June 2015

Game Story: Savannah at Hickory June 15

The Hickory Crawdads popped two two-run homers and got strong pitching throughout to defeat the Savannah Sand Gnats 4-1 and close out the first-half Northern Division title in the South Atlantic League.

The win by Hickory (41-22) coupled with West Virginia’s 5-2 loss at home to Augusta sent the players into a celebration frenzy in left field as the final out in Charleston, W.Va. was recorded.

The Crawdads took the final three games in the four-game series to close out a 5-2 home stand. Hickory finished the first half 24-10 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Savannah (34-30) dropped into second place, a game behind Greenville (S.C.) with six games to play in the Southern Division chase.

The Crawdads close out the first half with a six-game road trip starting Tuesday with three games at Rome (Ga.), followed by three at West Virginia.

What happened?:
The Crawdads put up only six hits but four of those came after two outs and led to all four runs.

After the Sand Gnats put up a run in the second, Hickory took a 2-1 lead in the third when Josh Morgan doubled with two outs and scored as Eduard Pinto crushed a 3-1 fastball off the billboards in right.

A similar script with different actors happened one inning later. With two outs, Jairo Beras sent an off-speed pitch through the hole at second. Rock Shoulders followed with a two-run, opposite-field shot to make it 4-1.

Luis Ortiz (4-1) allowed one run on three hits and struck out nine over five innings. Joe Filomeno pitched a scoreless sixth before running into trouble in the seventh. With two outs and a runner at first, Thomas Nido doubled off the wall and Patrick Biondi was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hickory then brought in Austin Pettibone to face SAL all-star second baseman Jonathan Johnson, who pulled a 2-2 slider to first for the 3-1 putout.

Pettibone worked around a single in the eighth before turning it over to John Fasola in the ninth. Fasola struck out the final two batters of the game to complete a 1-2-3 inning and pick up his SAL-high 13th save of the season.

The Good:

Eduardo Pinto: His recent patience at the plate set up the heroics in the third. He ran the count to 3-1, then sat dead red and got an 89 heater from Bruce Meisner that Pinto turned on and sent it well out to right.

Rock Shoulders: Showed a bit of his strength when he put an inside-out swing on Meisner’s first-pitch fastball and sent it high over the fence in left. Made a big play to dig out a throw in the ninth (see below).

Jairo Beras: Seems poised to have a good stretch as he is staying back on secondary pitches, and yet is ready to hit the fastball. Had his second straight two-hit game with one hit coming on a fastball, the other on an off-speed pitch.

Luis Ortiz: Velocity 94-97 throughout, a good cutting slider, but he admitted after the game he didn’t have his best stuff. Said after the game the heat bothered him in the first two innings. But still, nine Ks in five innings (!), mostly coming on sliders and changups. Gassed a 96 mph past Johnson in the third and painted the corner at 97 for a called-strike three to John Mora. Finished the game with 81 pitches (53 strikes).

Austin Pettibone: Got a huge out with the bases loaded in the seventh when he got Johnson to pull a slider to first. K’d two in the eighth, both on sliders low and away to right handers.

John Fasola: Dodged a bullet to start the ninth when Mora lined a pitch hard off Fasola’s glove. Carlos Arroyo charged the ball toward the bag at second and then made an off-balanced throw that Rock Shoulders dug out to the RF side of first and held the bag with his foot. Fasola then gassed up his fastball to 95 and struck out the last two hitters.

The Not-So-Good:

Michael De Leon: Seemed to expand the strike zone in the game. Hitting left handed throughout, he K’d on a fastball away in the third, pulled a fastball in off the plate for a 3-1 grounder in the fifth, and a slider in at the knees for a grounder to first in the seventh.

The Opposition:

Luis Guillorme: Had a brilliant defensive effort both series the Sand Gnats played at L.P. Frans this season. In the sixth, Trevino hit a sharp roller to the hole at short. Guillorme made the backhand play and then the quick transfer for the long jump throw to first and the out.

Jon Leroux: Not sure if he got a slow start at first, or if he himself is slow (I watched the play in the field), but a double off the wall with two outs in the seventh should almost always lead to a run. Was shocked to look up and see him at third.

Game Story: Savannah at Hickory June 14

The Hickory Crawdads opened up a close game up and battered the Savannah Sand Gnats 8-1. With the win, coupled with a doubleheader sweep, the Crawdads are now 5 ½ games ahead of the Power in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division with seven games to play. Hickory (40-22) would clinch the first-half title on Monday with a win over Savannah and a loss by West Virginia to Augusta.

Savannah (34-29) remained tied with Greenville for first place in the Southern Division chase, both 3 ½ games ahead of Augusta. The Drive hosts Rome Monday night.

What happened?:

The teams battled through five shutout innings on a hot Sunday afternoon. Yohander Mendez threw the first three innings for Hickory (2 H, 4 K) before giving way to Ariel Jurado in the fourth. Ricky Knapp matched the Crawdads with five shutout innings (3 H, 4 K) of his own and then turned the game over to reliever Darwin Frias.

Josh Morgan led off the inning with a walk and scored one out later on Jose Trevino’s team-high ninth homer of the season for a 2-0 lead.

The Sand Gnats answered with a two-out rally in the seventh against Jurado. Vicente Lupo and Joe Tuschak each singled before Adrian Abreu followed with a run-scoring hit to score Lupo. Jurado then got Patrick Biondi to ground out to second for the third out.

The Crawdads loaded the bases to start the seventh. After Michael De Leon struck out, it appeared the inning would end on a double play ball by Morgan. However, Carlos Arroyo’s slide into second forced the throw of Jonathan Johnson’s to first to bounce wide and bring in two runs.

Hickory batted around in the eighth and broke open the game in the eighth. Jairo Beras singled in a run, Arroyo punched in two with a bloop double before De Leon’s RBI single finished the rally.

Jurado lasted five innings for the win (9-0) with just the one run allowed on four hits to go with five strikeouts.

The Good:

Carlos Arroyo: His slide in the second led to two runs, but one could argue it led to six total. The play had a noticeable effect on the team, which had a bit more fire after the play.

Jose Trevino: With three homers and 10 RBI and a take-charge attitude behind the plate, he’s put the team on his back during the homestand.

Yohander Mendez: Fastball (89-92) command was spotty at first, but his curveball was more than enough to baffle the Sand Gnat hitters. Had three swing-and-misses for three of his strikeouts and set up a fourth, which was a 91 mph heater on the outside corner to the right-handed Lupo.

Ariel Jurado: Coming out of the bullpen seemed to have no effect on Jurado as he set the tone early. He began throwing a curveball for the first time during the outing and rang up a couple of Ks with it. Began to leave it up in the seventh – the final two hits were 1-2 curveballs – before going back to his sinker and getting out of the jam.

Josh Morgan: Reached base four of five times, but it was his two defensive plays at third late in the game that stuck out. Both plays involved making back-handed stops on short hops behind the bag before making long throws to first.

Jairo Beras: Two hits on the afternoon, one on a fastball, the other a pulled slider that found a hole.

The Not-So-Good:

David Perez: Threw the ninth for Hickory and struggled with fastball command (16 pitches, seven strikes).

The Opposition:

Darwin Frias/ Jose Leger: For a team that seems more geared to try and win games than to play development baseball (they all try to win, I suppose, but some focus more to the development side) the use of Frias was odd. After a shaky sixth, Frias was left on the mound by the manager Leger for two more innings and had nothing. Breaking pitches were up, sliders had little bite and fastballs were B.P. quality. For a team shooting to make a playoff spot (they made a mid-inning pitching change in the 15th inning here in May), it was an odd choice.

Ricky Knapp: Showed a good three-pitch mix that kept Crawdads off balance during much of his five innings. Struck out Trevino on three straight sliders in the first, each one further off the plate.

The Slide: Arroyo’s Base-Running Play a Difference Maker

Box scores will most of the time give the reader a basic snapshot of how a team won or lost a game, but not all the time. It will certainly not give a clue as to how a slide may have contributed to six runs.

The box score from the Hickory Crawdads 8-1 win over Savannah on Sunday will show Jose Trevino’s two-run homer in the sixth inning put the team ahead to stay. However, a play in the seventh had a bigger effect on the game. The runs that tallied and the error charged draw only a hint as to what may have happened.

After dodging a bullet in the seventh, the Crawdads clung to a 2-1 inning heading to the bottom of the inning. Jairo Beras pulled a slider through the hole at short for a hit. Rock Shoulders then lined hard to right for a single to set up a sacrifice situation for Carlos Arroyo. The bunt by Arroyo was a roller along the cut of the grass toward third and his hustle beat the throw to first to load the bases.

Michael De Leon struck out to set up Josh Morgan, the Crawdads hottest hitter from the last month. Morgan pulled a curveball from Sand Gnats reliever Darwin Frias to Luis Guillorme at short for what appeared to be a momentum-shifting double play. Guillorme fielded the roller cleanly and flipped the ball to Jonathan Johnson at second. Johnson made the turn and just at the moment he was to throw the ball, Arroyo took out the legs of Johnson, which affected the relay to first and bounced past Jon Leroux. Beras scored on the original fielder’s choice with Shoulders rumbling home on the overthrow.

“The mentality right off the bat was me being on first,” said Arroyo through the translation of pitching coach Oscar Marin. “I knew that that insurance run was a huge run. So my mentality as soon as I saw the ground ball was I’m going to break up the double play and I was to go straight into the bag.”

The play set off a huge reaction in the dugout. Prior to reaching the dugout, Arroyo ran past Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale, who gave Arroyo – who had joined the Crawdads just a week ago – the same hardy handshake as he had to Trevino rounding the bases the previous inning. Arroyo was welcomed back to the dugout with a hero’s welcome.

“It was huge and I felt really good about it,” said the Valencia, Venezuela native. “I knew how important that run was. The team knew how important it was, being up four instead of three. It was an extra run for the team, so that’s why I was fired up about it. I was really happy that everybody was fired up with me.”

Carlos Arroyo's slide had a large impact in Hickory's 8-1 win over Savannah on Sunday

Carlos Arroyo’s slide had a large impact in Hickory’s 8-1 win over Savannah on Sunday (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Though the slide had nothing to do with anything on the field in the eighth, an argument could be made that it led to six runs, as the Crawdads players had a quicker step on the field after it.

In the eighth, Morgan made a brilliant backhand stop on a short hop behind the bag at third before rifling a BB across the diamond to catch the speedy Wuilmer Becerra.

Hickory went on to bat around in the eighth and collected four more runs to cruise to the win.

“It’s amazing what a couple of runs – a little cushion – will do to take the pressure off your shoulders,” said Ragsdale. “The two runs gave us a little breather there and the next thing you know, you’ve got four more. It was a huge part in the game.”

Role Playing: An Interview with John Fasola

Hickory Crawdads reliever John Fasola is a broken-bat single away from being a perfect 13-for-13 in save opportunities this season. Yet the native of Hudson, Ohio doesn’t consider himself a closer. Of course, currently sitting at Low-A ball, there is certainly a long way to go before his role is ultimately determined.

On numbers alone at college, Fasola might’ve had a point. He worked mostly in middle relief in his lone season at Kent State, where he went 2-2 with three saves and a 4.68 ERA. He posted a 28:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio which led the Texas Rangers to make him the 31st-round pick in 2014.

Fasola went to short-season Spokane and was among several pitchers that closed out games for the Indians. He posted a team high of five saves and a 2.05 ERA. He also struck out 40 and walked five in 26.1 innings.

Bringing a 92-94 mph sinking fastball, occasionally touching up to 96 to go with a slider, at least at this point, Fasola has brought to the table the idea of becoming a crucial bullpen piece, – if not a closer – in the future.

This season, he has worked on adding a changeup to his arsenal. With the addition of the pitch, Fasola may yet be used in a variety of roles in the future.

In recent weeks, Fasola’s workload has increased. During his last four outings, he has thrown at least two innings each time with three or more innings twice. On June 7 at Lakewood, Fasola recorded a ten-out save that gave the Crawdads a key game in their playoff hunt.

While the strikeouts continue to pile up (32 Ks, 3 BBs in 24.1 innings), he has also able to keep hitters on the ground Fasola currently has a 2.45 GO/AO ratio.

Fasola has 12 saves and a  0.74 WHIP in 24.1 innings. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Fasola has 12 saves and a 0.74 WHIP in 24.1 innings. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

In the following interview, Fasola talks about his progression this season in the bullpen, as well as his transition to the pro game.

Let me go through your season a little bit. You have 11 saves at this point (at the time of the interview on June 11). Were you a closer in college?

Fasola: For a little bit, yeah. I was more of a mid-relief setup man and then towards the end I took on a closer role when we made it to the playoffs and the post season. Then in Spokane, I wouldn’t say I was the closer, but I found myself in the back end of the games sometimes – not necessarily in save situations, but just late in the game, seven, eight, nine (innings).

I don’t know, it’s just something I happened to fall into. I didn’t really prepare to be a closer or anything like that. I wouldn’t even qualify myself as a closer. I’ve gone three innings my last two outings. So, whenever they need me to pitch, I’ll pitch.

I was going to ask you about that. I know the Rome situation (three innings for a win on May 31), it was a matter where the guys breaks his bat and gets a hit and the team was a little thin in the bullpen.Were you surprised to get the next one in Lakewood? That’s a ten-out save that stretched you out a bit, but that was a big pickup at the time for the team?

Fasola: I hadn’t thrown in a while. Going into that game, I was told that no matter what the score is today, you’re going to get your work in. At some point when seven days goes by, you know you’ve got to get out on the mound and see some hitters.

So, I was told that I was going in that day; so be ready after the fifth. I think it was the sixth inning, I came in with two outs and I got a three-pitch strikeout. Then I had a quick second inning and the next thing I knew, I was throwing in the ninth. I kept my pitch count down and I got a lot of ground balls and I was fortunate enough to close that game out for us.

How do you feel like you’ve developed this year? You mentioned that you don’t see yourself as the closer, but you’re probably the closest thing we’ve had as a closer in a while. At this level, you just don’t see that much- a closer. How has that developed for you?

Fasola: I think just throwing strikes. Getting to strike one gives you a lot of pitchability. That’s something this year that fortunately I’ve been able to do thus far. Getting to strike one it makes everything easier. You can pitch off your fastball; the hitter really can’t sit on anything. If you get to 0-1, you can throw something in the dirt. You can throw a chase pitch. It just gives you a lot more room to work with. So, this year, I’d say that’s the biggest thing that I’ve gotten better with, just getting the first pitch over the plate.

What sort of stuff did you bring to the pros and what have you developed since you’ve been here?

Fasola: I was a four-seam, slider guy all the way through high school and then in college. I closed a little but in high school, but I didn’t really pitch; I was a thrower. I got drafted and I just kind of threw everything as hard as I could. This year was the first time I started working on a changeup. That’s what I think I can attribute to me being able to go for three innings that I have the last two outings. Just being able to show something else that’s slower instead of the hitter sitting hard, hard, hard. But if you mix a changeup in it makes your fastball look harder, it makers your slider look sharper. It just gives you a lot more room to pitch in.

What are you looking for your changeup to do? Are you looking for it to go a different direction than your slider? What sort of changeup do you throw?

Fasola: That was the biggest thing for me going into spring training; I was mixing up all my grips. At instructs last year they told me I needed something soft to compliment my slider and fastball. I mainly just show it and try to throw it for strikes early on in the count and make them respect the fact that I have that pitch, where they’re not sitting on something hard. They have to respect that. I’ve actually thrown it for an off-speed pitch a couple of times to lefties, if I’m ahead in the count.

I read in the Rangers media guide that your dad was a professional pitcher for the Pirates organization. Has he talked with you about the pro game and passed on words of wisdom, or has he been hands off and letting you seek your own path?

Fasola: He was a catcher, so he knows a little bit about the pitching aspect, because he was a catcher. But his thing was hitting. So when I transitioned over to be a competitive pitcher, he kind of didn’t know that to do and said I can’t you anymore. But he helped me with just being a man and not just baseball stuff. He did his job for me growing up and has just let me find my way in pro ball and kind of let me take the reins.

Has he talked to you about the grind of the situation?

Fasola: He said: Full season, John, is going to be a grind. It’s a long season. You don’t got to blow it out every day. It’s a grind. You’ve just got to take it one day at a time. You can’t be looking in the future. It seems like a thousand day long season. You’ve just got to take it a day at a time and just be happy to be here.

As a pro now in the year since you were drafted, who have you talked to that has helped you make the most sense of doing this job?

Fasola: I think going into the draft – where I got my most advice – is my pitching coach from college, Mike Birkbeck (six year major league vet with the Brewers and Mets.) He was a pro player and kind of that whole season leading up to the draft he conducted our practices like professional practices. He’d give you stories, and give you little advice and tidbits. This offseason, I would go back and throw at his facility where he still coaches. He just gave me some tips where he’d say:  Do this. Throw this much. Take it easy today – and that type of stuff. Mike Birkbeck has helped me a lot.

What does a successful season look like for you?

Fasola: Just getting to the playoffs. Clinching the first half so we can get to the playoffs and we can get a ring for the Crawdads.

When you get a call to the major leagues, who is that going to mean the most to?

Fasola: My dad. My mom and dad, probably more my dad, because he was a professional baseball player.

What do you think he’ll do?

Fasola: I don’t know. I think he’ll probably shed a tear and then be on the next flight. I’m going to fly him and my mom out and my sisters out, that’s for sure.

Game Story: Savannah at Hickory June 13

What Happened?:

See my article from the Hickory Daily Record website: Hickory edges Savannah 3-2

The Good:

**Adam Parks: He and his slider own Savannah in 2015. In 6.1 innings against the Sand Gnats in 2015, the Easton, Md. native has 15 Ks and allowed five hits and a walk. By my count, he had 10 missed bats, all on sliders. His strikeout of Luis Guillorme in the fourth kept the score tied, but for me the seventh innings felt like the ballgame.

In the opening game of the series, Savannah answered at the plate one half-inning after all four innings that Hickory scored. The Sand Gnats did so again in the second after the Crawdads broke open the scoring in the first. When the Crawdads took the lead in the sixth, Savannah sent up the top of the order, which included Hickory’s nemesis Jonathan Johnson- who has reached base seven of ten times in the series. Johnson walked to lead off the inning and went to second on a wild pitch. After fouling back two straight 1-2 pitches, Guillorme again struck out against Parks, who then finished off the inning by fanning Wuilmer Becerra and Jon Leroux.

**John Fasola: He completed the final two innings by allowing just a bloop single to pinch-hitter Eudor Garcia. Fasola then picked off the pinch-runner Patrick Biondi before ending the night by getting Johnson to fly out. He’s been working on a change and tonight he picked at least four outs with it (one a fastball, the other may’ve been a slider).

**Jose Trevino: Now with eight RBI during the home stand. Sat dead red on a first-pitch fastball and lined it straight up the middle for what turned out to be the decisive run of the game.

With Alfaro likely out for the year, I can’t help but wonder if Deglan gets a sink-or-swim assignment at Frisco and Trevino follows on the Rangers catching train to High Desert if and when Hickory clinches a playoff spot. It’s his first full season as a full-time catcher (he’s relatively new to the position after playing mostly shortstop at Oral Roberts.)

**Isiah Kiner-Falefa: Made a brilliant stop of Vicente Lupo’s sharp grounder in the ninth. Moving quickly to his left, Kiner-Falefa slid to a quick stop to catch the quick hop, then fired to first to catch the speedy runner. The errant throw aside on a potential double play ball in the fourth, his play at third has been steady. He makes the routine plays with an occasional flash added now and then.

**Luke Tedler: In talking with Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Josue Perez (interview to be posted soon), he mentioned that Tendler has been going back to basics in relearning to get ready for the fastball. After a big swing-and-miss on a slider, Tendler took a slider off the plate and then punished a “hit-me” fastball up the middle. He lined another fastball hard to left in the sixth.

**Eduardo Pinto: Appears to be seeing the ball well at the plate. He earned his 13th walk of the season, seven of those have now come in the last five games. Swung at only two pitches all night, one was a sharp grounder that turned into a double play in the first. The other was a fastball that was rocketed off the wall in RCF for a triple.

The Not-So-Good:

**Brett Martin had poor command of his fastball (90-92, T-95) all night and never really developed a flow or consistent feel for the strike zone overall. Martin needed 69 pitches (39 strikes) to get 10 outs. Has yet to get back into a groove since missing a recent start with a back ailment.

The Opposition:

**Luis Guillorme: There’s a really good group of defensive shortstops in this league (Michael De Leon of Hickory, Ozhaino Albies of Rome, Cole Tucker of West Virginia to name a few). Guillorme is certainly worth watching in the field. In the first, Eduard Pinto smashed a grounder to 1B Adrian Abreu, who made the pick and started the double play. The throw short hopped Guillorme as he crossed the 2B bag. He made the grab of the short hop, quickly made the transfer to the throwing hand and gunned to the first and hit the pitcher Corey Oswalt covering the bag.

**Patrick Biondi: He had one job—stay on base. With the SAL’s leading hitter (Johnson) at the plate, Biondi, who had entered the game as the tying run at first, got picked off before a throw was made home.

Look Who’s Coming to Hickory: Savannah Sand Gnats 2B Jonathan Johnson

In June, 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates chose Gerrit Cole – a pitcher for UCLA – as the first selection in the first-year player draft. Another 1,529 names were called over a three-day period in early June. Meanwhile at a short distance from UCLA, Jonathan Johnson – a four-year starter at second base for Loyola Marymount – waited those three days for news that never game. His name was never called.

Not ready to give up his dream of playing professional baseball, Johnson went the independent league route, first signing with Shreveport-Bossier of the American Association, and then with the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League.

In 2013, during his second season with the Grizzlies, Johnson set a league record by reaching base in 65 straight games to start the season. Yet, his journey remained mired in the Frontier League.

He decided to give it one more try in 2014 with the hope of beginning a climb to the major leagues with an affiliation.

“I was going in telling my fiancée and my family that this most likely was going to be my last season,” said the Lakewood, Calif. native. “So, I guess that last season I went in there not worried about anything, stress free, just out there having fun with the returning teammates and the coaches I’d been playing for the past three years.”

Having proved himself as a reliable on-base percentage machine (his career OBP is .415 in five career seasons), Johnson was finally signed by the New York Mets midway through his season at Gateway.

While the road to get to what he hopes is a major league career has taken a different journey than he had originally hoped,” Johnson said the experience of the previous four seasons in independent leagues were worth it.”

“Going through independent ball is a longer route than most of the people that get drafted out of high school or college,” said Johnson. “I thought, was a good experience for me I learned a lot there. I met a lot of great guys that’d been through affiliate baseball. I heard stories from them. From that point, it was just all stories. Now I just get to live it.’

He put up an underwhelming .238/.394/.307 slash in 39 games with the Savannah Sand Gnats last year and was reassigned to Savannah this season.

Now at 26 – the second oldest position player in the South Atlantic League – Johnson understands that his learning curve may be a bit shorter than normal. Yet, he entered the season with the idea the he could bring something to his teammates, many of who are five to six years younger

“I’ve learned a lot playing from over the years – a lot of the mental side of it, knowing the game inside and out,” said Johnson. “I feel like that’s what I can bring to these younger guys who obviously already have the skill set, but they’re learning the game and knowing the game, that’s the intangibles that hopefully I can pass onto these younger guys.”

Not satisfied with merely being an elder statesman, Johnson has been a big factor in Savannah’s drive to try and capture the SAL’s Southern Division title for the first half. He leads the South Atlantic League with a .333 batting average, a .430 OBP and is second in OPS at .904. Mostly a contact, put the ball in play hitter, Johnson has also added a little pop to his bat. Having slugged over .400 just twice in a season – both coming at Loyola Marymount – Johnson has shown some gap power this year as he has 15 extra-base hits in 188 plate appearances (.474 slugging pct.).

For his work in sparking the Sand Gnats offense as their lead-off man, Johnson was rewarded last week with being named the starting second baseman for the Southern Division at the SAL All-AStar game.

The honor of the all-star selection is a far cry from this point last year when he was within a few months of walking away from the game forever. Johnson credits his support system for their constant encouragement to pursue his dreams, even when it seemed they were going nowhere fast.

“I’ve had a great support group from my friends and family back home,” said Johnson. “No one wanted me to stop. My dad has always been there supporting me. When I told him that it might’ve been my last year, he supported me in that. But I know deep down, he never wanted me to stop.”

Because of that support, Johnson expect that his dad will be the first person called if and when Johnson receives a major league promotion.

“I wouldn’t be here without him,” said Johnson. “He was my coach in Little League, my coach in Pony. He was there in high school. He’s been my biggest coach in my entire career.”

Game Story: Savannah at Hickory June 12

In a see-saw affair, the Savannah Sand Gnats continually answered the Crawdads throughout the night and took an 8-6 win at L.P. Frans on Friday night.

Savannah (34-27) won its tenth in a row and stayed tied with Greenville (S.C.) atop the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division chase. The Drive defeated Rome 10-8.

Despite the loss, the Crawdads (38-22) held onto a 4 ½ game lead over West Virginia, as the Power dropped a 5-4 decision at home to Augusta.

What Happened?:

The Crawdads scored twice in the first to take the early lead against starter Scarlyn Reyes. Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Morgan both walked. After Eduard Pinto’s bounce out moved them up 90 feet, Jose Trevino hit a dribbler up the first base line that Reyes ran past as he attempted to cover first. Kiner-Falefa scored on the play with Morgan going to third. A walk to Marcus Greene reloaded the bases with one out before Jairo Beras’ grounder to third scored Morgan.

However, in what turned out to be the theme for the night, Savannah answered in the next half inning. In the second, against starter Nick Gardewine John Leroux singled and scored on John Mora’s triple. One out later, Thomas Nido slapped a liner to left to score Mora.

Nick Gardewine delivers a pitch Friday night vs. Savannah (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Nick Gardewine delivers a pitch Friday night vs. Savannah (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

The Sand Gnats retook the lead in the third as Jonathan Johnson (3-5) tripled just under the glove of Tripp Martin at first and scored on a single by Luis Guillorme (2-4).

Trevino’s homer (8) in the third tied it at three, but an error on a pickoff attempt at second by Gardewine lead to a run as J.C. Rodriguez scored from third on a ball in the dirt when Thomas Nido struck out.

Jose Trevino crushed his 8th homer of the season for Hickory (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino crushed his 8th homer of the season for Hickory (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Hickory again tied it in the fourth when Tripp Martin (2-4) doubled and was joined on the bases after Jose Cardona was hit by a pitch. A wild pitch advanced both the runners and Martin scored on Kiner-Falefa’s fielder’s choice However, the promising inning ended with Cardona was thrown out at third on the play.

With Kelvin Vasquez replacing Gardewine in the fifth, a passed ball by Greene led to a run in the fifth for Savannah as, Wuilmer Becerra scored on Leroux’s single to make it 5-4.

The Crawdads took what turned out to be their last lead of the night in the sixth when Martin crushed a hanging curveball for a two-run homer (8).

The Sand Gnats answered for the last time in the seventh. Johnson crushed a Vasquez (3-2) fastball over the fence in right for his second homer of the season. After Guillorme singled hard to left, Becerra smacked a two-run shot (8) to right for what turned out to be the final margin.

Paul Paez gave up one hit over two relief innings and Jimmy Duff retired the side on ten pitches in the ninth for his fifth save.

The Good:

*Jose Trevino continued a solid homestand with an RBI single and a homer. He’s now hit in six straight (8-for-22) with three extra-base hits, three runs scored and seven RBI. Trevino’s locked in on the fastball at the moment, and for the most part seeing breaking balls well by either letting them go, or spoiling them.

**Tripp Martin took out the first curveball of the game from Reyes in the sixth – a hanger that gave the Crawdads their last lead of the game at 6-5. He also drove a fastball up and away to the wall in right-center field and was robbed of a hit earlier in the second.

Tripp Martin doubled and smacked a 2-run HR (8) on Friday (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt

Tripp Martin doubled and smacked a 2-run HR (8) on Friday (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

**Joe Filomeno retired all nine batters he faced over the final three innings. Showed a good sinking fastball (91-93) with a slider that had some bite and a change that stayed down. Recorded five groundouts and K’d two.

Joe Filomeno delivers a pitch vs. Savannah on Friday (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Joe Filomeno delivers a pitch vs. Savannah on Friday (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

** Eduard Pinto did his job and it saved a run in the first. Johnson stole third with relative ease. When the throw from catcher Marcus Greene went into left, Pinto had already charged in from left to back up the play. The throw went straight the Pinto in shallow left and Johnson had to hold at third.

The Not-So-Good:

**One of the uglier games the Crawdads have played in awhile. Had Reyes on the ropes early, but let him off the hook. Played a bit loose on the bases and got burned. Gave away bases. Unable to hold leads, etc. etc. The post-game locker room was not a happy place following.

**Base running miscues took the Crawdads out of a potential big inning in the fourth With one out and a runner on second and third. Kiner-Falefa hit a roller into the hole at short. Martin easily scored from third, but with no play at first, Guillorme was able to catch Cardona – who had the play in front of him – trying to advance to third. Kiner-Falefa was then caught trying to advance to second on a pitch in the dirt that stayed within a couple of feet of the catcher Thomas Nido, who collected the easy out at second. Pinto singled with two outs in the seventh, but was easily picked off by lefty reliever Paul Paez. It turned out to be the last hope for the ‘Dads in the game.

**Jairo Beras, who was solidly on the ball all night Thursday, was anything but on Friday. Of his three Ks, two came on sliders and the final one was looking at an 89 mph fastball down the middle.

**Nick Gardewine had little consistency with his breaking pitches and paid the price as the Sand Gnats hitters waited for a fastball they could handle and slapped it around the field. Gardewine gave up nine hits, seven on fastballs.

** Kelvin Vasquez had a good slider at times and gassed his fastball 95-97 during his two-plus innings. But the fastball had little movement and so the two homers in the decisive seventh came on 97 and 96 mph pitches down the pike.

**The Crawdads made Reyes throw 30 pitches in the first and loaded the bases twice. They picked up two in the inning, but it seemed like more should’ve been scored. It turned out to be an ancillary theme to the anti-shutdown thread from the pitching staff this evening. It felt like the Crawdads had a chance to blow the game open early, yet didn’t.

The Opposition:

**He’s old (26) for this league, but to his credit, Jonathan Johnson is doing what he should do against younger, more inexperienced pitchers, and that’s smack the ball around the field (.333/.430/.474). Has a short stroke that can irritate a pitcher as he did in the first when the lefty slapped a up-and -away fastball to left. He barreled up a couple of fastballs for XBHs, including Vasquez’s 97 offering that went well into the night.

**Patrick Biondi made one of the better catches in center at LP. Frans by a player not named Brinson or McCutchen that I’ve seen in 11 seasons. Tracking a sharp, slicing liner from Martin in the second, he made a sprint to his left and then pulled off a full extension dive with the glove making the catch just above the grass.

** Savannah didn’t exactly play textbook baseball either. Reyes ran over (literally over) Trevino’s dribbler to cover first. Meanwhile, the first baseman Leroux was already at first awaiting a play. On another play, Guillorme got caught off first on a routine fly to center in the third.

Game Story: Charleston at Hickory May 11

What Happened:

Not known for their power the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs hit homers in back-to-back innings Thursday and sank the Hickory Crawdads 4-3 in South Atlantic League play Thursday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Despite the loss, Hickory (38-21) caught a break in its first-half Northern Division title chase when second place West Virginia blew a two-run lead in the ninth and fell to Savannah 4-3. The Crawdads lead the second place Power by 4 ½ games with ten to go. The magic number to clinch the first-half title is six.

For its part, Charleston (29-31) stayed in the race in the Southern Division. The win moved the RiverDogs into third place and put them four games behind both Savannah and Greenville.

The RiverDogs literally came out of the gate fast as speedy shortstop lined the second pitch of the game to right center for a triple. Dustin Fowler singled him in for the first run. One out later, Juan Graterol lined a double to the wall in left center to make it 2-0.

The Crawdads struck back in the first with a run. Josh Morgan walked, moved to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on Jose Trevino’s double to the left field corner.

Hickory took the lead in the second against R-Dogs starter Rony Bautista. Rock Shoulders walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. Carlos Arroyo singled him to third and also moved to second on a wild pitch. Jose Cardona then followed with a sharp single off the glove of the diving third baseman Ryan Lindemuth to give Hickory a 3-2 lead.

Collin Wiles then gave up his first home run of the season in the fourth when Austin Aune took him deep to right – his third of the season.

The home run surrendered by Wiles was the first given up by a starting pitcher since May 11, a span of 28 games covering 147.2 innings.

As rain began in the fifth, Fowler golfed a curveball out of the park in right for his third of the season to put the R-Dogs in front 4-3.

Entering the game 13th out of 14 teams in the SAL in home runs, Charleston has hit five of its 19 homers against Hickory pitching. The two homers allowed by Wiles was only the third time in 2015 that a starter has given up two in a game.

After a 29-minute rain delay, the RiverDogs replaced Bautista with reliever Matt Marsh. He shut down the Crawdads on two hits over the last five innings to pick up the win (1-0). The lone threat against Marsh came when Hickory put two runners on with two outs in the seventh, but was unable to score.

Austin Pettibone threw three perfect innings of relief for Hickory, striking out two. Scott Williams worked around a walk and a hit batter in the ninth to keep the Crawdads within a run. But Marsh struck out two in the bottom of the ninth, the last against Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to end the game.

The Good:

**Jose Trevino had a complete game at the plate and behind it. He turned a 94 mph heater into the leftfield corner and stole a base to set the Crawdads up for a potential second run in the first. He reached six times in 12 plate appearances in the series and has a five-game hitting streak.

But it was his efforts as a catcher that was impressive. With a runner on first in the second, Trevino snagged a low glove-side curveball and made a strong throw to second to cut down Aune trying to steal. In the ninth, Williams struck out Aune with a slider that trickled behind Trevino. He found the ball quickly and put a throw on the money to Kiner-Falefa at third to cut down the slow-footed Juan Graterol at third.

He also had a hand in keeping the demeanor of a couple of pitchers in check. When Wiles had walked the first batter in the second and started the next hitter with a fastball off the plate, Trevino trotted out to the mound, said a couple of words, and then issued a backside slap before returning to the plate. Wiles then ended the inning with two pop ups before Trevino rang up the caught stealing. In the ninth, when Williams got into trouble due to control issues, again it was Trevino to the mound to go face-to-face with the hurler. A few words said, a two-handed love tap to the shoulders, then back to the plate. A 2-0 count to Aune turned into an infield fly before the strike-‘em-out-throw-‘em out.

**Eduard Pinto had walked six times total in his first 39 games entering the series. He walked twice on Thursday and finished with six walks the past three games. He also singled in the third and reached base 7 of 12 times in the series

**Isaiah Kiner-Falefa with a couple of nice play at third. In the second, he made a quick run to the fence past the dugout, then made a leaning catch for the out. In the eighth, Kiner-Falefa showed quick hands to snatch a sharp grounder from Fowler. The force of the hit spun Kiner-Falefa briefly before he recovered to make the throw to third.

**Jairo Beras appears to be on track to make a run at the plate. He took a fastball up and out to right for a lined single. In the sixth, he rapped the first pitch he saw from Marsh into the gap in left center for a giraffe-like gaited, legged-out double. In the eighth, Beras ripped a hanging curve that went straight to Aune in right.

** Austin Pettibone showed a good biting slider that played a big part in his perfect three innings. He missed four bats with the pitch and used it to set up a called-strike three on a fastball to Devyn Bolasky.

The Not-So-Good:

**Collin Wiles did not have his usual control much of the night. Fastballs and changes both stayed up and were spanked often. His breaking stuff didn’t have its usual bite. Wiles left an 0-2 change up that Fowler used for his RBI single in the first. He ahead of Graterol 0-2 in the first, but missed the plate with a fastball and slider before leaving a fastball over the plate for the RBI double. He did miss bats with his slider in the fifth and made a good pitch to Fowler – a curveball that Fowler went down to get and golfed out to right.

**Luke Tendler was eaten up with breaking stuff much of the night. After K-ing twice vs. Bautista – both on sliders down and in, the curveball of Marsh got him in the sixth. Of the ten breaking pitches he saw, Tendler whiffed on seven of them. The one fastball he struck, was late and turned into a routine 6-3.

The Opposition:

**Matt Marsh held the Crawdads pretty well in check and had several hitters flailing at his curve (6 missed bats and a called 3rd strike). He did leave some pitches up that Hickory hitters were unable to get to fall. In the eighth, an 0-2 hanger to Beras was lined to RF for an out. The next batter Rock Shoulders saw a fat 0-2 fastball that was lined near the track in center.

**Fowler finished the series 7-for-12 with 3 RBI and 3 runs.

**Aune had a big hand in the outcome in right. He made a sliding catch of a slicing liner by Kiner-Falefa in the first, which minimized the damage for Charleston early. Two innings later, his strong throw to the plate was in time to catch Trevino trying to score from second on a single by Beras.

Game Story: Charleston at Hickory June 9, 2015

Rock Shoulders hit a solo homer and Jose Trevino added a three-run bomb in support of Luis Ortiz and two relievers as the Hickory Crawdads defeated the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs 5-2 in the opening game of a three-game series Tuesday night.

The Crawdads (37-20) increased their lead in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League to 3 ½ games over second place West Virginia, which lost a 9-1 beatdown to Savannah. The RiverDogs (28-30) dropped into fourth place in the Southern Division and now trail first place teams Greenville and Savannah by three games in the Southern Division chase. The 70-game, first-half season ends on June 21.

After Crawdads starter Luis Ortiz got out of a first-inning jam with a double play, Hickory got on the board in the bottom of the inning with a sacrifice fly by Eduard Pinto.

It turned out to be all that Ortiz needed as he retired 15 of the last 17 hitters he faced on the night. Ortiz (3-1) allowed four hits and struck out four over six shutout innings.

Hickory loaded the bases with one out against RiverDogs starter Luis Cedeno (3-6) in the third. However on back-to-back, first pitches, Cedeno got Trevino to hit into an infield fly and Luke Tendler to ground out to short.

Shoulders turned on a Cedeno fastball and sent it well out of the park to right field in the fourth. It was Shoulders first homer of the season.

In the fifth, Josh Morgan singled and Pinto walked ahead of Trevino’s seventh homer of the season – his first since April 26.

Charleston scored its only runs in the seventh when Chris Breen sent a Chris Dula curveball over the fence in left. The homer was the fourth of the season for Breen, which leads the team. The blast was the first allowed by the Crawdads in 11 games, spanning 89.1 innings. (Delmarva’s Logan Uxa on 5/27 vs. Kelvin Vasquez.) The RiverDogs have hit 17 home runs this season- three of those against Hickory pitching.

Yohander Mendez closed out the game for this third save with two scoreless innings, during which he allowed just one walk.

The Good:

**Ortiz. Here’s his night here. He also continues a streak of 27 games (139 innings) in which a starter has not allowed a home run.

**Eduard Pinto had a perfect night at the plate, even though he did not officially have an at-bat. To go with his sacrifice fly, Pinto walked three straight times. He had walked only three times entering the game. In the eight games he has batted third this season, Pinto has a slash line of .333/.406/.519 with a double, two triples and four walks.

** Yohander Mendez took a little time to find the feel to his curveball in the eighth, but then ended that inning with back-to-back Ks – four missed bats on curves. He ended the game by getting Breen looking on a curve.

**Rock Shoulders finally found a bit of luck. After crushing a pitch to center in the second, he hit the third-straight 93 mph pitch thrown to him in the fourth for the no-doubter.

**After missing a curve in the third (see below) Jose Trevino didn’t miss the hanger in the fifth for what turned out to be the difference.

**Josh Morgan made a nice play at short on a sinking, low liner by Graterol to the cut of the grass.

The Not-So-Good

** Carlos Arroyo hit into some bad luck during an 0-for-4 night. With Jairo Beras on the move in the second, Arroyo hit a sharp liner up the middle that found 2B Angel Aguilar’s glove as he moved to cover second. Beras was doubled up easily. In the sixth, his liner into the gap in right-center field was run down by CF Dustin Fowler.

**Chris Dula gave up a cheapie single to Juan Granatol (a dribbler to third) to start the sixth, then had problems finding the strike zone with his sinker. He then left a curveball up to Breen, who spanked it for a HR. To his credit, Dula settled down and ended the inning by getting Austin Aune to ground a hard sinker to short.

**Sporting the worst offensive numbers in the SAL, Charleston appeared to be on the ropes in the third and had played the infield in with a runner at third and one out, trailing 1-0. After Cedeno walked Pinto on five pitches to load the bases, Cedeno got Trevino to chase a first-pitch curve that was popped up for an infield fly. Luke Tendler then sent a first-pitch sinker to short to end the inning.

** Jairo Beras seemed to have trouble seeing the ball in right. He froze on Fowler’s double to right in the first before chasing down the ball that one-hopped the wall. On Fowler’s fly out in the sixth, Beras came in briefly before retreating backwards to make the catch.

A Fifth Gear: Luis Ortiz Finds a Groove in the Fifth

Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Luis Ortiz woke up Tuesday morning (June 9) with a text from his catcher Jose Trevino.

“He texted me saying, ‘you got selected,’” said Ortiz of how he heard of being named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. Trevino’s text then continued with an admonition saying. “Let’s go out there and pitch and show them why you got selected to be an all-star.”

Ortiz did just that by delivering a strong six innings of shutout baseball that sent the Crawdads to a 5-2 win over the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs at L.P. Frans Stadium. He struck out four, allowed four hits – only two after the first inning – and retired the final ten batters he faced.

The outing almost never happened after he slipped on the mound when he threw the first pitch of the game. After stretching on the mound, he called Trevino to the mound, and was soon followed by manager Corey Ragsdale, pitching coach Oscar Marin and trainer Sean Fields.

“He almost came out of the game,” said Ragsdale. “That’s one of those deals where if he’s not 100%, and he lets us know, or if we don’t think he’s being honest with us, then he’s probably going to come out of the game right there. I think it scared him more than anything.”

After a few warmup tosses, Ortiz stayed in the game and eventually worked out of a first-and-third situation with one out when he got Juan Graterol to pull a slider and hit into a 6-4-3 twin killing.

Ortiz said there was never a question in his mind as to whether or not he would stay in the game.

“No, I wanted to pitch. I don’t like going out there and throwing one pitch and then you’re done. That’s not me. I want to go out there and compete. If I’m hurt, I’ll still compete.”

Including a 92-94 mph fastball at the start, Ortiz threw a three-pitch mix (fastball, slider, change) in the first couple of innings. Though he got a strikeout of Jorge Mateo with a change in the first – and came back to it occasionally – the slider became his go-to secondary pitch much of the night.

Vince Conde ripped a 96 mph heater for a single in the second and Dustin Fowler added a seeing-eye single up the middle in the third for what turned out to be the final base runner to reach against Ortiz. Then after Rock Shoulders added to Hickory’s 1-0 lead with a homer to right, it got filthy in the fifth.

“I felt like my arm was loosening up,” Ortiz said. “I went out and my mentality was like, let’s go win and get a W.”

Ortiz saying his arm was loosening up seemed simplistic watching in person. The windup remained the smooth, easy delivery he’s shown most of the time since coming to Hickory in 2014. But the ball exited his right hand similar to The Roadrunner leaving the TV screen in Warner Brothers cartoon.

Luis Ortiz delivers a pitch in a game on May 25 vs. Delmarva (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Luis Ortiz delivers a pitch in a game on May 25 vs. Delmarva (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

It started against the right-handed hitter Conde in the fifth with a 97 mph rocket on the outside corner at the knees. Conde swung through another 97 before taking what looked like a backdoor slider at 90 to the knees for strike three.

Next came the lefty Austin Aune, who battled through a seven-pitch at bat. He whiffed a 1-1, 98 mph heater, then watched a change come in low and inside. Aune then spoiled a 96 mph pitch, took a 98 just inside before finding air on another slider coming in at the knees.

Alexander Palma ended the inning by taking a change out to center.

When asked about the predominant use of his slider as the game went along, Ortiz gave credit to Trevino for calling the pitch.

“I thank Trevino, because he’s the one who called the game for me. I believe in my catcher. I go with him and I trust him. That’s how pitchers should be: trust their catchers.”

In the sixth, Ortiz finished the night by sandwiching a couple of 4-3 grounders on outside corner fastballs to Mateo and Angel Aguilar around a flyout to right by Fowler.

The final pitch to Aguilar, which turned out to be Ortiz’s final toss of the night, came in at 99 mph on the radar gun.

“He got better as he went on,” Ragsdale said. “I don’t know what the deal was with that, but that was impressive. He went from good stuff to really, really good stuff. It was exciting, is what it is – a young kid navigating his way through the lineup, especially going through it again in the fifth and sixth inning for the third time. Usually, that’s when it gets dicey, but he got stronger. It was fun to watch.”

Of the first 50 pitches he threw, Ortiz tossed only three pitches that were at 96, which much of the velocity hovering at 92-94. In the fifth and sixth innings, Ortiz threw 16 of 28 pitches at 96 and above. When asked about what seemed to be the discovery of a fifth gear, Ortiz said he couldn’t explain it.

“I just went out there. It was just me and it happens. Thanks to God. He came with me and helped me. He kept me away from injury and it just happened. I just don’t know if it was another gear, it was just another pitch.”