Paddack’s debut strong in Hoppers’ 11-4 win

May 25, 2016

Chris Paddack made up for lost time Wednesday afternoon.

The 20-year-old right-hander breezed through four innings in his debut to set the tone for the Hoppers’ 11-4 pounding of Delmarva in NewBridge Bank Park.

Paddack was scheduled to start the season in Greensboro but was held back in extended spring training with a sore shoulder. So he was more than eager to get his own season underway.

“I was amped up,” he said after posted nine strikeouts in his four-inning stint. “I was really mentally prepared and my body was prepared. I feel pretty close to these guys and I was sad that I couldn’t break camp with them.”

Paddack knew he would be on a strict pitch count (between 65-70) and likely wouldn’t be able to throw the five innings necessary to be eligible for the win. But not getting the win didn’t matter. He stymied the Shorebirds with his fastball and kept them off-balance with his changeup.

“I think my changeup is what separates me from other fastball pitchers,” he said. “I throw it whether I’m ahead or down in the count. It speeds up my fastball and makes me a strikeout pitcher.”

Paddack gave up two hits, including a solo home run, and one walk. Of the 15 batters he faced, only five put the ball in play.

“I thought he did a great job of being fearless,” said manager Kevin Randel. “He has a great head on his shoulders and never let the pressure mount on him.”

It also helped that the Hoppers’ offense put up five runs in the second inning, which would be enough to win. They went on to score six add-on runs during the game.

Pitching coach Brendan Sagara said the Marlins have high expectations for Paddack, drafted in the eighth round out of high school last summer.

“The nine strikeouts were unexpected,” Sagara. “He’s a young kid in his first game (at this level) and he controlled his nerves. I’m real proud of him.”

Paddack, Gabriel Castellanos and Kyle Keller combined for 17 strikeouts. The Shorebirds did hit three homers, but none came with men on base. Castellanos was the pitcher of record and picked up his third win.

It was Castellanos’ normal turn to start and he struggled out of the bullpen. In 3 2/3 innings he gave up five hits, four walks and three runs, including a pair of homers.

“It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty,” Sagara said, “but he fought tooth and nail and didn’t get down on himself. He gutted his way through it and was rewarded with the victory.”

There were two examples of what Sagara meant. In the fifth inning, with two runs already in and runners at the corners, Castellanos picked off D.J. Stewart on first base for the third out. The Shorebirds’ heavy hitter, Yermin Mercedes was at bat with the score down to 6-3, so that meant Mercedes led off the next inning instead of batting with a runner in scoring position.

In the seventh, Castellanos gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with Mercedes, the league’s second-best hitter at .357, up again. Castellanos induced a ground ball to Blanton at third, who made a nice stop and throw to get Mercedes and retire the side.

After Castellanos hit a batter with two outs in the eighth, Keller entered and got a strikeout to end the inning, then retired the Shorebirds in order in the ninth.

The Hoppers’ offense pounded out 10 hits, seven for extra bases. Anfernee Seymour had two triples and two RBIs and Isael Soto added two doubles. Stone Garrett, Justin Twine and Blanton added doubles, with Blanton’s driving in two runs.

Even when the Hoppers didn’t get base hits, they got RBIs. Blanton, Garrett and Kyle Barrett all drove in runs with groundouts and Soto had a sacrifice fly.

After taking a 5-1 loss Tuesday night when the Hoppers played flat, Randel was enthused with the way they responded.

“That’s about as good as it gets,” he said. “The intent, the energy and the effort were outstanding. I like the way the hitters were fast out of the box and looking to get to second base on those doubles.”

The win meant the Hoppers took two out of three and won their third straight series. They completed a 6-1 home stand, their best of the season, and have won nine of 10 overall.

Randel stayed in the dugout and continued to let Jose Ceballos coach at third base, where he has posted a 10-3 record. Randel said he hasn’t decided whether to return to the field for the road trip. It starts at Hickory for the first of four games Thursday night, and continues at Lexington for three games.

NOTES: Room was created on the roster for Keller when Scott Squier (back strain) was placed on the seven-day Dl … Catcher Roy Morales returned from the temporary inactive list (death in the family) and infielder Giovanny Alfonzo went on the DL (left foot contusion).

Shorebirds stop Hoppers streak with 5-1 win

May 24, 2016

The Hoppers may find out something about themselves Wednesday.

The club had its eight-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night when the Delmarva Shorebirds coasted to a 5-1 victory. The teams play the rubber match to decide the series Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. at NewBridge Bank Park. The quick turnaround could be an asset, not leaving the Hoppers much time to dwell on this one.

“I hope we respond well and don’t have a hangover (from this game),” said manager Kevin Randel.

The eight-game streak winds up as the third longest in the Hoppers’ history, now in its 12th year. The 2014 team under David Berg won 10 straight to close out the first half, clinching a playoff berth in the final game.

The 2011 team under Andy Haines had two nine-game winning streaks, one in each half, and ultimately won the South Atlantic League championship. Randel was the hitting coach then and remembers it well.

“Guys were playing so loose,” he said. “Even if we kicked it around, the pitching or the offense would pick us up. It was fun to watch.”

The 2007 team, managed by Edwin Rodriguez, also won nine straight.

These players didn’t know about any of those streaks, but even if they had it wouldn’t have mattered. Left-hander Brian Gonzalez stifled the Hoppers on two hits through six innings, striking out 10. Reliever Ryan Meisinger closed things out with a three-inning save, allowing two hits and striking out five more to run the Hoppers’ total to 15 punch-outs for the night.

There was very little traffic for third-base coach Jose Ceballos, who saw only six baserunners all game. Stone Garrett’s triple scored Aaron Blanton in the third inning. Angel Reyes had a double and a single and Josh Naylor singled and that was the extent of the offense.

Gonzalez beat the Hoppers for the second time this year — he also lost a 1-0 game to them — and used his curve ball effectively, working ahead in the count and dropping it in for strike three. Sixty of his 93 pitches were strikes.

“He’s got our number,” Randel said of Gonzalez, “both this year and last year.”

Meanwhile, Hoppers starter Brett Lilek was out of sync from the start. He gave up four hits and three walks and hit a batter and didn’t make it out of the third inning. Jose Quijada and Ben Meyer pitched six innings of relief, allowing just one run.

A side effect of Lilek’s short start was that the Hoppers had to use closer C.J. Robinson in a game they didn’t want to.

“We had to use one more arm than we wanted,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “Quijada and Meyer both went as far as they could. Quijada was tremendous for his first time under the lights.”

Newcomer Chris Paddack, a 20-year-old right-hander, will make his first start Wednesday for the Hoppers. He was drafted in the eighth round out of high school last year and pitched in the Gulf Coast League, going 4-3 with a 2.18 ERA.

Tissenbaum, Naylor slug Hoppers to 8th straight

May 23, 2016

There was no promotion for “O Canada Night” at NewBridge Bank Park Monday, but it turned into one thanks to Maxx Tissenbaum and Josh Naylor.

The two Canadian-born players combined for three home runs and seven RBIs to propel the Hoppers to their eighth straight win, a 9-2 pummeling of the Delmarva Shorebirds.

Tissenbaum got things started with a grand slam homer in the bottom of the first inning and the Hoppers never looked back. Naylor hit a towering two-run shot in the fifth inning and a line drive solo blast in the seventh.

Tissenbaum, from Toronto, is in his fifth season of minor league baseball, having played the last two seasons with Port Charlotte in the Florida State League. The Marlins drafted him from the Tampa Bay organization to add some catching depth.

“I was excited to join the Marlins,” Tissenbaum said. “It’s nice to have a new opportunity and a new set of eyes on you every day. Somebody saw something in you and wanted you.”

Delmarva starter Francisco Jimenez, facing the Hoppers for the third time this season, walked two batters and hit another sandwiched around two outs in the first inning. Tissenbaum made him pay for his erratic pitching, belting a 1-and-2 fastball over the right field fence.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a grand slam before,” he said. “If I had, I’d probably remember it. He threw a fastball that got a little more of the plate than he intended. It was a good pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it. I thought it was gone because the ball flies well in the gaps here.”

That would be all the runs the Hoppers needed, but the offense wasn’t through. It added a run in the fourth on Zach Sullivan’s sacrifice fly and two more on Naylor’s first homer.

“He (Jimenez) hadn’t given me much when I faced him before,” Naylor said, the Marlins’ No. 1 draft pick last summer. “I was just hoping for a good pitch and he left a fastball up. It felt good off the bat.”

Tissenbaum said everyone walked to the front of the dugout to watch that homer, which went as high as the scoreboard, crossed Eugene Street and landed near a crane in the construction site.

“That’s one of the biggest home runs I’ve ever seen,” Tissenbaum said. “It was something special.”

Naylor said the second homer, off a hanging curve from reliever Jay Flaa, also felt good. That was a hard liner into the right field netting. The homers boosted his season total to six and his RBI count to 29.

Naylor has been playing with a sore right foot after he fouled a pitch off his ankle a couple of days ago. He kept playing, getting a bit of a break by serving as the DH n one game, but he was back at first base Monday.

“I’m Canadian, so I’ll play through anything,” Naylor said with a smile. “I just want to play hard for my team.”

The age difference — Naylor is 18, Tissenbaum is 24 — has meant the two never played against each other in Canada.

“I knew who he was when I was in college,” Tissenbaum said. “He was on the junior national team and I kept up with them.”

Tissenbaum gives the Hoppers a veteran presence in a clubhouse of young players.

“I can help with things on and off the field,” he said. “Sometimes if a guy gets down on himself, I can see the bigger picture.”

Almost lost in the home run derby were the six shutout innings from Cody Poteet. He gave up three hits and walked three, earning his second win of the season. Ben Holmes pitched the final three innings, giving up a pair of solo homers, for his first save.

“Cody mixed everything up,” Tissenbaum said, “and he executed pitches when he needed to even though he didn’t have his best stuff.”

Poteet said The big early lead didn’t change the way he approached the game.

“I always try to pitch like it’s 0-0,” he said. “But a big lead gives the team energy. It would be easy to relax and sit back, but they guys stayed in attack mode.”

In addition to being the Hoppers’ eighth straight win, it was also their fifth straight victory at home. They struggled at NewBridge early in the season but have pulled their home record to 11-12.

“We didn’t hit early and got out of the gate slow,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Now we’re playing loose and relaxed. I like what we’re doing at home. Things just didn’t bounce our way early.”

The teams play again Tuesday at 7 p.m. with Brett Lilek starting for the Hoppers.

NOTES: The eight-game winning streak has come with Jose Ceballos doing the coaching at third base … Anfernee Seymour picked up an RBI when his ground ball up the middle hit the second base bag and kicked into center field to score Aaron Blanton … Blanton made three excellent plays at third base, twice backhanding hot shots and making strong throws and once moving to his left to stab a grounder, then spinning and throwing to second base to start a double play … Justin Twine ranged far to his left at second base to grab a grounder on the outfield grass and throw out the runner.

Hoppers run winning streak to seven

May 22, 2016

Baseball can be broken down into simple terms when a team is playing well.

Here’s the way Hoppers outfielder Isael Soto described his two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning of the second game against Hagerstown Sunday.

“See the ball, hit the ball, don’t over-swing,” he said, with teammate Giovanny Alfonzo translating. “I wasn’t thinking home run. Just put the ball in play and try to do what I can to tie the game or put my team ahead.”

That homer helped Greensboro beat the Suns 2-1 and continue several startling streaks for the once-dormant Hoppers. It completed a double-header sweep, finished a four-game sweep of the Suns and extended the Hoppers’ winning streak to seven games.

“When work is fun, you look forward to going to work,” Soto said as the team looks forward to getting back on the field.

Having swept consecutive series (they took three from Kannapolis on the road before playing Hagerstown), the Hoppers open a three-game series against Delmarva. The first game is Monday at 7 p.m. at NewBridge Bank Park.

A constant throughout the streak has been outstanding pitching from both the starters and the bullpen. They held the Suns to seven runs in four games. In the last five games the Hoppers have given up only eight runs and in the last nine games they have surrendered just 16.

In that span, which includes eight wins, four starters have recorded wins (Jordan Holloway, Steven Farnworth, Gabriel Castellanos and Chuck Weaver) and the bullpen has four wins and six saves. Scott Squier has a win and two saves, Jeff Kinley two wins and C.J. Robinson four saves.

“Starting pitching sets the tone,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “They’ve been getting into good counts, have issued very few walks and have been getting great plays from the defense.”

In 14 innings pitched in the doubleheader, for example, four Hoppers pitchers allowed just one walk. As for the defense, it sparkled on several occasions Sunday. Alfonzo made a diving stop and throw at third base in the first game. Angel Reyes at first base made an excellent swipe tag on an errant throw in the second game. Left fielder Stone Garrett made a diving catch in the second game. Second baseman Justin Twine made a diving stop to his left followed by a good throw in the second game.

The offense did the kinds of things needed to win games. In the opener, Kyle Barrett had a sacrifice bunt that led to a run and a sacrifice fly. Alfonzo also had a sacrifice fly. Josh Naylor got a run home with a groundout, Korey Dunbar singled in a run and Zach Sullivan drove in another with a groundout.

Holloway pitched five innings to earn the win and Squier looked sharp in two innings for the save.

The second game was interrupted by a had a one-hour rain delay (rain plagued the entire series). But Weaver came back after the delay and was touched for a run in the top of the fifth. It was the only run he gave up in his stint. That run looked like it might be enough for the Suns, but in the sixth Naylor singled and Soto drilled his second homer of the year to right field.

“That was a big momentum swing,” said manager Kevin Randel. “It deflated their dugout.”

Kinley, who retired the side in order in the sixth did the same in the seventh to pick up the .

“We made some mechanical adjustments with him,” Sagara said. “Now he’s getting his arm out in front on his delivery.”

The win also elevated the Hoppers to 8-2 when Jose Ceballos coaches third base. Ceballos said he has done that in winter league ball in Venezuela, but this is better competition.

“I like it,” he said. “I’m learning about game situations. I’m more involved in the game and making decisions.”

Randel recalled the excitement he felt in 2011 when Hoppers manager Andy Haines gave him some opportunities to coach at third. And he doesn’t mind the view from the dugout.

“It’s a different vantage point,” Randel said. “I can talk to the hitters during the game, so there’s more communication.”

Farnworth helps Hoppers win 5th straight

May 21, 2016

When Hoppers pitcher Steven Farnworth got to NewBridge Bank Park Saturday, the game with Hagerstown was scheduled to start at 4:30.

At 8:11, he finally threw the first pitch. Things turned out to be worth the wait.

Farnworth delivered five solid innings and picked up his first victory as the Hoppers won their fifth straight game, beating the Suns 4-2.

He was supposed to pitch the first game of a double-header, but a gully-washer of a storm set everything back. Make that way back. By the time the tarp was pulled and the field prepared, the decision was made to play a single nine-inning game.

“I always felt we would play,” Farnworth said about the long wait. “I played cards with the guys (a game called Monopoly Deal) and tried not to sit down and get lazy. Once the game started I felt fine and was able to keep the same focus.”

Farnworth threw four shutout innings before allowing a run in the fifth. The Hoppers scored in the bottom of the fifth to take a 2-1 lead and make him eligible for the win. L.J. Brewster pitched two sharp innings and C.J. Robinson closed it out with two innings. Robinson surrendered a long home run to Victor Robles, the first batter he faced, then retired six of the next seven hitters to earn his eighth save.

Drafted in 2014 out of Cal-Poly Pomona, Farnworth was a starter in college. He became a closer at Batavia last season, saving 13 games in 14 chances. He began the season in that role with the Hoppers and recorded three saves before being inserted into the rotation. This was his fourth start.

“It’s like going back to my roots,” he said. “My arm has bounced back — it’s not as sore as it was after my first start.

“As a starter I can focus on my fastball and start hitters off with that. Tonight I was able to use it in and out, up and down, and mix in my off-speed stuff.”

Pitching coach Brendan Sagara said Farnworth “knows how to pitch. He’s always aggressive in the strike zone and he commands the fastball well with good secondary stuff.”

Brewster entered the game with a 9.87 ERA and had been tagged for a run in almost every appearance. After giving up an infield hit to start the sixth, he got a double play. He didn’t let an error both him, getting a groundout to end the inning. In the seventh, Stone Garrett’s diving catch in left field got the leadoff batter and Brewster struck out the next two hitters.

“With him it’s all about confidence,” Sagara said. “Tonight he had a good mindset and got good results early and that gave him more confidence for his second inning.”

The Hoppers picked up 11 hits, 10 of them singles. Garrett doubled and eventually scored a run in the fourth on a wild pitch. Isael Soto had a sacrifice fly in the fifth and an RBI double in the seventh, and Zach Sullivan drove in an insurance run with a two-out single in the eighth.

“Soto is swinging the bat great and playing good defense,” said manager Kevin Randel. “He’s a good player.”

The teams will play a double-header Sunday to finish the series. The first of two seven-inning games will start at 2 p.m.

NOTES: Jose Ceballos picked up his fifth straight win as the third base coach and is 6-2 since Randel moved him there … Justin Twine made an excellent defensive play at second base, leaping to snag a hot line drive and take a hit away from Kelvin Gutierrez in the fourth inning … Suns manager Patrick Anderson was ejected in the fifth for arguing a call after a rundown at third base, and Hoppers third baseman Aaron Blanton was tossed in the sixth for disagreeing with a call after a spectacular defensive play.

Seymour helps Hoppers stay on hot streak

May 19, 2016

Anfernee Seymour likes being a catalyst for the Hoppers.

That’s just what he was Thursday night, running the bases with abandon and helping the Hoppers beat the Hagerstown Suns 4-2 to open a four-game series at NewBridge Bank Park.

Hagerstown came into the game with a record of 26-12, best in the South Atlantic League, and a six-game winning streak. Now the Hoppers are officially the SAL’s hottest team with four wins in a row.

“We’re playing with a little more confidence right now,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Sometimes when you play a good team you play up to their level of competition.”

The Hoppers are still only 16-24, but they were dawdling at 12-24 before they swept Kannapolis and took game one from the Suns. Seymour said the players understand this is a developmental league, but at the same time their competitive natures take over.

“We just said ‘we’re tired of losing and let’s pick things up,'” he said.

In the early going, Seymour struggled at the plate but he’s beginning to come around. As the leadoff hitter, he understands his job is to get on base and make things happen.

“To be honest, it was tough on me,” he said. “I was feeling the pressure when I started slowly. But Kevin and the coaches and my teammates kept me going. Now I’m more relaxed out there. I’m bunting more, seeing more pitches. I was limiting myself and now I’m playing my game.

“I picture myself as a guy who gets on base and gets the team going. When I can do that, it’s going to be a good night.”

With the Hoppers trailing 2-1 in the third inning, Seymour led off with a single, stole second base on a pitchout and scored on a throwing error by the pitcher to tie the game. A sacrifice fly by Angel Reyes drove in the go-ahead run later in the inning.

“I didn’t even know it was a pitchout,” Seymour said. “I knew their pitcher was fast to the plate and I wanted to get a running start, so I just put my head down and ran.”

That 3-2 score held until the seventh. With Seymour on first after a fielder’s choice, Stone Garrett ripped a double into the left field corner. Third base coach Jose Ceballos never hesitated to wave the ultra-quick Seymour home and he scored standing up for an insurance run.

“I turned it on to score from first,” Seymour said. “Those add-on runs can help our pitchers late in a game.”

Seymour also made an outstanding defensive play at shortstop, backhanding a ball in the outfield grass and firing a one-hopper to first baseman Josh Naylor to beat the runner.

“I practice that,” he said of the throw. “If I can give Josh a low one-hop throw it’s easier for him to handle. I don’t want to take a chance that it will sail.”

There’s still plenty of work for Seymour to do. He’s hitting just .218, but when he gets on base the other team pays him plenty of attention.

“He’s the heartbeat of this team,” Randel said. “He creates havoc on the bases.”

The Hoppers backed their pitchers with three excellent defensive plays. In addition to Seymour’s, Zach Sullivan went higher than the fence in left field to pull down a potential extra-base hit and catcher Roy Morales laid out on a dive to snag a bunted foul popup.

Starter Gabriel Castellanos had an adventurous outing. He gave up runs in the first and second innings, worked out of jams in the third and fourth and retired the side in order in the fifth en route to earning his second win.

“It never hurts to be slippery,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara, who rejoined the team in Kannapolis after missing two weeks because of the death of his father. “It used to be in those situations that (Castellanos) would try to do too much. Now he takes it a pitch at a time.”

Ben Holmes followed with three scoreless innings and C.J. Robinson closed out the ninth for his seventh save in seven chances.

NOTES: The teams play the second game of the series at 7 p.m. Friday with Steven Farnworth starting for the Hoppers … Sullivan had three hits and an RBI … Ceballos has coached the last seven games at third base and is 5-2 in that stretch. Randel said that after a loss in Delmarva he decided to shake things up so he put himself in the dugout and Ceballos, who normally coaches first, at third. The change isn’t permanent, but Randel said he’ll stay with it as long as the team stays loose and plays well … The Suns have the sons of three former major-leaguers on their roster — first baseman Ryan Ripken (son of Cal Ripken), infielder Cody Dent (son of Bucky Dent) and relief pitcher Mariano Rivera III (son of the all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera, who played for the Greensboro Hornets in 1991 and 1993).

Hoppers win a wild one over Legends, 7-5

May 10, 2016

Strange things can happen with a ball park full of schoolkids.

The Hoppers provided all kinds of drama for the young fans Tuesday afternoon, resulting in a 7-5 win. They stuffed all seven runs into the bottom of the fifth inning.

Full confession — I wasn’t there to see it. But here’s how the inning was recapped.

With the Hoppers trailing 4-0, Aaron Blanton and Justin Twine opened the fifth inning with singles. After Korey Dunbar struck out, Zach Sullivan doubled to score Blanton. Anfernee Seymour bunted for a base hit but Twine held at third. Stone Garrett then fanned for the second out.

Then the craziness began. Josh Naylor’s ground ball to shortstop Marten Gasparini was booted for an error. Twine scored, Sullivan moved to third, Seymour advanced to second and Naylor was safe at first. Instead of being out of the inning with a 4-1 lead, the Legends faced three Hoppers on base with two outs and their lead cut to 4-2.

Angel Reyes singled in Sullivan and Seymour to tie the game, with Naylor advancing to third. With Isael Soto batting, the 6-foot, 220-pound Naylor stole home to put the Hoppers ahead 5-4. Soto singled to keep things going. After a pitching change, Blanton doubled in two runs to make it 7-4. Twine grounded out to end an inning in which 12 Hoppers went to the plate.

Lexington picked up a run in the top of the eighth to shave the lead to 7-5. In the ninth, Scott Squier relieved C.J. Robinson and promptly got into a heap of trouble, giving p a single, a walk and another single to the first three batters to load the bases.

But Squier regrouped and got Lexington’s Ben Johnson to strike out swinging. Then he induced Xavier Fernandez to hit a ground ball to second base. Twine field it, flipped to Rony Cabrera for one out and Cabrera’s relay to Naylor completed the double play and ended the game.

Ben Holmes, who relieved starter Jordan Holloway in the third inning, pitched 3 1/3 innings of one-hit relief and picked up his fourth win without a loss.

The Hoppers will take Wednesday off, then hit the road for four games at Delmarva and three at Kannapolis. They return to NewBridge Bank Park on Thursday, May 19, for a homestand against Hagerstown and Delmarva.

Hoppers fall short despite 12 hits, two homers

May 9, 2016

Even an old face in a new position couldn’t help the Hoppers Monday night.

Justin Twine, who played shortstop for the Hoppers last season, joined the team from extended spring training as a second baseman. He had been rehabbing an injured hamstring at the Marlins’ facility in Jupiter.

His presence in the lineup — he’ll be the everyday starter at second — wasn’t enough to help turn the Hoppers’ fortunes. Despite home runs from Stone Garrett and Angel Reyes, four hits from Anfernee Seymour and three more from Josh Naylor, the hoppers fell to Lexington 8-5.

The result dropped the Hoppers to 2-4 in this homestand and 5-12 at NewBridge Bank Park this season. They are 10-21 overall.

Twine had a rough outing. Hitting seventh, he went 0-for-4 and his flyout in the first inning left the bases loaded. In the field, he failed to take a sure out at first base on a ground ball and, instead, made an awkward toss to Seymour that was too late to get the runner. Lexington took advantage of that to score a run and take a 2-1 lead it never surrendered.

“He’s going to take his lumps under the lights for awhile,” Randel said, referring to the day games played in extended spring training. “He’s going to hit seventh until he can earn a spot in the top of the lineup.”

Twine, a second-round draft pick out of high school by the Marlins in 2014, struggled here last season, hitting .206. He did show some raw talent with 20 doubles, three triples, seven homers and 39 RBIs in 117 games. He has never played second base before.

“It’s different,” said Randel, who was an infielder himself. “It’s not as aggressive a position as shortstop. This is his first time over there and he had limited work in the spring. It’s not going to be easy coming back, but he gives us another athlete in the lineup.”

The Hoppers did not get good pitching this time out. Starter Chuck Weaver surrendered seven hits and four runs in five innings. L.J. Brewster was tagged for three runs in the sixth and another in the seventh as Lexington padded its lead to 8-2. Ben Meyer pitched two scoreless innings to finish.

The offense pounded out 12 hits, one of its best outputs of the season. Seymour had four, but nullified one by getting caught stealing. Naylor added three hits and scored twice.

Garrett hit a home run off the batters eye screen, some 410 feet, in the fifth inning. It was his third of the season. Reyes cracked his first, a two-run shot to left-center, in the seventh inning.

“That was impressive,” Randel said pf Garrett’s homer. “It was loud off the bat and he put a great swing on it. Reyes’ homer was a blast and went off the Wrangler sign, so he gets a pair of jeans.”

NOTES: Glenn Hubbard, who played second base for 10 years for the Atlanta Braves and was their third base coach for awhile, is the bench coach for Lexington and also coaches first base … The teams wrap up the series with a 10:45 a.m. schoolkids game Tuesday. Jordan Holloway will be the Hoppers’ starter.

Hoppers can’t sustain consistent offense

May 8, 2016

The Hoppers’ offense was gone with the wind Sunday.

After a promising start against Lexington, Greensboro was stymied by Legends pitching and wound up on the short end of a 3-2 score. The Hoppers scored twice and got four hits through the first three innings, then were shut out on one hit over the last six.

The Hoppers could not sustain any momentum from Saturday’s nine-run, 10-hit performance.

Legends left-hander Emilio Ogando settled down after a shaky start and threw four consecutive scoreless innings with his off-speed assortment.

“He took it to us when we should have been taking it to him the third time through the lineup,” said Hoppers manager Kevin Randel. “He got a lot of weak contact, weak grounders and fly balls.”

Angel Reyes drove in both Hopper runs with a groundout in the first and a double in the third. But after his double, the Hoppers didn’t get another hit until Rony Cabrera’s single in the bottom of the seventh.

They did mount a threat in the eighth against reliever Julio Pinto. Stone Garrett drew a leadoff walk and Josh Naylor popped out. Garrett was caught leaning the wrong way and was picked off for the second out. That proved costly because Reyes walked and Roy Morales was hit by a pitch. If Garrett had still been on base, the bases would have been loaded with one out. Instead, Aaron Blanton’s flyout ended the inning.

Randel said he didn’t have a problem with Naylor swinging at the first pitch and popping out, the second time he had done that during the game.

“That’s what he likes to do (swing at the first pitch) and you want to let the big fellow swing the bat,” Randel said. “I think the game situation got the best of him. He needs to be a little more disciplined and that will come with time and swinging at better pitches.”

Greensboro’s pitchers were solid. Steven Farnworth, in his second start since being moved from late relief, put up five innings and allowed two runs and six hits with no walks. He was efficient all day, throwing just 54 pitches. He is in the rotation for the time being to build up his innings so the Marlins can take a look at him in that role.

“He established his fastball down and in, got a lot of ground balls and forced some early swings,” said acting pitching coach Manny Olivera.

Jeff Kinley allowed one run in two innings and Scott Squier finished with two shutout innings.

With a stiff breeze blowing to right field, Kinley gave up a fly ball to Amalani Fukofuka in the sixth inning. The wind helped it along and the ball hit the top of the right field fence at the 327-foot marker and bounced over for a home run, which proved to be the difference in the game.

“He got hurt on a fastball over the plate on a windy day,” Randel said.

The teams play the third game of the series Monday at 7 p.m. Chuck Weaver draws the start for the Hoppers. Weaver has started four games and pitched out of the bullpen twice, with a record of 1-3 and a 1.46 ERA.

“He wants the ball in any role,” Olivera said.

Grand slam, two doubles get Blanton in the flow

May 7, 2016

Aaron Blanton gave himself a chance to relax Saturday night.

Mired in a 2-for-26 slump to begin the season, the Hoppers’ third baseman found his batting stroke against Lexington. He clubbed a grand slam homer in the first inning, added a double in the sixth and another double in the eighth to propel Greensboro to a 9-3 win over the Legends at NewBridge Bank Park.

“It feels good to get back in the flow,” he said. “I’ve been finding my swing again, mostly slowing everything down. This will start to relax me and help me fall into what I’m looking for. I felt comfortable.”

Just getting on the field is a big deal for Blanton. He played in 18 games with the Hoppers last season, hitting two homers and a triple, before breaking his wrist. He spent the next six months at the Marlins’ rehab facility in Jupiter. It was three months before he could pick up a bat.

He got ready for 2016 and, on opening night, injured his hamstring and was out for 18 days. When Blanton got back in the lineup, he couldn’t get anything going — until Saturday.

“He’s got the tools,” manager Kevin Randel said. “When he can slow things down, he’s a good player. Nights like this are going to help. He put a nice, easy swing on a pitcher’s mistake (for the homer) and all his swings were under control.”

The homer came off Legends starter Nolan Watson, drafted in the first round last summer by Kansas City. Blanton picked on a two-strike slider and drove it far over the left field fence.

“I felt I could read him pretty good,” Blanton said. “I didn’t watch it because (Randel) doesn’t want us to do that, but I knew I got it all.”

He used the field well, with the homer going to left, the first double to center and the second double to right field. He scored three runs. What Blanton wants to do now is use the momentum from this game to start playing consistently.

“I feel I can do my job at third base and help this team a lot,” he said.

Staked to the 4-0 lead, the Hoppers never looked back. Anfernee Seymour had two hits, including a two-run double. Stone Garrett added two hits and an RBI, Josh Naylor had two hits and an RBI and Kyle Barrett added the other RBI.

Gabriel Castellanos pitched four excellent innings but was robbed of a chance to get the win. He faced one batter in the top of the fifth inning when rain stopped play. When it resumed 43 minutes later, Kevin Guzman was on the mound. An error by Seymour helped the Legends to a three-run rally, but Guzman threw three shutout innings after that to earn the win. C.J. Robinson retired the side in order in the ninth.

The defensive play of the game — certainly the catch of the year so far — came in the top of the fourth inning. Lexington’s Ben Johnson drove a ball deep to center field to the right of the batter’s eye screen. Zach Sullivan sprinted back, leaped and pulled the ball down for the out. He was mobbed by his teammates on his way back to the dugout.

“He went in a straight line after the ball, elevated, gave full extension with his arm and went over the wall to bring the ball back,” Randel said.

Sullivan said that while his glove was higher than the top of the fence, he actually caught the ball as it was going over rather than pulling it back.

“I saw it good off the bat and got a good jump,” Sullivan said. “I lost it for a second and turned to see the fence. Once I knew where it was, I picked up the ball again and just played it right.”

And where did the catch rate on his personal list?

“That’s number one,” he said.

The teams continue the series Sunday with a game at 4 o’clock. Steven Farnworth, who began the season as the team’s closer, will start for the Hoppers.


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