Hoppers’ bullpen falters against Crawdads

July 21, 2014

There was no doubt what the difference was in Monday’s game at NewBridge Bank Park.

Hickory’s bullpen was sharp, Greensboro’s pen wasn’t and the result was a 10-4 win for the Crawdads, who salvaged the final game in the four-game series.

The Hoppers got what they wanted from starter Ryan Wertenberger, who pitched five shutout innings. He gave up three hits and no walks and struck out four. The Hoppers supported him with three runs, two on a double by Brian Anderson and another on a double by J.T. Riddle, one of his three hits.

It was the third straight good start for Wertenberger, who has pitched 14 innings and allowed two runs and 10 hits while recording 13 strikeouts.

“He threw great,” pitching coach Jeremy Powell said of Wertenberger. “His secondary stuff is really coming on. He threw a consistent slider and an effective changeup. Things went way downhill after that.”

Four Hoppers relievers surrendered 10 runs and 11 hits in the final four innings. Only Sam Alvis escaped without allowing a run. C.J. Robinson, who had given up no runs and just four his over 9 1/3 innings in his previous five appearances, took the brunt of the punishment. He pitched two-thirds of an inning and gave up seven runs.

“He’s escaped a lot of innings this year by leaving men on base,” Powell said, “but he didn’t escape this time. He was not able to keep the ball off the barrel of the bat and there was a lot of hard contact. It can happen quickly.”

Meanwhile, Hickory reliever Anyelo Leclerc pitched three innings and gave up three hits and one run. Jose Valdespina pitched the ninth and struck out the side.

After making five errors Sunday, the Hoppers added two more in this one.

“We’re going to make errors,” said manager David Berg, “and those were careless errors. It seems like we’ll go five games without an error and three or four making errors.”

Now 21-11 in the second half, tied for first in the Northern Division, the Hoppers will head to Asheville for three games and Augusta for four. When they return home, they will face Asheville in a four-game series. The Tourists currently have won 11 straight and are 26-6 in the second half.

“We play them seven of our next 11, so we’ll see where we are,” Berg said.

Even with the loss, the Hoppers went 5-2 on the home stand. Berg said “we’ll take it, enjoy the day off and then get back at it.”

NOTES: Felix Munoz drove in his 69th run of the year with a single in the 8th … Cody Crabaugh will open the series at Asheville, followed by Jose Adames and Domingo German. German will be limited, probably to three innings … According to Brian Chattin, the Marlins’ director of player personnel, they will decide in the next couple of days where Dustin Moseley will make his next start. Moseley, a former major-leaguer, made the first start in his comeback on Sunday, pitching well in five innings. His next start could be with the Hoppers in Asheville, but is more likely to be at a higher level. Chattin said Moseley was signed with the goal of him helping the Marlins this season.

Hoppers come back in Moseley’s comeback

July 20, 2014

After two years away from baseball, pitching for the Grasshoppers against a team called the Crawdads in low Class A baseball suited Dustin Moseley just fine.

A veteran of 101 games in the major leagues, Moseley decided to give his career one more try after shoulder surgery two years ago. On Sunday, he donned a green Hoppers jersey, started and pitched five innings against Hickory, leaving with the game tied 4-4. The Hoppers went on to win 6-5.

“I’m just as excited to put on a Hoppers uniform as I would be any uniform,” Moseley said, smiling broadly. “I’m glad to be able to put on a uniform and cleats again.”

His line in the box score shows he gave up four runs, five hits and no walks with five strikeouts. But he was more effective than that. Two of the runs were unearned because of shaky defense behind him and another came on a double past first base that manager David Berg that was a foul ball. He got better as the game went on, retiring eight of the last nine batters he faced.

“It was amazing,” Moseley said of pitching competitively again. “There were parts of the game I haven’t missed, but I realized how much I missed the competition and being around (teammates). The guys made me feel welcome and it was a lot of fun.”

How did he evaluate his outing?

“I thought I did pretty well,” he replied. “I located all four pitches for strikes. I’m a command pitcher, not a flamethrower, and I was pretty efficient. I just feel good that my arm didn’t fall off.”

Far from it.

“He’s a veteran, he’s polished and he knows how to use his stuff and command it,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “His delivery looked good and hopefully he can build from here and end up back in the big leagues. The fourth and fifth were his best innings.”

It was a comeback win for the Hoppers, who fell behind 4-0 in the top of the third inning. They got one run back on Brian Anderson’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third. In the fourth, Juan Avila led off with a walk and, after two batters struck out, J.T. Riddle singled and Austin Dean worked a walk to load the bases. Carlos Lopez followed with a two-run single to cut the lead to 4-3.

“Austin did a great job drawing the walk to give me a chance,” Lopez said. “I just looked to hit the ball hard somewhere and wound up taking it up the middle.”

Greensboro tied it in the fifth on singles by Avila (who had three hits) and Joel Jimenez, a bunt single by Yefri Perez and a throwing error by pitcher Ryne Slack. That set the stage for Lopez in the sixth. Dean opened with a single and Lopez cracked his fourth homer of the year, giving him four RBIs for the day.

“I’m not a home run hitter,” Lopez said. “but it’s nice to get one when it helps the team. I got a fastball inside and I got my hands through it. I didn’t know it was a home run until I rounded first base.”

Ramon del Orbe followed Moseley and pitched three innings to pick up the win. He gave up a run but it could have been worse. The Crawdads loaded the bases in the seventh with one out, but del Orbe got Joe Jackson to foul out and Travis Demeritte to pop out.

Miguel del Pozo earned his second save with two strikeouts and a flyout in the ninth inning.

“Del Orbe covered three innings in a close game for us,” Powell said, “and got some big outs. He did good work with the bases loaded. Del Pozo responded great, getting first-pitch strikes three times.”

Berg said “I’ll take every win we can, but there’s not too many times you win when you make five errors. You could tell Moseley has been out there before and he was definitely excited to be here.”

Powell said he hoped some of Moseley’s maturity and savvy will rub off on the rest of the staff. Moseley, who is 32 and last pitched in the majors in 2011, said he doubted if anyone on the roster had heard of him.

“I’m a role guy, not an all-star,” he said. “But I would like to make an impact here. I talked to the guys and they told me they’ve had a lot of success.”

Moseley had a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff and after surgery was told the odds were 50-50 that he would ever pitch again. He followed his own rehab program, started throwing again in February and began to increase his velocity. The Marlins were among several teams that saw him work out and signed him. He figures to make at least one more start for the Hoppers.

“I still have to prove I can get people out,” he said.

The series concludes with a 7 p.m. game Monday, with Ryan Wertenberger starting for the Hoppers.

Hoppers keep up winning ways with new faces

July 19, 2014

The faces have changed, but so far the winning hasn’t.

Saturday night’s 6-1 victory over Hickory came with a new starting pitcher and a new catcher. Jose Adames picked up the win in his Greensboro debut and Brad Haynal got a hit and threw out a runner trying to steal.

“Adames was a little scattered but he stayed composed,” said manager David Berg. “Haynal went 1-for-4 and caught well and I’ll take that every day.”

For the second straight night, the Hoppers got a lead on a three-run homer in the first inning. Felix Munoz delivered the blow Saturday, driving in J.T. Riddle and Carlos Lopez. It was the 13th homer for Munoz and pushed his RBI total to 68.

Riddle had three hits, including his seventh homer, and scored twice. He also had a sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning to move runners to second and third. The Crawdads chose not to walk Austin Dean to load the bases and he made them pay with a two-run single. Dean had two hits, giving him eight over the last three games.

“I’m slowing everything down and seeing every pitch,” he said. “Any chance you have with a runner on third, you want to drive him in.”

Despite the wholesale roster changes — six players from the first half Northern Division champions have been promoted to Jupiter — the Hoppers are 20-10 in the second half and in first place.

“If anything, the chemistry is better,” Dean said. “We accept the new guys, take them in and teach them our way of playing baseball. They have handled every clutch situation. I’m so glad to be here helping this team.”

Adames gave the Hoppers 5 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and a walk but minimizing the damage. He struck out five.

“He did a great job for his first outing,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “His fastball had some life and his curve and changeup were in play.”

Esmerling de la Rosa relieved Adames with two outs in the sixth and fanned a hitter on a 94 miles per hour fastball to end the inning. He struck out four in 2 1/3 innings. The last batter he faced, Joe Jackson, had numerous foul balls in a 10-pitch battle that de la Rosa finally won, fittingly, with a come-backer to the mound.

“It was nice to see him win that battle,” Powell said. “He hadn’t pitched in five days and it’s tough to be sharp. (Jackson) was putting some good swings on the ball.”

Tyler Kinley, who also hadn’t pitched in five days, added two more strikeouts in the ninth inning.

Another pitcher will debut in Sunday’s 4 p.m. game. Dustin Moseley, who has major league experience, was signed as a free agent by the Marlins. He’s trying to revive his career after shoulder surgery in 2012.

At age 32, Moseley is almost certainly the oldest player to wear a Hoppers uniform. A first-round pick by Cincinnati in 2000, he has pitched in 101 major-league games, starting 53 of them, from 2006-2012. His record is 15-21 with a 4.67 ERA. He won a playoff game in relief for the Yankees against Texas in the ALCS in 2010. He also started 174 games in the minor leagues with a 61-60 record and 4.35 ERA.

“He said he’s happy to give it another shot and try again,” Berg said.

NOTES: Sean Townsley, the scheduled starter Sunday, was placed on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis and will also miss his next start … Domingo German, who hasn’t started since he pitched in the Futures Game on July 13, is scheduled to return on July 25 and will be eased back into the rotation.

Crabaugh gives Hickory trouble with the curve

July 18, 2014

Cody Crabaugh found the consistency he was looking for Friday night.

The Hoppers’ right-hander won his second straight start, pitching seven strong innings to lead Greensboro to a 6-2 win over Hickory.

“I’ve been up and down since I’ve been here,” Crabaugh said, “and it was time for me to get in a groove. I was consistent in college (Oklahoma City) and consistent in extended spring and I got back to that.”

In his five starts since he was inserted into the rotation, Crabaugh had a good start, a bad one, a good one, another bad one and, his last time out, a good one. According to that pattern he was due for a bad start but it was evident early on that he wasn’t going to fall into that trap.

Crabaugh retired the first nine batters and didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning. He was nicked for a run in the seventh inning but finished with just three hits allowed, one walk and one strikeout. Fifty-nine of his 89 pitches were for strikes, many of them coming on his curve ball.

“A week ago, JP (pitching coach Jeremy Powell) pulled me to the side and asked me about my curve ball,” Crabaugh said. “I wasn’t comfortable with it and told him I thought it was my fourth-best pitch. He said I should throw it more because it’s such a different speed from my fastball.

“I’ve been trying to do that and tonight was the most curves I’ve ever thrown in a game. I just gripped it and threw it.”

Powell said the difference in velocity, with the curve dropping over in the mid-70s and his fastball hitting the high 80s, kept Hickory’s batters off-balance. The Crawdads made a lot of outs swinging early in the count.

Crabaugh’s effort was just what the Hoppers’ patchwork rotation needed.

“We don’t know what we’re going to get from the rotation every day,” Powell said, “and how many innings we’re going to get. So we’ll take the good outings and ride them.”

Crabaugh got all the support he needed when Brian Anderson drilled a three-run homer in the first inning, his second in four games since he joined the Hoppers. Felix Munoz added a two-run double in the seventh.

“That was a heck of an at-bat,” manager David Berg said of Munoz. “He really bore down and got us some big insurance runs.”

With two outs and two runners on, Hickory brought in left-hander Felix Carvallo to face the left-handed Munoz. But Munoz is hitting .300 against lefties this season and he ripped a double into the left-field gap to score both runners.

“Sometimes left-handed hitters lock in against left-handed pitchers,” said hitting coach Frank Moore. “And when he’s locked in, it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is right-handed or left-handed.”

NOTES: The game ended when center fielder Yefri Perez ran down a deep drive to center field with one run already in and another that would have scored on the play … Austin Dean had three hits for the second straight game and ninth time this season … Munoz made three straight unassisted putouts in the top of the third inning … The Hoppers’ battery for Saturday’s game will be completely new. Jose Adames will make his debut as the starting pitcher and Brad Haynal, an 18th-round selection in this year’s draft out of San Diego State, will likely be the catcher. They worked together a few games in Batavia.

Hoppers lose game and another player

July 17, 2914

Talk about breaking up the old gang.

Following Thursday’s 5-0 loss to Delmarva, the Hoppers learned that catcher Chad Wallach, the second leading hitter in the South Atlantic League, is being promoted to Jupiter. Wallach went 1-for-4 in his last game with Greensboro to finish with a .342 average here.

He becomes the fifth player from the first half Northern Division champions to be promoted to Jupiter by the Miami Marlins. Wallach joins shortstop Justin Bohn, second baseman Avery Romero, starter Matt Milroy and closer Sean Donatello. In addition, outfielder Cody Keefer, who began the season there, is back with the Hammerheads after hitting .319 in 43 games after being sent down to Greensboro.

“I’ve never seen (the Marlins) do this with teams that are in the postseason,” Hoppers manager David Berg said of all the moves. “But it opens up opportunities and you never know who’s going to step up. You never know.”

The Hoppers went 44-26 to win the first half and qualify for the South Atlantic League playoffs. They have continued to play well in the second half and are tied for first place with Hagerstown at 18-10. Overall Greensboro is 62-36.

In addition to filling the holes created by the promotions, the Hoppers are holding their pitching rotation together with baling wire. The latest setback is Sean Townsley, who has won five straight starts. He was scheduled to start Sunday’s game but will be held out with a shoulder issue, which the Hoppers hope is not serious.

Townsley may or may not go on the disabled list. Already there are Ryan Newell (mononucleosis) and Max Garner (foot). Domingo German, whose innings are being closely monitored, missed one start while participating in the Futures Game and will also miss his next one, but will eventually be back in the rotation.

Right-hander Jose Adames will pitch in German’s spot Saturday after going 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA in Batavia. The Hoppers haven’t named a pitcher for Townsley’s start Sunday.

As for Thursday’s game, it was scoreless through five innings and it had the feel of a game where the first team to score would win. That turned out to be Delmarva, which nicked Jarlin Garcia for two runs in the sixth. The left-hander was a bit unlucky, giving up a two-run double that wasn’t hit hard but glanced off the top of the glove of first baseman Felix Munoz, who jumped a moment too early.

Although Garcia wound up with the loss, it was his best outing in some time. He pitched seven innings and gave up five hits and three unearned runs while striking out six.

“He got hit hard the first two innings but he committed to the fastball,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “The middle three innings were outstanding. He was able to use his secondary stuff as weapons.

“For me, if you pitch seven innings and give up three or fewer runs, you’ve got a chance to win a lot of games. It was definitely a positive for him.”

The Hoppers couldn’t do much against Delmarva starter Luis Gonzalez and relievers Jeff Keller and Austin Urban. They managed seven hits, all singles. Three of those were by Austin Dean.

There were two good chances to score. In the fourth, with runners on first and third and one out, Joel Jimenez hit a hard grounder right at third baseman Drew Dosch, who turned it into an around-the-horn double play. With two outs in the sixth, J.T. Riddle drilled one into the gap in left-center. Rehiner Cordova was off when the ball was hit and was waved around third base by Berg. But the Shorebirds made a nice play and threw out Riddle at second before Cordova crossed the plate.

Townsley wins fifth straight start

July 15, 2014

When you’re as locked in as Sean Townsley, nothing really bothers you.

Start of the game delayed for an hour? No problem.

Light to moderate rain during play? No problem.

Monday’s result: Seven shutout innings, three hits allowed and his fifth straight winning start.

Townsley’s effort, backed by three home runs, lifted the Hoppers to a 4-0 win over the Delmarva Shorebirds Tuesday night. Heavy rain delayed things with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. After the required 30-minute wait, it was called by home plate umpire Brian Miller.

“I was suited up and ready to go,” Townsley said of the one-hour delay before the start. “I sat in the corner of the dugout and waited until they pulled the tarp. I visualized using each of my pitches in different situations.

“The first three innings it was tough to maintain my grip on the ball. I used the resin bag a lot, although it didn’t help much. I just stayed focused on keeping the ball down. Around the fourth or fifth inning the rain gave us a break.”

Townsley said he can’t remember a sustained stretch like he’s in now. In his last two starts he has pitched 14 shutout innings and allowed just five hits. During his five-game winning streak, he has pitched 34 innings and given up just four runs on 22 hits with 31 strikeouts and eight walks. He has lowered his ERA to 2.22, best in the league.

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said this start might have been the best of the five games.

“He’s pitching with good tempo and good momentum to the plate,” Powell said. “He’s staying tall and using his height (6-foot-7) to his advantage. He’s also managing the game with runners on base. It’s nice to see.”

Catcher Chad Wallach said it’s easy and fun to catch Townsley with the way he’s pitching.

“I just put down the fingers and the ball is there almost every time,” Wallach said. “He’s very relaxed. Nothing gets under his skin.”

The starting rotation is in a state of flux at the moment. Domingo German, who missed a start while throwing a perfect inning in the Futures Game on Sunday, will be pushed back one and possibly two more starts. Ryan Newell has mononucleosis and is out for a least a month. Jarlin Garcia remains in the rotation but is inconsistent.

Powell said the club is piecing the staff together and is going to really need Townsley in the final six weeks of the regular season.

“I just try to go out and to my job,” Townsley said, “and if that calls for a leadership role, so be it.”

The offense provided all the support Townsley needed when newcomer Brian Anderson hit a two-run homer in the third inning. Anderson, this year’s third-round draft pick out of Arkansas, moved up from Batavia to take the roster spot of second baseman Avery Romero, promoted to Jupiter.

Anderson arrived around 2 o’clock, just when his new teammates were getting to the clubhouse. The field was covered by the tarp, so the only batting practice he got was in the cages under the tunnel. So he took the field with a new team against a pitcher, Steven Brault, he had never seen.

“Baseball is baseball,” Anderson said. “I did my best to get ready and it was a matter of go out, see it and hit it. It was exciting.”

Anderson said he got a fastball down and in and drove his first Hoppers homer over the left field fence. He hit three in 20 games at Batavia.

“You can tell he can hit,” said manager David Berg. “He gets ready and gets the bat head out there. He got into a good hitter’s count (3-and-1), got a fastball and didn’t miss it.”

Against reliever Alex Santana, Wallach hit his seventh homer and Coco Johnson his first.

NOTES: Along with Romero, reliever Sean Donatello (11 saves) is moving up to Jupiter … The home runs hit by Wallach and Johnson in the bottom of the seventh counted statistically. That scoring rule was changed a couple of years ago so stats now count even if the inning is not completed … On one of the few mistakes Townsley made, he left a pitch up to Austin Wynns, who drove it deep to right field in the top of the seventh. But Kentrell Dewitt made a fine catch against the wall … Ryan Wertenberger, who pitched four fine innings in a spot start at West Virginia, will be the Hoppers’ starter in Wednesday’s game.

Townsley stops Intimidators in their tracks

July 9, 2014

Not many game plans are executed the way Sean Townsley did Wednesday afternoon.

Before the game against hot-hitting Kannapolis, pitching coach Jeremy Powell said what Hoppers pitchers had to do was twofold: (1) make the hitters uncomfortable by pitching inside, and (2) get ahead in the count.

Townsley responded by throwing seven shutout innings as the Hoppers stopped the Intimidators cold, 3-0. The big left-hander from High Point University allowed only two singles and two walks while recording a season-high nine strikeouts.

“I felt dialed in and focused on the task at hand,” Townsley said. “I got ahead in the count and worked both side of the plate. I knew their hitters were confident, so I threw inside and got them uncomfortable.”

After watching the Intimidators pummel Hoppers pitching Monday and Tuesday for 24 runs and 34 hits, including seven home runs, Townsley said he didn’t feel any extra pressure.

“I’ve always been a competitor ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I just go out and control what I can control.”

Early in the game, he said, he got some strikeouts with elevated fastballs. Then he relied on his knuckle curve, which he throws with the index finger tucked under so the middle finger will create more spin on the ball.

“I stand on the first-base side of the rubber against right-handed hitters,” he said, “and that pitch looks like it’s out of the zone but it sweeps across the plate.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said Townsley was efficient and his curve was crisp and more of a weapon than just a “show me” off-speed pitch.

Sean Donatello retired the side in order in the eighth and Tyler Kinley picked up his sixth save in the ninth to nail down Townsley’s fourth straight win and fifth overall.

“Both Donatello and Kinley have done a great job in the ninth inning,” Powell said. “We’re sort of in a two-closer situation right now, and that’s nice to have.”

Kinley, a power pitcher, made things interesting. He hit the first batter, struck out the second and walked the third to bring the tying run to the plate. But he froze Danny Hayes with a curve ball for a called third strike and then blew one by Jacob Morris at 97 miles per hour to end the game.

“I’m confident with each pitch,” Kinley said, “so on a bad one I swallow and move on. I want to attack and challenge the hitter until he proves he can beat me. I knew they were swinging the bats well, but I was thinking ‘they haven’t faced me yet.’”

Kannapolis left-hander Jeff McKenzie nearly matched Townsley. He shut out the Hoppers for three innings but J.T. Riddle led off the fourth with a home run and Avery Romero added a sacrifice fly that scored Rehiner Cordova later in the inning. That 2-0 score stood until the bottom of the eighth, when Austin Dean’s RBI single scored Cordova with an insurance run. It extended Dean’s hitting streak to 12 games.

Hopper manager David Berg said it took the hitters one time through the order to figure out they weren’t going to see many fastballs from McKenzie.

“He was throwing soft, with curves and changeups, and relying on location and changing speeds,” Riddle said. “So I waited on a curve and when he left one up I put a good swing on it. My junior year at Kentucky we had almost an all-lefty staff so in fall practice I got used to hitting against them. Now I see left-handers as well as I do right-handers.”

Riddle’s homer continued his trait of acting as a catalyst with clutch hits.

“He takes the game in stride and doesn’t change anything,” said hitting coach Frank Moore. “By not changing his approach, he comes up with a lot of hits in big situations.”

The win enabled the Hoppers to salvage one of three games in the series and finish the home stand 3-3. Next they head out for four games at West Virginia. Ryan Newell, 8-1 on the road, will start Thursday and Jarlin Garcia Friday. Domingo German will miss his next start while he competes in the Futures Game on July 13, so someone will make a spot start in his place.

ALUMNI NOTES: Jose Fernandez (2012), recovering from Tommy John surgery is doing some range of motion exercises but it will be quite awhile before he begins a throwing program. Every pitcher is different, but typically it takes 12-14 months for recovery … Jake Smolinski (2009) was brought up by the Texas Rangers and played two games in left field, going 2-for-6. He hit .281 with 7 homers and 31 RBIs here in 77 games … Brett Carroll (2005) was released by Toronto. Carroll played in 118 major-league games with Florida, Minnesota and Washington, hitting .201 with 5 homers and 28 RBIs.

Intimidators drub Hoppers again

July 8, 2014

Kannapolis hitters continued their assault on Hoppers pitching Tuesday night, pounding out 18 hits, including four doubles and four homers, in a 12-2 victory cut short by rain in the bottom of the eighth inning.

In two games the Intimidators have scored 24 runs on 34 hits and have hit seven home runs by six different players. Adam Engel hit his second in two games and Danny Hayes, Carl Thomore and Jacob Morris joined in the fun. Brett Austin, the N.C. State catcher drafted in the fourth round by the White Sox last month, had two hits, three RBIs and scored twice.

Cody Crabaugh started and gave up six runs in four innings, Tyler Kane was tagged for five runs in two innings and Esmerling de la Rosa gave up one run in two innings.

On offense, Kannapolis right-hander Robinson Leyer limited the Hoppers to three hits in seven innings. Austin Dean had two of those, including his seventh homer, as he extended his hitting streak to 11 games. Carlos Lopez had the other hit and Felix Munoz drove in his 60th run on a groundout.

The Hoppers did make two outstanding defensive plays. In the third inning, center fielder Lopez made a leaping catch against the fence to rob a hitter of extra bases. In the fourth, second baseman Yefri Perez ranged to his right to stab a grounder behind second base, pivoted and get enough on the throw to nip the runner at first.

The three-game series wraps up with a 12:30 p.m. game Wednesday. Sean Townsley, who opened the home stand by beating West Virginia, will be the starter.

Kannapolis bashes Hoppers 12-8

July 7, 2014

One thing about a split season in baseball is that everyone gets a fresh start when the second half begins.

That certainly applies to Kannapolis, which continued its good start to the second half by knocking off the Hoppers 12-8 Monday night. After finishing 29-38 in the first half, the Intimidators are 13-6 in the second half, tied with Greensboro and Hickory for first place in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League.

“That’s a totally different team,” said Hoppers manager David Berg. “They didn’t look like that a couple of weeks ago.”

In the only previous series between the teams, June 12-15 in Kannapolis, the Hoppers were in a situation where they had to sweep four games to have a shot at winning the first half. And they did exactly that, clinching the first-half title in the last game. Hoppers pitching allowed just six runs and 29 hits in the series.

Three weeks later, the Intimidators banged out 16 hits and scored a dozen runs in one game. They hit three homers, including a grand slam by Trey Michalczewski that put them ahead for good, 9-6. Of four Greensboro pitchers, only C.J. Robinson escaped damage with two scoreless innings.

Starter Domingo German didn’t make it out of the fifth inning and was tagged for five runs. Miguel del Pozo was charged with four runs, on the grand slam, in one inning and Ryan Wertenberger gave up three more. In addition to giving up all those hits, the staff issued six walks, highly unusual because the Hoppers lead the league in fewest walks allowed. To make it worse, all six walks came around to score.

“We didn’t throw enough strikes,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “It’s usually not the hits but the walks ahead of them that hurt you.”

German was the third straight Hoppers starter to been roughed up, following Jarlin Garcia on Sunday and Ryan Newell on Saturday. All have logged substantial innings in their first full season and may be showing signs of fatigue.

“That can become a factor,” Powell said. “You could see German hit the wall real fast tonight. Hopefully we’ll get good outings the next couple of days.”

Cody Crabaugh will start Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game and Sean Townsley will start the 12:30 p.m. game Wednesday.

Greensboro’s offense was fine with 11 hits. Avery Romero picked up three, Chad Wallach had two to increase his league-leading average to .347, Austin Dean extended his hitting streak to 10 games and Yefri Perez had a two-run single.

But the Hoppers couldn’t do anything with Brad Salgado, the second of three Kannapolis pitchers. Drafted by the White Sox as a position player in 2010, Salgado hit just .179 in three seasons and converted to pitching in 2013. He was making only his second appearance with the Intimidators and the 12th of his pitching career.

Salgado entered in the fifth inning, after the Hoppers scored twice to take a 6-5 lead. He struck out Rehiner Cordova to end the inning, then breezed through three more innings, retiring nine of 10 batters, and picked up the third win of his career.

“He kept us off-balance and threw strikes, which we didn’t do,” Berg said.

Unusual lineup pays dividends for Hoppers

July 6, 2014

All Austin Dean needed was to lift the ball fairly deep to the outfield or poke the ball through a drawn-in infield.

Instead, with runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, he crushed a three-run walk-off homer to left field to send the Hoppers to a 9-6 win over West Virginia. It was Dean’s only hit of the day and it extended his streak to nine games, but he insisted he would have settled for the sacrifice fly.

“I was just looking to put the bat on the ball and hit it deep,” Dean said. “I got a fastball and took it a long way. I didn’t see where it landed because I was excited, but off the bat I knew it was gone.”

Manager David Berg said Dean “hits the ball hard. His early at-bats weren’t that good but it’s the last one that counts.”

It was an improbable win in many ways. The Hoppers trailed all afternoon, although they came back to tie the game 3-3 and again at 6-6. It was accomplished by an unusual lineup that had center fielder Yefri Perez at shortstop, corner outfielder Carlos Lopez in center, backup Joel Jimenez behind the plate and seldom-used Carlos Duran at DH.

All of them contributed as catcher Chad Wallach, third baseman J.T. Riddle and shortstop Rehiner Cordova were given a day off by manager David Berg. Perez played flawlessly at shortstop, got three hits and scored three runs. Lopez played well in center and added two hits and an RBI. Duran provided a crucial sacrifice fly that tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. Jimenez threw out a runner at second base and handled three Hoppers pitchers with no problems.

“I’m absolutely OK with Perez at shortstop,” Berg said. “He has taken ground balls there all year (in infield practice) and he played well today.”

Perez said shortstop is his natural position but he was converted to center field last year. He had played second base one game this season, but hadn’t made any appearances at short. He handled three ground balls smoothly with good throws and caught a line drive.

“I hadn’t played there in two years and it felt a little different today,” Perez said. “I wasn’t nervous but I felt better after the first ground ball.”

The Hoppers had an adventurous day on the mound. Starter Jarlin Garcia allowed eight hits, including two home runs to JaCoby Jones, and five runs in five innings to continue a string of poor outings. In his last four starts he has pitched 23 innings, allowed 35 hits and 20 earned runs. Amazingly, he won his previous three outings and, although he got no decision this time, the Hoppers continued their uncanny knack to score runs and win games when he starts.

Ramon del Orbe took over in the sixth and promptly surrendered a homer to Kawika Emsley-Pai, and two singles. But Dean threw out a runner at third base from left field for the first out and del Orbe retired the next two hitters on ground balls. He gave up a leadoff double in the seventh but stranded the runner at third, and a leadoff walk in the eighth that he stranded.

Sean Donatello came on for the ninth with the game tied and gave up a pair of one-out singles. He had been hit hard his last two outings, but this time he regrouped and got two groundouts to end the inning and became the winner on Dean’s homer.

“Sometimes it’s not pretty,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “Del Orbe and Donatello were able to limit the damage and get out of there. The three innings del Orbe threw were huge so we could save the bullpen.”

The Hoppers won two of three from the Power and have beaten them 11 out of 14 meetings. They begin a three-game series against Kannapolis Monday at 7 p.m. with Domingo German starting.

NOTES: Felix Munoz had a two-run double that extended his hitting streak to eight games. He leads and team with 59 RBIs and 58 runs scored … Lopez, Avery Romero and Duran also had RBIs … West Virginia’s Jones had four hits for the day and finished the series 8-for-13 with four solo home runs, all leading off an inning.

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