June 2015

Series Preview: Greenville Drive at Hickory Crawdads

The Greenville (S.C.) Drive (41-34 overall, 3-2 second half) comes to L.P. Frans Stadium for the only series against the Crawdads (46-27, 2-3) in 2015. The teams are approximately 1:45 apart in distance.

Series History:

The Crawdads dominated the Drive in 2014 as they went 7-1, including a four-game sweep at home. Since the Rangers affiliation with Hickory began in 2009, the Crawdads are 32-27 against Greenville, 17-13 at Frans. The Drive holds the overall edge at 47-50 since the Greenville franchise began in 2005.

Probables:

Tuesday: Jeffry Fernandez (RH, 2-5, 5.08 ERA) and Austin Pettibone (RH, 0-1, 4.50)

Wednesday: Reed Reilly (RH, 4-3, 3.63) and Nick Gardewine (RH, 4-5, 4.20)

Thursday: Michael Kopech (RH, 3-5, 3.06) and Cody Buckel (RH, 0-2, 3.52)

Friday: Jalen Beeks (LH, 6-4, 4.25) and Brett Martin (LH, 3-2, 2.91)

Entering the series:

Hickory (26-13 at home) dropped three of five to Lakewood (N.J.) to open the second half. The pitching took it on the chin as the BlueClaws scored 32 runs on 51 hits in the five games. Yet despite the recent woes, the Crawdads still have the South Atlantic League’s best ERA at 2.90, have allowed the fewest hits, runs, and lead in WHIP (1.19). Hickory has the best fielding in the league (.977) and have turned the most double plays.

Greenville (20-14 away) split a doubleheader at home with in-state rival Charleston to take three of five in its series.  The Drive leads the South Atlantic League with a .268 batting average, as well as runs, hits, doubles and RBI. They are second in slugging (.392) and OPS (.722). A free-swinging team, Greenville is also second in strikeouts.

 

Players to watch – Hickory:

IF Josh Morgan: Snapped a 10-game hitting streak in Monday’s game against Lakewood when he entered midway through the game and went 0-for-1. Holds a .329/.437/.370 slash in June. Committed errors in back-to-back games over the weekend after going without one since May 17.

SS Michael De Leon: Is 4-for-19 to start the second half, but has hit the ball hard the past several days. Teams continue to try and run fastballs by him and he is hitting them hard. Unfortunately, it’s been right at people.

OF Luke Tendler: Went 5-for-14 to open the second half with six RBI. Like De Leon, Tendler has been adjusting to fastballs and punishing them of late. Ended a two-month HR drought with a blast in Monday’s game vs. Lakewood. Also homered in the SAL all-star game last week.

OF Eduard Pinto: Went 5-for-15 in the five games against Lakewood with a couple of walks. Has nine walks in his last 15 games after posting only six in the first 39.

SP Austin Pettibone: With Luis Ortiz going to the DL, Pettibone will be a member of the rotation for now. As a reliever, he has allowed five earned runs on 17 hits and struck out 13 to three walks in 16.1 innings. In his two starts (one an abbreviated start die to a rain delay), Pettibone has allowed five runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings.

SP Cody Buckel: Struggled mightily with control in his last start against Lakewood on Friday (2 BBs, 3 HBs, 4 H, 5 R in 2.2 innings). Walked five in 5.1 innings during his previous start at Rome, though he gave up just one run.

 

Players to watch – Greenville:

2B Yoan Moncada: Signed for a $31.5 million bonus (a record for an international player) this past winter, the 20-year-old native of Cuba is rated by MLB.com as the top second-base prospect and ninth-best prospect overall. He is going through growing pains thus far as he has 34 Ks in 122 plate appearances and a .229/.311/.321 slash. Moncada has committed ten errors in 22 games at second.

3B Rafael Devers: At 18, the Dominican Republic native is rated the seventh-best third base prospect and No. 97 overall by MLB.com. Named to the SAL all-star game, Devers has a .306/.336/.452 slash. He has struggled in June (.238), but is 11-for-34 with two homers, five runs and six RBI in his last ten games.

SS Javier Guerra: Named to the SAL all-star game, Guerra is hitting just .222 in June but has slugged four homers in the month.

RP Mario Alcantara: Named to the SAL all-star game after posting a 1.93 ERA in 19 relief outings in the first half. In his second-half debut on Sunday, was touched for a grand slam against Charleston.

SP Michael Kopech: First-round pick (33rd overall) in 2014 out of Mount Pleasant High in Texas is saddled with a limited pitch count with a high of 77 thrown this season. He has completed five innings just four times in 11 starts. The fireballer has struck out 58 and walked 17 in 50 innings.

RP Jamie Callahan: Second-round selection in 2013 out of Dillon (SC) High. Was pummeled early (.340 OBA in May), but has given up just three baserunners in 4.2 innings over his last two outings.

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 29

The Hickory Crawdads posted five runs in the first inning and made them stand up in a 5-4 win over the Lakewood (NJ) BlueClaws Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Crawdads (46-27 overall, 2-3 second half) snapped a three-game losing streak, all coming at the hands of Lakewood (36-37, 3-2).

Hickory will host a four-game series against the Greenville (S.C.) Drive beginning Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.

What Happened?:

Hickory put seven of the first eight hitters of the game on base against BlueClaws starter Yoel Mecias. Michael De Leon opened the first by doubling into the gap in left-center. Carlos Arroyo then sent a first-pitch fastball well over the fence in right to make it 2-0. The homer was his first stateside shot, having hit two in the Dominican in 2013. After Eduard Pinto and Jose Trevino walked, Luke Tendler blasted his sixth home run of the season to right, his first since April 30.

It turned out that the Crawdads would need all the first-inning runs as Lakewood’s bullpen held Hickory to just two base runners over the final 8.2 innings while its lineup continued to peck away at the lead.

“I knew if we didn’t score that it’d be a close one for sure, the way they’ve been playing and swinging the bats and battling,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “I knew we couldn’t take our foot off the gas or it was going to be a game. Unfortunately, the ABs got worse as the game went on and, like we saw, the game turned out to be a tight one.”

After starter Collin Wiles kept the BlueClaws scoreless through two, his own error cost him a run in the third. Gustavo Martinez got Lakewood’s first hit – a soft liner to right – to start the third. An errant pickoff throw by Wiles moved Martinez to second and a pair of grounders to first brought Martinez in to score.

In the fourth, Kyle Martin and Damek Tomscha each singled and then one out later moved up a base on a wild pitch. Martin scored on Jiandido Tromp’s grounder to short to make it 5-2.

Lakewood chased Wiles with two runs in the sixth. Tomscha and Cord Sandberg each singled with Tromp bringing in Tomscha with a sacrifice fly. Wiles’ second errant pickoff of the game advanced Sandberg to second. Shane McCain entered and then threw a wild pitch to move Sandberg to third before he scored on a groundout by Martinez. Gustavo Marrero followed with a single, but McCain struck out Drew Stankiewicz to quell the threat.

McCain worked around a walk in the seventh and turned it over to Erik Swanson to close out the final two innings.

 

The Good:

The lineup in the first inning: The hitters saw quickly that Mecias had a limited arsenal on the mound. The lefty offered a straight 88-91 mph fastball with an occasional change that missed the plate. The Crawdads were content to stay back for something they could handle and they did picking up four hits and taking three walks. The lone out was a lineout by Beras to the track in center.

Michael De Leon: Has begun to crush fastball over the last couple of days. After his double in the first, he laced an Austin Davis heater to straight-away center for a hard out.

Luke Tendler: Recently said he has had to re-learn to hit the fastball again. His homer to right came on a fastball by Mecias. Now has hits in seven of his last nine games with nine RBI in that stretch.

Erik Swanson: Solid two innings to close out the game. Manhandled Tromp with a 95 mph laser to start the 8th and then one out later froze the right-hander Martinez with a 94 on the outside corner. He needed only five pitches to retire the top of the order in the ninth. The final pitch of the night was a change that Kyle Martin dribbled to first. Martin had homered off Swanson two nights before.

“He’s up to 95 with an 88-89 mile-an-hour slider,” Ragsdale said. “Was able to throw his changeup over there to the kid that hit the homerun against him the other night and got a rollover to second base. Obviously, the bullpen is why we won the ballgame.

Shane McCain: A bit of an Alex Claudio clone, though McCain brings a harder fastball that registered 87-88 and touched 90. Threw a mid-70s, sweeping slider and an upper 60s-low 70s change. Worked out of the inherited jam in the sixth and around a two-out walk in the seventh.

Collin Wiles: The righty mixed and matched four pitches and pretty much controlled the strike zone much of the night. Much of the hits against him were grounders that found holes. Slider was especially heavy (broke three bats with it). Wiles was his own worst enemy with the two errors and a wild pitch.

The Not-So-Good:

Jairo Beras: Benched for the second time this season for not running out a batted ball. This time, it was a fly out that fell just to the foul side of the right field line. With Texas Rangers director of player development Mike Daly in town, as well as field coordinator Casey Ragsdale, it probably was not the best timing for Beras to do this.

The offense after the first: Only two hitters reached after the first – Trevino’s single and a bunt single by Arroyo. The Crawdads lineup was anemic against the BlueClaws bullpen, putting only seven hitters on base in 18.1 innings.

Said Ragsdale, “I’m not going to take away anything from those guys. They have some really good arms in the bullpen. The first guy they brought (Austin Davis) was pretty impressive, to be honest. But, we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to have better ABs. We’ve got to be more competitive. We’ve got to show a little bit more energy and fire. We can’t rely on what we did the last half.”

The Opposition:

Austin Davis: Kept Lakewood in the game with 4.1 strong innings. At 6-4, the long-armed lefty threw a tough, lively 92-94 mph crossfire fastball that got to the hitters quickly.

Damek Tomscha: Finished the series 8-for-18 with five RBI.

Cord Sandberg: Had ten hits in five games with five RBI and five runs scored in the five-game series.

Dealing with Slumps: An Interview with Luke Tendler

Luke Tendler came out of the gate in April as the hottest hitter in the South Atlantic League. The 29th round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014 out of North Carolina A&T received the SAL’s first hitter of the week award for the 2015 season. He also took home the Rangers minor league player of the month award after posting a .346/.378/.705 slash with five homers, 11 doubles and 10 RBI.

Tendler still held a .325/.385/.561 line as late as May 14 before hitting a 17-for-102 tailspin that dropped his overall slash to .254/.316/.405 to end the first half. The Wilmington, NC native still had enough to earn a starting spot for the Northern Division in the SAL’s All-Star Game last week and hit a homer in the second inning to end a two-month power drought. He has hits in six of his last eight games, including a three-hit night on June 25 that ended with Tendler’s walk-off single.

I talked with Tendler about the prolonged slump, how he dealt with the confidence factor that happens during the period, and the difference in making adjustments in the pros as opposed to the college level.

Let me first ask you about the all-star game. I know with the drought of home runs for you over the last two months, it had to feel good to get a first-pitch fastball and drill one.

Tendler: It was definitely a good feeling. I hadn’t had that feeling in a while just coming off the bat like that. It felt great and it definitely gave me a little bit of confidence going into the second half.

Luke Tendler shown here blasting a home run during the All-Star Game (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Luke Tendler shown here blasting a home run during the All-Star Game (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

What was your favorite part about the whole All-Star Game?

Tendler: Just being there with all the guys at one time and just talking about when we played them: this pitch, what pitch you hit and a lot of junk talking with a bunch of guys. At the same time, it was a lot of fun.

I’d like you to take me through your year a little bit. I know it’s been a roller coaster year. You started strong. Talk me through the first part and then where it’s gone down.

Tendler: When I came in, I was hot off the get-go and I was smoking hot. The next thing you know, I had a couple of rough nights and then it turned into a long slump for me. I just try and stay positive each and every day, to come out and get better and try to work my way out of it. You’ve got to know that’s part of baseball. That’s what I keep in the back of my head and try to stay positive.

How much of the down time for you was either mechanical or something in the swing versus just the confidence factor?

Tendler: Confidence is probably the biggest thing in hitting or pitching in baseball – confidence, like the mentality. So obviously that’s played a big part in it. But at the same, you still want to tell yourself, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” But at the end of the day, it’s hard. Every day, I make a minor adjustment to my swing. So, there’s mechanics too, but the biggest thing is the mentality

How much tinkering have you done, either with Frankie (Crawdads hitting coach Francisco Matos) or with Josue (Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Josue Perez) coming in?

Tendler: Not much, just little things here and there that they see. Usually, it’s not the swing; it’s just going out there hitting and trying to get your confidence back. It’s little adjustments they’re always making just to help you get better.

How much of the downturn is just seeing better pitchers? There are guys that run out here nearly every night that I’m guessing you didn’t see a whole lot of in Greensboro.

Tendler: Yeah, without a doubt. The professional pitchers throw a lot better than the college pitchers throw. But at the same time, I don’t feel overmatched at any point at this level. That’s why, when I do get into a slump I don’t see it as the pitcher making great pitches; it’s just me not making the swings I should be making and not making the proper adjustments I should be making. I don’t feel overmatched at all.

How have you seen on the mound, that you can recall, that did give you some issues, where you’re get something worked out, but he’d throw a pitch you hadn’t seen before, maybe in a count you weren’t expecting to see it?

Tendler: A lot of guys, especially when I started getting into the slump. Right then, it seemed like all of the pitchers were better than what they were and making pitches. They were throwing changeups when I was counting on seeing fastballs in. But I mean, for the most part, when I start going bad, the hardest thing to hit is a lefty. When I’m going good, I can hit lefties or righties. The first thing is lefties giving me a hard time when I’m not right.

You started the last week of the season and on the last homestand to come out of the funk a little bit. You had the homer at the all-star game and a good game last night (3 hits, 3 RBI, including a walk-off single vs. Lakewood on June 25), what’s been the thing to prime the pump?

Tendler: Just going out there and forgetting about the past and looking at every day as a new day knowing that it’s a new day. I knew that as long as I stuck it out that I would get out of it. I knew I would. I knew I had to keep on working and keep on swinging. Finally, I started catching a few barrels in the game and starting feeling good. I just tried to keep repeating that swing over and over again. That’s where I’m at now.

I talk with Josue a couple of weeks about college and adjustments they’ve had to make. He said that you guys have already had to make adjustments or you wouldn’t be here. You’ve had to learn to do that before. What’s different about making adjustments here as opposed to making adjustments in college?

Tendler: The biggest difference in college is if you prove you can hit in college, they just don’t throw you fastballs no more. It don’t matter what count it is, you’re always seeing offspeed pitches – changeups, curveballs – and they don’t care if they walk you. They’d rather walk you or make you hit some of their junk than you hit a home run off their fastball. That’s the biggest difference, just being patient in college.

You get into pro ball, the biggest adjustment is getting back to hitting fastballs – not missing the fastball. In college, you’re not used to seeing that many fastballs. You get into pro ball it’s a lot more fastballs that guys throw to the hitter. That’s the biggest adjustment so far.

Tendler was named the Rangers minor league player of the month for April 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Tendler was named the Rangers minor league player of the month for April 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Who’s been the biggest help so far in maybe something they’ve said that’s helped things to click?

Tendler: All three of our hitting guys have helped with the swing. Obviously our hitting coach here, Francisco Matos, has helped me a lot. Then when Josue comes into town, he helps me big time. The hitting coordinator Dwayne Murphy helps me a lot, too. Another thing, I talk to my college hitting coach quite a bit. He always talks to me and wants to know where I’m at, and where I’m at in my swing and what do I feel. He actually knows my swing better than anybody.

When you roll out of here at the end of the season, what does a successful year look like for you?

Tendler: I look at a successful year a lot of different ways. Obviously, home runs is a big time thing- hitting 15 plus would be a plus, in my opinion. Average wise, I think a .265 plus year is considered a good year, in my opinion. I want to hit .275, .280; really, I could hit .300, that’s what’s considered a good year, in my opinion.

Looking way ahead when you get a call to the major leagues, what does that look like for you? What do you think will be most memorable for you and who will it mean the most to you?

Tendler: It would mean the most to me, for one. After that, my mom and my day, my grandfather and my sister, they’ll be right after me in happiness and how much it would mean. The day that happens, I would want to see my family in the stands that first game.

Is there something that you would look back to and say, this was worth it?

Tendler: In this game, definitely, if you make it to the big leagues, all of the minor leagues will be worth it. No matter how many years you’ve been there. If I make it, I don’t because I haven’t been there yet, but I’m sure every minor league game you’ve played will be worth it.

What’s been the best part of your season?

Tendler: The best part of my season this year is probably just winning the first half. Going out and being with the group of guys is a lot of fun. They like to play hard every night and bring it every night. That’s been the best part of my season is going out and having fun and winning baseball games.

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 28

The Lakewood BlueClaws put pressure on Hickory from the start and pummeled the Crawdads 9-0 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for Lakewood (36-36 overall, 3-1 second half) was the third in a row, and the fourth straight game in which the lineup has pounded the Crawdads pitching staff. The BlueClaws have scored 28 runs on 47 hits in the first four games of the second half. The two teams will finish the five-game series Monday night.

What happened?:

The game for the Crawdads (45-27, 1-3) went downhill early as the BlueClaws placed only one ball into the outfield to scored two runs in the first.

Derek Campbell reached on an infield single to start the game. Scott Kingery and Herlis Rodriguez each placed perfect bunts to the first-base side of the mound to reach and load the bases. Damek Tomscha then rolled a single through the hole at second to score Campbell. The next batter, Cord Sandberg, sent a broken-bat comebacker to Yohander Mendez on the mound. Mendez botched the grounder – the first of three errors by Hickory – which allowed Kingery to score and make it 2-0.

Things got heated during Lakewood’s three-run uprising in the third. After Kingery singled to left, Mendez hit Rodriguez in the ribs with a first-pitch fastball with Rodriguez taking several steps toward the mound with his arms outstretched. As Mendez came off the mound, the advancing Rodriguez threw his batting helmet towards Mendez, who responded by throwing his glove. Both players were ejected with Ricardo Rodriguez replacing Mendez on the mound.

‘We had hit a couple of their guys the last few games, unintentionally,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “You know what, guys continue to get hit and it’s frustrating for sure. I see their part, but it’s not anything that we want to do on purpose or anything like that. You can see why they’d be pretty mad.”

The BlueClaws had little problem solving the new hurler’s fastball. Tomscha had an RBI double and Sandberg tacked on a run-scoring single before Tomscha scored on a wild pitch.

The Crawdads had little response in the lineup as BlueClaws starter Elniery Garcia pitched a four-hitter over seven shutout innings. Garcia retired the minimum during the first four innings before Jairo Beras touched him for a double. He struck out four and walked one.

Joey DeNato allowed a walk and a single over the final two innings.

A two-run double by Kyle Martin made it 7-0 in the fifth. In the seventh, Sandberg doubled and scored when centerfielder Jose Cardona misplayed a single by Martin, who ended up at third and came home on a grounder to short by Deivi Grullon.

“The kids are getting after it and playing well and swinging the bats well and playing well all the way around – defense, pitching,” said BlueClaws manager Shawn Williams. “We just hope to continue it on here through the second half and taking it into tomorrow.”

The Good:

Jairo Beras: Continues to see pitches well. Sent a flat change down the line in right for a double and later walked.

Ariel Jurado: Not his best outing, but continues to bring an improving curveball into his repetoire. He fanned Kingery with it in the sixth and used the pitch to set up a fastball on the outside corner to RH hitting Jiandido Tromp.

Yohander Mendez: Actually had decent stuff, despite the four runs allowed. Showed a ramped up fastball that touched 96 on a strikeout of Campbell in the second. Also threw an 1-7 curve had some decent bite.

The Not-So-Good:

Flat Team: This may have been the worst game of the year for Hickory. The Crawdads had little life on the field and it didn’t improve even after the benches cleared. With the turnover of the roster to start the second half, it may take a bit for the team to re-gel. But Ragsdale said there was no excuse for the effort.

“That may take a little time to come together as a team and start clicking again, but it doesn’t take much to come ready to play and to play the game the right way and we didn’t do that today.”

Defense: Three errors, led to four unearned runs. Morgan committed his second error in as many games and arguably could have had a throwing error charged on the opening play of the game. Cardona pulled up on Martin’s liner in the seventh, but then let it go by him for a two-base error that led to a run. Bunt defense continues to be a problem as the Crawdads right side of the infield (2B Carlos Arroyo and 1B Juremi Profar) along with Mendez failed to coordinate covering first.

Ricardo Rodriguez: Had little movement on his 90-93 mph fastball and was punished accordingly. Showed a curveball that had some bite on occasion and K’d two with it.

The Opposition:

Elniery Garcia: Showed an adequate three-pitch mix (90-92 fastball, change, curve). Didn’t always show control (96 pitches, 55 strikes), but with the Crawdads out of the game early, Garcia did what he needed to do to keep them off-balance and off the bases. nd Had his catcher Grullon throw out Pinto trying to advance to second on a pitch in the dirt to end the first and then induced double play balls in the second and fourth.

Damek Tomscha: The 17th round pick of the Phillies in 2014 out of Auburn had his second three-hit game of the series and it took a play by SS Michael De Leon to take away a fourth hit.

Cord Sandberg: Has hits in all four games of the series, three of those multi-hit games (9-for-17). The Phillies third-round pick in 2013 (Manatee High, FL) has attacked the fastball well and sprayed it to all fields.

2015 picks: Scott Kingery – the second-round choice out of Arizona earlier this month – is 6-for-17 in his first pro experience. Kyle Martin (fourth round, South Carolina) is 5-for-16 with five RBI.

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 27

The Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws scored four runs over the final two innings to claim a 6-3 win over the Hickory Crawdads Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the BlueClaws (35-36 overall, 1-2 second half) was the second straight in the five-game series and dealt the first lost of the season to the Crawdads (45-26, 1-2) when they led or were tied after seven innings. Hickory was 40-0 when leading after seven.

What Happened?:
The Crawdads scored all of their runs during two-out rallies. In the first, Eduard Pinto singled and Jose Trevino doubled before Jonathan Meyer singled in both.

After Emmanuel Marrero cut it to 2-1 in the third with his first pro homer, Hickory added a run in the fourth when Jairo Beras walked with two outs and scored on Carlos Arroyo’s triple.

Lakewood made it 3-2 in the fifth. Cord Sandberg reached on a bloop single to left, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a deep fly to right, and then scored when Joel Fisher lined a single to center.

The decisive rally came in the eighth against Crawdads reliever Joe Filomeno. With one out, Gustavo Martinez legged out an infield hit to short. Marrero sneaked a grounder just inside the bag at third for a double. Filomeno held runners at second and third when he struck out Drew Stankiewicz, but both scored as Scott Kingery ripped a double between third baseman Josh Morgan and the bag. Kingery then scored on Herlis Rodriguez’s double off the wall in right-center.

Lakewood’s final run in the ninth came when Kyle Martin homered to right against reliever Erik Swanson.

The Good:

Brett Martin: Arguably his best start of the season. The homer he served up was a curveball down that Marrero went down to get. Threw 40 strikes out of 54 pitches, using mostly a fastball (89-92) –slider mix. He fanned two in the first – both on sliders – and two more in the second, one swinging on a slider, the other a fastball looking. Was definitely an outing to build upon.

Chris Dula: After giving runs in five straight outings and six out of seven, Dula kept the sinker (93-96) down for three groundballs – two for outs, the third an infield hit.

Jose Cardona: Went 2-for-4 with a double, lining a pair of fastballs for hits, including a 95 mph heater for a double.

Rock Shoulders: Went 0-4, but crushed the ball three times, only to see them die at the wall. Just not his night.

Josh Morgan: Had one hit – a dribbler up the middle in the fifth – but had two other hard hit liners that left fielder Cord Sandberg snagged. Like Rock Shoulders…

The Not-So-Good:

Joe Filomeno: Given the first chance to close out a tight game after the bullpen rearrangement, he had a tough night. Fastball was lively sitting around 93, but breaking balls were not close enough to the plate to entice swings, or sharp enough to miss bats when swung at. Kingery and Rodriguez both sat on first-pitch fastballs for back-to-back doubles that accounted for three runs. He struck out two in the inning, but needed eight pitches each to do so.

Late innings slump: Put only three runners aboard over the final four innings. Had only one runner in the same span in the previous game.

The Opposition:

Kyle Martin: The Phillies fourth-round 2015 pick out of South Carolina hit his first pro homer in the ninth.

Manny Martinez: After Cardona slammed a fastball off the wall in the seventh, Martinez went predominantly to his curve to retire Michael De Leon on a grounder to first and Morgan on a popup to first.

Austin Smith: The left-handed reliever threw an explosive mid-90s fastball to strike out two, the second against Jairo Beras, who froze on a 91 mph heater on the inside corner.

Look Who’s Coming to Hickory: Lakewood BlueClawsScott 2B Scott Kingery

Lakewood BlueClaws second baseman Scott Kingery began his pro career at L.P. Frans Stadium on Thursday. The second-round pick (48th overall) of the Phillies early in June out of the University of Arizona singled in his first at-bat.

“Kind of a blooper into left,” said Kingery of his first live-game experience. “It doesn’t matter how it happens, as long as I got that first hit.”

He tripled later in the game and scored what was then a go-ahead run before the Hickory Crawdads rallied from two down to gain a walk-off win.

The success in Kingery’s pro debut is a taste of what many in the Phillies organization hope to see in the future.

Phillies’ scouting director Johnny Almaraz labeled Kingery as someone could be “a quick mover” in comments made to the media after the draft selection. In mlb.com’s article on Kingery, the opening paragraph mentioned him as someone who could succeed Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.

All of this is high praise for someone who was a walk-on at Arizona after receiving his only scholarship offer from Central Arizona College. With an eye to the future and the hope to improve his craft as a baseball player, Kingery made the choice to go to Arizona with the full backing of his family.

“My dad told me, ‘if you’re going to be a good player, you’ve got to take a chance at a D-1. So, if you want to go to Arizona and walk on, we’ll support your decision.’”

Kingery went on to play three seasons with the Wildcats under longtime head coach Andy Lopez. While there, Kingery won back-to-back batting titles in the Pac-12. His athleticism also played out in the field when he moved to second base for his junior season after playing in the outfield. Despite his inexperience at the position to start the season, he learned quickly and was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team.

“It was my first year at second base, so coming in there, I didn’t know what to expect,” Kingery said of the move. “I figured some stuff out in the fall. Coming out with that defensive All-Pac 12 team, that was a great feeling knowing that I can go into my first season and make some good plays on defense and end up being on the defensive team.”

But it is the bat that earned him the high draft slot. Kingery batted .392 in 54 games with a .984 OPS. Despite winning the Pac-12 batting title the year before, he didn’t feel he started getting noticed until earlier this season.

“My sophomore year I had a good year, but at the beginning of this year is when things started to happen,” Kingery said. “I began to come into contact with some scouts. Once the season started, it took off from there.”

While all of the talk of being a quick mover and a successor to Utley swirl around him, for now Kingery is simply hoping to learn the routine of being a pro.

“At this point, I’m just trying to be the best I can be right here and not thinking too far ahead. I’m just looking to compete here. Hopefully I can move fast, but right now, I’m just focused on this team.”

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 26

Lakewood at Hickory June 26

The Lakewood BlueClaws took advantage of poor control by Hickory Crawdads starter Cody Buckel to build an early lead and take a 6-3 win Friday night.

The win by the Blue Claws (34-36 overall, 1-1 second half) evened the five-game series at a game apiece. Hickory (45-25, 1-1) snapped a mini two-game win streak.

The teams will resume the series Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at L.P. Frans Stadium.

What happened?:

After the Crawdads dodged a bullet in the first, Lakewood put up a run in the second. Cord Sandberg (3-for-4) singled to right and moved to second on an error by Jairo Beras. A wild pitch by Buckel placed Sandberg at third and he scored when Kyle Martin collected his first pro hit, a double to right.

The decisive point of the game came in the third. With one out, Buckel hit Scott Kingery with a pitch and then walked Herlis Rodriguez. After Damek Tomscha was drilled by a pitch, Sandberg lined a first-pitch changeup over the fence in right for a grand slam to make it 5-0.

The Crawdads got a run back in the bottom of the third. Ricardo Valencia walked to start the inning. The next batter Jose Cardona hit into a potential 5-4-3 double, but the throw from Derek Campbell at third sailed into right field and put Valencia at third. Michael De Leon’s sacrifice fly scored Valencia to make it 5-1.

Save for the unearned run in the third, starter Ranfi Casimiro (3-5) held the Crawdads in check until the fifth. He walked Cardona and served up a single to De Leon. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. One out later, Beras steered a seeing-eye single into center to make it 5-3.

However, that turned out to be final threat by the Crawdads offense in the game. Scott Harris pitched two perfect innings before turning the game over to all-star closer Alexis Rivero. Eduard Pinto was the only Crawdad to reach over the final four innings, as he doubled to start the ninth. He eventually reached third, but was stranded as Rivero struck out Jonathan Meyer to end the game.

Lakewood’s final run came when Gustavo Martinez scored on a passed ball in the ninth.

The Good:

The Defense – Michael De Leon: With a runner at third and one out in the second, the Crawdads brought the infield in. Campbell hit a popup about 25 feet past the cut of the grass. De Leon raced back into the outfield and avoided the on-charging Beras from right to catch the football-like post pattern.

The Defense – Jose Cardona: In the sixth made a long run before making an over-the -shoulder catch on the track in straight-away centerfield. Also tracked down a liner in the RCF gap in the seventh.

The Defense – Luke Tendler: Kept the BlueClaws off the board in the first with a strong, on-the-money throw to Valencia at home to cut down Drew Stankiewicz on a sac fly attempt by Tomascha.

Kelvin Vasquez: Other than an E-5 that allowed Martinez to reach in the fourth, Vasquez held court on the mound. Needed only 11 pitches to complete the final two innings of his 4.1 inning tenure (43 pitches, 30 strikes). Had a little extra giddy-up on the fastball (95-98) than he’d shown in the recent past. Fanned his only two hitters of the night on back-to-back at bats in the fifth. Struck out Tomascha, who whiffed through a 97 mph heater, then got Sandberg to waive at a slider.

Jairo Beras: Swung through five breaking balls by Casimiro, but laid off an 0-2 slider in the fifth before getting enough on a changeup to get it through the infield for a two-run single.

Josh Morgan: Had the only two-hit game for Hickory, both coming on fastballs by Casimiro.

The Not-So-Good:

Cody Buckel: Color me concerned. Friday’s outing was painful to watch, as I know how much Buckel has put into getting back to the type of pitcher he was in 2011-2012. There was no fastball command. Of the 41 fastballs (out of 68 total pitches- 27 strikes) he threw (by my count), only16 went for strikes. Six of those were put into play, 3 went for hits, two of those doubles. Usually able to rely on his curveball to get strikes, the smattering of those Buckel threw stayed well up and to the catcher’s glove side. The only missed bats I had were from sliders, which did have some bite. But with the fastball control what it was, there was not much sense chasing.

Field staff: With Buckel struggling from the beginning, it seemed that a mound visit would’ve been in order, if for no other reason than to give Buckel a chance to collect himself. Valencia made a few visits, but nothing from the bench. With pitching coach Oscar Marin away for his mid-season sabbatical, his fill-in finally trotted to the mound with the bases loaded in the third. On the next pitch – a flat change – Sandberg took Buckel deep for the decisive slam. Through all this, no one was warming until after the slam. Two batters later, and after his third HBP of the inning, Vasquez was brought in. Buckel threw 31 pitches to get two outs and surrender four runs on five base runners.

Ninth-inning defense: The BlueClaws insurance run in the ninth was a matter of “non-error” misplays. Herlis Rodriguez reached on a bunt when pitcher Shane McCain was slow to cover first. McCain later picked off Rodriguez, but first baseman Rock Shoulders’ throw to second went wide of the bag allowing Rodriguez to steal the bag. Jonathan Meyer’s passed ball (in fairness, he was pressed into service after Valencia’s injury) brought in Rodriguez.

The umpires: I’m not usually one to rag on the boys in blue. They are developing and learning just as the players are. Working as a two-man crew brings difficult challenges in making calls, such as making a call at first on the check swing by a left-handed hitter. A horrible call on a checked swing cost Tendler a strikeout in the sixth and the remainder of the game on the subsequent ejection. Perhaps placing the base umpire in the middle of the infield for left-handed hitters will allow them to make better calls.

The Opposition:

RP Scott Harris: Though the command of it was spotty, he threw a good, hard sinker to record three ground ball outs and K’d Tendler with one in the sixth. Left a trail of tears as three of the six hitters he faced broke their bats.

LF Cole Sandberg: Feasted on a couple of fastballs for hits, but picked off a get-me-over changeup for a homer after the Crawdads bench paid a mound visit in the third.

Series Preview: Lakewood at Hickory June 25-29

The second half of the South Atlantic League’s 2015 season begins after a three-day break for the all-star game. Hickory will host the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws for five games at L.P. Frans Stadium, the only series of the year between the two teams at L.P. Frans. Hickory will travel to Lakewood a total of three times this season.

Probables (Lakewood/ Hickory):

Thursday: Tyler Viza (RH, 4-2, 3.69 ERA) and Nick Gardewine (RH, 4-5, 3.73)

Friday: Ranfi Casimiro (RH, 2-5, 3.64) and Cody Buckel (RH, 0-1, 1.77)

Saturday: Chris Oliver (RH, 3-5, 4.12) and Brett Martin (LH, 3-2, 2.83)

Sunday: Elniery Garcia (LH, 4-6, 3.77) and Yohander Mendez (LH, 0-0, 0.00) / Ariel Jurado (RH, 9-0, 2.07)

Monday: Yoel Macias (LH, 0-1, 6.00) and Collin Wiles (RH, 7-3, 2.13)

Recent Series:

The Crawdads and BlueClaws split four games at Lakewood early in June. Since the Crawdads became a Texas Rangers affiliate in 2009, Hickory holds a 31-25 advantage overall, including a 12-9 mark at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Entering the Series:

Hickory (44-24) closed out the first half with a 3-2 road trip to Rome (Ga.) and West Virginia to finish 7 ½ games ahead of the second place Power. The Crawdads have the fifth-best record out of 120 full-season minor league teams. Hickory went 24-10 at home in the first half.

Lakewood (33-35) lost seven in a row – six of those at home – in the final days of the first half. However, the BlueClaws played a spoiler role on Sunday when they defeated Greenville (S.C.) to knock the Drive out of the Southern Division title chase. Lakewood finished in fifth place in the Northern Division, 11 games in back of Hickory. The BlueClaws are 18-15 on the road.

Players to watch – Hickory:

RF Jairo Beras: After struggling to a .204/.271/.241 slash through June 7, the lanky 20-year-old has begun to see pitches – especially breaking pitches – better as of late. He had at least one hit in eight of the last ten games – four of those multi-hit games – with three homers, a double, nine RBI and ten runs scored. His slash for June: .308/.373/.538.

SP Yohander Mendez: Made his first start of the season during the Crawdads last home stand against Savannah on June 14 (3 IP, 2 H, 4 K). He was a starter for Hickory in 2014, but missed much of the year with shoulder/ oblique issues. Mendez has yet to allow an earned run in 24.1 innings with 37 strikeouts to only 17 base runners allowed. SAL hitters are batting just .110 against Mendez.

SP Ariel Jurado: Will pitch on the back half of a tandem with Mendez for now. He adjusted well to his first non-starting role with Mendez against Savannah and allowed one run on four hits and struck out five in five innings. Jurado has 54 strikeouts to only seven walks in 61 innings.

OF Luke Tendler: After a nearly two-month drought in homers, Tendler jumped a first-pitch fastball for a two-run shot in the all-star game on Tuesday.  Had at least one hit in five of his last seven games to close out the first half.

RP Joe Filomeno: With the Crawdads missing their top three relievers (John Fasola, Adam Parks, David Perez) to promotions, Filomeno might be the one to look to at the back end of games. He has thrown six straight scoreless appearances (8.1 innings) with nine strikeouts.

RP Shane McCain: Assigned to Hickory from high-A High Desert, he signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2014 out of Troy (AL) Univ. Although he posted a 0.50 GO/AO ratio, he survived the pinball-machine like atmosphere of High Desert, giving up a reasonable four homers in 19 innings. However, control was an issue, as he gave up 13 in 32.1, including six in 2.2 innings on June 8. McCain gave up 12 earned runs on 16 hits over a stretch of four appearances from May 27 to June 13.

3B Juremi Profar: Played infrequently at High Desert (13 games) and will likely fill the utility role vacated by the departure of Isiah Kiner-Falefa

3B Jonathan Meyer: Was a former third-round pick of the Astros out of Simi Valley (CA) High in 2009. Meyer played in the Texas League All-Star game in 2013 while with AA Corpus Christi. Made it to AAA Oklahoma City in 2014, but was released after the season. Will likely spell Rock Shoulders at first.

Players to watch- Lakewood:

SP Yoel Macias: Currently ranked by mlb.com as the Phillies No. 19 prospect, he is still recovering from “Tommy John” surgery late in 2013. Made four appearances with high-A Clearwater before returning to the BlueClaws for a third straight season.

SP Chris Oliver: Currently ranked by mlb.com as the Phillies No. 20 prospect. The Austin, Tex native was the fourth round pick of the Phillies out of the Univ. of Arkansas in 2014. Has walked 26 in 59 innings over 11 starts.

SP Elniery Garcia: Ranked as the 27th best prospect in the Phillies chain by mlb.com. The SAL hitters are batting .293 against Garcia, who has walked 20 over 62 innings in 11 starts.

RP Joey DeNato: The 19th round pick (2014) by the Phillies out of Indiana, DeNato pitched in the SAL all-star game. Has a 0.89 WHIP and a .196 OBA in 22 outings. Is a strikeout machine with 34 Ks in 32.2innings.

CF Herlis Rodriguez: Was named the SAL hitter of the week last week when he put together a slash line of .407/.484/.741 in nine games. His .479 slugging pct. is sixth in the league while his .309 average is eighth.

2B Scott Kingery: The Phillies second round pick earlier this month out of Arizona will make his pro debut with the BlueClaws. He was the Pac-12 batting champion this season.

1B Kyle Martin: The Phillies 14th round pick in the first-year-player draft this June will make his pro debut this weekend. The native of Simpsonville, SC attended the Univ. of South Carolina.

Hitting the Midway Point: An Interview with Josue Perez

Greetings from vacation-land! I’m using the road trip/  all-star break to recharge some batteries and get ready for the second half.

I put together an interview with Texas Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Josue Perez while he was in Hickory during the last homestand. Perez was the Crawdads hitting coach in 2012 and was scheduled to come back to Hickory this season before he took the coordinator’s job.

Perez talked about several of the Crawdads hitters (or at least the ones I thought to ask him about) and their progression in the first half.

Overall, it’s a good group of hitters. They had a good start; they’ve had some down time. Overall, what have you seen with the group of guys?

Perez: Very pleased, I’m very pleased with the group of guys we have here, mostly. Out of the gate, they started out really good. They kind went through a bump in the road there and now we’re trying to get them back together again. I mean, that’s baseball. Overall, I like what I see.

We’ll continue to work on staying with a plan and having a plan for the at bats, especially with guys on situational hitting More often than not, they’re able to do it. Early in the year they were doing a great job with situational hitting, where we’d score a lot of runs without getting a big hit. We’d score in a lot of different ways. It’s teaching these kids how to win ball games without necessarily hitting three, four, five home runs in a game. They’re learning from it and they’re getting it, so I’m very pleased.

I know Frankie (Crawdads hitting coach Francisco Matos) is very proud of how these guys have gone about their business.

Let me ask you first about Luke Tendler. He got off to a good start and had a little bump. What do you see from him?

Perez: I think it’s all about going back to basics. Early in the season, he had a plan. He had an approach and he was executing it. Being able to stay on the fastball and be up on everything else. Lately, it’s been the lack of being able to be ready on time. So, he’s missing a lot of fastballs and he’s late getting into position and that’s the reason he’s been struggling a little bit. He’s going back to basics and making sure that he’s still on the fastball when he goes up to bat.

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

You’ve had guys like him and Trevino this year. When you were here in 2012 it was Chris Grayson, who got off to a great start. It seems to be a pattern where a college guy will get off to a good start when no one has really seen them yet, and maybe they’re a bit more advanced because of their age. Then they hit that little lull. Is that a problem that you see when you work with them?

Perez: No, I wouldn’t say that; I would say it’s about adjustments. Obviously when facing opposing pitchers, we don’t know a lot about them, just like they don’t know a lot about us. So, at that particular time, the hitters have the advantage. Once the opposing pitchers see the tendencies, they’re going to make an adjustment. And now, you’ve got to make an adjustment back to them. The good ones do make an adjustment and the other ones struggle to get back into it. So it’s still about making adjustments.

Are these kids, because for one reason or another they were so successful in college for the most part, or they wouldn’t be here, have they really had to learn how to make adjustments before they got to this level?

Perez: I’m pretty sure that a lot of the guys did it, or else they wouldn’t be here. That’s just the nature of competing. If you want to win the at bat, or you want to win the game, you have to make an adjustment from game to game. But here it’s a little bit different, because it’s not game by game, it’s at bat to at bat. Sometimes, it’s pitch to pitch. The ones that are able to do that are the better ones.

I think somewhere along the way, they have to make that adjustment. Here it’s more magnified because the pitchers are better. They have better stuff and they’re able to express it a little bit better.

Let me ask you about (Jose) Trevino, who is another one that got off to a good start and seems to be finding his way again.

Perez: You have to take into consideration with Trevino that he is behind the dish for the first time in a full season. He’s been catching a lot of games. He’s a kid that plays with a lot of energy and a lot of life. He’s really into every pitch behind the dish and he’s the same way as a hitter. So, a lot of times we ask those guys to be a catcher first and then a hitter. We’re trying to combine both of them and I think he’s one of the good ones that’s going to be able to do it – both catch and hit.

Again he’s hitting the ball on the rope, like you said, and he had a big three-run bomb a couple of days ago. He’s starting to feel that early feeling back again. Again, it’s just a matter of – and we talk about this all the time – it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Along the way you’re going to find some ways to fight. If you fight the right way, you’re going to stay above water. So, he’s doing a good job of it.

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI  (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan is in a nice stretch over about a 35-game stretch. He was one that started slow and come on as the season progressed. What do you see with Josh?

Perez: The word with Josh is he’s basically rolling right along. He was a little bit off when we first started the season. To his credit, and Frankie’s credit, he’s worked hard every day on trying to get him back to the way we saw him in spring training. Getting him into position to hit, making sure he’s staying on the fastball, making sure he stays on his front, not trying to do too much, stay away from the air, backspin the ball. So, little by little, he’s started to not only believe it, but execute it. And now he’s executing it more often than not.

He’s starting to back spin the ball, taking good pitches and getting into good counts, driving the ball. So, he’s been able to maintain it for a long period of time, which is pretty remarkable at his age, to see it. I hope he’s able to keep it the right way, now.

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Jairo Beras, I know has had a disappointing start – especially given where he ended up last year – with injuries and other things that have happened. What’s the plan for him at this point?

Perez: It’s about now. It’s about being where his feet are. It’s about winning the moment. It’s about the rest of the year. We’re not talking about the past. That’s over. Can we win every day from now on? That’s basically the message to him. Forget about it and let’s start over. This is a new beginning. Every day, come to the ballpark ready to play. Help this team win, which is in a really good place right now. They’re playing for something. Not only are they playing because they want to be big leaguers and reach the majors, but they’re playing to win it. It’s always fun when you’re in that kind of environment. We want him to be a part of it and he wants to be a part of it. This is about the moment. Be a good teammate everyday and do whatever you can now to win this moment. That’s the plan.

It’s been pretty good since being back, both offensively and defensively. The motivation’s been good and he wants to play. Deep inside, he wants to reach his dream and that’s always going to be the biggest motivation. Now, he’s got the baby, so that’s a big motivation that he’s playing for. Again, it’s about how he can win the moment from now on.

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders is a guy who came here with some experience. He’s got here and basically hit into some bad luck. He’ll hit the ball on the screws and it’s finding people. What do you expect to see from him?

Perez: I saw him in Round Rock. He was there for about a week or so, because we needed some bodies there. He did a really good job there. We actually won a game 1-0 in Round Rock and he hit a solo home run. Then he took a couple of other good swings and had another really good game there. So, I came down here saw that he was struggling without struggling kind of deal, where he’d hit a few balls well, he had no luck. The next thing you know, he went a few days without a hit. That’s just baseball.

A lot of times, you do a lot of good things and things don’t go your way. Again, he’s in a position right now where he’s going to be able to help this team. Right now, some of the luck is starting to go his way and he’s starting to put some good at bats together. He’s starting to swing the bat and I know he had some good power numbers with the Cubs. So hopefully we can see that some of that in this organization and try to help his career.

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

(Eduard) Pinto had a good winter and starting well and like most everybody else tailed off. He just looks like a hit machine. When he’s in a groove, you’re not going to get it by him. He’s also starting to show a little patience lately.

Perez: He’s a professional hitter. And now like you said, now he’s adding that patience at the plate and is able to stay with his plan and stay with his pitch and not go away from what he wants to do at the plate. He’s going to going to become a little bit more of a professional hitter. He has a really good feel for hitting and a really good barrel awareness. He knows how to use the whole field. He’s fun to watch and he brings a lot of energy and he’s only 20.

Eduard put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Eduard Pinto put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He reminds me – and I don’t know why and whether or not this is an accurate comparison – he reminds me of Tomas Telis for whatever reason. He has that stocky body at the plate and quick hands and a good eye.

Perez: Yes, especially from the left side, it’s a little bit of Telis. Telis probably swings a little bit harder than Pinto does, but it’s pretty much the same guy. He’s scrappy, knows how to barrel the ball, goes the other way, and pulls it when he has to. He goes up there to hit. He’s a good hitter and hopefully we can get him up in the system so we can do something good for him.

Who else do you need to talk about?

Perez: (Michael) De Leon and the heart and soul he brings to the team. Obviously, we know that the hitting is always going to be light right now until he grows into his body a little bit more. A lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score, he does it. That’s why I bring him up.

I think he’s the heart and soul of this team. I love some other guys, obviously, but what he brings to the game – the energy, he’s always happy the plays that he makes, he quarterbacks the whole field from the shortstop position, and how much this team trusts him – is pretty remarkable at his age.

I had the pleasure to watch him last year in the playoffs at the end of the year at Myrtle (Beach). He came up in clutch situations and got big hits in the playoff, including a three-run bomb in the championship series. So I know what type of player he is in big moments.

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He’s not afraid of big moments.

Perez: He’s not, and actually he looks for them. That’s what you want.

The Celebration in Hickory

In the same manner as the 2011 team did, the Crawdads milled about in left field, waiting to find out if they had indeed clinched a first-half division title and a playoff spot in September.

The Crawdads in LF listening to the West Virginia broadcast (photo Mark Parker)

The Crawdads in LF listening to the West Virginia broadcast (photo Mark Parker)

When the final out in Charleston, WV sealed the Power’s elimination, the celebratory water coolers were spilled and the raucous, rowdy party was on.

The Crawdads begin their celebration as the final out is recorded at West Virginia. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

The Crawdads begin their celebration as the final out is recorded at West Virginia. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

It was cool to see these toughened, young men melt into excited boys again, delirious at what they had accomplished as a group… and oh, how they celebrated as a group. From the two-year vets, such as Wiles and Beras and Mendez and Pinto – who couldn’t believe he finally homered with Hickory – to the “young pups” Ortiz, and Jurado, and Morgan, to the steady Trevino and Tendler and Martin, to Buckel – who did this same celebration in 2011 – to the newcomers, Arroyo, Shoulders, Filomeno… they all reveled in the spoils of victory.

The Crawdads celebrate on the field. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

The Crawdads celebrate on the field. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

Whether in English or Spanish, on this field, their words shared a common meaning: champions.

They proudly smiled for the cameras, arms extended with index fingers pointed to the sky to have their baseball moment frozen in time and recorded for a lifetime.

The 2015 SAL first-half Northern Division champions

The 2015 SAL first-half Northern Division champions

They patiently tried to answer my questions, but mostly they spit out words of their happiness… and doused the interviewee.

Caught in the line off fire

Caught in the line of fire (Photo by Mark Parker)

Many congratulations to the 2015 Crawdads on a brilliant first half. Here is some of what they had to say.

Corey Ragsdale:

About the division-clinching game:

It’s a credit to these guys. They just find ways to win. It’s not necessarily the two guys that we would expect to hit home runs right now. Jairo, a single with two outs and Shoulders gets a home run. J-Mo gets a double with two outs; Pinto got him with a home run. Give credit to the guys, they find ways to win.

Favorite memory of the first half:

Just watching the way that the guys played and the way they cheer for each other. You look into the other dugout and you see guys sitting down. You look at ours and guys are cheering for each other and staying on the rail. Just seeing guys who want to win and pull for each other.

Luis Ortiz:

About his start:

My mentality today was to basically go out and compete like I always do and give it my all. I’ve got eight, nine guys behind me protecting me. Attack the zone and they’ll make a play for you. That’s the way it was tonight. I threw the ball over the zone and I felt like everything was working for me.

About his comfort level in the first two innings:

The first and second innings were the hardest ones to get through. It was hot and humid, but I had to go out there and pitch. To become a good pitcher, you’ve got to go through everything. You go through the hot. You go through the cold. You have bad outings. On days you have bad, it’s how you handle it. It’s just pitching, basically putting it altogether and going out there and competing and giving it all you have. If they hit you, it happens. it’s a part of baseball.

Jairo Beras:

About winning the first-half division title:

I’m happy today. I play good. I’m part of the playoffs. We’ll get back at it tomorrow and *&^@-ing win it (Ironically, he did with a homer in the 10th Tuesday night.).

Eduard Pinto:

About his third-inning homer:

I’d never hit a home run with Hickory. My team kept saying to me, “you need a La Bamba; you need a home run. You don’t have one.” I said, “ok, take it easy, take it easy, my brothers.”  Today, home run, I’m happy.

Austin Pettibone:

About the ability for a different player to make a play to win a game each night:

It’s awesome We did this in Spokane last year when we won the first half and it’s cool to do it again and experience it again.

About the team’s success compared to winning last year in Spokane:

We all have another year under our belt of pro ball, so we’ve all improved and gotten better each day. It’s just a lot of fun to do it with these guys.

Jose Trevino:

About the celebration:

This is awesome, but we’re not done yet, though. We’re not even close. We’ve got a whole other half and then we’ve got the whole post season. This is a really good team with a group of really good guys. The pitching staff and hitters, we’re all coming back together.

Josh Morgan:

About his double in the third inning prior to Pinto’s homer

I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. Luckily he gave me one and I was able to square it up, luckily. I’m just happy that we clinched, but we’re not done yet. We’ve got a full half to go, but we’re excited about where we’re at right now.

About the second half:

Hopefully, we can keep going on and keep staying positive we’ll be successful. I’m happy to be here and hopefully we can finish it off.

Rock Shoulders:

About his fourth-inning homer:

At my first at bat, he gave me a first-pitch fastball, so I went up there ready for it. I might’ve been a little bit late, but I still got good wood on it. I did what I wanted to do; I was trying to go the other way with the fastball and hit it into the gap. Luckily I got it up over the fence and got it out.

About coming to the Rangers organization from the Cubs:

At the beginning, I was a little worried, being that it was my first time going to this organization. But this is a great group of guys. When I walked into spring training, they all welcomed me with open hands and open mouths; they were all talking to me and helping me get used to everything. So, when I came here, I knew a bunch of guys already, so it was easy for me to get acclimated.