Dean makes sure Shorebirds don’t sweep

April 19, 2014

After two close losses to Delmarva, the Hoppers didn’t want it to happen again.

And Saturday night, Austin Dean made sure it didn’t.

The designated hitter doubled in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Hoppers a 3-1 victory in the final game of the short series.

“We weren’t going to make it three in a row,” Dean said. “We’re just struggling a little right now, but we’re going to be fine. I think we’re the best-hitting team in the league.”

In the bottom of the 11th, Delmarva reliever Dennis Torres hit leadoff batter Yefri Perez. Justin Bohn laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Perez to second. The Shorebirds gave an intentional walk to Felix Munoz to set up a possible double play.

With the outfielders playing in a couple of steps for a potential play at the plate, Dean lifted one to the opposite field over the head of right fielder Hector Veloz to score Perez.

“I wasn’t looking for anything special, just something to drive, and I got a fastball away,” Dean said. “I’m happy that we finished off the series with a win.”

Avery Romero then finished off Dean with the traditional pan full of shaving cream to his face.

This series featured fickle April weather with temperatures in the 50s, an often stiff wind and a light but steady rain. Fans were bundled in heavy coats and parkas with hoods and wrapped in blankets.

Starting pitchers weren’t bothered by the conditions. Greensboro’s Max Garner and Delmarva’s Sebastian Vader were both sharp. Vader pitched seven fine innings, allowing four hits, one of them a solo homer by Munoz. His 12 RBIs lead the team.

Garner had gotten the win against the Shorebirds last Sunday in Delmarva, pitching five innings, allowing two runs and striking out eight. This time he was even better, throwing six shutout innings, giving up four hits and recording eight strikeouts.

“I didn’t want to throw in the same patterns as the last time and be too predictable,” Garner said.

It was the third straight outstanding start for the Hoppers, following Domingo German Thursday and Sean Townsley Friday.

“It’s really fun to watch these guys pitch,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “And I can’t say enough about the way the catchers (Chad Wallach and Sharif Othman) have handled them.”

Sean Donatello, who has been excellent out of the bullpen, followed Garner and pitched a scoreless seventh. But in the eighth he surrendered a no-doubt solo homer to Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Hall of Fame Boston outfielder Carl, that tied the game. Casey McCarthy pitched the ninth and C.J. Robinson the 10th and 11th to pick up the win.

The pitchers, who struck out 15, got themselves out of several jams as Delmarva left 15 runners on base. Garner got a strikeout to leave the bases loaded in the second and stranded two more runners in the sixth. Donatello left two on in the eighth and McCarthy worked around a leadoff double and an intentional walk with the help of two strikeouts in the ninth.

Robinson, who has a sidearm delivery, hit a batter and gave up an infield hit in the 10th but ended it with a strikeout. With runners on second and first and one out in the 11th, he got a groundout and a strikeout to end the threat.

“He has developed that (delivery) over the years,” Powell said. “He gets the ball over the plate and it creates some run on the ball and some movement. It’s a different look.”

Manager David Berg said he’s happy with the Hoppers’ 8-8 record. They were limited to 17 hits in the series, but he’s confident the team will swing the bats well again.

“Dean had been scuffling and he hit three balls on the screws tonight,” Berg said. “There are signs of guys getting better. We’re still getting too many outs on first-pitch swings and late in the game sometimes we try to do too much and overswing.”

The pitching has been keeping games close. In six of the eight losses, the Hoppers have been outscored by a total of nine runs.

The Hoppers will take Easter Sunday off, then embark on a seven-game road trip with four at Rome and three at Hickory. After another day off, they return home on April 29.

Baseball shows its cruel side

April 18, 2014

People who have been in baseball awhile will tell you that getting the 27th out can be one of the hardest tasks in the game.

Friday night at NewBridge Bank Park, the Hoppers recorded the first 26 outs against Delmarva without allowing a run. Matt Milroy was throwing hard in the ninth inning, striking out the first two batters. No one was on base and, even though the Hoppers had a only a 1-0 lead, things looked well in hand as a light rain fell.

And then baseball showed its cruel side.

Federico Castagnini hit a soft roller toward third base. Juan Avila charged in and fielded it but Castagnini beat it out. Infield hit. Gregory Lorenzo followed with a grounder to deep short. Justin Bohn gloved it but had no play. Another infield hit. Josh Hart hit a grounder to Bohn that he juggled and dropped for an error. Bases loaded.

Milroy should have been out of the inning and the Hoppers should have been in the clubhouse celebrating. Trey Mancini then hit a hard grounder up the middle that scored two runs. Delmarva, which had been dead in the water, suddenly had the lead, 2-1. Milroy struck out the next hitter to end the top of the ninth.

“They get two swinging bunts (for hits), a tough error and the No. 3 hitter (Mancini) did what he was supposed to do,” said Hoppers manager David Berg.

Then it was Delmarva’s turn to sweat. Closer Jimmy Yacabonis walked Felix Munoz to start the bottom of the ninth, got Chad Wallach to fly out, then walked Victor Castro. Yefri Perez slapped a hard grounder that went just wide of first base for a foul ball. One run would have scored for sure and possibly a second. Perez then took a called third strike for the second out.

Yacabonis bounced a wild pitch that moved both runners up and then intentionally walked Bohn to load the bases. But Avila took a called third strike to end the game.

Milroy wound up as the losing pitcher, about as hard-luck a loss as you will see. He had relieved starter Sean Townsley in the “piggyback” situation. In a road game at Delmarva last week, Milroy started and fired five shutout innings and Townsley relieved and pitched four innings to record the save. They combined for 12 strikeouts.

They reversed roles this time. Townsley, using an effective changeup, fanned the first three batters he faced and pitched five shutout innings, allowing three hits. He was in line for the win when Milroy followed and cruised through 3 2/3 innings. This time they combined for 11 strikeouts.

“The piggyback is tough on them mentally but they have responded well,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “Hopefully this helps them down the road and makes them better in the future.”

What about absorbing a bitter defeat in a game that should have been won?

“That’s going to happen at times,” Powell said. “They’re professionals and they understand that they have to turn the page.”

The Hoppers’ only run came on Castro’s homer, his first of the season, in the third inning.
It was the fourth straight loss for Greensboro, which has managed just two runs and 11 hits against the Shorebirds in these two games.

“We need to come out and score about 10 runs and we’ll be fine,” Berg said.

They will get that chance tonight when the three-game series winds up with a 7 o’clock game. Max Garner will start for the Hoppers.

Pitchers dominate in quick, chilly game

April 17, 2014

It was chilly and not much of a night for hitting at NewBridge Bank Park Thursday.

But the pitchers had a lot to do with that.

In the end, Delmarva’s Steven Brault out-dueled Greensboro’s Domingo German and that was the difference in a 3-1 win for the Shorebirds. The game breezed by in two hours and four minutes.

German turned in his third straight standout performance for the Hoppers. He pitched seven innings, his longest outing this season, and threw just 79 pitches, surrendering six hits and two runs. He struck out eight and didn’t walk anyone, giving him 22 strikeouts against four walks this season.

“He was outstanding,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He ran into a little trouble in the second inning, but got out of it with a double play. He settled down and threw three pitches over the plate.”

German doesn’t have anything to show in the win column so far, but Powell said that with continued good performances and going deep into games, “the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”

Delmarva scored twice in the second on back-to-back doubles, a single and a fielder’s choice. As it turned out, that was enough for Brault, a left-hander who did not pitch against the Hoppers in last week’s four-game series in Delmarva. He had a 7.20 ERA coming in, but stopped Greensboro on five hits (none through the first three innings) while striking out nine in seven innings.

“He mixed his pitches well and pitched inside,” said Hoppers manager David Berg. “Sometimes you tip your hat to the other guy.”

The Hoppers had two good opportunities. In the fourth they loaded the bases with two outs but Felix Munoz broke his bat and grounded out back to Brault. In the eighth, against reliever Jon Keller, Sharif Othman singled and went to third on Kentrell Dewitt’s double. Othman scored on Yefri Perez’s groundout but Justin Bohn popped out and Juan Avila grounded out to end the threat.

ROSTER: Outfielder Kentrell Dewitt and infielder Rehiner Cordova, who played in 20 games here last season, joined the Hoppers on the road trip … Going on the Disabled List were third baseman J.T. Riddle (sprained ankle but not fractured as first feared) and shortstop Javier Lopez (sprained shoulder).

NOTES: The locker room was filled with roving instructors from the Marlins … Those in for the three-game series are hitting coordinator Jeff Pentland, field coordinator John (J.P.) Pierson and infield coordinator Jorge Hernandez, who managed the Hoppers last year.

Garner, Donatello combine for 4-2 win

April 8, 2014

It’s been a good couple of days for Sean Donatello.

On Monday, he watched the last 10 minutes of the NCAA national championship game in the Hoppers locker room as his UConn Huskies topped Kentucky. On Tuesday, he earned his first save since 2012 to help the Hoppers beat Lakewood 4-2.

The native of Salem, CT, attended a junior college campus of UConn at Avery Point.

“It was pretty cool,” he said of the national title. “I made sure everyone (in the locker room) knew about it.”

Everyone in the locker room knew about him Tuesday, this time for pitching the final 2 2/3 innings and striking out four in preserving the win for starter Max Garner. It’s not often that two pitchers combine to throw nine innings this early in the season in the South Atlantic League. It was much needed because the Hoppers bullpen has been piling up innings.

“They pitched their butts off,” said manager David Berg, who saw his team even its record at 3-3.

Coming off an 11-inning, 10-9 win over the BlueClaws Monday in a game that took nearly four hours, Greensboro took care of this one in just over two hours. The Hoppers had pulled out Monday’s game with a two-run rally in the 11th and that carried over. They hit Lakewood with three quick runs in the first inning.

J.T. Riddle and Justin Bohn singled, Carlos Lopez drove them in with a double into the left field corner and he scored on Austin Dean’s single. All that came before BlueClaws starter Shane Martin could retire a batter. Greensboro didn’t score again until the sixth, when Lopez doubled again and scored on a double by Felix Munoz, who drew the walk-off walk that won Monday’s game.

“I had two strikes and was looking to hit the ball hard somewhere,” Lopez said of his first time up. “In the three-hole you’re expected to drive in some runs and have a good at-bat. I feel relaxed at the plate and I’m making good contact.”

Lopez is now hitting .360 in the early going.

“He can flat-out hit,” Berg said. “He gets the barrel to the ball and has a good knowledge of the strike zone.”

Garner, making his second start, made the lead stand up. He pitched four shutout innings before giving up a run in the fifth, then put up another zero in the sixth inning. He returned the seventh inning and got one out, but two singles and a walk loaded the bases so Donatello came in.

He was greeted with a single by Jose Mayorga that scored a run and left the bases loaded. But Robinson Torres tapped a weak grounder that Donatello fielded and threw to catcher Sharif Othman to force out the lead runner. He struck out Carlos Tocci to end the inning.

“I wanted to be aggressive and not walk anybody,” Donatello said. “After I gave up the single, I composed myself and went after the next hitter.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell liked the way Donatello handled the bases-loaded pressure.

“He got us out of the jam and finished the game,” Powell said. “He was efficient and pitched ahead in the count. He’s a guy who can throw multiple innings and pitch in the back end of the bullpen.”

Donatello pitched in 14 games for the Hoppers in the second half of last season, posting a 1.11 ERA. He was never in a save situation but said he welcomes those opportunities.

Garner earned his first professional win with his longest outing. He pitched well in the season opener and left with the lead against Hickory, but the Crawdads came back to win.

“I felt a lot more comfortable because you get in that five-day routine,” Garner said of this start.

Using a two-seam fastball and cut fastball, Garner got 10 groundouts, a sign those pitches were working. He said the coaches asked him about going out for the seventh inning .

“I felt good,” he said. “Those two hits just found holes but I was trying to be a little too fine and walked a guy. But Donnie saved me.”

The Hoppers wrap up their opening home stand with a 12:30 game today with Jarlin Garcia starting. Then they hit the road for four games at Delmarva and three at Lakewood.

Hoppers win with walk-off walk

April 7, 2014

If you’re going to play a marathon baseball game, you might as well win it.

That’s what the Hoppers did Monday night, rallying for a 10-9 win over Lakewood in 11 innings in a game that took three hours and 44 minutes at NewBridge Bank Park.

Aside from the 19 runs, the game featured 29 hits, six errors (four by the Hoppers), 10 walks, two hit batters, two wild pitches, two passed balls, an out on a batter’s interference call and assorted other bizarre aspects.

Not the least of those was the finish — Felix Munoz walked on four pitches to force in the winning run, earning a game-winning RBI without taking the bat off his shoulder.

The Hoppers were dead in the water on two occasions. Down 8-5 in the bottom of the ninth, they rallied for three runs to tie it with Justin Bohn, Carlos Lopez and Austin Dean picking up clutch RBIs to send the game into extra innings.

Then, down by 9-8 in the bottom of the 11th, the first two Hoppers made outs. But Bohn kept things alive with a single, Lopez also singled, the runners moved up on a balk, Dean was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Avery Romero singled up the middle for one run and Munoz took the walk-off walk to win it.

“There was no magic formula,” said hitting coach Frank Moore. “That was all the guys. They battled and didn’t give at-bats away. It was grit and grind tonight.”

Dean had a pair of doubles among his three hits and Bohn, Carlos Lopez, Romero and Javier Lopez added two hits each. The win pushed the Hoppers to 2-4 on the season and gave the players a boost.

“Everyone contributed,” Dean said. “We all have nothing but confidence and we don’t get down on ourselves. We’ve had a rocky start but I’m looking for some big things for us.”

Greensboro had 12 hits, a good night’s work after Lakewood starter Ranfi Casimiro held them hitless for the first four innings. But the Hoppers solved him for four runs on four hits in the fifth inning, including doubles by Romero, Munoz and Javier Lopez.

That lead was short-lived, with the BlueClaws responding with five runs in the sixth to claim a 7-5 lead and adding another in the seventh.

Even on a night when they allowed nine runs, Hoppers pitchers worked themselves out of several jams, stranding 14 runners. Sean Townsley, the High Point University alumnus, battled through 4 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits but only two runs. He gave up a leadoff double in the third inning and stranded that runner, then had men on second and third with no one out in the fourth and got out of that mess.

“He didn’t have his best stuff,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “but he never let the pressure bother him.”

The winning pitcher was Casey McCarthy, who pitched the last three innings, an unusually long outing.

“I only went one inning every time in spring training,” he said. “But you pitch until they tell you you’re out of the game.”

McCarthy battled out of a touchy situation in the 10th with runners on second and third and one out. But he got a strikeout and groundout to end the threat. In the 11th, he gave up a long home run that went off the scoreboard to Lakewood’s J.P. Crawford (his fourth hit), but regrouped to get a groundout to end the inning.

“I live off the sinker,” McCarthy said, “and one didn’t sink. You don’t want to give up a home run like that, so it’s great when the team comes back and gets the win.”

The game certainly had its ugly aspects, which didn’t escape manager David Berg.

“I’m all about effort and the way you go about your business,” he said. “I’m not happy with the way we performed, even though we won. We made a lot of mental mistakes.”

The teams play again Tuesday at 7 p.m. and Max Garner draws his second start for the Hoppers.

Hoppers can’t take advantage of German’s effort

April 6, 2014

At the end of Sunday’s game, Greensboro’s Domingo German had nothing to show for his performance against Hickory.

But rest assured, there was nothing “wasted” about his effort, even though the Hoppers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Crawdads.

The right-hander, making his first start of the season, was dominant through five innings, pitching shutout ball, allowing only two hits and striking out 10. When he left, the Hoppers had a 1-0 lead and he was in line for the win.

But Hickory scored twice in the top of the sixth inning and the Hoppers couldn’t squeeze out any more runs. That didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for German’s day, however.

“Awesome, a tremendous outing,” said manager David Berg.

German struck out two in the first inning, three more in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth and two in the fifth. Three times the Crawdads looked at a called third strike. Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said German’s breaking ball was freezing Hickory’s hitters. The Crawdads managed two singles in the first inning and none in the next four.

German threw 73 pitches, too close to the limit of about 80 to send him back out for the sixth inning.

Another strong effort was turned in by Miguel del Pozo. After giving up four runs in one inning of relief and taking the loss Thursday, the left-hander rebounded with three innings of shutout, hit-less ball.

“That was no surprise,” Powell said. “That’s the way he threw in spring training.”

The pitcher in between was Blake Logan. Even though he was touched for the two runs and absorbed the loss, neither Berg nor Powell found fault with his effort. A single, a walk and a two-run double by Hickory’s Nick Vickerson after a long at-bat did the damage.

And with a little luck, Logan could have been out of the inning. With two outs and the count 3-and-2, Vickerson lifted a high popup behind the plate that just cleared the backstop netting into the first row of stands. Vickerson then took a low breaking ball and dumped it into left field, where it scooted into the corner as both runners scored.

“Logan was fine,” Berg said. “He’s a lot better than when I saw him last year. He’s throwing strikes down in the zone and really competing.”

Hickory used three pitchers to hold Greensboro to five hits. Yohander Mendez pitched the first five innings and picked up the win. Kelvin Vasquez pitched 3 1/3 innings of one-hit ball and Ryne Slack got the last two outs to earn the save.

Juan Avila had two of the Hoppers’ hits, including a home run in the fourth inning. That was followed by a double by Carlos Lopez and it looked like the Hoppers might have Mendez on the ropes. But he retired the next three batters to strand Lopez.

Another big opportunity came in the seventh in Vasquez’ first inning of work. Avila singled and Austin Dean and Avery Romero drew walks to load the bases with two outs. Sharif Othman battled Vasquez, ripping one ball foul down the right field line. With the count 3-and-2, Othman hit a deep fly to right-center that looked as if it might be a grand slam. But center fielder Lewis Brinson made the catch on the warning track.

“He had a good at-bat,” Berg said, “and the ball was a tick high.”

After losing three of four to the Crawdads, the Hoppers are scheduled to start a three-game series with Lakewood Monday. Sean Townsley, the left-hander from High Point University, is scheduled to start the 7 p.m. game in NewBridge Bank Park. Matt Milroy will pitch in the “piggyback” role.

Running mistakes contribute to Hoppers loss

April 5, 2014

Baseball gives a team plenty of opportunities to learn from its mistakes and Hoppers manager David Berg hopes that’s what they will do.

An abundance of mistakes running the bases cost the Hoppers on a windy, chilly (64 degrees at the start, 55 at the finish) Saturday night as they absorbed a 7-3 loss to the Hickory Crawdads at NewBridge Bank Park.

The game was similar to Thursday’s season opener in some respects. On Thursday, Greensboro jumped to a 3-1 lead but was outscored 7-0 over the final six innings. Saturday the Hoppers broke on top again by 3-1 in the first three innings, then were outscored 6-0.

Austin Dean was picked off third base in the first inning and Victor Castro was called out on an appeal play for leaving the base too early trying to move from second to third on a fly ball out.

And Berg didn’t exempt himself from mistakes. He waved runner Juan Avila around third in the second inning only to see him thrown out at the plate. In the third inning, he held up runner Carlos Lopez at third, but Lopez, after hesitating a step, kept on heading home and scored.

“I screwed that up,” Berg said. “I’m trying to figure it out after a year away (as an infield coordinator the the Marlins).”

The end result was the Hoppers cost themselves one or two runs and a bigger lead and Hickory took advantage. The Crawdads touched starter Ryan Newell for four runs, two unearned, in the fourth inning when they took the lead for good. He surrendered a solo homer to Kellin Deglan, issued a walk, had an error behind him by shortstop Justin Bohn, wild-pitched a run in and gave up a two-run shot to Lewis Brinson.

“He got two 3-and-0 counts and they got aggressive on offense,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “Mix in a walk and an error and the inning got long on him.”

Newell had to wait on the mound while one of the between-innings activities ran long, which might have affected his concentration.

“I know it could affect a young pitcher,” Powell said, “but we’ll never know. You’ve got to continue to work and do the job.”

On offense, the Hoppers came up with 11 hits, three each by Lopez and Avery Romero. One of Romero’s was a two-run homer in the second inning. Bohn drove in the other run in the third inning. Between the hits and four walks, the Hoppers had plenty of baserunners but stranded 11, the same number as Thursday.

“We swung the bats well,” Berg said. “I counted 12 hard-hit balls. We had opportunities but we couldn’t get a hit when we needed to.”

The Hoppers go after a split in the first series of the season when they play the Crawdads again today at 4 p.m. Domingo German draws the starting assignment for Greensboro.

Hoppers bounce back with 8-1 win

April 4, 2014

A new day, a new game and a new result.

One night after the Hoppers dropped their opening game to Hickory, they bounced back Friday and drubbed the Crawdads 8-1 at NewBridge Bank Park.

Pitching ruled the night as four hurlers combined to hold Hickory to three hits while striking out 11. Starter Jarlin Garcia went five innings to pick up the win, allowing three hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. He wasn’t fazed by giving up a run in the first inning, shutting the Crawdads down after that.

The bullpen, tagged hard on Thursday, rebounded with four shutout innings and four strikeouts. Sean Donatello pitched two innings followed by Blake Logan and James Wooster with an inning apiece.

“It was an outstanding effort,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “We pitched ahead in a lot of counts and that allows you to throw the pitch you want to throw. Garcia used his changeup to get right-handers out and his slider to get left-handers out.”

The offense was extremely efficient, bunching all its hits and runs into two innings. The Hoppers scored three runs on three hits in the second inning and added five runs on five hits in the sixth. Hickory helped by committing three errors — they have seven in two games now — which led to five unearned runs.

“The difference from Thursday night was we took advantage when they made mistakes,” said manager David Berg. “We got some big two-out hits and made a couple of good defensive plays.”

Sharif Othman had a two-run double in the second inning, J.T. Riddle had a broken-bat double that drove in two runs in the fifth and Justin Bohn had an RBI in each inning. Yefri Perez and Avery Romero added the other RBIs. Felix Munoz, Romero and Othman each scored twice.

Othman, who was with the Hoppers for awhile last season, gave the team the lead for good when he pulled a double down the right-field line to score two runs in the second inning.

“I wasn’t looking to hit the ball down the line,” he said. “I just wanted to make solid contact. I want to be consistent at the plate this year.”

Othman got just as much pleasure from catching the Hoppers pitchers.

“They showed a lot of maturity and threw a lot of strikes,” he said. “Garcia has really grown from last year. His stuff was strong and powerful.

“I caught Donatello and Logan last year (in Greensboro) so we’re like peas in a pod. We work together well.”

Wooster, an outfielder here in 2011 (he has a championship ring from that season) and 2012, converted to pitching last season and was roughed up in Batavia. Powell said Wooster has improved considerably.

“He took his experience from last year into spring training and he’s a lot better,” Powell said. “He’s a left-handed arm with a good angle on his fastball. If he continues to do that, he’ll be fine.”

The teams play the third game of the series tonight. Right-hander Ryan Newell will be the Hoppers’ starter.

Big crowd watches Hoppers fall in opener

April 3, 2014

The thing about baseball is that impressions formed from one game, even the season opener, can change completely the next day.

The Hoppers wound up on the losing end of the season’s first game Thursday night, falling to the Hickory Crawdads 8-3. While everyone wants to look good in the first game, the losing team just has to shrug it off. There are 139 more to play in the season.

“I don’t put too much weight on opening night,” said manager David Berg. “We played OK, probably not as bad as the score indicated. A lot of guys hadn’t been in this kind of environment before and when that happens, you never know what you’ll see.”

The environment was a crowd of 9,920, largest attendance ever for a Hoppers opening game and among the top 10 all-time in the park.

Early on, the Hoppers gave the fans plenty to get excited about. Austin Dean slugged a solo home run in the bottom of the first inning and Greensboro led 3-1 after three innings.
But things spiraled down from there, with the offense getting shut out the next six innings and the bullpen faltering after starter Max Garner left.

Garner delivered a solid five innings, allowing seven hits but just two runs, one of them unearned. He walked one and struck out one.

“He got a lot of ground balls and early contact,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He limited the damage. It was a good job.”

Garner said he was satisfied with his performance.

“The guys who got hits didn’t make strong contact,” he said. “They just found some holes.

“It was a great crowd and atmosphere. I think everyone understands how special this place is. It’s good to get the first game under out belts and get the jitters out.”

Garner had a 3-2 lead when he left the game but Hickory jumped on reliever Miguel del Pozo for four runs in the sixth. He never got into a rhythm, walking the first batter and being touched for four hits, including three doubles, as the Crawdads seized a 6-3 lead. Matt Milroy and C.J. Robinson each surrendered a run.

“You try to prepare guys for these situations, but they got a little overwhelmed,” Powell said. “In the sixth inning (del Pozo) got behind in the count and then had to throw too many pitches over the plate and paid for it. It was a learning experience for everyone.”

The Hoppers had a chance to perhaps break the game open in the fourth inning against Hickory’s Collin Wiles, who relieved starter Cole Wiper. Wiles, a first-round draft pick by Texas in 2012, was shaky when he entered. The Hoppers loaded the bases with two outs, helped by two Hickory errors, but Dean hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Wiles threw three shutout innings and picked up the win. Relievers Ryne Slack, Yohander Mendez and Abel de los Santos threw a scoreless inning apiece.

Greensboro had plenty of runners during the game, but stranded 11. Besides Dean’s homer, RBIs came from Chad Wallach and Victor Castro.

The second game of the series will be played tonight. Jarlin Garcia, a left-hander, will start for the Hoppers.

Pitching staff should be a Hoppers strength

April 3, 2014

It’s time, and Max Garner is ready.

The right-hander will be on the mound for the Hoppers tonight when they open the 2014 season against the Hickory Crawdads at 7 o’clock in NewBridge Bank Park. He had never seen the park until Monday, when the team arrived in Greensboro and worked out.

“It’s beautiful,” Garner said. “I’ve heard so much about the fans and the atmosphere and I’m excited (for the opening game).”

Adding to the excitement will be the presence of Garner’s parents, who have traveled from central Texas to watch him pitch. He grew up in Houston, graduated from high school in Austin and pitched four years at Baylor in Waco.

Garner said he throws a fastball, cut fastball, curve and changeup. He likes to work off his cutter and sinking fastball and use his big curve as his out pitch. He patterns himself after Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said the work Garner, a 13th-round draft pick last year, did in spring training earned him the role of opening-day starter.

“He’s a little older (and) he’s got some polish to him,” Powell said. “He’s an outstanding guy who can be a leader for this staff. He possesses a great fastball downhill and he throws a lot of strikes.”

Garner had a deceiving record at Batavia last season. He started 14 games and put up a 1.62 ERA but had a 0-2 record to show for it, so he’s still seeking his first professional win.

He will be followed in the rotation on Friday by Jarlin Garcia (3-2, 3.10), on Saturday by Ryan Newell (5-4, 2.09), on Sunday by Domingo German (3-0,1.38) and on Monday by Sean Townsley (0-2, 1.44). Garcia and Townsley are left-handers. It’s a staff that could be a team strength.

“They are guys who can throw three or four pitches for strikes,” Powell said, “and they are durable kids with really good arms. They had outstanding seasons last year.”

Townsley pitched at High Point University, where he was the closer last year. He was used in relief at Batavia, but the Miami Marlins want to try him as a starter.

“He threw the ball really well last year when he came in,” Powell said. “He’s a big lefty (6-7, 240 pounds) and he throws the ball downhill and over the plate. We’ve built him up; he seems durable. We want to get him some extended innings and get more of a look.”

Townsley will likely share the fifth spot in a “piggyback” with Matt Milroy, who returns for his second year in Greensboro. In this arrangement, one pitcher starts a game and the other is the first reliever. They swap roles the next start.

Although he enjoyed his role as a closer, Townsley welcomes the chance to start, which he has done in the past.

“The biggest obstacle was just the mentality of going into the pen,” he said. “As a starter you have a routine, you’re able to plan out mentally what you need to do for a game. When you’re in the pen you could be six pitches away from going in the game. Once I did adjust, I absolutely loved it.

“I still have that (starting) routine fresh in the back of my mind, so I’ll just (fall) back on that.”

Milroy (0-2, 5.49) is one of three pitchers who were with the Hoppers last year. The others are Sean Donatello (2-1, 1.11) and Blake Logan (2-6, 5.01, 11 saves). Also in the bullpen are right-handers Joel Effertz (2-5, 5.21 with Batavia), Casey McCarthy (2-5, 4.11) and C.J. Robinson (1-1, 1.61) and lefties Miguel Del Pozo (2-1, 4.81) and James Wooster (2-1, 11.50).

Wooster played with the Hoppers as an outfielder in 2011 and 2012 and switched to pitching last season.

As usual early in the season, pitch counts will be closely watched. Powell will use that as an indicator rather than just the number of innings. Starters aren’t likely to exceed five innings unless their pitch count is low and they can begin a sixth. There will be plenty of innings to go around for the 13-man staff.

“At this level it’s about getting guys inning and trying to keep guys as fresh as we can,” Powell said. “We’re about developing these players and giving them as many looks and as many experiences as we can in games.”

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