Game Story 4/26/17: Third verse, same as the first – Rome completes sweep

Another day, same story. The Rome (Ga.) Braves took advantage of sloppy defensive early and never trailed during a 3-1 defeat of the Hickory Crawdads Wednesday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win completed a 6-1 road trip for the defending South Atlantic League champion Braves (14-6), who now return home to open a weekend series against West Virginia. Rome is now 11-2 away from home this season and has won 9 of the last 11 played at Hickory over the last two seasons.

Hickory (6-14) has lost four in a row and is now 2-8 at home, scoring a total of 22 runs.

 

What happened?:

The game turned out to be decided by the fifth batter of the game when the Braves scored two runs with the help of sloppy Crawdads defense. Anfernee Seymour singled to right to start the game. Derian Cruz then laid down a bunt in front of home plate. Catcher Ricky Valencia pounced to the ball, then overthrew first baseman Preston Scott, which allowed the runners to advance to second and third.

Kyle Cody (0-2) then got Tanner Murphy to fly out to shallow centerfield before inducing Juan Yepez to hit a dribbler up the first base line. Scott fielded the play, but misconnected on a soft toss to Cody covering first on the play, as Seymour scored the first run. Anthony Concepcion’s sacrifice fly to center made it 2-0.

Hickory got its only run of the game in the second inning. With one out, Valencia was hit by a pitch and Yanio Perez dropped a bloop single into short left. Scott’s fielder’s choice moved to Valencia to third, from where he scored when Yeyson Yrizarri chopped a grounder to shallow third. However, the Crawdads ran themselves out of the innings when Scott overran the bag at second and was caught in a rundown between second and third.

Ian Anderson (2-1) kept the Crawdads in check for the most part over his five innings on the mound. The right-hander allowed the lone run on three hits, two walks and struck out six.

Cody pitched into the sixth for Hickory and allowed just the two unearned runs on five hits, two walks and fanned two.

Rome added an insurance run against reliever Reid Anderson in the seventh when Randy Ventura doubled and scored one out later on Cruz’s single through a drawn-in infield.

A trio of Ian Anderson, Tucker Davidson and Brandon White combined for 13 strikeouts of Crawdads hitters, who put together just three runs on 16 hits over the three-game series.

 

Cody deserved better:

Firing at 95-96 early and dropping to 93 by the end of the outing, Cody kept the Braves shut down for the most part. The Seymour hit was a roller that found a hole and a Brett Cumberland dribbler was unable to be scooped up by Yanio Perez at third. He finished the game with 2 outs in the sixth (He should’ve finished the sixth but for a poor call by the umps on a checked-swing that turned into a single and then a four-pitch walk. Threw mostly changeups (it appeared, no speed gun) for secondaries, as well as a few sliders that missed bats. Finished with 88 pitches, of which 60 were strikes).

 

Doing too much:

Hickory ran out of a couple of innings early. In the first, Eric Jenkins walked then tried to advance to second when Franklin Rollin sliced a pop fly that Ventura caught just on the foul side of the line in right. Ventura made the catch and recorded the out when Jenkins slid past the bag at second.

On the Yrizarri dribbler in the second, Scott saw that third base was uncovered on the play. However, 20 feet from his trek at second, he realized a defender was nearer than believed and was eventually run down. It turned out to be the last time Hickory had two runners reach in an inning.

 

Prospect vs. Prospect

Ian Anderson (81) and Leody Taveras offered a top-100 prospect (MLB.com) matchup, of which Anderson won both. In the first, Anderson broke off a 1-2 curveball down that Taveras swung through. In the third, Anderson missed with a fastball low and away to the left-handed hitter. Then he proceeded to get Tavares to swing through a change and a fastball, before missing with a fastball in that Taveras grounded sharply to first.

Game Stories 4/25/17: Rome builds two in a day; Sweeps DH

The Rome (Ga.) Braves took the lead early in both games went on to sweep the Hickory Crawdads 2-1 and 4-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The wins pushed the Braves (13-6) to a 5-1 record during their current road trip and improved the road record to 10-2 for the season. Rome has won 8 of their last 10 games at L.P. Frans over the last two seasons. The Crawdads (6-13) have lost three straight and are now 2-7 at home, where they’ve scored 21 total runs.

The teams conclude the series on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

 

What happened?:

Game 1:

Rome took advantage of a rough start by Crawdads starter Jonathan Hernandez to get on the board in the first. Randy Ventura lined a single to center, moved to second on Derian Cruz’s sacrifice and then to third by Cristian Pasche’s single. Juan Yepez’s fly ball to left was deep enough to score Ventura, but Pasche was out on the play as he failed to retouch second on his way back to first.

The Braves added a run in the third. Lucas Herbert and Kurt Hoekstra singled back-to-back to start the inning. Ventura bunted into a strikeout (I still don’t get that one) and then one out later, Pache squeezed a grounder past the dive of Ti’Quan Forbes at third to score Herbert.

The Crawdads put five runners on over the first three innings, but Rome’s starter Jeremy Wilson (Gardner Webb Univ. product) faced only two over the minimum in that stretch. Eric Jenkins led off the first with a double, but was doubled off second on a sharp liner by Leody Taveras to short. Hickory loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Jose Almonte hit into a double play. Anderson Tejeda opened the third with a single, but was then caught stealing.

Hernandez (0-3) settled down and had his longest start of the season, going into the sixth. The Crawdads right-hander allowed just the two runs on eight hits – five of those in the first three innings – over 5.2 innings with six Ks and – more importantly – no walks.

Hickory finally scratched a run across in the seventh against Rome reliever Jon Kennedy. Ricky Valencia doubled and went to third on Yanio Perez’s single. Preston Scott whistled a sharp grounder up the middle through Kennedy’s legs, but the Braves were able to get an out at second while Valencia scored. Scott eventually stole second and third, but Almonte and Tejeda both struck out to end the game.

 

Game 2:

Hickory took its only lead of the doubleheader in the second inning when Yanio Perez hit his second homer of the season, a high fly ball to right after it appeared he was jammed.

However, Rome quickly and swiftly took the lead back in the third. Kevin Josephina lined a Tyler Phillips (1-1) 0-2 pitch to center and stole second. Ventura singled Josephina to third and then himself stole second. Anfernee Seymour singled in Josephina and advanced moved up to second. Ventura and Seymour scored on back-to-back grounders to make it 3-0.

The Braves added an unearned run in the sixth as a botched pickoff at first set up Seymour’s second RBI single of the game.

Hickory managed only three hits against starter Oriel Caicedo (4-0) over his five innings of work. Matt Custred gave up two hits and fanned two over his two-shutout innings for his first save of the season.

 

Jenkins returns:

Last year’s starting centerfielder Eric Jenkins played in his first game of the season with Hickory. In his first AB, he fell behind 0-2, the proceeded to spoil a couple of fastballs and spit on breaking balls off the plate to get the count full. The 8-pitch plate appearance ended when he turned on a fastball and shot it into the rightfield corner.

The second time up, he waved through a low breaking ball, but then recovered to work the count full before again turning on a fastball. Only this time, it was a liner to first. After 157 Ks last year, job one is to make contact to take advantage of his speed.

One thing of note to me was not that Jenkins played left in game one, but when Leody Taveras went into the DH role in game two, Jenkins did not play in center. It’s probably nothing, but it grabbed my curiosity.

 

Taking advantage of the advantage:

I’ll admit it. It’s frustrating to watch the lineup miss opportunities to cash in runs. It’s a young lineup, I know, but it feels like this team never feels like it has the advantage. When it has the opposing team against the wall, it feels like Hickory is standing by the wall with them.

In game one, Hickory had the starter Walker on the ropes in the second inning. Struggling with control, Walker loaded the bases after back-to-back, five-pitch walks with one out. A mound visit ensued after which Jose Almonte tried to pull a fastball away, which turned into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

From there, Hickory had just three more baserunners until the seventh. In that inning, Valencia doubled and Scott worked a walk out of an 0-2 count. Almonte fanned and then with Anderson Tejeda at the plate, Scott – the tying run – stole second and third. However, Tejeda went fence chasing and turned a 2-0 count into a full-count K and ended the ballgame.

It was more of the same in game two. Hickory was gifted an error and a hit batter in the fourth. However, a 2-0 count with runners at second and third turned into an Almonte K. Hickory had just one other baserunner the remainder of the night.

 

Hernandez night

Hernandez has struggled with fastball command so far this season and it was more of the same at the onset on Tuesday.

An 0-2 fastball was lined to center by Ventura to start the night. One out later, Hernandez went 3-1 to Pache before losing the battle on a fastball. He also struggled to get his change over the plate. But suddenly in the fourth, he found a groove with both pitches and with a slider mixed in, Hernandez began to take command. The most impressive AB was the fourth-inning sequence to Brett Cumberland. Facing last year’s Pac-12 home run champ, Hernandez got the left-handed hitter to chase a pair of changeups off the plate, then ran a fastball (93-96 mph on the night) in on the hands for the Ks.

His fate though was sealed in the third when .140 hitter Lucas Herbert lined a 2-0 fastball for a single and .182 Kurt Hoekstra fought back from 0-2 to also single. Later, Hernandez made a good pitch (low-and-in fastball) to Pache that needed 75 hops to find a hole through the left side of the infield.

 

That was… different:

Hickory got out of further damage in the first when on Yepez’s sacrifice fly to left, Pache went well past second and then on the return trip, cut through the inside cut of the grass near the second base bag. This wasn’t an attempt to cut a corner. He took the most direct route back to first.

After Herbert and Hoekstra singled in the third, Ventura (.368) was asked to bunt… not once… not twice… but on every pitch, including for strike three.

 

Phillips looking for the out-pitch:

Tyler Phillips used sinker/ change to get the Braves hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Four straight outs and a ground single stretched from the first through all the second inning. But in the third, Phillips couldn’t find a put-away pitch and eventually that put Phillips away. Josephine’s single was on 0-2. Ventura’s single was on 1-2. Seymour’s on 0-2… All on what looked to be off-speed pitches away to the left-handed hitters… All of whom used shortened swings to politely serve them into center and left. Phillips threw 39 pitches in the third before manager Spike Owen took him out.

 

Evans hurls the spheroid:

Listed at 6-4, 270, Demarcus Evans gassing it at 95 can be intimidating. He fanned five of the 14 hitters he faced Tuesday and for the season K’d 16 of 48. But, with two walks this evening he now has walked 11 to go with 2 HBPs.

His offspeed I thought was a slider, but the Rangers pitch trackers say it’s more of a curve at 80. Whatever it is, it stays up and was quite hittable. Also, to my untrained eye, Evans seems to slow everything down when he throws anything offspeed. I could tell it was coming.

Catching Up: 2014-2015 Crawdads pitcher Luis Ortiz

During the playoff run that took the Hickory Crawdads to the 2015 South Atlantic League championship, circumstances put first rounders Luis Ortiz and Dillon Tate into the bullpen as part of a bridge crew between consistent strong starting pitching and closer Scott Williams.

Ortiz had missed much of the second half with a shoulder injury, but then returned the final week of the regular season to allow one hit over three innings. Tate was held to short appearances after a heavy workload in college prior to being drafted by the Texas Rangers.

In game two of the Northern Division series, Tate threw two scoreless innings with two Ks. One night later with Hickory holding a 1-0 lead in the decisive game three, Ortiz threw two perfect innings, striking out four to set up Williams to close out the series.

Three nights later, Ortiz closed out his 2015 season in game two of the championship series. Pitching the seventh and eighth innings, Ortiz allowed one hit and fanned three. Tate pitched a scoreless inning in game three to help Hickory finish the 3-0 series sweep.

Luis Ortiz playoffs

From a playoff appearance vs. West Virginia on 9/12/15, Ortiz struck out four of the six batters he faced (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

“The playoff atmosphere, it’s going to happen,” said Ortiz looking back at his performance in the 2015 Sally League playoffs.  “It’s very tense at the moment, so basically you try to get it and get it done.”

Performances aside, baseball – especially minor league baseball – is a sport where things change fast and for Ortiz those changes came out of nowhere. Nearly eleven months after their playoff heroics, Ortiz and Tate were both traded on the same day in separate deals. Tate struggled with control issues and was sent to the New York Yankees for Carlos Beltran. Ortiz, along with another former first rounder, 2013-2014 Crawdads outfielder Lewis Brinson, was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers as part of a deal that brought catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Texas.

“I was sitting in the training room in Frisco (AA club of the Rangers),” recalled Ortiz on learning of the trade. “I had a bullpen that day. It was me, Brinson and a couple of other guys in there. I was getting ready to go outside and (pitching coach) Brian Shouse comes up to me and tells me, ‘We’re not going to go out there until the trade’s over.’

“So, I kind of knew there was something going on. From right there, I just waited for my name to be called. Brinson already knew. So, it was basically a matter of time when it was going to happen.”

Ortiz had a strong start to the 2016 season, pitching in the ballpark of doom at High-A High Desert in the California League. The ballpark, located in Adelanto, CA, was a hitter’s paradise with its high altitude, arid conditions and favorable wins. But with his family located within a short drive in Sanger, CA, Ortiz adapted nicely to the conditions, posting a 2.60 ERA and fanning 28 in 27.2 innings.

“It was awesome being in California and being a couple of hours from home,” Ortiz said of his Cal League stint. “I had family come out all the time and it was amazing. I already knew how to pitch in California. Every talks about High Desert.  ‘High Desert’s this.’ If you can pitch, you can pitch. If you can pitch straight out, you can pitch there.”

After seven appearances (six starts), Ortiz got a promotion to AA Frisco, where the change of scenery and tougher hitters found Ortiz looking for answers.

“When I got to AA, it was basically knowing how to pitch to hitters,” said Ortiz, who posted a 4.08 ERA over 39.2 innings with a .296 OBA. “I struggled with Texas at AA. I struggled and I struggled. I know you’re going to have your downfalls, but (you’re) learning from it.”

His final outing with Frisco was a benign two-inning start during which he allowed a one run on two hits and K’d four on just 34 pitches. Three days later, he was a Milwaukee Brewer and a surprised Ortiz struggled to make sense of what was happening.

“My reaction was basically like everyone else that got traded,” recalled Ortiz. “I just thought I had a good start. At first I was thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’… Now it’s a new start for me and a better opportunity for me.”

Ortiz has seized that opportunity with the Brewers and it started soon after joining their AA team at Biloxi. He posted a 1.93 ERA over 23. 1 innings, though his WHIP took a hit a 1.54.

In getting a chance to speak with Ortiz last week, he’s matured physically since he was a Crawdad. He now sports facial hair that his 19-year-old baby face wouldn’t support during that 2015 playoff mastery. Ortiz also has a one-year-old son named Santiago, in honor of Luis’s late grandfather, who played a huge role in his life growing up.

With growing maturity under his belt, Ortiz also sees the opportunities of bigger things ahead, some of what was made possible by the trade.

“Texas developed me very well and now they gave me an opportunity with a new team, the Milwaukee Brewers,” said Ortiz. “I take it as a new start. Right now, I’m loving it.”

Luis Ortiz at Biloxi

Luis Ortiz charting pitches as a member of the Biloxi Shuckers, the Milwaukee Brewers AA club. (Mark Parker) 

Series Preview: Rome Braves at Hickory Crawdads April 24-26

Rome Braves (Atlanta Braves) (11-6, 1st SAL Southern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (6-11, 7th SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads open a seven-game homestand with three South Atlantic League games against the Rome Braves at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium.

Leody Taveras - Lin

Leody Taveras looks to continue his hot streak (5-for-11) as Hickory begins a three-game series with the Rome (Ga.) Braves

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Monday-Tuesday at 6 p.m., Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

Promotions: Monday – Make a Difference Monday: Receive a free ticket with requested items valued at $5 or more: Requested items include Pencils, Markers, Loose-leaf papers (wide ruled), Pencil sharpeners, Erasers, Highlighters, Dry-erase markers (Expo Markers), Permanent markers, Three-ring binders (any kind of size), Black & Blue pack of pens, Paint Brushes, Acrylic Paints, Washable Paints, Construction papers, Drawing sketch pad for arts & crafts, Yarns, Scissors, Glue Sticks, Hula hoops, Jump ropes, Football/ Soccer ball/ Basketball /Volleyball, and any Toys for boys/girls ages 6-17. Items go to Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club.

Tuesday – 25th Anniversary Celebration: If the Crawdads score five runs in the fifth inning, one lucky fan in attendance will win $25,000. T-shirt Giveaway: First 500 fans in attendance will receive a free Crawdads replica jersey T-shirt.

Dollar Dog Tuesday: Bring pet to the game for $1 each. Dog show each Tuesday night. $1 hot dogs, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products.

Wednesday – Business Card Special: Show your business card at the Ticket Office for a $5 ticket.

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

 Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu

 

Probables (Rome / Hickory):

Monday: RHP Jeremy Walker vs. RHP Argenis Rodriguez

Tuesday: RHP Ian Anderson vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

Wednesday: LHP Joey Wentz vs. Jonathan Hernandez

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads and Braves split the 2016 season series 9-9 with each club taking charge at the other’s ballpark. Rome held a 7-4 advantage at L.P. Frans, while the Crawdads were 5-2 at the State Mutual Stadium.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads return home after a 1-2 trip to Kannapolis. Hickory was 2-5 during last week’s homestand… After the Hickory lineup limped to Kannapolis near the bottom of many of the SAL statistical standings, the Crawdads charged ahead to 24 runs over the last two games. When the Crawdads are churning, it usually involves the longball. Hickory leads the SAL with 18 homers and is third in slugging (.400).  However, their 73 runs are seventh in the league … Awakened from a dormant state on Saturday was the running game. The Crawdads had seven for the season entering Saturday’s game at Kannapolis, then ripped off a single-game, club-record eight in four innings… The pitching, however, continues to struggle. Currently, they are last in the SAL with a 5.30 ERA, which is nearly a run more than the next lowest. Greensboro is at 4.47. Hickory is also last in hits allowed, total runs allowed and WHIP, as well as second in walks allowed… The Crawdads fate is usually determined by the sixth inning. They are 6-1 when ahead or tied after six innings, 0-10 when trailing. The one loss came in the last game, when the bullpen coughed up an 8-1 lead.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. After posting a 3-for-28 skid during the last homestand, Tejeda started to heat up at Kannapolis. Enters the Rome series with 5 hits in his last 11 ABs. Got his first two steals of the season on Saturday.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Returned to action last Wednesday after bruising his forearm on a hit-by-pitch. Hit a three-run homer on Friday and then singled on Saturday. Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend at Kannapolis was a three-walk game on Saturday. Has eight walks already in 2017 after just 18 all last season in 66 games.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Sat out Friday’s game at Kannapolis following an 0-for-9 drought, then went 2-for-5 with a walk on Saturday. Normally makes good contact, though he can run up Ks in bunches. Has 2 whiffs in each of his last two games after having none the previous five.

RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 Baseball America, No. 18 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2013 from the D.R. Arguably the Crawdads best starter down the stretch in 2016, Hernandez has struggled to put it together out of the gate in April. Has yet to make it out of the fourth in his previous three starts, he has six walks in ten innings so far. Opponents are hitting .386 against Hernandez.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After starting the season 1-for-39 stretch and hitting .065 over his first 12 games, Yrizarri has begun to show signs of life at the plate. He doubled and homered during the last home game on Wednesday, and then went 4-for-13 the last two games of the Kannapolis series. Yrizarri has scored five runs and knocked in three over his last four games.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. After just nine walks all of last season, Almonte has five already in 15 games. Went 0-for-7 in the Kannapolis series with a walk and three Ks.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Can he maintain control? That will separate him from success and failure. In his first outing (4/14), Ferguson threw a perfect inning with two Ks. Three days later, he walked one and hit two of the 12 batters he faced, and along with four hits allowed, he gave up five runs over 1.2 IP. On Friday, he walked one, hit two more, but fanned five over two shutout innings.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick 2014 out of Columbia (MS) High. After a brief cooling-off period after a hot start, Forbes is back at it again with four hits in his last two games, three for extra bases. Among the top-ten in the SAL, Forbes is tied for first with five homers, one hit behind the league leader, second in total bases and in slugging (.647), third in OPS (1.044) and tied for 6th in RBI (12).

LF Franklin Rollin: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of La Romana, D.R. As the leadoff man, went 9-for-17 over his last three games with six runs scored, two homers and seven RBI. Has also been a spark plug with four steals.

1B Preston Scott: 34th round pick in 2016 out of Fresno Pacific Univ. Sat out last Wednesday’s game following a 1-for-22 drought, then went 5-for-11 in the Kannapolis series. Has just 2 RBI over his last 12 games.

 

About the Braves:

Managed by South Atlantic League, Hall-of-Fame manager Randy Ingle in his 10th overall season (592-675) with Rome during his third stint with the class Low-A club. The Braves are the defending SAL champs and were named “Team of the Year” for the 2016 season by Baseball America … Rome is on the second leg of a two-city road trip, which started over the weekend at Greenville (S.C.) where the Braves took two of three in a rain-shortened series … Rome is 8-2 on the road this season… The Braves lead the SAL with 31 steals and have been caught just five times … As it does most years, Rome relies on a strong pitching staff. The staff has allowed just three homers in 17 games and its 2.30 ERA is second in the SAL and they are second in Ks. They have allowed the third fewest hits in the SAL, but control has been an issue, as they have allowed the third most walks. Rome has given up three or fewer runs in 12 of 17 games.

 

Prospects to watch – Rome:

LHP Ian Anderson (No. 5 Baseball America, No. 6 MLB.com, No. 81 MLB.com top-100) First-round pick (third overall) in 2016 out of Shenendehowa High (Ballston Lake, NY). Had a 2.04 ERA over ten starts at two rookie-level affiliates in 2016, Anderson currently has a 1.98 ERA after three starts this year. SAL hitters are hitting just .133 against Anderson, who has 23 Ks to 8 walks over 13.2 innings. Braves signed him away from a Vanderbilt commitment.

RHP Joey Wentz (No. 13 MLB.com, No. 15 Baseball America) First-round pick (40th overall) in 2016 out of Shawnee Mission East High (Prairie Village, KS). Didn’t allow a run over four starts with the rookie Gulf Coast League Braves, then moved up to Danville (VA) where he struggled with control (20 walks in 32 innings). Has curtailed the wildness in the early going (19 Ks to 3 BBs in 14 innings), but the SAL is hitting .333 against him. Signed out of a commitment to Virginia.

CF Cristian Pache (No. 13 Baseball America, No. 14 MLB.com) Signed as international free agent in 2015 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Speedy 18-year-old could potentially be the Braves centerfielder of the future, though at this point he has yet to put the speed to use on the basepaths (3 steals in 16 games this year.) Showed the ability to make contact at rookie levels – 24 Ks in 220 ABs – but struggling so far this year, with already 14 Ks in 61 ABs.

SS Derian Cruz (No. 20 MLB.com, No. 22 Baseball America) Signed as international free agent in 2015 out of Puerto Plata, D.R. A natural right-handed hitter, is toying with switch-hitting. Enters the series at .167/.215/.250 as much of his struggles have come from making contact. (16 Ks/ 2 BBs in 60 ABs). He is also working to slow down the game, as he has nine errors in 14 games. The Braves will be patient with the 18-year-old in his first full season.

C Brett Cumberland (No. 23 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com) Second-round pick in 2016 out of California. Led the Pac-12 Conference in homers in 2016. A bat-first catcher for now, as caught just three games and DH’d the other seven. Hitting at a .143/.333/286 slash.

C Lucas Herbert (No. 28 MLB.com, No. 30 Baseball America) Second-round pick in 2015 out of San Clemente High (CA). Returns to Rome after splitting time behind the plate for the team in 2016. A defensive-first catcher to date, he has struggled to hit and make contact and enters the series 1 for his last 29 with 15 Ks.

OF Anfernee Seymour (No. 30 MLB.com) Traded to the Braves from Miami in 2016. Was an 2015 all-star pick in the short-season New York-Penn League and one of the speedier shortstops (37 SBs) in the SAL when with Greensboro. But the Braves have chosen to shift him to the outfield. Strikes out too much, given his speed – 118 times in 491 ABs – the Braves are working to cut that ratio and to raise his walk pct. in order to make him into a leadoff hitter.

 

Others to watch – Rome:

RHP Jeremy Walker: Fifth-round pick in 2016 out of Gardner Webb Univ. Had 37 Ks in 39.2 innings with Danville last year,but has just 5 Ks and 5 walks so far in 12.1 IP. Relies on his defense to soak up grounders, has a ratio of two groundouts to airouts in his pro career.

IF Marcus Mooney: 10th round pick in 2016 out of South Carolina. Had 7 hits in his first 10 ABs at Greenville, currently at .378/.462/.444 with the Braves. Among the top-ten in the SAL in runs (6th), hits, Batting Avg. (6th) and on-base pct. (7th).

Series Preview: Hickory at Kannapolis April 20-23

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (5-9, 7th place SAL Northern Division) at Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (6-8, 6th place SAL Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads travel to Intimidators Stadium for a four-game, South Atlantic League series against Kannapolis.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Thursday – Saturday 7:05 p.m., Sunday 2:05 p.m.

Promotions: Thursday – Gamer Night w/ PS 4 Giveaway; Thirsty Thursday. Friday – Go Green & Recycling Night; Saturday: Jurrasic Ball Park, Appearance by Dakota & Friends; Sunday – Pre-Game Autographs, Design-A-Sign Night, Post-Game Kids Run the Bases.

TICKETS: $5-$7 for children, $6-8 for adults in advance. $2 more per ticket the day of the game.

Where is it?: Ballpark is off I-85 at exit 63. Exit ramp to Lane Street and head west. Turn right onto Stadium. NOTE: There is heavy construction along I-85, so allow extra time.

PARKING: All parking is $2

CONCESSIONS: Intimidators Stadium has the basic ballpark food at a main concession area behind home plate. Other items include Chicken Tenders, Chicken sandwiches, Pretzel Dogs, Wings, and Turkey Wraps. The Hot Dog Hut has footlongs, brats, burgers, Italian sausages, as well as “Dale’s Mater Sandwiches, and Veggie Burgers. BBQ Stand has pulled pork and turkey sandwiches.

 

Probables (Hickory/ Kannapolis):

Thursday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. RHP Jimmy Lambert

Friday: RHP Emerson Martinez vs. RHP Yosmer Solorzano

Saturday: RHP Edgar Arredondo vs. RHP Alec Hansen

Sunday: Argenis Rodriguez vs. RHP Dane Dunning

 

Recent Series History:

The teams split a four-game series at Hickory last week. The Crawdads were 12-4 in 2016 against Kannapolis with a dominant 7-1 record Intimidators Stadium. Since the Crawdads began the affiliation with the Rangers in 2009 they are 86-55 overall, 44-27 at Intimidators Stadium

 

About the Crawdads: Hickory takes the road after a 2-5 homestand, which ended with a three-game sweep at the hands of the West Virginia Power. The Power outscored Hickory 35-11 in the series …The Crawdads have relied on the long ball to get any sort of offense going. Their 14 homers are third in the SAL, but the team is last in the league in runs scored. An impatient team, Hickory is third from the bottom in walks and second in strikeouts. They are also next to last in batting average (.217) and in OBP (.290) … The work on the mound hasn’t been much better. As a staff, they are the lone SAL with an ERA over five (5.28). They have allowed the most hits, runs, earned runs, walks and have the worst WHIP (1.60).

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 55 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Went 3-for-23 in the homestand, though he is making consistent contact. Had a 2-for-5 game against Kannapolis last Friday.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 8 MLB.com, 16 Baseball America): Returned on Wednesday after missing nearly a weak with a bruised wrist. Singled and scored in his first game back. Has struggled to make contact, whiffing 17 times in 41 plate appearances.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America) Saw a five-game hitting streak snapped in Wednesday’s game. Went 3-for-13 with three walks in last week’s Kannapolis series.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): After a horrid start, had his first two-hit game on Wednesday, which included a two-run homer in the second inning to snap an 0-for-12 skid.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): One of the few Crawdads swinging well, went 5-for-11 with a walk in the series with West Virginia. Still looking for his first homer of the season, is showing a bit more patience at the plate. He walked only 9 times all last season, but already has four in 13 games this year.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Pitched a clean inning vs. Kannapolis last Friday (2 Ks), but was roughed up by the Power on Monday (1.2 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 1 K.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Tied for the SAL lead with 5 homers, is second in total bases, third in slugging (.692) and sixth in batting (.385). Went 6-for-15 vs. the Intimidators last weekend.

2B Brallan Perez: Joined the Crawdads for the Intimidators series last week, had a 4-for-8 weekend.

RHP Kyle Cody: Walked a high-wire act on the mound in his start against the Intimidators last Thursday, managed to get through five innings with one run allowed on seven hits, a walk and a hit batter.

RHP Edgar Arredondo: Has been roughed up at the plate in his two starts, including a 10-hit attack by Kannapolis last Saturday. Walked four in 6.1 IP over two starts, which equals the amount he surrendered in the Dominican Summer League over 62 innings last summer.

 

About the Intimidators:

Managed by Justin Jirschele, who played in 15 games for the Intimidators in 2013. He was the team’s hitting coach last year… Swept three straight at Asheville to cap a 5-2 road trip. The overall pitching performances have been tough, as Kannapolis has allowed 7 runs over the last five games. The Intimidators have allowed the fewest walks in the SAL and have the second-best WHIP (1.14). Like Hickory, the Intimidators have struggled to score runs. They are just ahead of Hickory in runs scored and have the second fewest extra-base hits.

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:

RHP Alec Hansen (No. 5 Baseball America, No. 9 MLB.com). Did not face Hickory last weekend. Has allowed three runs on 10 hits and struck out 15 over his last two starts (11 innings).

RHP Dane Dunning (No. 10 MLB.com). First-round pick in 2016 out of Florida. Has dominated SAL hitters so far. In three starts (20 innings), he has 26 Ks to just one walk and allowed one run on 11 hits. Last Thursday against Hickory, Dunning struck out 13 over eight innings.

LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 15 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Went 5-for-15 against Hickory.

LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 18 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Allowed two runs on seven hits in his start at Hickory.

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions.

RHP Yosmer Solorzano: International free agent from Venezuela. Took the loss last Saturday at Hickory, despite allowing just one run over six innings.

2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick out of Wright St. Leads the SAL with a .422 batting average and a .490 OBP.

CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC., he tortured the Crawdads pitching staff last week, going 7-for-17 with three RBI and four runs scored.

Note of Interest: RHP Tyler Davis was promoted to High-A High Desert. The 24-year-old hit five scoreless innings for Hickory, though he did walk four at Columbia.

Game Story April 18: West Virginia 8 Hickory 3

Game Story April 18: West Virginia 8 Hickory 3

The Hickory Crawdads continue to sputter on offense and for the second straight night had little answer for a hot West Virginia Power offense in an 8-3 defeat Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win by the Power (6-7) is the fifth in a row and the sixth out of seven games following an 0-6 start. West Virginia has scored 40 runs in the last three games and has posted five or more runs six of the last seven outings. (5-1 in those games).

Meanwhile, Hickory (5-8) has dropped three of the last four during the homestand. The lineup has scored eight runs over those four games and just 14 over the six games of the homestand, which closes Wednesday night at 6 p.m. against the Power.

 

What happened:

Despite wildness by both pitchers, neither team had a hit until the fourth when Stephen Alemais tripled to right-center with one out in the fourth. One out later, Alemais scored when a fastball by Demarcus Evans went to the backstop.

The Power then broke the game open against reliever Tyler Phillips with three in the fifth and four in the sixth. With one out, Logan Ratledge singled, stole second and then moved to third on a fly to right. Hunter Owen singled him in and scored on Carlos Munoz’s lined homer to right.

West Virginia batted around in the sixth for the third time in two games. Sandy Santos doubled in a run before Ratledge’s sac fly scored Clark Eagan. Ty Moore’s double scored Santos and Munoz capped the inning with an RBI single.

Hickory got on the board without the benefit of a hit in the fifth. Jose Almonte walked and advanced to second when 3B Owen’s throw went wide of the bag. A Blake Cederlind wild pitched moved Almonte to third from where he scored on Travis Bolin’s grounder.

The Crawdads went hitless until the sixth When Yanio Perez lined a single into the right field corner, moving Franklin Rollin to third after he reached on an error. 2B Trae Arbet dropped the relay throw back to the infield and allowed Rollin to score.

The final run by Hickory came in the seventh when Valencia double and scored on Rollin’s sac fly.

 

Impatient Youth:

Much was made about the wildness of the pitching staff. For the most part that has settled in as the guys have begun to get into a routine. What has gotten my attention in this homestand are plate appearances in which Crawdads hitters are ahead in the count.

I first noticed it on Friday with a couple of at-bats by Yanio Perez during which he had checked swings on fastballs ahead 2-0 or 2-1.  Then, I noticed times when guys would be ahead 2-0, 3-0, 3-1 and then make weak outs.

This evening, Power pitchers through eight innings and thrown 128 pitches with only 73 strikes (55 balls). Despite the wildness, Hickory managed just three hits and four walks. Combined with four errors – three of those allowed hitters to reach – there was opportunity for the Crawdads to do damage. However, Hickory was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

In hitter’s counts, the Crawdads and 12 different counts of 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1 and went 1-8 with 4 walks. A key at-bat early in the game for me was the bottom of the third. After Valencia reached on a five-pitch walk against a struggling Oddy Nunez – who threw 19 balls to 25 strikes – Travis Bolin went hacking at the first pitch and hit into a force play, which should’ve been a double play ball. Simply, it seems as if guys are trying to put the team on their backs, rather than at a solid plate appearance.

 

Evans evens out:

At 6-4, 270, righthander Demarcus Evans can hurl the spheroid hard. But in the early going, there was not much a clue as to where it was going. After a strikeout of Ratledge to open the game. Evans preceded to post a walk, hit batter and another walk, with many of the pitches missing wildly to the third base corner of home. After a 28-pitch first (12 strikes), he settled down to a nice outing, allowing just two other baserunners However, the damage was done and Evans needed 77 pitches to get through the fourth.

 

Forbes cools off:

Ti’Quan Forbes went 0-for-4, but it was anything but quiet. A long liner in the 6th hooked just to the foul side of the LF foul pole. That on top of a sharply hit 4-3 grounder was the highlight of his night.

 

Valencia: 

Other than Forbes, one of the few Crawdads making solid contact right now. Went 1-for-3. The hit, a lined gapper to the wall in LCF. Had another liner that was a scorcher to the 2B for the out. Seeing the ball quite well for now.

Series Preview: West Virginia at Hickory April 17-19

West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh Pirates) (4-7, 6th SAL North) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (5-6, 4th SAL North)

The Hickory Crawdads continue the opening homestand of the 2017 South Atlantic League season with a three-game series against the West Virginia Power at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Ricky Valencia - Lin

Ricky Valencia and the Crawdads look to get the offense going against the Power this week (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Monday through Wednesday 6 p.m.

Promotions:

Monday – Make a Difference Monday: Receive a free ticket with requested items valued at $5 or more: Requested items (Jars of peanut butter or jelly, boxes of Macaroni and cheese, meat, tuna or chicken, Cans of vegetables, beans (can or dried), fruit, especially mandarin oranges, peaches, and pineapple, low sugar cereal or oatmeal, Dried pasta, can/jar of pasta sauce, bag of rice.) Items go to PORCH.

Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday: Bring pet to the game for $1 each. Dog show each Tuesday night. $1 hot dogs, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products.

Wednesday – Kids Win Wednesday: All kids 12 and under admitted free. Also get vouchers for free meal, bounce house, speed pitch and carousel.

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

 Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu 

 

Probables (West Virginia / Hickory):

Monday: RHP James Marvel vs. RHP Argenis Rodriguez

Tuesday: RHP Oddy Nunez vs. RHP Tyler Phillips or Demarcus Evans

Wednesday: RHP Luis Escobar vs. Jonathan Hernandez

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads were 3-5 against the Power in 2016, including a four-game split at Hickory … Both teams switched affiliates prior to the start of the 2009 season – the Pirates moved from Hickory to West Virginia and the Rangers aligned with Hickory. Since those partnerships began, the Crawdads own a 41-33 edge in the series, 22-17 at home. However, the Crawdads have not won an individual series against the Power since 2014 … The clubs faced each other in the 2015 SAL Northern Division Playoffs when Hickory took 2-of-3 en route to the league championship

 

About the Crawdads:

After a 1-4 start, Hickory went 4-2 including a four-game split with the Kannapolis Intimidators to open the homestand… The pitching staff, which got off to a wild start, has settled into a rhythm, at least with throwing strikes. After 37 walks over the first five games, Hickory combined for just 14 over the last six. A hard-throwing team, they have given up the third fewest hits…The Crawdads have struggled at the plate. As a team, they rank 13th (out of 14 teams) in on-base pct. (.302), batting (.223), runs scored, RBI and have the second most Ks (117). It’s pretty much an all-or-nothing group. They are second in the SAL in homers (12), but with runners in scoring position, they are at a slash of .179/.258/.218… In the field, the Crawdads lead the SAL in fielding pct. (.981, 8 errors)…The team has played at a snail’s pace this season. The fastest nine-inning game to date is 2:51 minutes… Get Hickory early, or not at all. The Crawdads are 5-0 when leading or tied after 6 innings, 0-6 when trailing.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 55 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Went just 2-for-15, though with a manageable four Ks in the series with Kannapolis. Has yet to steal a base this season in two attempts.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America) Went 3-for-13 in the Kannapolis series, had a three-walk game during Friday’s contest, which came after a four-K night on Thursday.

RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 Baseball America, 18 MLB.com): Struggled with control and fastball command in his first start (6 H, 3 SS 2 IP), rebounded last time out at Columbia on 4/12 with 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB and 6 Ks over 4 innings.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Having a nightmare start to the season, just 3-for-39 thus far. Has expanded his strike zone to combat a barrage of breaking pitches. Usually an adequate contact hitter, has 5 Ks over his last five games.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Another slow starter on the team, just 5-for-36 thus far. Four of the hits game in a three game span from April 11-13. On Friday, had his first mulit-walk game since 2015.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Held out of the first eight games with an illness, then pitched a scoreless inning vs. Kannapolis on Friday. Will be limited in action until his strength returns.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Continues to light up the SAL. Hit his fourth homer of the season on Saturday, which matched his three-season total entering 2017. His 17 hits are one behind two SAL leaders. Among league leaders, he is second in homers, total bases, slugging (.769), on-base pct. (.500) and is third in batting (.436). He has also yet to make an error in the field.

2B Brallan Perez: Joined the team on Friday and is off to a 4-for-8 start, filling in for injured SS Anderson Tejeda.

C Ricky Valencia: In the midst of a six-game hitting streak, is 8-for-23 (.348) on the season with three doubles. Is getting the majority of time behind the plate thus far, catching seven of the 11 games.

RHP Tyler Phillips: Has made two appearances (one start) and has allowed seven baserunners (one walk) over seven innings with six Ks.

 

About the Power:

Managed by Wyatt Toregas in his first season. He managed the Pirates short-season affiliate West Virginia Black Bears the past two seasons (80-72), with whom he won the New York-Penn League championship in 2015… After an 0-6 start, the Power won the finael of a weeklong, season-opening homestand and then took the final three games of a four-game series at Lexington (KY)… The Power scored just ten total runs over the first six games, but has put up five or more in four out of the last five, including a 13-run barrage on Sunday. It’s a team that will put the ball in play (second fewest walks). They are third in homers (10), OPS (.734) and slugging (.402)… On the mound, the Power will make hitters put the ball in play. They have allowed the second-fewest walks, but the second-most hits…The Power have had slow-paced games. Just one nine-inning game in less than 2:42… West Virginia has had difficulty getting leads. It is 3-0 when leading after 6 innings, 1-7 when tied or trailing after six.

 

Prospects to watch – West Virginia:

RHP Luis Escobar: (No.14 MLB.com, 28 Baseball America). International free agent from Colombia. According to observers, throws fastball 95-97 mph, but still refining a curveball and change. Just 20 on opening day. Threw a one-hitter with 12 Ks over five innings on opening day, then K’d 11 over 6 innings and gave up five hits on Friday. Currently leads SAL in Ks and is 6th in WHIP (0.64).

SS Stephen Alemais: (No. 18 MLB.com, 29 Baseball America). Third-round pick 2016 out of Tulane. Has been a glove-first shortstop, though he already has four errors in six games. Had a .189/.244/.270 slash during an end-of-season cameo with the Power. Has shown some patience at the plate, but will need to pick up with the stick in a league where he is already 22.

 

Others to watch – West Virginia: 

RHP James Marvel: 36th round pick in 2015 out of Duke. Missed much of 2014 and all of 2015 with an elbow injury. Has allowed just one run (1.74 ERA) in each of his first two starts with ten hits, two walks and five Ks.

IF Logan Ratledge: 13th round pick in 2015 out of NC State. Played high school ball at Ardrey Kell in Charlotte. Currently used in a utility role, making appearances at three infield positions, two outfield slots and on the mound for an inning. Currently in the midst of a five-game hitting streak (6-for-20, 5 walks). Patient hitter, already nine walks altogether, slash line of .263/.404/.500. Already 24, going to have to continue to hit to stay in the system.

LF Ty Moore: 12th round pick in 2015 out of UCLA. Assigned to the team out of extended spring, has hits in all six games (11-for-28) with four extra-base hits.

2B Trae Arbel: 5th round pick in 2013 out of Great Oak High (CA). In the midst of a five-game hitting streak (7-for-19), currently fifth in the SAL in slugging (.633), but his only extra-base hits are the result of three homers.

 

Note of Interest: Hickory SS Anderson Tejeda was placed on the inactive list after taking a pitch off the right arm. X-Rays were negative, but the arm is sore and will require rest. No timetable is set for Tejeda’s return. Blaine Prescott was also placed on the inactive list… Power 1B Albert Baur (Newberry College) is on the DL.

 

Mission Control: An Interview with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes

With the first full week completed, the Hickory Crawdads go into an off-day on Easter at 5-6 following a split of Saturday’s doubleheader with Kannapolis.

The opening series at Greensboro was a wild one for the pitching staff, as the combined for 37 walks over the first five games, which had much to do with a 1-4 start. Over the last six, that number was cut to 14 and the team’s record is 4-2 in that stretch.

On Friday, I had a chance to catch up with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the team’s start and to ask about some of the names that started the season at Hickory.

 

First, let me get your overview of the season’s first week on the pitching staff. Control has been a bit of an issue, but for some guys it’s starting to come around a bit. Let me get your assessment of that first week.

Jaimes: Those first four games, we had a tough time finding the zone. Some guys just walked too many guys, especially the starters early in the game. We couldn’t locate our fastball. But, if feel like it’s coming and getting a lot better, especially these last four games in Columbia and yesterday. I feel like guys are starting to make some adjustments. To be honest, the fact that we couldn’t practice before the season and we couldn’t play, I think that had some effect on some guys. They couldn’t face hitters for almost a week. That had a big factor on what happened those first four games.

 

That was my next question, how much did the rain affect your guys who couldn’t throw side sessions, etc?

Jaimes: Yeah, especially that exhibition game was going to be huge, especially for the starters. Obviously, we couldn’t play and they ended up throwing bullpens, but it’s not the same as throwing to a catcher in a game. I think it was one reason why they couldn’t find the zone as quick as they wanted. But, it’s getting better.

 

Jonathan Hernandez is back here for another year and honestly, I was a little surprised to see him back as he finished so strong last year. What are the Rangers wanting to see him accomplish starting here a second year?

Jaimes: Consistency with the fastball. Last year, like you said, he finished strong. He put together five good outings towards the end of the year. We just want to see that on a consistent basis. We got to see that in the last outing at Columbia. That’s what we’re looking for. He’s working ahead on the count on every hitter the first time through the lineup. So, that’s the main thing for him, his fastball command. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll get to see him move up.

 

Jake Lemoine is a name some folks have asked me about. I saw him the first outing at Greensboro. At first, he had a little struggle finding a feel, but then had a strong second inning. Coming off the shoulder troubles, what’s sort of things are ahead for him?

Jaimes: He dealt with a lot of bumps the last few years. He last pitched two years ago. I’m actually pretty impressed, especially with his last outing in Columbia where he pounded the zone. He’s a guy that has a feel for the baseball. He controls his fastball and has pretty good control with his secondary pitches. So, I think he’s going to be a big part of the team. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and let the talent play. A great guy.

 

Is he going to be getting bite-size outings?

Jaimes: For right now, we’re going to try to keep it to three innings, just because of what happened the last two years with him. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to pitch every two or three days.

 

Let me ask you about Kyle Cody. Like everybody else, had a rough first outing, then pitched in and out of trouble the last start.

Jaimes: The two outings have been almost the same, Kind of erratic the first two or three innings, but then once he gets it going he gets a lot better. Last night, we saw that. The fourth and fifth innings, he did a really good job of mixing his pitches. His fastball command was a lot better. That was his main issue the first three innings: a lot of deep counts, a lot of 2-1 counts and guys were able to put the barrel to the baseball. A 6-7 guy that’s a really good talent and I’m pretty excited for him. He’s one of our main guys this year, so hopefully he’ll stay healthy. I think once he gets it going, he’s going to keep getting better.

 

Somebody I’m looking forward to seeing, based simply on the stats from the Dominican – this is his first stateside assignment – is Edgar Arredondo.  He had a 56 Ks and 4 walks last year. Like everyone else the first week, he had that wrinkle, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer based on the stats sheet.

Jaimes: He’s a strike thrower. He’s a guy that’s going to feel through it some. He’s going to attack here. It was the first time he was pitching in front of fans and lights. So, I was kind of expecting that, but I after that I saw his first inning, I was really excited. He pounded the first inning 1-2-3. I think he got a little upset when he gave up the first hit on an 0-2 count and then he lost his concentration and couldn’t get it back. Again, he’s a guy that’s going to throw strikes. That was not the Arredondo that I know. I don’t even worry about him. He had a really good bullpen session yesterday. He’s a guy that commands his pitches: fastball and a really good changeup and a really good curve.

 

Tyler Ferguson hasn’t thrown. What’s happening with him?

Jaimes: He couldn’t make the Greensboro series because he got sick, so we just kept him at home. We didn’t want anybody else to get sick. Then coming back, he had to play catch at least three days. He threw a bullpen a couple of days ago and now he’s ready to go.

 

Of the guys that I haven’t mentioned yet – there’s so many guys that come in and out – who’s somebody that you’re looking at as someone that will step forward?

Jaimes: I’ve got one guy and that’s going to be Sal Mendez. He’s been a guy that had a really good spring training. A guy that goes out there and competes. He has average stuff, but the way that he throws the ball with the conviction that he has, he makes it look better. In his last outing at Greensboro when he went 4.2 innings. He’s going to command all three pitches coming from the left side. He has some sink and a really good changeup. I think he’s going to be our sleeper.

 

Emerson(Martinez) is pitching tonight. I know you don’t care about wins and losses, but it seemed that he pitched in a little tough luck when he got into the starting rotation last year.  He had a good outing last time.

Jaimes; Actually, we almost made a big deal of it because last year he went 0-6. It seemed like every time he didn’t pitch we’d score a lot of runs. Then every time he’d pitch, we didn’t score. When he got his first win, he was all pumped up. He said, “It’s a new year and a new beginning and I’m going to help the team.” He grew up a lot last year for us. I had him two years ago when I worked in Spokane. He was kind of timid and he didn’t trust his stuff. That was something that last year he realized that his stuff was good enough to get people out. He showed that in his first game. He went out there and just pounded. I’m really happy with what he’s doing.

 

I’ve seen Tyler (Davis) pitch both in Columbia and here last night and showed some good stuff. Had some good outings here last year before he got bumped up. Doesn’t throw hard, but he spots well and throws a decent slider.

Jaimes: He’s a pitcher, though. He goes out there and pitches. He knows what he has. He knows that he doesn’t have power stuff, so he goes out there and just locates it. He locates his fastball; he locates his changeup, slider. He knows how to pitch. Everybody loves Tyler. When he got here last week, I was pretty excited to have him a part of the team. He not only brings his stuff, but he’s around the bullpen helping me with these kids. I’m really happy for him and having here with me.

 

Christian Torres is back. Another (Alex) Claudio clone, maybe?

Jaimes: You’re hoping for that. Claudio is one of those guys that knows what he does. Claudio is a little bit bigger, but I can see a little bit of Claudio in Torres. Decent sinker, really good changeup. They’re pretty close.

 

Best fastball on the staff right now.

Jaimes: Kyle Cody.

 

Best secondary stuff right now:

Jaimes: Sal Mendez.

 

Best Breaking ball:

Jaimes: Emerson Martinez and Tyler Davis.

 

Game Story: Hickory/ Kannapolis Split a DH

Kannapolis 3 Hickory 1 (Game 1).  Hickory 1 Kannapolis 0 (Game 2)

Despite mustering two runs on ten hits over 14 innings the Hickory Crawdads rode the back of strong pitching and the bat of Ti’Quan Forbes in game two to earn a doubleheader split with the Kannapolis Intimidators Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The split left the teams in a series split for the four games. The Crawdads are off for Easter Sunday and then will resume South Atlantic League play Monday night at 6 p.m. as they start a three-game series against visiting West Virginia.

 

What happened in game one:

Polk County native Joel Booker continued to harass Hickory pitching with a three-hit performance in game one and had a hand in all three runs.

He led off the doubleheader with a broken-bat single and moved to second as Mitch Roman’s sneaked an infield hit to the right side, as Booker beat a throw to second from second baseman Brallan Perez. One out later, Brandon Dulin hit a ball to Preston Scott, who fielded the ball on the run, but his throw to second went into leftfield and allowed Booker to score from first.

Kannapolis (3-8) made it 2-0 in the second. With one out, Antonio and Wilfredo Rodriguez (no relation) both singled. After Max Dutto whiffed, Booker oozed a grounder through the infield for an RBI single.

The Crawdads (5-6) got a run back in the bottom of the inning. Ti’Quan Forbes singled and was then erased on Scott’s fielder’s choice. One out later, Ricky Valencia got enough wood on an inside fastball for a bloop RBI single.

However, the Intimidators added an insurance run in the fourth as Booker singled in MIcker Adolfo to account for the final margin.

Jimmy Lambert (1-0) pitched a complete-game six-hitter with one walk and five strikeouts.

Edgar Arredondo (0-2) gave up all three runs on ten hits and a walk, and struck out three. Reid Anderson pitched two scoreless innings with one hit allowed and two Ks.

 

What happened in game 2:

Both team had just four hits each, but Forbes’s homer in the fourth was the difference.

Sal Mendez (1-0) made the spot start for Hickory and gave up a walk and two outs over five innings with four strikeouts. The Intimidators threatened just once against him and that came in the third. Grant Massey singled and moved to second when Tyler Sullivan was hit by a pitch. Mendez then got Booker looking and induced Roman to tap into an double play.

Jake Lemoine worked around a double in the sixth. In the seventh, Seby Zavala singled and Adolfo was hit by a pitch. Zach Remillard botched a sacrifice and bunted a third-strike foul for a strikeout. Lemoine then struck out Massey before Christian Torres was brought in to face Tyler Sullivan.

Torres needed just three pitches to fan Sullivan and get his first pro save.

Yosmer Solorzano pitched a complete game in the loss (1-1).

 

Forbes fortunes:

Forbes had four pro homers in 227 games entering this season. He has four in 11 games this season. For the season Forbes has hits in 10 of 11 games and his at .436/.500/.769. He’s in a good place right now.

I had a twitter conversation about Forbes and I pondered if Forbes gets a bump up when Charles Leblanc is ready at extended spring. Or… after Forbes struggled so much over his first two seasons as a pro, will the Rangers let him dominate for now and amp up his already burgeoning confidence.

An intriguing arm:

The Texas Rangers have had success with late-round pitching selections and I wonder if they perhaps have a nugget with 40th-round selection Sal Mendez.

In talking with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes, I asked him to give me a pitcher that is under the radar. Sal Mendez was his answer. When I asked for who had the best secondary pitch, Jaimes said it was Mendez’s changeup.

Mendez needed 68 pitches (44 strikes) to get through five innings. He relied on a two-pitch mix of fastball (89-91) and change (81-83) and did so effectively with very little squared up. Three of his five Ks came consecutively in the first and second. He got Dula to swing through a change off the 1B side of the plate in the first. Then fired a fastball that Zavala took for a called third strike. Then, it was back to the change off the plate to get Adolfo.

Very simply, he attacked the strike zone and got mostly weak contact. Mendez threw 11 of 18 first-pitch strikes to hitters, much of that total coming early (6 of the first 7). He’ll have to continue to throw strikes and hit spots, but he’s not afraid to attack.

I’m interested and want to see more.

 

Yey-yey is ney:

Yeyson Yrizarri is not in a happy zone right now. One-for-14 in the series, 3-for-39 for the season, it’s been a tough one. The one hit in the series was on a ninth-inning, get-me-over fastball with a five-run lead on Friday night. Otherwise, he is seeing a lot of breaking stuff in front of the plate and in the dirt and hacking away.

He did hit into a bit of tough luck in game one. In the second inning, Remillard took a roller behind the bag and then with a Manny Machado-esque throw from behind the back, got Yrizarri by a quarter step.

In his first AB in game two, he was unable to hold back on a fastball at the thumbs and then later whiffed at a curveball in the dirt. After the AB, the body language had the look of one who was beaten for now.

 

Defense wins games:

While Booker played a big part in the game-one win, so did the Kannapolis defense – especially from shortstop Max Dutto.

In the third, Brallan Perez lined a pitch to right. Adolfo ran the ball down and made a strong throw to second that was to the centerfield side of the bag. Dutto made the catch on the one-hop throw, then made the lunging tag on Perez. Later in the inning, Dutto made a diving stop of a grounder and made the quick throw to first to barely get Leody Taveras at first.

With a runner on first in the fifth, Yrizarri hit a comeback to Lambert, whose throw to second on the pivot was to the third-base side. Dutto made a back-handed catch while his momentum carried him across the bag and then completed the double play at first.

In the sixth, Dutto made a grab of a grounder deep in the hole and made a strong throw to complete the out at first.

 

Missing hitting counts:

Scuffling as a team, the Crawdads collectively seem to be unable to take advantage of hitter’s counts. In game two, Solozano threw first-pitch strikes to just eight of 22 hitters. However, Hickory managed just four hits and a walk.

#RakersWhoPitch: Bolin’s night on the Mound

After the Hickory Crawdads were involved in so many lengthy extra-inning games last year, the Texas Rangers decided to limit the use of their pitchers in such marathon games. The result of that will be the use of position players on the mound once the game gets to a certain point. Enter Travis Bolin during Thursday night’s 12-inning win over the Kannapolis Intimidators.

Travis Bolin pitching - Lin

Travis Bolin as he prepares to deliver the pitch during Thursday night’s game vs. Kannapolis (Crystal Lin / Hickory Crawdads)

Bolin got an inkling a few days prior to Thursday’s game that he could be used as a pitcher at some point during the season, if the situation called for it. Then, it happened and no one was more surprised that Bolin.

“I came out here (to the bullpen) and threw about 20 pitches,” said Bolin. “Then they called me in. I thought they were joking at first. The last out came and the pitching coach (Jose Jaimes) called me and said, ‘Hey, you’re going in.’ And I was like, ‘Are you guys serious? You guys are actually letting me go out and throw?’ Yeah, I went out there and had a good time.”

A good time, indeed. Bolin pitched, despite the tie game and his scoreless inning was enough to get the win as Hickory scored a run for the 2-1 walk-off victory.

“That is pretty cool,” said Bolin of the decision. “I was just happy about my first strikeout, the first batter. I thought it was pretty cool.”

Bolin said he hadn’t pitched since high school and threw just a few innings then. His brother was a pitcher, and so in watching him, Bolin had some sense of pitching out of the windup, which was fairly seamless.

Travis Bolin windup - Lin

Travis Bolin windup (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

“I’m pretty accurate when I’m trying to hit my spots,” said Bolin. “I did a pretty good  job of it last night.”

The strikeout came as the inning’s leadoff hitter Zach Remillard swung through a 2-2 fastball. Grant Massey sent then a 2-0 fastball (heck, they were all fastballs) for a 6-3 grounder.

The one wrinkle came on a walk issued to Tyler Sullivan, an at-bat Bolin said he thought the umpire squeezed him on a pitch.

Bolin said, “Man, I painted one right on the corner and he didn’t give it to me. But that’s how it goes with pitching.”

The inning ended with a groundout to second by Joel Booker. Bolin threw all fastballs – topping out at 85, though he said he could gas up to 92, but was told to keep it eased back so as to not hurt his arm – but he was prepared to use a slider if needed.

“Actually, I was going to go to throwing a slider, or a real cut-fastball, but we ended up getting the guy out on the next pitch anyway, so we didn’t have to go to that.”

The response from teammates was described by Bolin as ecstatic and the opportunity may indeed arise again to pitch.

“I asked Spike today, I said ‘Hey, now that that actually happened, is that going to happen again?’ He said, ‘Of course, that was a test. Good job.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’”

Travis Bolin gets win - Lin

Travis Bolin receives congratulations as the Crawdads close on the win vs. Kannapolis (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Crawdads position players pitching:

It rarely happened in the early years of the club’s history, but as major league teams become more cautious about over using pitchers and keeping them in a routine, position players throwing in games is becoming more common.

Over the first 15 seasons, just five position players pitched for Hickory. None did until 1999 and then from 2007 until 2013, but since 2014 it’s happened ten times, five of those in 2016.

Below is an overview of those position players who have climbed the hill.

1999: 1B Carlos Rivera – and a future big leaguer – mopped up in a game during which he gave up a run on two hits in an inning.

2000: 1B/ OF Jason Landreth allowed three hits and walk, all of which scored during his lone inning.

2000: C Jose Hernandez walked the only batter he faced and took the loss.

May 15, 2005: 2B Dan Schwartzbauer. The Crawdads were completing a suspended game from the night before against Lake County (OH), which eventually went to extra innings. After the Captains scored three in the 11th – and with another full nine-inning game to go – Crawdads manager Jeff Branson brought in Schwartzbauer, who struck out the only batter he faced.

Schwartzbauer 2

Dan Schwartzbauer fanned the only player he faced in 2005.

June 28, 2007: 2B Jose J. De Los Santos. In the night cap of a doubleheader against Kannapolis, the Crawdads had blown a 5-2 lead and ran out of available arms to pitch in extra innings. De Los Santos was brought in and gave up six runs to take the loss in an 11-5 defeat.

May 23, 2013: LF Nick Vickerson. In one of the wildest games in Crawdads history – both managers were ejected and a walk-off homer was reversed – the Kannapolis Intimidators scored four runs in the top of the 12th to take the lead. Vickerson got Justin Jirschele – the current Intimidators manager – to hit into a fielder’s choice. The Crawdads went on to score five in the bottom of the inning for a 7-6 win.

June 25, 2014: IF Janluis Castro. In mop-up duty vs. Kannapolis, Castro retired all four batters he faced, fanning two.

July 8, 2014: IF Janluis Castro. Became the first Crawdads position player to pitch twice as he entered a game during a blowout loss to the Lexington Legends. Gave up two hits, but struck out two during a scoreless ninth inning.

Janluis Castro

Normally an infielder, Janluis Castro pitched in three times in 2014, including back-to-back games. (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

July 9, 2014: 2B Janluis Casto. The Legends scored three in the top of the 14th and rather than waste a pitcher, Castro moved over from second and strike out the only batter he faced. For the season, Castro allowed two hits and struck out five of the ten hitters he faced.

August 8, 2015: C Jonathan Meyer. Became the first position player to pitch on the road since 2000. Gave up a walk-off, three-run homer at Lakewood in the 18th inning for the loss.

May 15, 2016: 1B Dylan Moore. Back-to-back errors on what should’ve been inning-ending double play balls played a big role in seven unearned runs during a 9-2 loss to the Rome Braves in 19 innings.

Dylan Moore pitching

Dylan Moore vs. Rome (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

June 6, 2016: OF Josh Altman. The utilityman worked around two hits in the 13th inning during a game with Greensboro. However, two errors were costly in the 14th as Hickory dropped a 6-5 loss to the Grasshoppers.

Josh Altmann pitching - Lin

Josh Altmann holds a runner on while pitching during an extra-inning game vs. Greensboro (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

July 15, 2016. C Chuck Moorman. The starting catcher entered the game during a blowout loss to West Virginia and retired both batters he faced with one strikeout.

Chuck Moorman pitching

Normally a catch, Chuck Moorman catches the view from the mound (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

July 24, 2016. OF Connor McKay. A 15-3 blowout at Lakewood precipitated the use of McKay in the ninth, who retired all three batters he faced.

July 30, 2016. OF Connor McKay. After the Crawdads gave up four runs in the top of the 10th against Hagerstown, McKay was brought in and he retired the lone batter he faced.

Connor McKay pitching - Lin

Connor McKay pitched twice for the Crawdads in 2016 (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)