Aug. 29, 2013
It hasn’t been the greatest of seasons at home for the Grasshoppers, but they wrapped things up on a good note Thursday night.
They beat Hickory 4-3 — before a crowd of 8,220, fourth-largest of the year — to complete a three-game sweep of the Crawdads. That meant they ended the second half with a winning record, 18-17, in NewBridge Bank Park. Overall, they were 33-38 at home.
“That was a nice sweep over a very good team,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “We played well the whole series. We were good defensively, we pitched well and the bullpen was outstanding. I’m proud of the way this team is playing right now.”
Although they will finish with a losing record, the Hoppers have some momentum going into Lakewood, where they will wrap up the season with four games. They have won four straight and seven of their last nine.
In his final start of the year, Dejai Oliver pitched seven innings, allowing three runs, seven hits, walking none and striking out 12. Sean Donatello pitched a scoreless eighth and Ronald Barnes got his second save in as many nights. After recording 15 strikeouts Wednesday night, Hoppers pitchers added 15 more Thursday.
“That was a decent way to end it,” Oliver said. “I’ll have some momentum to take with me into spring training.”
Oliver won four of his last five decisions to finish with a 6-4 record. He was a relief pitcher with the Hoppers last season but converted to starter this year.
“Starting is more comfortable for me,” he said. “That’s what I did in college. The bullpen just didn’t feel right.”
Barnes lowered his ERA to 0.95 with six saves in 13 games since he joined the Hoppers from Jupiter.
“I don’t know what the Marlins have planned for me,” he said of next season, “but I’ll do whatever they ask. I like closing, though. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Hoppers’ offense gave a possible preview of 2014. Avery Romero hit a three-run homer to give them a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning. Austin Dean hit a solo homer in the sixth for the go-ahead run. Both players were promoted a week ago from Batavia.
“The Batavia Connection,” Hernandez said. “It was good to see them contribute.”
Both players were drafted out of high school last summer — Romero in the third round and Dean in the fourth — and could be ticketed to begin 2014 with the Hoppers.
Romero hit .297 with two homers and 30 RBIs with the MuckDogs and Dean hit .268 with two homers and 19 RBIs. Both played in 56 games.
Romero’s home run, his first hit in NewBridge, came with two outs and Justin Bohn and Cameron Flynn on base. He turned on a pitch from Jose Monegro and drilled it over the left field fence.
“I was just excited to get the chance to come here,” said Rome0r, who plays second base. “I have no idea where they will send me next yer, but this would be a good place to play.
“(The home run) felt good off the bat. I got a good pitch and I’m glad it went out.”
Dean, an outfielder, jumped on a pitch from Santo Perez and lined it onto the bank in left.
“The pitching is better here,” he said of his move up, “but that doesn’t faze me. I just took a normal swing on an inside pitch. It felt good and it got out fast.”
Chipper Smith feels he’s back where he belongs, and Wednesday night he made a strong case for staying there.
The left-hander was masterful, throwing one-hit ball over seven innings to lead the Hoppers to a 3-0 win over Hickory. He retired 21 out of 22 batters he faced, striking out 11.
“I felt good and I was on the same page with (catcher Jose) Behar,” Smith said. “We knew what we wanted to do before they even stepped in the box.”
It was a perfect example of not having to overpower a team in order to win. Smith established his fastball on both sides of the plate, then used his changeup and curve to get the Crawdads swinging and missing.
Hickory is an aggressive team at the plate and had hit 167 home runs coming into the game, 63 more than the runner-up Hoppers. But the Crawdads also led in strikeouts, fanning 1,351 times, 180 more than Greenville. Smith kept them off-balance and lunging most of the night.
He retired the first 13 hitters before Nomar Mazara’s soft liner over the infield landed near the left-field foul line and went for a double. Unfazed, Smith got the next two outs to end the fourth inning and then the final six hitters he faced.
“Everyone knows what’s going on,” he said of being perfect until the double. “After that I had to make sure they didn’t build any kind of momentum.”
After throwing 99 pitches through seven innings, Smith’s night was over. With only a three-run lead against the explosive Crawdads, the bullpen was charged with finishing the task. Dane Stone preserved the lead in the eighth, giving up a walk but getting a popup, a fly out and a strikeout. Ronald Barnes struck out the side in the ninth to earn his fifth save and running the strikeout total to 15 for the game.
“It’s just pitching” said Hoppers coach Blake McGinley, “and if you do that you will have success. He was confident and locked in, commanded his fastball and changeup and used his curve ball for strikeouts and an out pitch.”
Catcher Jose Behar said Hickory is a team that hunts fastballs early in the count.
“The key was mixing his pitches and not repeating them,” Behar said. “He had three pitches he could throw for strikes in any count. It seemed easy for him. All I had to do was sit back there and watch him perform.
“I’ve never seen his changeup like that before. It looked like a fastball out of his hand and then it was like pulling a string.”
It was Smith’s fifth start but first victory since being inserted in the rotation on Aug. 4. He had made 28 appearances out of the bullpen, mostly with success — he was 7-0 at one point. But he had always been a starter before this season and that’s what he wanted to do again.
“It was a matter of getting back into a routine,” he said, “and it’s something I’ve done my whole life. I like it when I can get in a groove like that. Out of the pen, I never knew what situation I would be in, so I just tried to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Smith used to throw a slider but didn’t command it that well, so he learned the curve. He credited McGinley with helping him with that pitch and other things.
“He has taught me to be mentally focused, to stay on top and to learn how to pitch and not just throw the ball,” Smith said.
There weren’t many hard-hit balls against Smith. Jorge Alfaro drove one to deep center in the fifth but Jesus Solorzano ran it down. And in the seventh, Joey Gallo lined one back at Smith that he stabbed with a short, awkward jump to his right.
“I just threw up my glove and prayed,” he said. “They were laughing in the dugout.”
Manager Jorge Hernandez coached third base in the first inning, then turned it over to hitting coach Frank Moore for the second straight night. Moore wasn’t as busy as Tuesday, when the Hoppers, scored nine runs, but he didn’t need to be.
Viosergy Rosa singled in a run in the third inning, Austin Dean scored on a throwing error on Behar’s sacrifice bunt in the fourth and Matt Juengel belted his 13th home run in the fifth. That was all the support Smith needed.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him all year,” Hernandez said. “He was in total control in inning one and in total control in inning seven.”
Aug. 27, 2013
“Manager of the Year!” came the call as Frank Moore walked through the tunnel under the stands to the Hoppers’ locker room Tuesday night.
Moments later, a player stuck his head in the coaches’ office and uttered the same thing.
Moore soaked it up. Greensboro’s hitting coach had spent a busy evening at third base, particularly in the last four innings, as the Hoppers rallied to top Hickory 9-5 at NewBridge Bank Park.
Manager Jorge Hernandez, hobbled by a swollen ankle that he rolled over in the final game of a series at Hagerstown, decided to turn the third base duties over to Moore.
“He did a good job and we got a big victory,” Hernandez said with a big smile.
Although it was the first time Moore has done that duty this season, it wasn’t new to him. David Berg, the manager last year, gave him 10 to 12 opportunities.
“I would like to be a manager,” Moore said, “so this is like a dress rehearsal. It’s real fun, and it’s a whole lot better when you win.
“You’re part of the game, you’re in every pitch. The guys battled, they had some good swings and they had some success.”
Early on, the success was all Hickory’s. The Crawdads jumped on starter Matt Milroy for four runs in the first inning, including two homers, all with two outs. The Hoppers have faced that situation many times before this season, coming to bat already down by several runs.
“I knew four runs was not going to beat us,” Hernandez said. “You could tell we were going to battle. I knew we would score some runs as long as our pitchers kept us in the game, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Milroy righted himself and allowed just one run over the next five innings. Blake Logan pitched the final three innings to pick up the victory, allowing two hits and no runs and striking out six. He gave up a one-out triple in the seventh, but right fielder Jesus Solorzano made a fine diving catch to end the inning and strand the runner.
“Milroy threw a good game after the first inning,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley. “It was pretty good to get six innings out of him after that start.
“Logan was really crisp tonight with his fastball and slider. He has been unsure of himself so this was a good building block for him. This level of baseball is a good measure of learning.”
It was a satisfying performance for Logan, especially after his last appearance. Entrusted with a 6-0 lead against Delmarva last week, he was pounded for five runs in two-thirds of an inning and the Hoppers wound up losing.
“Tonight, I felt like the underdog,” Logan said, “and I don’t like that feeling. Hickory has some guys that were high draft picks and were paid a lot of money (Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson nd Nick Williams) and I wanted to prove they were no better than me. I used my fastball, slider and changeup.”
In the ninth, Logan struck out the first two hitters, gave up a single to Williams, then fanned Gallo to end it. Gallo had belted his league-leading 32nd homer in the first inning, but that was his only hit.
The Hoppers pecked away at the deficit, scoring single runs in the second, fifth and sixth innings. They added two in the seventh to tie the game 5-5, then put it away with four in the eighth. Colin Moran doubled in the go-ahead run and Solorzano added the clincher with a three-run homer, his 15th.
Matt Juengel had three hits, two runs and an RBI. Blake Barber added three hits and Solorzano, Moran and Cameron Flynn had two each. Austin Dean had two RBIs and Justin Bohn and Tony Caldwell added one apiece.
“When the hits start falling, you feed off each other and everybody starts hitting the ball hard,” Juengel said.
His first full season has taken a toll on Juengel, but he’s persevering.
“I can’t explain how my body feels right now,” he said. “It’s really hard to get through the pre-game work, but once the game starts you get some extra energy and feel OK.”
Aug. 24, 2013
Ramon Del Orbe, the Grasshoppers pitcher who suffered a fractured skull when hit by a line drive on Aug. 13, has been moved to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
The transfer was done on Thursday afternoon on a special medical flight with trained personnel. Jackson Memorial is the hospital for the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Del Orbe underwent brain surgery in Charleston, WV, two days after he was struck while pitching against the West Virginia Power. A piece of his skull was removed during surgery and he will require a second surgery to either re-attach that piece or cover the area with a plate. It is not yet known when that surgery will occur.
The 21-year-old right-hander had a 5-8 record with a 4.75 ERA, 41 walks and 77 strikeouts in 115 2/3 innings pitched. He was pitching in the sixth inning against West Virginia when he was struck near the right temple by a line drive off the bat of the Power’s Josh Bell. Paramedics worked carefully, because of the nature of the injury, and he was eventually moved by ambulance to a hospital across the street from the ball park.
After the team left for Greensboro, Hoppers trainer Ben Cates stayed with Del Orbe and was joined by Bobby Ramos, the Marlins coordinator for Latin players.
“He seems to be doing really, really well,” Cates said. “He was alert, talking, joking and in good spirits. He was beginning to do some daily things without assistance.”
Cates spent a week in Charleston, leaving Wednesday night and rejoining the Hoppers in time for Thursday’s game in NewBridge Bank Park against Delmarva. The club is now in Hagerstown, Md. Ramos stayed with Del Orbe until the special flight left Thursday for Miami.
How long Del Orbe will be in Miami is uncertain. The Marlins are dong paperwork so his parents, who live in Cotui, Dominican Republic, can spent some time with him.
Whether or not Del Orbe will eventually be able to resume his career is purely speculative at this point.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Cates said, “but it’s going to be very difficult. It’s way to early to tell. As an organization, the first thing we want to see is his return to normal functions.”
Aug. 21, 2013
Colin Moran pondered the question for a moment: When was the last time he hit a walk-off home run?
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit one,” he said. “At least, not that I remember.”
The No. 1 draft pick of the Miami Marlins has had walk-off hits in his career during college and high school, but never one that left the park.
Now he has one for his memory bank. In the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game, Moran crushed a pitch from Delmarva’s Casey Upperman and sent it far over the right field fence to give the Hoppers a 4-3 victory.
“There was no doubt about that one,” said manager Jorge Hernandez.
It was Moran’s third hit of the game — his second straight with three hits — as he continued his hot streak. In his last six games Moran is 12-for-24 with a pair of homers, three RBIs and six runs scored. He has raised his average to .286 in 32 games since he joined the team after signing.
“I’ve played more games and I feel more comfortable,” he said. “Getting ready to play every day has been the biggest adjustment from college.”
Moran was ready for Upperman’s pitch. He said he thought the pitcher might try to sneak a fastball inside and that’s what he got.
“It feels good,” he said, “because you know the game is over.”
Moran said he has been working with hitting coach Frank Moore, who deflected any credit.
“The only change is that early on, balls he hit hard weren’t falling in,” Moore said. “Now they’re finding holes and he’s having more success. He’s settling down and making solid contact. Whenever you start getting hits, it relaxes you more and relieves the pressure.”
Moran got the headline, of course, but he had plenty of help. Blake Barber, who drove in the winning run in Monday’s 11-10 win in 13 innings, had three more hits. He started two rallies, in the seventh and ninth, with base hits and came around to score both times.
Cody Keefer got the Hoppers on the board with an RBI on a groundout in the fifth inning to cut Delmarva’s lead to 3-1. Keefer drove in Barber with a single past the Shorebirds’ drawn-in infield in the ninth to tie the game.
Catcher Jose Behar played a key role in three runs. His sacrifice bunt moved Viosergy Rosa into scoring position in the fifth and Rosa scored on Keefer’s groundout. In the seventh, after Barber singled and went to second on a wild pitch, Behar drove him in with a double. And in the ninth, another sacrifice moved Barber from second to third and led to Keefer’s RBI single.
“You go up there knowing you have to move the runner over,” Behar said of his bunts, both down the first base side. “It’s just a matter of getting the job done.
“The double got the monkey off my back. I had been getting away from hitting the ball to right field, so I’ve been working on getting back to my old approach.”
On the pitching side, starter Matt Milroy gave up three runs in five innings and then the bullpen shut down the Shorebirds. Sean Donatello pitched two scoreless innings and Jheyson Manzueta fired three more, picking up the win.
“Donatello keeps the ball down, mixes his pitches and competes,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley. “Manzueta got on top on his curve ball, kept his fastball down and had a good changeup.”
The Hoppers will go for the sweep with a 7 p.m. game Thursday. That will also end the seven-game home stand that began with four losses to Kannapolis.
Aug. 20, 2013
It had been awhile since Blake Barber had received the obligatory pie tin full of shaving cream in his face, but he welcomed it Tuesday night.
Barber had several game-winning hits in the first week after he joined the Hoppers in late June. This time, his single scored Justin Bohn with the winning run to end a 13-inning marathon a few minutes before midnight, giving the Hoppers an 11-10 win over Delmarva.
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak and made the four-hour and 53-minute contest worthwhile.
“We were all grinding away, running on adrenaline,” Barber said. “It was a long one and we needed it, especially for our home fans.”
The game was full of crazy twists and turns. The Hoppers, struggling on offense recently, banged out 20 hits. They scored in six consecutive innings — five with single runs and once with two runs. After they couldn’t score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, manager Jorge Hernandez made six defensive changes in the top of the 10th inning.
Losing, after being swept in four games by Kannapolis, might have sapped what little confidence
the team has left. But after leaving the winning run in scoring position in the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th innings, the Hoppers broke through in the 13th.
Bohn, in his first game as a Hopper after being moved up from Batavia (Anthony Gomez went on the DL with a sore shouler), led off with a single. Rehiner Cordova moved him to second with a sacrifice and Matt Juengel walked on a close 3-and-2 pitch. Jesus Solorzano hit into a fielder’s choice, pitcher to second base, but hustled down the line and beat the relay throw to prevent the double play that would have ended the inning.
Barber picked on a 1-0 pitch from Mark Blackmar and drove it into the left field corner for the winning hit, completing a comeback from a 9-4 deficit.
“He had been running fastballs and sinkers in on our hands,” Barber said. “So I stepped off the plate a little bit and tried to do what I could and got the barrel around on it.”
It was a measure of redemption for Barber, who flied out with the bases loaded to end the 11th inning.
“You just wait for another at-bat,” he said. “You want to get up again and be the man to drive in the winning run.”
The hitters piled up the stats. Cameron Flynn had three hits, including his 8th homer. Bohn, Colin Moran, Juengel and Solorzano also had three each. Solorzano belted his 14th homer, a two-run shot that tied the game 9-9 in the bottom of the eighth.
The box score showed Tony Caldwell going 0-for-5, but he had two crucial RBIs. One came on a sacrifice fly in the fifth and the second came on a sacrifice bunt in the 10th. After the Shorebirds had taken a 10-9 lead, Caldwell dropped a beauty down the first base line to score Solorzano and tie the game.
“It was a safety squeeze,” Hernandez said. “With runners on first and third, it has to be the right kind of bunt. If it’s a good one, the runner will score. If it’s not, he’ll go back to third and the runner on first will move to second. It has to be executed toward first base, and that’s what Tony did.”
Hoppers pitching was a tale of two games within the game. In the first five innings, Chad James and Mason Hope surrendered nine runs. In the next eight innings, Hope, Beau Wright and Ronald Barnes held the Shorebirds to one run.
Barnes entered with two outs in the top of the 10th and gave up an infield hit that scored a run to put Delmarva ahead. After that, he retired 10 straight batters, striking out four.
“He kept the ball in the bottom of the zone, using his fastball and slider,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley.
There wasn’t much time for the Hoppers to enjoy the win. The second game of the series is at 12:30 Wednesday.
“We needed something like this,” Hernandez said. “We were very aggressive at the plate and maybe that will carry on through the series.”
Aug. 19, 2013
The collective batting slump continued for the Hoppers Monday night.
Kannapolis completed a four-game sweep with a 6-3 victory in NewBridge Bank Park. The home stand continues with three games against Delmarva, starting Tuesday night. Perhaps a different opponent will be just what the Hoppers need.
“I’m glad Kannapolis is getting out of town,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “We need to see some new faces and some new uniforms because nothing is going right for us now.”
The Hoppers scored just eight runs in the series and have not driven in a runner with a base hit since Friday night. They were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position Monday.
In this game, they wasted a pair of doubles by Cameron Flynn. He led off the bottom of the first with one and was eventually stranded at third base. In the third inning he had a two-out double and moved to second on a wild pitch, but was left there when Blake Barber struck out.
Down 3-0, the Hoppers loaded the bases with three walks to start the fourth inning. They did score twice, but both runs came on groundouts instead of base hits. They added a third run to tie the game in the fifth when Rehinder Cordova doubled, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
But after scratching out that run, starter Austin Brice was tagged for three runs in the top of the sixth to surrender the lead.
“We’ve got to keep the momentum on our side there,” Hernandez said.
One final effort was thwarted in the seventh. After the Hoppers loaded the bases with one out, Barber hit into a double play.
It was the kind of game that seemed ripe for the taking. Kannapolis starter Francellis Montas came in with a 3-10 record and a 5.57 ERA. He got through five innings, enough to earn the win. Brian Bollinger followed with three shutout innings and Stew Brase picked up the save.
The win gave Kannapolis 10 wins in 15 games against the Hoppers this season.
“The teams we should be beating, we’re not beating,” Hernandez said. “It’s been that way all year.”
Aug. 18, 2013
With two possible victories in their grasp Sunday, the Hoppers came up empty.
Kannapolis beat them 2-0 in the completion of Saturday’s suspended game, then took a 3-2 decision in the nine-inning second game. In each game, Greensboro had opportunities and couldn’t deliver.
“The whole day was frustrating,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “We just couldn’t get the clutch hit with men in scoring position. We had the right people up in those situations, but they need to produce.”
The afternoon began with the resumption of the suspended game with the score 0-0. After Chipper Smith pitched five scoreless innings Saturday, Blake Logan picked up from there and threw three shutout frames.
In the top of the ninth, Jheyson Manzueta gave up a single and a walk sandwiched around two outs. Jacob May, the White Sox’ third-round draft pick this summer, turned on a 1-2 pitch and lined it into the right field corner for a two-run triple.
“It was just a bad pitch,” Hernandez said. “He had the batter set up, but threw a hanging changeup. He wasn’t pitching to his strength.”
It might not have come to that if Hoppers’ hitters could have done something. Colin Moran and Matt Juengel led off the sixth with singles but David Putnam struck out the next three batters.
In the seventh inning, Juancito Martinez reached on an error and stole second base, but with two outs he inexplicably tried to steal third and was thrown out to end the inning. In the eighth, Moran singled and went to third on Viosergy Rosa’s single with two outs, but Blake Barber popped out to end the threat.
Kannapolis manufactured a run to begin the second game when May singled, stole second and third and scored on an infield single by Jason Coats. That held up until the sixth, when the Intimidators added two runs on a single by Kale Kiser.
After going 15 consecutive innings without scoring, the Hoppers broke the ice in the sixth when Moran doubled and Juengel singled him home. Juengel’s hit caromed off the fence perfectly to left fielder Kiser, whose relay to second base was just in time to get a sliding Juengel.
Jesus Solorzano doubled with two outs, then made a terrible baserunning mistake. Reliever Brad Goldberg bounced a pitch to the plate that catcher Michael Marjama fielded cleanly. Solorzano had the play in front of him but tried to make third anyway and was thrown out by 10 feet.
Moran belted a solo home run, his fifth hit in the two games, in the eighth inning to shave the lead to one run, but the last five Hoppers were retired in order to close out the game.
The Hoppers wasted two golden opportunities. In the third, they loaded the bases with two outs but Moran struck out. In the fifth, they had runners on first and second with one out. They advanced when Cameron Flynn grounded out and were stranded when Anthony Gomez did the same.
Dejai Oliver gave up three runs in six innings and Sean Donatello and Ronald Barnes combined to pitch three shutout innings. Kyle Hansen of Kannapolis beat the Hoppers for the third time this season. The 6-8 right-hander has surrendered just two runs in 18 2/3 innings against Greensboro. He’s 3-7 against the rest of the league.
The Hoppers have dropped the first three games of the series, which winds up Monday night.
“We’ve pitched well enough to win all three,” Hernandez said. “We just don’t have any consistency (with the hitters).”
Adding to the frustration is the fact that Juengel is hitting the ball hard every time at bat but the the ball is finding someone’s glove.
“He’s our hottest hitter,” Hernandez said, “and he has nothing to show for it.”
The Hoppers dropped to 13-15 in NewBridge Bank Park in the second half of the season. They are 28-36 at home overall.
Aug. 17, 2013
After five innings of playing through a steady, chilly rain Saturday at NewBridge Bank Park, nothing was resolved.
The Hoppers and Kannapolis were locked in a scoreless tie when umpires sent the teams off the field at the end of the fifth inning. About 40 minutes later, the game was suspended.
It will be completed starting at 4 p.m. Sunday and will be followed by a nine-inning game. The Hoppers checked with the South Atlantic League office and were told they must complete the suspended game Sunday and play the full nine innings of the scheduled game.
“It’s tough to play in those conditions,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “Cold, wet, rainy — just bad.”
Chipper Smith pitched all five innings for the Hoppers and Tony Bucciferro matched his effort for Kannapolis. Neither will be on the mound Sunday. Blake Logan, who was warming up in the fifth inning, will begin the day for the Hoppers. Dejai Oliver will be the starter for the second game.
Smith was in constant trouble, giving up three hits, walking three and hitting a batter. But he extricated himself from every situation, using five strikeouts to his advantage.
“You have problems with the grip (on the ball) and the landing,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley of the conditions. “It’s not fun. But he battled through it.”
The Intimidators helped Smith with a baserunning blunder that turned into a double play in the second inning and the Hoppers made a terrific defensive play to save a run in the top of the fifth.
With two outs and Cleuluis Rondon on second, Jason Coats lined a base hit to right field. As Rondon was waved around third, Cameron Flynn came up with the ball quickly and made a good throw home to catcher Jose Behar.
The throw was a bit to Behar’s left, but he fielded the ball while keeping his left leg out to block the plate, then got Rondon with a swipe tag.
The Hoppers got three hits, including two doubles, and drew two walks off Bucciferro. But they never got the leadoff hitter on base and couldn’t manage a clutch two-out hit.
Aug. 16, 2013
A ball game got away from the Grasshoppers Friday night.
Kannapolis scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning and beat Greensboro 5-3 in NewBridge Bank Park. The Hoppers had scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to take a 3-2 lead, with Colin Moran’s sacrifice fly scoring one run and Cameron Flynn’s single knocking in another.
But Dane Stone, who had retired the side in order in the eighth with the help of fine defensive plays by Blake Barber at second base and Flynn in left field, couldn’t nail it down in the ninth. The first three batters reached safely to load the bases and a sacrifice fly tied the game. Sean Donatello relieved Stone but gave up a two-run double to Jason Coats to relinquish the lead.
“We battled to take the lead and we gave it away,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “Ronald Barnes is our closer but he pitched (Thursday) and wasn’t available. We just didn’t pitch good in the ninth inning.”
In the scheme of things, though, the game didn’t matter much. Still fresh on the minds of everyone was fallen teammate Ramon Del Orbe, who remains in the hospital in Charleston, WV, after surgery for a fractured skull.
On Tuesday, Del Orbe was into the sixth inning of a 1-1 game, pitching very well. Then the Power’s Josh Bell lined a shot up the middle that struck Del Orbe on the right temple as he followed through on his delivery. Hernandez bolted out of the duguout and was one of the first to reach the collapsed pitcher.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Hernandez said. “He never lost consciousness and he remembered everything. He was calm and he didn’t lose any feeling.”
But he was obviously seriously injured. It took emergency crews, working carefully because it was a head injury, around 40 minutes to get Del Orbe onto a stretcher and removed from the field. They took him immediately to the hospital, located next to the stadium.
His skull was fractured in two places but at first it was thought he wouldn’t need surgery. That changed when internal bleeding was discovered and Del Orbe underwent surgery Thursday. Hoppers trainer Ben Cates remained in Charleston and was joined by Bobby Ramos, the Marlins’ coordinator of player development for Latin American players.
“He had a CT scan today and seems to be recovering well,” Hernandez said.
Long-term, of course, there is no way to tell how this will affect Del Orbe’s career.
“I hope he makes a full recovery and is able to get back to 100 percent, whether he pitches again or not,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley.
Two years ago, when he was the pitching coach in Jamestown, McGinley saw Helpi Reyes take a line drive off his chest. Reyes is still pitching, but flinches when a ball is hit back at him, McGinley said.
It was a freak play that’s part of baseball, which didn’t make it any less terrible to see.
“Batters have a helmet for protection,” McGinley said. “Pitchers are defenseless, especially against a ball coming at them 105 miles an hour off the bat.”
Starting pitcher Austin Brice said watching it was “indescribable. The first thing that ran through my mind was ‘I hope he’s still alive.’”
Brice said he has been hit in the hip by a hard line drive and has had balls whiz by his head without making contact.
“It’s part of the game and a pitcher knows the risks,” he said.
Dejai Oliver, who will start Sunday’s game, said you can’t dwell on what happened.
“Watching a teammate and friend lock up and fall over like that is terrifying,” Oliver said. “You go from being in a game to life really hitting you. But you still have a game to play and the long delay actually helped us because we had time to regroup.
“I’ve had some close calls but nothing too bad. But you can’t let it affect what you do on the mound. You can’t think about that kind of stuff. You’ve got to forget about it.”