so Mason Davis and James Buckelew went along with that idea.

Davis is not a home-run hitter, but he belted a two-run shot that helped the Hoppers build a 5-0 lead over Savannah. Closing hasn’t been Buckelew’s role, but he got an opportunity and recorded his first save to preserve the 5-4 victory.

The homer by Davis, hit well to right field, was just his third of the season. He has been working on his swing lately with hitting coach Luis Quinones.

“He wants me to swing down on the ball to get the loop out of my swing,” Davis said. “So I went up trying to stay on top of the ball and accidentally got into one. I pretty much knew it was a homer when I hit it.”

K.J. Woods hit his 13th homer and Arturo Rodriguez added his 10th. Asked to grade all three, Davis smiled.

“I think I got them today,” he said, then quickly added a qualifier. “But I can’t compete with them. They’re the power hitters.”

Quinones wants Davis to remember that and work on his strengths.

“At times he makes a loop with his swing and gets underneath the ball,” Quinones said. “When he does that, he hits fly balls instead of line drives. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter. That’s his game. He’s got a little pop and tonight the pitcher made a mistake and he put a good swing on it. But that’s not who he is.”

Since Josh Hodges was promoted to Double-A a couple of weeks ago, Kyle Fischer has claimed the closer’s job. But he was unavailable Saturday so when it came to protecting a one-run lead in the ninth, the call went to Buckelew, who has been used anywhere from the middle innings to a setup role. Pitching coach Jeremy Powell told him to “be alive” as the game went along.

And was Buckelew ever alive when he came in, throwing six pitches to end the game.

“It felt a little different but it was fun,” he said. “My adrenaline was pumping and my mental approach was to go right at them and not be too fine.”

The first hitter, Michael Katz, drilled Buckelew’s second pitch deep to straightaway center. Davis, who is still learning the position, was playing deep anyway but still had to turn and track down the ball. He made the catch about on the warning track about a foot from the wall.

“My heart stopped for a second,” Buckelew said, “but when I when I saw Mason’s route to the ball I knew it wasn’t going to go out.”

Davis said he knew it was over his head but he didn’t want to let it drop.

“I thought for a moment it might sneak out of there,” he said, “but I knew I had it when it was about 20 feet from me.”

Buckelew retired John Mora on a routine groundout with one pitch, then struck out Jean Rodriguez on three pitches, the last a called strike on a knee-buckling curve.

“I threw a changeup for a strike, then a high fastball (that Rodriguez missed),” Buckelew said. “He was assuming I would throw something up again and the curve had a good late break.”

The Hoppers got an important 5 2/3 innings from starter Enderson Franco. He had been awful his previous two starts, giving up 16 runs, 14 earned, in a total of just 4 1/3 innings. He held Savannah to four hits and two runs, one unearned, while striking out seven and earning his first win as a Hopper.

“The first five innings were easy because he commanded his fastball,” Powell said. “He threw strikes with it and nailed the outer half of the plate, which enabled him to command all three pitches.”

Sam Alvis contributed 1 2/3 innings of shutout relief. He got himself into a jam in the eighth by hitting the leadoff batter and walking the next, but he settled down to retire the next three.

“He really showed some fight there,” Powell said. “There was a 10-pitch at-bat and he bounced back from that. It was nice to see him maintain the lead.”

A win is a win, the second straight for a team that has been scuffling. But manager Kevin Randel still wants to see his club play better. The Hoppers committed three errors and once again failed to move runners over and drive them in.

“It’s not the way we like to win, with the errors and our situational hitting,” he said. “We had a chance for some add-on runs (in the bottom of the eighth) and didn’t get them in.”

NOTES: Woods had a double and single to go with his homer and Rodriguez had a single in addition to his homer … The teams play Sunday at 4 p.m. with Tyler Kolek starting for the Hoppers.

Twine’s four RBIs help Hoppers to 7-6 win

July 24, 2015

This season isn’t going to be pretty, numbers-wise, for Justin Twine.

But he has things he wants to accomplish in the 42 games remaining, and Friday night was a good step toward that. The young shortstop (age 19) had three hits, drove in four runs, scored once and stole a base to help the Hoppers top Kannapolis 7-6 and salvage the finale of a three-game series.

Twine flicked a double to left field to score two runs in the fourth inning, ripped a double in the gap to right center to drive in two more in the fifth and singled through the hole for his third hit in the eighth inning.

“I want to show this organization that I have improved from last season and from the first half of this season,” Twine said. “I want to become an important piece of their future.”

Friday was his 80th game this season, far more than he has ever played, and just getting through the grind has been a chore.

“The hardest part is the mental side,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your body right and I’m still finding my routine. No matter how badly things are going, you’ve got to come out and play the next day.”

Even after getting three hits Friday, Twine’s batting average rose to only .188. He’s in such a hole from that standpoint that it’s going to be low regardless of his finish. But he believes he has improved his approach at the plate. He’s taking an occasional walk now and his first double came off a slider. His other two hits came off fastballs.

“This season has been a time for me to adjust to off-speed pitches,” he said. “I’m going up there now looking for something I can drive. It has been hard to keep my spirits up because I hold myself to a high standard, but my teammates and my family have been a big help.”

Manager Kevin Randel believes this season will benefit Twine in the long run.

“It’s the best learning experience I know to get it handed to you every night,” Randel said. “He just has to keep his spirits up and keep going.”

Austen Smith, Zach Sullivan and Arturo Rodriguez drove in the other runs for the Hoppers.

On the pitching side, both teams had depleted bullpens from the 15-inning game that Kannapolis won Thursday night. Hoppers starter Jorgan Cavanerio didn’t have a pretty outing but gave them six innings and wound up as the winner. After surrendering two runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings, he gave up a leadoff single in the sixth but then retired the next three hitters.

“He got out of a jam when we needed him to,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell.

Gunnar Kines, brought up from the Gulf Coast League, got the Hoppers through the seventh and eighth innings by retiring all six hitters. But in the ninth he started leaving the ball up and gave up a walk, a single and a double that scored a run to cut the lead to 7-5.

Kelvin Rivas came in with one man out and two men in scoring position. He retired dangerous Alexander Simon, who hit a home run earlier in the game, on a grounder to fist baseman K.J. Woods for the second out as a run scored to make it 7-6.

With a runner on third and no margin for error, Rivas struck out Ryan Leonards to end the game and record his first save.

“We wanted to save Rivas if we could for Saturday’s game,” Powell said. “But you’ve got to win the game you’re playing first.”

NOTES: The Hoppers should get some bullpen help with Nick Fuller, who has been in Jupiter, expected to return … Savannah, a team the Hoppers haven’t seen all season, comes in for four games starting Saturday with Enderson Franco, who only lasted one inning in his previous outing, scheduled to start for Greensboro … The Sand Gnats won the first half of the Southern Division, which qualified them for the playoffs … They’re 50-46 overall but only 11-15 in the second half … Friday night they pounded Hagerstown 16-5 on the road, collecting 18 hits, including eight doubles and two homers Eudor Garcia had three doubles, a homer, five RBIs and three runs scored.

Hoppers hit three homers but fall in 15 innings

July 23 (almost July 24), 2015

The long ball worked but small ball didn’t for the Hoppers Thursday night.

After four hours and 39 minutes, the game clanked to a halt in NewBridge Bank Park and all Greensboro had to show for it was a 7-5 loss in 15 innings to Kannapolis.

All the Hoppers runs came on homers — a three-run shot by Arturo Rodriguez, his ninth of the season, and two solo blasts by K.J. Woods, boosting his total to 12.

There were other opportunities for the Hoppers but they couldn’t get a clutch hit. John Norwood’s leadoff walk in the first was wasted. In the fourth, Brian Schales doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on Rony Cabrera’s sacrifice, but was stranded there.

In the bottom of the 11th, Norwood drew a leadoff walk on four pitches but the Hoppers couldn’t execute a sacrifice bunt and the inning fizzled.

The Hoppers used five relief pitchers and three of them were excellent. Sam Alvis retired the side in order in his only inning, Kyle Fischer threw four shutout innings and Jose Velez struck out five of the six hitters he faced. The three allowed only one hit and no walks in their seven combined innings

But Cody Harris, relieving starter Ben Holmes with one out and a man on in the sixth, gave up a two-run homer that tied the game 4-4 and in the seventh surrendered an RBI single that put Kannapolis ahead 5-4.

After the Hoppers shut down Kannapolis for the next seven innings, Ryan Hafner entered in the 15th and gave up three singles, a walk and two runs. He took the loss, his second in two days.

NOTES: There were 32 strikeouts in the game, 17 by Hoppers pitchers and 15 by Kannapolis hurlers … Schales had four hits for Greensboro, including two doubles, and Woods added three hits … Alexander Simon had three hits and four RBIs for the Intimidators. He had a two-run homer and a pair of run-scoring singles, the second one driving in the go-ahead run in the top of the 15th … Jorgan Cavanerio will try to stop the Hoppers’ four-game losing streak in Friday’s game.

Mader’s strong effort results in no decision

July 23, 2015

Another solid pitching performance went for naught for the Hoppers Wednesday night.

Michael Mader threw a solid six innings, throwing shutout ball for the first five before allowing a run in the top of the sixth. He gave up three hits and two walks while striking out four.

“Mader pitched really well,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “I would have liked to have seen him go deeper in this game, but he got into some counts that ran up his pitch count.”

When Mader left after throwing 80 piches, the Hoppers had a 2-1 lead, thanks to a solo homer by John Norwood in the third inning and an RBI double by newcomer Korey Dunbar in the sixth.

But the Hoppers bullpen couldn’t hold it. Ryan Hafner, who became the 26th different pitcher to appear for Greensboro this season, gave up two runs in the top of the seventh when he surrendered two hits, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and issued a walk before James Buckelew got the final out.

The Hoppers were tagged for three more runs in the ninth that put the game out of reach at 6-2.

In the last game of the most recent road trip, Tyler Kolek pitched six innings of one-hit, shutout ball and left with the lead, but the bullpen didn’t hold that one, either.

Besides Mader’s pitching and Norwood’s homer, the bright spot for Greensboro was Dunbar’s first game. Drafted in the 20th round out of North Carolina this summer, Dunbar played 17 games at Batavia, hitting .317 with five RBIs. A catcher by trade, he was the DH Wednesday and had a single and a double. He was also robbed of extra bases by Kannapolis center fielder Louie Lechich, who sprinted to his left and laid out for a diving catch near the warning track.

“It was a nice debut,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Three hard-hit balls and the center fielder made a nice play.”

NOTES: Norwood’s homer was his 12th, one behind team leader Austen Smith … Mason Robbins had four hits, drove in three runs and scored twice for Kannapolis … K.J. Woods doubled and scored on Dunbar’s double, but was called out on strikes three times … Ben Holmes is the scheduled starter for Thursday’s 7 o’clock game … In the revolving door that’s the Hoppers roster, pitcher Luis Castillo was promoted to Jupiter and Jorgan Cavanerio returned from the Hammerheads to Greensboro (picking up a win last week) … Reliever Nick Fuller joined Jupiter for at least the time being to help the strained bullpen there … Infielder Taylor Munden was sent back to Batavia for regular playing time … Reliever Kyle Keller also went to Batavia.

Power stings Hoppers one final time

July 12, 2015

The Hoppers saw the last of the West Virginia Power Sunday afternoon, and it couldn’t have come too soon.

The teams played for the final time in the 2015 season, with the Power thumping the Hoppers 14-5 at NewBridge Bank Park. The win ran their record against Greensboro to 8-2 in the second half and 11-6 overall this season.

After going 3-6 on the home stand against West Virginia and Hickory, a day off on Monday will likely do the Hoppers some good. They open a three-game series at Hickory Tuesday and follow with four games at Delmarva.

After two well-played games in which they beat the Power 5-2 and 1-0, the Hoppers couldn’t keep their momentum rolling. Starter Ben Holmes, coming off seven innings of shutout ball in his last start, was tagged for two runs in the first inning.

The Hoppers answered in the bottom of the first against Stephen Tarpley, who pitched a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter in his previous start. He was greeted by a home run by John Norwood, singles by Rony Cabrera and Arturo Rodriguez and an RBI double by K.J. Woods to tie the game 2-2 with no outs.

But after those four straight hits, the offense faltered and couldn’t score again in the inning. And that was it, except for some cosmetic runs in the eighth and ninth innings.

Holmes surrendered two runs in the second and three more in the fourth before being lifted for Kelvin Rivas, the first of five Hoppers relievers. They all gave up at least one run except for Jose Velez, who retired the side in order for the only time all afternoon in the eighth inning.

No Hoppers pitcher could do anything with the Power’s Jerrick Suiter, who had five hits, including his third homer of the year. He drove in five runs, scored three times and also drew a walk, reaching base six times. Tyler Gushue homered and drove in three runs, Jordan Luplow homered, Elvis Escobar had three hits and three runs and Pablo Reyes had three hits as the Power recorded 17 hits.

NOTES: Roy Morales had three hits, two of them infield singles, for the Hoppers … Second baseman-center fielder Mason Davis should come off the disabled list and be ready for Tuesday’s game … If the rotation doesn’t change, Tyler Kolek is scheduled to start the Hickory series.

Hoppers make the right plays in 1-0 victory

July 12, 2015

A taut, tense, exciting game broke out at NewBridge Bank Park Saturday, and for the first time in awhile the Hoppers got the result to go their way.

Greensboro edged West Virginia 1-0 behind a stellar performance from starter Michael Mader, some splendid defense behind him, a clutch double by Rony Cabrera and an excellent throw from center field by Zach Sullivan.

It was the Hoppers’ first one-run win since May 31, when they edged Lakewood 8-7. Since then they had lost six one-run games.

Mader set the tone, allowing just three hits (one through the first seven innings) and becoming the first Hopper starter to throw eight innings this season.

“It felt really good to go eight and keep us in the game,” Mader said. “(Catcher Felix) Castillo and I were really clicking and it’s huge when I don’t have to shake him off and he doesn’t have to keep coming out to the mound.”

Mader said his fastball command, particularly on the inner half of the plate, was the key.

“This is the third time I’ve faced them and I’ve been throwing a lot of changeups,” he said. “The fastball backed them off the plate a bit and made the other pitches more effective.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell had the same assessment — fastball command on both sides of the plate.

“His confidence kept building and you could see it as the game went on,” Powell said. “That’s the best I’ve seen him compete all year with the fastball. Until the eighth inning, only two runners reached second base.”

Mader threw 94 pitches and improved his record to 4-7. Kyle Fischer got the save for the second straight night, his sixth of the season.

“We wanted to go with our best guy,” Powell said. “We didn’t know if the game was going into extra innings, so Fischer was going in whether the score was tied or not.”

While the Power didn’t threaten until the eighth and ninth innings, the Hoppers had chances in the second and seventh innings but couldn’t deliver a big hit. Austin Coley matched zeroes with Mader for five innings and Jose Regelado for two more.

In the eighth, Mader gave up a one-out single and double to put two runners in scoring position. Jeff Roy hit a line drive to center that Sullivan caught, knowing the runner on third was tagging up. Sullivan then fired a one-hopper to Castillo, who tagged out Tyler Filliben for the double play to end the inning.

“You release the throw as quickly as possible,” Sullivan said. “It’s not how hard you throw, it’s how quickly. I thought when it left my hand it was a good throw, then I wasn’t sure it was going to get there in time, but Castillo made a good tag.”

As often happens in baseball, after Sullivan’s fine play he led off the bottom of the eighth inning and worked Regelado for a walk. Ball four came on a 3-and-2 count and he twitched his bat but pulled it back. The Power’s appeal to the base umpire for a strike was waved off.

“My job was to get on base,” Sullivan said, “so I wanted to see as many pitches as possible. If I got the pitch I wanted I was going to swing, but I didn’t get it. I knew I didn’t go around (on ball four) and I was hoping the umpire saw it the same way.”

John Norwood’s sacrifice bunt moved Sullivan to second and Cabrera followed with a double to left field to score the run.

“I had to shorten my swing with two strikes,” said Cabrera, with teammate Jose Velez translating. “He had thrown me some changeups and I was out in front of them. I was thinking changeup but he hung a curve down the middle and I took advantage of it, made contact and put the ball in play.”

The drama wasn’t over. In the top of the ninth, Fischer gave up a leadoff single and compounded that by throwing the ball away on a pickoff throw. A groundout moved the runner, Cole Tucker, to third with one out.

Hoppers manager Kevin Randel pulled the infielders in to the edge of the grass, a move designed for a chance to throw out the runner at the plate. Fischer got Jordan Luplow to hit a one-hopper to Brian Schales at third. Tucker had to hold there as Schales threw to first for the second out.

Fischer then shattered Michael Suchy’s bat, inducing a soft line drive to shortstop Justin Twine to end the game. Twine had two pieces of the bat and the ball coming in his direction, but concentrated on the right object.

“We needed that ball,” Twine said.

Mader liked the way the Hoppers played. Sullivan’s throw was the defensive highlight, but Norwood made two diving catches in right field, Twine made two nice backhanded stops and throws, Mader stabbed a line drive to start a double play, Schales started an around-the-horn double play and K.J. Woods made an excellent stretch to reel in an off-the-mark throw while keeping his foot on the bag at first.

“We played with more passion,” Mader said. “There were dives, backhands, good throws. It was fun to see. That’s the way we should play every night.”

Randel enjoyed the game — blowouts are the ones that make his stomach churn because of the pitching decisions.

“It was a well-played, low A ball game,” he said. “1-0 games are fun for a manager. You roll them out there and let them play.”

NOTES: Twine had three of the Hoppers’ seven hits, all singles … The Hoppers are 5-12 in the second half of the season … The five-game series and the nine-game home stand wrap up Sunday with a 4 p.m. game. Ben Holmes, who pitched seven shutout innings in his last start, will be on the mound for the Hoppers.

Bullpen bounces back in Hoppers’ victory

July 10, 2015

The Hoppers finally found a way to solve their Power crisis Friday night.

A nice bounce-back by their bullpen carried them to a 5-2 win over West Virginia, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Power (seven games in the second half and one in the first half).

One night after the Hoppers’ relievers were tagged for nine runs in four innings, they responded with four shutout innings to preserve the three-run lead. James Buckelew pitched the sixth and seventh innings, Sam Alvis the eighth and Kyle Fischer got the save in the ninth.

“The bullpen is one unit,” Fischer said. “Our job is to close the game, but pitchers get hit every once in awhile. That’s what happened (Thursday). They won that one and we won tonight.”

Fischer picked up his fifth save of the season in five opportunities. He hasn’t been the primary closer, but with Josh Hodges and his 10 saves promoted to Jacksonville, the role is open and will be done by committee for the time being.

“We’ll go with the best guy that we’ve got that night in the ninth inning,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “and we’ll see how it sorts out. Fischer did fine tonight. He went to some three-ball counts but was able to come back from them.”

Fischer will accept whatever role is thrust on him.

“As long as I pitch and get some innings, I”m OK,” he said. “Closing is a little different because you’ve got to come in and throw strikes. I had a little trouble with that tonight and had to throw some over the middle, but it worked out.”

The beneficiary of the bullpen’s work was a former member of the unit, Luis Castillo. He made 18 relief appearances and recorded four saves before being moved into the starting rotation. This was Castillo’s seventh start and, while he wasn’t as sharp as he had been, he limited the damage to two runs in five innings, picking up six strikeouts en route to his fourth win.

“He’s got good enough stuff that he can get away with some mistakes,” Powell said. “He kept us in the game.”

The Hoppers spotted the Power two runs before picking up one in the fourth. With one out, Justin Twine hit a potential double play ball to second base. The Power got the forceout at second but Twine’s speed enabled him to beat the relay throw to first as K.J. Woods scored from third base.

In the bottom of the fifth, Rony Cabrera and Arturo Rodriguez picked up RBIs to send the Hoppers ahead 3-2. In the sixth, they scored two runs without a hit, parlaying four walks around an error. Cabrera got his second RBI on a bases-loaded walk.

In the ninth, the Hoppers had an anxious moment after Elvis Escobar singled for the Power with one out. Chase Simpson sent a high fly to short left-center that left fielder Ryan Aper dropped. Escobar, who had gone halfway to see if the ball would be caught, didn’t react quickly and Aper was able to throw to Cabrera for the forceout at second base. Fischer then got a groundout to close the game.

“The bullpen has been a thorn in out side lately,” Powell said, “and we were on the edge of our seats in the dugout. It was nice to see us hold it down.”

The Hoppers only managed six hits and manager Kevin Randel said he would like to see his team play more crisply. But he wasn’t about to hang black crepe on the win by a team that has been scuffling.

“You just have to keep running them out there,” said Randel. “They have to accept failure for what it is and move on. This game can beat you up and make you lose confidence.”

NOTES: John Norwood had a pair of doubles and drew two walks and Rodriguez had two hits … The Power still has the best second-half record in the SAL at 12-4, while the Hoppers have the worst at 4-12 … The teams play again tonight at 7 with Michael Mader starting for Greensboro.


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