BlueClaws battle back to beat Hoppers 11-7

April 25, 2016

Some losses leave everyone shaking their heads, and that was the case for the Hoppers Sunday.

The game against Lakewood was there for the taking, but Greensboro couldn’t capitalize on some golden opportunities and fell to the BlueClaws 11-7 in 11 innings at NewBridge Bank Park.

Two numbers stood out on the Hoppers’ stat sheet: 13 runners left on base and 14 strikeouts.

“We had traffic on the bases but we couldn’t get the big knock,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Those punchouts (strikeouts) in big spots were a killer.”

Specifically, the Hoppers loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning only to see Alex Fernandez and Rony Cabrera strike out. They left two more in the sixth, when Stone Garrett fanned to end the threat. And three more were stranded in the eighth when Taylor Munden and Garrett again struck out.

Altogether, Garrett whiffed five times in six at-bats and Munden and Fernandez went down three times each.

“He was under a lot of pressure hitting fourth,” Randel said of Garrett. “He’ll overcome this game. I have no doubt in my mind about that.”

There was plenty for Randel to feel good about as the Hoppers continued their offensive outburst with 15 more hits. In the last three games of the series, they scored 23 runs on 41 hits.

Josh Naylor continued his surge by going 3-for-3 with a 3-run homer and a pair of singles. He also drew two walks (one intentional) and was hit by a pitch in the thigh his last trip up. He was able to walk it off enough to remain in the game.

Naylor has reached base safely his last 11 trips with seven hits, three walks and the HBP. In the last three games he’s on a 9-for-11 tear, including two homers and three doubles, that has lifted his average to .290. Sunday’s homer, his second in two games, was a three-run belt to left field, his opposite field.

“He’s a pure hitter,” Randel said. “He doesn’t look to pull the ball; he just wants to hit it hard and drive it anywhere.”

Two other hitters stayed hot. Anfernee Seymour had two hits, stole a base, scored a run and knocked in another. In his last three games Seymour is 7-for-14 with four runs scored. Isael Soto added two more hits Sunday and in his last three games is 5-for-12 with five runs scored.

The Hoppers scored six runs in the bottom of the second inning to grab a 6-2 lead, but the offense stagnated there and was unable to score again until Rony Cabrera singled home Soto to tie the score 7-7 in the bottom of the ninth.

Greensboro starter Gabriel Castellanos never looked comfortable and couldn’t hold the early lead. After the BlueClaws scored once in the third and added four runs in the fourth to gain a 7-6 advantage that held up until the ninth.

Relievers Andy Beltre, Steven Farnworth, Ben Meyer and C.J. Robinson combined to pitch six straight shutout innings. In the 11th, L.J. Brewster gave up a single and another runner reached on Munden’s error. Brewster struck out the next two batters, then gave up an RBI single and a three-run homer to Samuel Hiciano. All four runs were unearned.

After 18 straight days of baseball to start the season, the Hoppers get a day off Monday. Now 7-11, they go on the road for three games at Hickory and four at Augusta. After another day off, they return home Wednesday, May 4, against Columbia (formerly Savannah).

Players are young and resilient and will likely be able to turn the page on a loss like this. Randel said he would brood about it for a short time.

“I’ll think about it on my hour-and-a-half drive home (to Apex),” he said. “Then I’ll take Monday off, cut some grass, see my wife and the dogs and I’ll be fine.”

Pitchers are ready for a break as much as the position players.

“That’s what we’re here for, to learn what this (a 140-game season) is all about,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara.

NOTES: Greensboro native Josh Tobias was Lakewood’s DH Sunday. He didn’t have a hit but got a sacrifice, a sacrifice fly, two walks and reached on a fielder’s choice. Officially he was 0-for-2, but added his 18th RBI and 12th of the season against the Hoppers … Starter Justin Jacome was put on the 7-day disabled list with a minor injury and will miss his next start.

Naylor, Poteet set tone for Hoppers’ 6-1 win

April 23, 2016

If was a night of firsts for Josh Naylor and Cody Poteet.

Naylor, the Miami Marlins’ No. 1 draft pick last summer, hit his first homer of the season and added two doubles, driving in three runs to spark the offense in the Hoppers’ 6-1 win over Lakewood Saturday night at NewBridge Bank Park. Greensboro improved to 7-10 with its second straight win.

Poteet, drafted in the fourth round last year, pitched five shutout innings and earned his first professional win.

Naylor, drafted as a power hitter who uses the whole field, had played in 15 of the club’s first 16 games with four doubles and a triple but no homers. That changed in the third inning when he jumped on a 3-and-2 pitch from Lakewood’s Harold Arauz and drove it over the right-field fence for a two-run homer.

“Every day I thought a little about it,” Naylor said of not having a homer. “But I tried to stay patient and I knew it would come. It was a slider that he (Arauz) hung. I knew it was coming because I had faced him before.”

Arauz had stymied the Hoppers in Lakewood, pitching seven shutout innings. This time the Hoppers caught up to him, tagging him for four runs in four innings. Rony Cabrera delivered a two-run double in the fourth inning to extend the Hoppers’ lead to 4-0.

It was a nice bounce-back by Cabrera, who on Thursday made three errors at shortstop and hit into two double plays.

“He’s a tough kid,” said manager Kevin Randel. “We gave him (Friday) off and got him back in there. He was solid tonight, maybe more in his comfort zone at second base.”

After the BlueClaws cut a run off the lead, the Hoppers added two more in the seventh inning off Alejandro Arteaga. Taylor Munden’s single scored Anfernee Seymour, who had singled and stolen second base. Naylor’s double to deep left-center drove in Munden.

“I got a fastball there and I thought that one might be out,” Naylor said. “I had seen him (Arteaga) before, too, so I was used to what he was throwing.

“We’ve started hitting as a team now. Our situational hitting is better and it’s contagious. We’re getting some wins.”

Randel said Naylor is seeing the ball well and is under control at the plate.

“I think he’s getting used to playing every day,” Randel said. “There’s more to this than just a 7 o’clock game. He’s getting on the right schedule.”

Seymour had two hits, stole two bases and scored twice, providing the kind of distraction on the bases that Randel wants.

“As he goes, we go, and we’ve seen that the last couple of nights,” Randel said.

Poteet set the tone on the mound, battling through his five innings. He never retired the side in order, giving up five hits and hitting a batter, but he didn’t walk anyone and struck out eight.

The Hoppers made a fine defensive play behind him in the third inning. After Greensboro native Josh Tobias was hit by a pitch, Wilson Garcia doubled into the right field corner. Tobias tried to score on the play, but Isael Soto got the the ball and relayed it to Cabrera, whose throw to catcher Roy Morales beat the head-first slide of Tobias.

“It was a great team win and it felt good to pick up my first professional win,” he said. “It seemed if I got the first two batters, there was always a baserunner and I pitched out of the stretch.

“I throw four pitches — fastball, curve, slider and changeup — and I used them all tonight. That’s the advantage of having that many pitches. The run support was good, but I always try to pitch like it’s 0-0.”

Poteet suffered a non-baseball injury to his pitching elbow last summer and only turned in 13 innings at Batavia. He rehabbed the rest of the summer.

“This is his introduction (to pro ball),” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He’s got a lot of weapons and is learning how to use all his pitches. He showed a glimpse of what he can be.”

NOTES: Tobias was held in check, going 0-for-3, although he reached base twice … Following Friday’s 15-hit outburst, the Hoppers added 11 more hits Saturday and nudged their team average to .205, the first time all season over the Mendoza Line … Greensboro stroked five doubles in the game — two by Naylor and one each from Cabrera, Angel Reyes and Soto … Outfielder Stone Garrett, the Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2015, joined the team and went 1-for-4. He didn’t break camp with the Hoppers because he was still rehabbing from off-season wrist surgery … The series concludes Sunday at 4 p.m. with Gabriel Castellanos starting for the Hoppers.

Sullivan drives in four as Hoppers rally twice

April 22, 2016

Maybe it was the rainy weather. Or maybe the Hoppers were just way overdue.

Greensboro broke through a season’s worth of offensive frustration Friday night, rallying from two big deficits to beat Lakewood 10-9 at NewBridge Bank Park. The second part of the game was played in a steady rain that never got hard enough for an interruption.

Going into the game, the Hoppers’ season highs were seven runs and nine hits. On Friday, they pounded out 15 hits to go with their 10 runs. What was more impressive was the way they did it, coming back from 6-1 down and again from 9-5.

“We could easily have folded, just cashed it in,” said manager Kevin Randel. “But guys were having good at-bats and they were really pulling for each other.”

The trick now is to keep the momentum going and start stringing together some wins. The Hoppers are 6-10 (just 2-7 at home), and even with 15 hits their team batting average sits at .197. Center fielder Zach Sullivan, who drove in four runs, believes this game is a sign of things to come.

“It was really frustrating,” he said of the offensive funk, “but it was a matter of time until we broke out. We had quality at-bats tonight, we’ve been learning from our mistakes and we’ll keep the offense going.”

Sullivan looks like a different player from last year, and with good reason. He spent the off-season following the Miami Marlins’ plan and wound up adding 17 pounds to his frame without losing any of his speed. The increased power is obvious.

In 2015, only 10 of Sullivan’s 71 hits were for extra bases — seven doubles and three triples but no homers. In the first 16 games of 2016, seven of his 11 hits have been for extra bases. His three-run homer in the seventh inning tied Friday’s game 9-9. It was his first pro homer since the two he hit in 2014 in the Gulf Coast League.

“I’ve been getting on my front foot,” he said, “so in early work today I wanted to make sure I stayed back and saw the ball in the middle of the plate. I got under that pitch a little and I wasn’t sure it was going out until I rounded first and saw the outfielder looking up. It’s a great feeling, especially in a game like this.”

Randel said Sullivan is more confident and “has a different look in his eyes. He goes up there ready to hit.”

He did that early on, driving a deep sacrifice fly to score the fourth run of a rally in the fifth inning that cut Lakewood’s 6-1 lead to 6-5. That was the ultimate small-ball rally. The Hoppers loaded the bases and scored on a hit by pitch, an infield out, an infield hit and Sullivan’s sacrifice fly.

After Sullivan’s three-run homer tied the game 9-9 in the seventh, Randel played small ball again in the bottom of the eighth. Josh Naylor led off with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice by Angel Reyes. With the BlueClaws’ infield in, Isael Soto slashed a single past the shortstop to score Naylor with the go-ahead run.

There was a lot for Randel to like about the offense. Leadoff hitter Anfernee Seymour had three hits and walk. Naylor had a pair of doubles. Soto, just off the disabled list, had a triple, single and scored twice. Kyle Barrett added two more hits.

“Seymour is huge for our team,” Randel said. “He causes chaos when he’s on the bases.”

The Hoppers’ pitching was shaky in the first six innings. Starter Justin Jacome surrendered three home runs and reliever L.J. Brewster was tagged for three runs in one inning. But Ben Holmes put zeroes on the board in the seventh and eighth innings and C.J. Robinson struck out the side in the ninth to earn his third save.

“Those two guys are as good as anyone we have for pitchability,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “We try to get to them at the back end of our bullpen.

“C.J. has relaxed into the closer’s role. He’s been a middle relief guy and we want to see him pitch important innings. We think he’s turned that corner.”

Perhaps the most important out of the night came in the eighth inning. Josh Tobias, the Greensboro native who already had three hits and four RBIs, smashed a hard one-hopper to Naylor at first base. Naylor fumbled it momentarily but recovered and made the putout

Tobias, a switch hitter, finished 3-for-5 for the night. Batting right-handed against Jacome, he hit a two-run homer to right field. Hitting lefty against Brewster, he laced a two-run double down the third-base line. In six games against the Hoppers this season, Tobias is 13-for-23 with 11 RBIs and five runs scored.

The series continues Saturday at 7 p.m. with Cody Poteet on the mound for the Hoppers. N.C. State and N.C. A&T will play a game starting at 1 p.m.

Tobias returns home and torments Hoppers

April 21, 2016

There actually was a Greensboro highlight Thursday night at NewBridge Bank Park.

It’s just that it came in the form of Josh Tobias, a Greensboro native, who had two hits and three RBIs as the Lakewood BlueClaws drubbed the Hoppers 10-3.

Tobias, a graduate of Southeast Guilford High School, had a single that drove in one run and a double that drove in two more as Lakewood opened up a 6-0 lead after four innings and coasted from there.

“I had about 20 people here,” he said of his contingent in the stands. “It was exciting to play in front of my friends and family in my home town. Not too many players get to do that after they leave high school.”

After leaving Southeast, Tobias played four years at Florida and was drafted in the 10th round last summer by Philadelphia. At age 23, he needs to accelerate rapidly through the Phillies’ system.

After his 2-for-5 night off Hoppers pitching, Tobias’ batting average stands at .358, sixth in the South Atlantic League. He said the competition has been about what he expected. The pitchers throw harder than he the ones he faced in college, but so far it’s nothing he hasn’t handled.

“I keep a simple plan,” he said. “Hit the ball hard and, in the field, slow it down and make the plays. I want to help my team win any way possible.”

There haven’t been been wins so far — The BlueClaws are just 3-12 after beating the Hoppers. But there are still 125 games to play and Tobias said he wasn’t worried about the slow start.

The loss was the Hoppers’ third straight and dropped them to 5-10 on the season, including 1-7 at home. This was one of their worst performances, with the two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning merely cosmetic.

Taylor Munden had three hits, including a home run that was not only his first of the year, but the first by the team all season. Alex Fernandez added three more hits.

NOTES: Chuck Weaver took the loss for the Hoppers … Rony Cabrera had a pair of errors at shortstop … Shane Watson picked up the win for Lakewood, throwing seven innings and striking out eight … Shortstop Emmanuel Marrero, the No. 9 hitter in the BlueClaws’ lineup, went 4-for-4 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored … Hoppers catcher Rodrigo Vigil, who suffered a broken right hand on a foul tip durng the road trip, had surgery and could return later this season … The teams meet again Friday at 7 p.m., with Justin Jacome starting for Greensboro.

Losing streak magnifies Hoppers’ mistakes

April 13, 2016

Although Opening Day was just a week ago, it seems much longer than that for the Grasshoppers.

Time slows down when a team is in a losing streak. All the excitement and momentum of the 3-2 win over West Virginia has long since faded. The Hoppers have played six games since the opener and lost all six. The latest in the string came Wednesday, when they bowed to the Hickory Crawdads 5-2. The energy and enthusiasm of the sixth-graders on School Kids Day didn’t carry over to the Hoppers’ performance.

After the game, which began at 10:45 a.m., the team boarded buses for a long ride to Lakewood, N.J., to begin the first road trip of the season. The Hoppers will visit the BlueClaws for four games, swing down to Delmarva for three more and return home April 21.

“Hopefully we got this out of our system,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Everybody goes through a six-game skid. It’s just magnified when it’s at the beginning of the season.”

The Hoppers closed their home stand with just 13 runs and 38 hits, none of them home runs. Runners in scoring position, scarce as they were, usually were stranded. When Zach Sullivan doubled in a run in the second inning, it was Greensboro’s first hit with two outs and a runner in scoring position in 21 tries.

“When you don’t get runners home, that’s magnified because our opportunities have been so slim,” Randel said.

On Wednesday the Hoppers stranded runners on third base in the second inning, second and third in the fourth inning and third base in the sixth inning. In addition, Anfernee Seymour was thrown out at home plate in the fifth inning.

On that play Seymour was on first base when Angel Reyes ripped a double into the left fielder corner. With Seymour, the team’s fastest runner, in full stride, Randel took a chance and waved him home, forcing the Crawdads to make a perfect play.

And that’s exactly what they did. Left fielder Darius Day played the ball off the wall with his bare hand and fired an excellent relay throw to shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri, who was about 10 feet behind third base. Yrizarri pivoted and, with his strong arm, rifled a throw to catcher Chuck Moorman, who slapped the tag on the sliding Seymour for the third out.

Teams that are 6-1 like Hickory make those plays; teams that are 1-6 like the Hoppers don’t.

Sullivan had a good day with his RBI double and a triple that led to the second run on Rony Cabrera’s groundout. That sliced Hickory’s lead to 3-2, but reliever Ben Meyer gave up single runs in the eighth and ninth to squelch any chances of a rally.

Rodrigo Vigil had two hits, including a double, for the Hoppers and is 6-for-14 this season.

Starter Cody Poteet, not as sharp as he was in his first start, took the loss, tagged for three runs in 4 1/3 innings.

NOTES: Outfielder Isael Soto was placed on the disabled list (tendinitis) and replacement Jhonny Santos had a fine game. Santos walked twice, got a hit and laid down a nice sacrifice bunt, officially going 1-for-1 … Dylan Moore hit a solo home run for Hickory … Brett Martin picked up and win and Jeffrey Springs got the save … Gabriel Castellanos will start the Hoppers’ road game Thursday in Lakewood.

Hoppers fall short to Crawdads 5-4

April 12, 2016

There were signs of improvement for the Hoppers Tuesday night, but not enough to translate into a win.

Hickory handed Greensboro its fifth straight defeat, 5-4 at NewBridge Bank Park. The four runs were the most the Hoppers have scored in a game this young season.

“We put some runs on the board and finally got a hit with runners in scoring position,” said manager Kevin Randel. “It’s not ideal, but we’re trusting the process.”

And the process is putting a lot of young players on the field and letting them develop. So far, that development has been slow in coming.

The Hoppers showed some spark by battling back from a 4-1 deficit to within 4-3 and cutting a 5-3 margin to 5-4. But,
as has been the norm in the early going, there were too many wasted opportunities.

In the first inning, Rony Cabrera drew a one-out walk and went to third on Josh Naylor’s single. Angel Reyes hit an apparent single to right field and Cabrera scored, but Naylor hesitated to see if the ball would be caught and wound up being thrown out at second base. That cost Reyes a hit (he still got credit for the RBI on the fielder’s choice) but cost the Hoppers an out and short-circuited the inning.

“It was an instinctual thing,” Randel said. “He waited to see what the right fielder would do and it ended up being a bad read.”

The sixth inning had a chance to be a big one. Zach Sullivan reached first on a dropped third strike, Anfernee Seymour singled and Cabrera walked to load the bases with no outs. Naylor singled in two runs, but the rally died there when Reyes, Goodman and Taylor Munden were all retired.

Cabrera got the team’s first triple of the season with one out in the eighth and scored on Naylor’s groundout but Reyes flied out to end the inning.

Naylor’s two hits and three RBIs were an encouraging sign, although there’s plenty of work to be done.

“He hasn’t driven a ball in the gap yet, which is something we’re waiting for,” Randel said.

Starting pitcher Justin Jacome didn’t have great stuff, allowing four hits in 3 2/3 innings, but he limited the damage to one run before leaving the game because of his pitch count. Nestor Bautista followed and retired the first five batters he faced. Then he gave up a double, single and three-run homer (to Tyler Sanchez) in a span of four pitches and suddenly a 1-1 game became a 4-1 Hickory lead in the sixth inning.

Bautista was tagged for a solo homer in the seventh by Eric Jenkins.

“That can happen,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He’s aggressive, pounds the strike zone and gets them to swing the bat. Sometimes the hitters pop up and sometimes they get the barrel on the ball.”

The series finishes Wednesday with a school kids’ game that begins at 10:45 a.m.

Hoppers continue to struggle on offense

April 10, 2016

One of the things that Kevin Randel wanted to learn from last season was patience.

And so far, the 2016 Hoppers are testing that patience.

Greensboro stayed in its offensive funk to start the season Sunday when it fell to West Virginia 3-1. It was the Power’s third straight win in the series after the Hoppers won the opening game.

The Hoppers finished the four games with a total of seven runs and 22 hits. They continued to be inept with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-9 Sunday after 2-for-12 Saturday.

So is it too early in the season to be frustrated?

“It’s borderline,” Randel said. “We just have to take it day-by-day and see how we rebound. If we can get good at driving in runners in scoring position, we’ll come out smelling like roses.

“We’re not getting the leadoff hitters on base (just twice Sunday) and that always makes it tough. That will be something important for us going forward.”

Randel said it’s natural for players to be pressing, especially early in the season. Every hitter wants to the one to break the logjam, and so far no one has been able to do that. Failure has come throughout the lineup.

There were several opportunities against the Power Sunday, starting with the first inning. With two outs, Josh Naylor singled and Angel Reyes followed with an infield hit. Both moved up on a passed ball. But Korey Dunbar struck out swinging to strand both runners. Scoring early might have changed the tone of the game.

In the fifth, Kris Goodman reached on an error and Kyle Barrett got an infield hit. Anfernee Seymour followed with a walk to load the bases with one out. The threat ended abruptly when Rony Cabrera hit into a double play.

Dunbar singled to lead off the ninth and Isael Soto walked. Alex Fernandez took a called third strike but Kris Goodman walked to load the bases with one out. Barrett managed a sacrifice fly, a run the Power conceded, and Seymour flied out to end the game.

Pitching continued to be a bright spot. Although starter Kevin Guzman was only so-so, giving up four hits and three runs (one earned) in 4 2/3 innings, the relief pitchers were sharp. Ben Holmes pitched shutout ball in his 3 1/3 inning stint and Andy Beltre pitched a scoreless ninth.

“Guzman was in and out of trouble,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He’s a strike-thrower who pitches off his fastball and makes them swing the bat.

“Holmes was really good. His velocity is up a tick this year and he throws strikes. He knows what he’s doing out there. Beltre has been out two years after surgery and it was good to see him settle in (after an uneven inning Friday).”

Hickory, which won three of its first four games, opens a three-game series at NewBridge Bank Park Monday at 7 p.m. Chuck Weaver, signed out of an independent league last summer, will start for the Hoppers. Sagara said Weaver pounds the strike zone and is “a winning type player who can settle a rotation.”

Power chills the Hoppers with big inning

April 9, 2016

The Hoppers run a promotion called “Christmas In July” but not one called “Winter In April.”

Yet those were the teeth-chattering conditions at NewBridge Bank Park Saturday night. Blankets, gloves and winter coats with hoods were the order of the evening when the weather was more suited for a northern state. Sure enough, one fan who was obviously no stranger to the cold and wind sported a Green Bay Packers jacket.

Nevertheless, there was a baseball game to be played, and the Hoppers and West Virginia Power battled through it the best they could. It was 42 degrees when the game started at 7 o’clock, 40 by the second inning, 38 in the fourth inning and 37 when things ended.

A scoreless pitchers’ duel for six innings, the game came apart for the Hoppers in the top of the eighth when the Power scored seven runs and went on to win 8-2.

“You just have to deal with it,” manager Kevin Randel said of conditions in which no one was eager to play. “It was just for one night. Things will get warmer and the next thing you know it will be summer.”

Although the Hoppers are 1-2 to open the season, Randel said the bright spot has been the starting pitching. Gabriel Castellanos continued the string of strong starts with five shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out four. He, Justin Jacome and Cody Poteet have thrown 15 innings (starters are limited to five innings early in the season) and allowed only two runs.

Pitching coach Brendan Sagara said pitchers not used to cold weather can lose their feel for the baseball. It can feel slick, causing trouble with breaking balls in particular. But that was no problem for Castellanos, a native of the Dominican Republic. He set a good tempo, attacked hitters and retired the last nine batters he faced.

“He was completely in control,” Sagara said of the left-hander. “He can be really tough when he throws pitches where he wants to.”

Scott Squier was the second pitcher in and kept things going by setting down the first five batters he faced before yielding a solo home run in the seventh inning. He got the first out in the eighth and should have had a second out. But right fielder Isael Soto broke back on a high fly and then came in on it but let the ball drop for a two-base error.

“It was a lack of focus,” Randel said. “You have to overcome a silly mistake like that.”

Instead, Squier walked the next batter, gave up an RBI double and issued another walk to load the bases. C.J. Robinson, a reliable reliever in 2015, entered the game and surrendered two singles and a three-run homer that put the game out of reach.

“Squier lost control of his emotions after the error,” Sagara said. “His stuff is good and he has good fastball command. He needs to keep himself under control.

“We wanted to test C.J. with runners on base in the later innings. For him it’s about controlling the moment. You saw what he can do in the ninth inning (when he retired the side in order).”

On offense, after getting just six hits in the first two games, the Hoppers pounded out nine Saturday. Anfernee Seymour had three of them, including an RBI single in the seventh that drove in both runs. Rony Cabrera added two more hits.

But the Hoppers wasted some scoring opportunities and were just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

The season-opening series wraps up at 4 p.m. Sunday with a forecast of 61 degrees and much lighter wind. Kevin Guzman will start for Greensboro.

Hoppers’ offense stifled by West Virginia

April 8, 2016

Having won their season opener with just three hits on Thursday, the Hoppers tried it again Friday.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.

West Virginia hung a 5-1 loss on Greensboro, breaking open a tight game with four runs in the top of the 12th inning. For the second straight game, the Hoppers were held to three hits. They went 3-for-40 Friday and are 6-for-66 in two games to start the season.

“Lackluster,” was how manager Kevin Randel described the anemic start by the offense. “We’ve got to get the guys at the top of the order going and we’ll be all right.”

Anfernee Seymour, Rony Cabrera and Josh Naylor, the first three hitters, each went 0-for-5. Down in the lineup, Isael Soto and Korey Dunbar were also 0-for-5 and Taylor Munden was 0-for-4.

Power starter Logan Sendelbach set the tone by retiring all 15 hitters he faced in the first five innings. The only hard-hit ball was by Cabrera, whose deep fly to left field was caught on the warning track.

“We couldn’t get a rhythm going,” Randel said. “He (Sendelbach) commanded the fastball well and got ahead of our hitters.”

Kyle Barrett got Greensboro’s first hit, an infield single, off Tanner Anderson in the sixth inning.

Fortunately, the Hoppers’ pitching kept them in the game. Starter Cody Poteet threw five innings and allowed two hits, one of them a homer by Casey Hughston in the second inning. After that, Poteet, Nestor Bautista, Andy Beltre and Ben Meyer put up nine scoreless innings.

“Poteet wasn’t at his sharpest,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara, “but he always finds a way to compete. He took what he had tonight and used it. He’s got talent and willpower, two important ingredients.”

The Power broke through with two outs in the 12th. The big blow was a bases-loaded double by Tito Polo that scored three runs. Hoppers pitchers had worked out of several jams with runners in scoring position but L.J. Brewster, the fifth pitcher, gave up the decisive hit.

“They kept putting pressure on us,” Randel said, “and sooner or later the ball will find a hole.”

The Hoppers threatened in the bottom of the eighth when Barrett reached on a fielder’s choice and Zach Sullivan doubled to left field. Hughston got to the ball quickly, which forced Randel to hold Barrett at third.

“The ball took one hop and hit the wall and (Hughston) fielded it cleanly,” Randel said. “When I saw that, I knew there was no chance (to score Barrett).”

Seymour tried to bunt a run home, which he did on his own, but angled it too much toward the pitcher, who threw him out to end the inning.

In the ninth, the Hoppers managed a run when Naylor reached on an error, went to third on a double by Angel Reyes and scored on Soto’s groundout to short. That tied it 1-1, but Dunbar grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning and the Hoppers never threatened in extra innings.

Gabriel Castellanos will start the third game of the series for Greensboro at 7 p.m. Saturday at NewBridge Bank Park.

Naylor finds a way to contribute in the clutch

April 7, 2016

All Josh Naylor wanted to do was find a way to contribute.

Greensboro’s young first baseman had gone hitless in his first three at-bats Thursday night. But in the bottom of the eighth inning in the season opener against West Virginia, he came through in the clutch. His RBI double tied the game and a moment later he scored the go-ahead run. Steven Farnworth nailed down the save in the top of the ninth and the Hoppers came away with a 3-2 win before a crowd of 6,203 at NewBridge Bank Park to start the 2016 season.

It was an odd game in many respects. The Hoppers managed just three hits and committed three errors, usually not a winning formula. But stout pitching and just enough good defensive plays carried them through.

“I’ll take those every night,” Randel said of the close victory. “I love those dramatic finishes where you’re spent after the game.”

Naylor had a quiet night, grounding out and striking out twice, until he came up in the eighth with the Hoppers down 2-1. Aaron Blanton had worked a two-out walk off Power left-hander Cesilio Pimentol. Naylor, a left-handed hitter, crushed the first pitch to right field. West Virginia’s Ryan Nagle seemingly had it lined up, then jumped as the rising line drive flew over his head to the fence.

As Blanton rounded third, the Power made a play at the plate but the throw was high and wide and Blanton scored to tie the game. Just as important, Naylor had the presence of mind to take third base on the throw.

Greensboro’s Angel Reyes hit a grounder to Power shortstop Alberto Reyes, whose throw to first was high. Angel Reyes reached safely on the error, then fell down and was tagged out to end the inning. But Naylor had already crossed home plate, so his run counted to give the Hoppers the lead.

“I wasn’t sure it counted,” Naylor said, “but everyone told me it did. It changed the whole momentum. I needed to find a way to contribute. I see left-handers well and I got a fastball high.”

The play happened so fast and the inning ended so abruptly that Randel wasn’t sure Farnworth was ready to come in. And the closer was immediately greeted with a single by Carlos Munoz. He regrouped to get a flyout but a stolen base put the tying run in scoring position.

But Farnworth struck out Nagle for the second out. then got Christian Kelley to ground out to end the game. There was a bit of irony in that because Kelley was the catcher when Farnworth pitched at Cal Poly-Pomona.

“That was weird to be facing my college catcher,” he said. “I tried my hardest not to look at him.”

The ability to shut out distractions is Farnworth’s demeanor, however.

“He has ice in his veins,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He simmers inside but he’s very calm and keeps it under control.”

The secret for Farnworth is repetition.

“You can’t let baserunners bother you,” he said. “And when one gets in scoring position, my focus intensifies.”

The eight innings leading up to Farnworth were well-pitched. Starter Justin Jacome allowed two hits and one run, a homer by Tito Polo off his shoetops, in five innings. Ben Holmes pitched two innings, giving up an unearned run, and CJ Robinson pitched the eighth and wound up with the win.

Holmes and Robinson are both veterans of the 2015 team. Sagara explained that he wanted the first two pitchers out of the bullpen to be ones who had been through the South Atlantic League. Their experience paid off because they stranded several runners despite allowing a combined five hits and a walk.

Jacome’s start was the best part of the game for Randel.

“Him going five strong (innings) got the season started off right,” Randel said. “That’s what I want our starters to do.”

Jacome said his fastball location wasn’t as good as he wanted but his slider and changeup were working well.

“The home run was on a slider that I thought was a good pitch,” he said. “This was a good team win and it gets the season rolling.”

The most important defensive play came in the top of the eighth with one out. Polo laced a triple to right center, his third hit of the game. When Isael Soto slipped, center fielder Zach Sullivan backed up the play and fired the ball to second baseman Rony Cabrera. When Cabrera bobbled the throw, Power manager Brian Esposito waved Polo home.

Cabrera uncorked a perfect throw to catcher Rodrigo Vigil, who stood at the plate waiting. Polo tried to vault over him but Vigil made the tag for the out to save a run.

The teams play the second game of the series tonight at 7 o’clock. Cody Poteet will start for the Hoppers.

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