Hoppers “can’t hang their heads” after season ends

Sept. 5, 2014

It’s the suddenness, the finality, that’s hard to take.

Friday morning you’re ready to play baseball, believing you will win that night and play again Saturday. Instead, on Friday night the season is over.

That’s the nature of the playoffs. For the Hoppers, the end came with a 6-2 loss to Hagerstown in NewBridge Bank Park. The Suns wrapped up the best-of-three series in two games to decide the Northern Division playoff winner. Hagerstown moves on the play in the South Atlantic League championship series against either Asheville or Savannah.

“This stings a little but the guys can’t hang their heads about it,” said Hoppers manager David Berg. “It was a tremendous year. I was impressed with the way they kept grinding. You win 87 games on any level and it’s a great season.”

The players will come to understand that.

“This is tough now and it leaves a bitter taste,” said Carlos Lopez. “I remember my college coach saying that at the end of the year, only one team will be happy. It’s just the game of baseball.”

From the coaching staff to the players, everyone mentioned the camaraderie of this team.

“It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever played on,” said Chad Wallach, who was promoted to Jupiter in the second half but returned for the final stretch. “We really stuck together. I enjoyed every minute.”

Austin Dean stopped to give Berg a hug and say “thanks for pushing me.” Berg answered, “you pushed yourself.”

“This was an awesome experience with a special group of guys,” Dean said. “I would go to war with these guys any day.”

Throughout the season, there wasn’t much to separate the Suns and Hoppers, who finished with identical records in both the first and second halves. In the playoffs, the first game turned when the Suns rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win. Maybe the series turned, too.

“We win that game and it’s a whole different situation,” said J.T. Riddle.

Friday night, Hagerstown started right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who turned in six dominant innings, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out 10. His fastball consistently hit 96 and 97 on the radar gun, his slider came in with a good break at 89 and 90 and his changeup dropped in at 79 and 80. He threw them all for strikes, never allowing the Hoppers to figure out any pattern.

A throwing error by Hoppers pitcher Chris Sadberry — the ball and field were wet from drizzle and he probably never should have thrown it — which led to an unearned run in the second inning. The Suns added another in the third when Wilmer Difo doubled, moved to third on a flyout and scored on Spencer Kieboom’s sacrifice fly.

The Hoppers were able to hold the score at 2-0 thanks to nice relief work by Esmerling de la Rosa and Jarlin Garcia. And in the seventh, with Lopez out of the game, the Suns’ bullpen cracked. Brian Anderson singled, Avery Romero walked and Mason Davis doubled them in to tie the game.

But that was it. Hagerstown regained the lead in the eighth after Tyler Kinley, on an 0-and-2 pitch, hit Difo in the ankle. Narciso Mesa sacrificed him to second and Kieboom singled to collect his second RBI. In the ninth, Kinley walked the leadoff hitter and that led to three more runs that put the game out of reach.

The Suns, determined not to give the Hoppers any hope for a third game, put in closer David Napoli with one out in the eighth and he got the final five outs for the save.

Players often hustle from the clubhouse to watch post-game fireworks, but not this time. With the game still spinning in their minds, they also had to think about making early-morning getaways to their homes. Dean prepared for a 19-hour drive to Texas. Riddle was going to Louisiana to see his father. Lopez and his parents were heading to California. Pitching coach Jeremy Powell faced a two-day drive to Phoenix. Hitting coach Frank Moore wasn’t sure where he would go — probably Indiana.

“This was a great group of guys,” said Moore, whose hitters finished second in the league in batting average. “They worked hard, they wanted to learn and they didn’t take anything for granted. They never took an inning off and it showed. I was very impressed that they didn’t just sit on what they did in the first half.”

Powell’s pitchers finished second in the league in ERA.

“They might not realize it now, but this will be one of the best years of the careers,” he said. “It was great to be around them every day and watch them perform. They competed and they made each other better. The ingredients were there to win the whole thing, but sometimes you just fall short.”

Berg, who returned to the dugout after a year as the Marlins’ infield coordinator, said the bond formed with the players was what he missed the most last year.

“I said in the winter that this team would be even better than the one two years ago (that won 80 games and lost in the championship series),” he said. “I thought I might have to bite my tongue on that for awhile, but it actually worked out. This was fun.”

After 167 wins in two seasons as Hoppers manager, Berg said he didn’t know what the future held.

“I just take it year by year and wait for a phone call,” he said.

Maybe the best summation of the season came from Yefri Perez.

“If you love what you do, play 100 percent and play the game the right way, something good will happen,” he said.

And even though it didn’t end in a championship, it was a season to remember.

Hoppers aim to send series to third game

Sept. 4, 2014

Chris Sadberry pitched in the biggest game of his life back in June.

Friday, he’ll pitch in an even bigger one.

Sadberry will start against Hagerstown in the second game of the Northern Division playoffs Friday night at 7 o’clock in NewBridge Bank Park.

The situation is simple. The Hoppers must win to extend the series to a deciding third game on Saturday or their season is over. They’re down 1-0 after losing the series opener to the Suns on Wednesday, 3-2.

They had a travel day Thursday to think about the what-ifs and might-have-beens of the first game. It was a stinging defeat, with the Hoppers leading 2-0 going into the bottom of the ninth only to see Hagerstown rally for three runs to win it. Now the Hoppers must shut that game out of their minds and approach the second game with fresh minds and an absolute sense of urgency.

Hagerstown will send a tough pitcher to oppose Sadberry. Reynaldo Lopez, a 20-year-old right-hander, went 4-1 with a 1.33 ERA after joining the Suns. On Aug. 19 he pitched six scoreless innings to beat the Hoppers, allowing just two hits and one walk.

But none of that matters now. What’s at stake is a chance for the Hoppers to play more baseball. This has been a resilient team, reeling off a 10-game winning streak to close the first half and win a spot in the playoffs. With that secure, it avoided complacency in the second half of the season, never losing more than three straight games.

Sadberry will need to keep the Suns in check like Domingo German, who pitched six shutout innings. The left-hander from Texas Tech has been unusually poised since joining the team in July, compiling a 4-1 record and a 2.65 ERA. He spent a week on the disabled list with a strained back late in the season, but came off the DL to throw five innings of one-hit, shutout ball against Kannapolis on Aug. 31. He’s who the Hoppers staff wanted for game two.

He’s got big game experience. Texas Tech made the College World Series for the first time this year and he started its opening game against TCU. He went seven innings and allowed one run on three hits while walking two and striking out five. He was in line to be the winning pitcher but TCU rallied against the Red Raiders’ closer to win the game, 3-2.

After 140 innings (95 in college, 45 as a pro) Sadberry will most likely be limited to five innings, possibly six if his pitch count is low. So the Greensboro bullpen will need to be ready to step in again. Miguel del Pozo and Sean Donatello pitched a scoreless inning apiece in relief of German.

In the ninth, the Hoppers brought in Tyler Bremer, who had given up only one run in seven appearances since joining the club in August. Carlos Lopez (namesake of the Hoppers’ outfielder) opened with a fly ball to center field that was misplayed by normally flawless Yefri Perez into a three-base error. It was only the second error in 104 games in center field for Perez.

Jimmy Yezzo’s groundout to second base scored Lopez and cut the lead to 2-1, but left the bases empty with one out. Bremer then walked David Masters, gave up an RBI double to Wilman Rodriguez and a single up the middle to Rafael Bautista to score the winning run. It was the only hit the Suns got with a runner in 14 opportunities.

The Hoppers offense squandered two good chances to increase the lead. In the fifth, after an error and two wild pitches helped Greensboro score twice, the bases were loaded with one out. Felix Munoz flied out to Narciso Mesa in left field. The Suns had to make a perfect play to keep J.T. Riddle from scoring from third — and they did. Mesa’s relay to catcher Spencer Kieboom was on target and in time and the resulting double play ended the inning.

In the top of the ninth, the Hoppers had runners on first and second with one out. Suns reliever David Napoli got Brian Anderson to hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out, then Munoz to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

That’s history now. Win game two, and the momentum shifts back to the Hoppers and puts doubt in the minds of the Suns. And the Hoppers would be happy to take their chances in game three.

Consistent Hoppers, Suns open playoff series

Sept. 2, 2014

This is the way it was supposed to be.

What else can you say about the first-round playoff matchup between the Hoppers and Hagerstown? Not only did the SAL Northern Division rivals finish the season with the same overall record — 87-53 — they had the same record in each half. Both were remarkably consistent, going 44-26 in the first half and 43-27 in the second half. Greensboro won the first half because it beat the Suns three out of four meetings. Hagerstown won the second half because it beat the Hoppers five out of seven.

The 87 wins by the Hoppers, incidentally, is the third-most for any Greensboro franchise since 1950.

The season series reflects the closeness of their records. Hagerstown had the edge, six games to five. But the Hoppers had the last taste of victory, laying a 14-6 drubbing on the Suns by scoring nine runs in the top of the ninth inning.

Now they play a best-of-three series to determine who moves on to the SAL championship series. Asheville and Savannah will meet to decide the Southern Division winner. It’s fitting that these four teams are in the playoffs because they were clearly the best in the league. Asheville’s 89 wins led the league and Savannah’s 85 wins trailed only the Suns and Hoppers.

Wednesday’s opener will be played at Hagerstown at 7:05 p.m., with Domingo German (9-3, 2.48 ERA) starting for Greensboro against Wander Suero (4-1, 2.13) for the Suns. The scene shifts to Greensboro for the second game Friday at 7, with Chris Sadberry (4-1, 2.65) pitching for the Hoppers and Reynaldo Lopez (4-1, 1.33) for Hagerstown.

If a third game is needed, it will also be in NewBridge Bank Park on Saturday at 7. Scheduled starters are Kyle Fischer (1-1, 3.38) for Greensboro and Nick Pivetta (13-8, 4.22) for the Suns.

One pitcher the Hoppers won’t have to face is Lucas Giolito (10-2, 2.20), a top prospect who was shut down for the season by the parent Washington Nationals in mid-August. Giolito is two years removed from Tommy John surgery and was limited to 98 innings this season.

In a short series, how much advantage is there in winning the first game?

“It takes the pressure off,” said Hoppers manager David Berg. “But you still have to worry about the game that night.”

The key to beating Hagerstown, Berg said, is keeping one-two hitters Wilmer Difo and Rafael Bautista off the bases. Difo was voted the league’s MVP after hitting .315 with 14 homers and 90 RBIs. Bautista hit .290 with five homers and 54 RBIs. But they are most dangerous running the bases. Combined, they stole 118 bases (Difo 49, Bautista 69).

“If we keep them in check, I like our chances,” Berg said.

That kind of speed and aggressiveness extends through the lineup. Blink an eye and anyone will take an extra base going from first to third. That puts extra pressure on the pitchers to hold the runners close and on the defense to field precisely. The speed guys set the table for hitters like Jimmy Yezzo (13 HR, 56 RBI), Goldsboro native John Wooten (8-54), Drew Ward (10-73) and former Clemson catcher Spencer Kieboom (9-61).

“We need to make sure we get the first out of every inning,” said Hoppers shortstop J.T. Riddle. “They love those first two hitters and they have some guys who can hit homers and doubles in the gaps.”

The Hoppers counter with a lineup of solid hitters one through nine. Six players finished the season at .300 or better — Carlos Lopez .323, Chad Wallach .321, AVery Romero .320, Brian Anderson .314, Austin Dean .308 and Felix Munoz .300. Yefri Perez came in at .287 (with 30 steals) and Riddle at .280.

“We can hit anybody,” said Riddle, who finished at .280. “We’ve done it all year.”

Munoz, who led the club with 16 homers and 91 RBIs, said the hitting approach is simple.

“Go out (to a lead) early and get their bullpen into the game,” he said.

German, whose innings have been limited in the second half of the season, gave the Hoppers five innings in his last start and held Kannapolis to one hit and two walks while striking out seven. He’s the pitcher the club wants in this situation, winning at Kannapolis on the last day of the first half. Suero pitched seven innings against the Hoppers on Aug. 21 and was touched for nine hits and three earned runs.

Depending on pitch count, German might be able to get into or through the sixth inning. But if he can deliver five, the bullpen is ready to pick him up. The return of Sean Donatello, who had 11 saves before being promoted to Jupiter (he added six more there) gives the Hoppers flexibility late in a game. Tyler Kinley (10 saves) and Tyler Bremer are also capable of closing or pitching in the eighth.

There are plenty of arms available for the sixth and seventh innings — Esmerling de la Rosa, Jose Arias, Miguel del Pozo, Tyler Kane and Ryan Wertenberger are solid options.

“We might need it,” Berg said of the deep bullpen.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.