September 2015

Walter Young: Remembering a Gentle Giant

I’m not going to pretend that I knew Walter Young. I never met him. However, from the people I talked with and heard from that did know him, I wish I had. Simply put, Young was described as a giant of a man with an even bigger heart.

I did get to see Young play at the end of the 2002 season. I was in Hickory preparing to move my family here from Columbus, GA. I saw the big powerful man – listed in 2002 at 6-foot-5, 258 pounds – approach the plate and saw the numbers that went with it. From what little I knew about the Crawdads at the time, I knew that this was the powerhouse in the lineup that likely had a lot to do with the Hickory Crawdads making the playoffs – a run that ended with the Crawdads first South Atlantic League (SAL) title.

What I do remember about seeing Young play in 2002 – oddly enough – was the intentional walk. It was in such a situation that I taught my then eight-year-old son about intentional walks, and it happened simply because the other team didn’t want to get beat by the big man.

Young was certainly feared by SAL pitchers in 2002. At a level where intentional walks are rarely issued, Young received six that season – more than the Crawdads team has received in six entire individual seasons since 2008.

The numbers Young put up that season were among the best ever by a Crawdads hitter. His 34 doubles were a single-season record until 2011. He led the SAL that season in doubles, home runs (25), hits (164) and total bases (277). For his efforts, Young received the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

Walter Young shown with the 2002 SAL MVP award

Walter Young shown with the 2002 SAL MVP award (photo courtesy of Barbara Beatty)

His power was certainly legendary among players in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

“I had a chance to spend instructional league with Walter in ’02,” said 2003 Crawdads outfielder and SAL batting title winner Chaz Lytle. “He was what we called a ‘gentle giant’, but let me tell you he could hit the furthest home runs I have ever seen. The word ‘Tower Power’ doesn’t even describe his power. I watched this guy hit a golf cart behind our Spring Training complex in a game against the Reds.”

While the tales of his Paul Bunyan-type power were recalled by players and fans alike, they paled in comparison to stories of Young the person – a man who enjoyed what he did on and off the field, often with lots of laughter.

“He was a great guy,” said pitcher 2001 Crawdads pitcher Kenny Henderson. “I remember nothing but him hitting a laser off me in spring training and hearing him laugh rounding first base.”

He was described by several players as a mentor who took them, in some cases, literally under his care.

“One memory I have of Walter is him inviting me to stay at his place when I got called up to Low A in which we won the championship that year,” said Rajai Davis, now an outfielder with the Detroit Tigers. “It was at the end of the year so was really beneficial for me. The next year the Crawdads made a bobblehead of him of which I still have now.”

Walter Young with former SAL president John Moss (center) and Crawdads employee Jeremy Neisser

Walter Young with former SAL president John Moss (center) and Crawdads employee Jeremy Neisser (photo courtesy of Barbara Beatty)

The combination of power and personality of the man were such that the Crawdads held a Walter Young Bobblehead Night the next season. He’s the only Crawdads player I can recall that had a bobblehead night the following season after playing with Hickory.

Walter Young bobblehead back Walter Young bobblehead front

The friendships that Young made were not just for the moment, but in many cases turned into lifelong friendships. Former teammate Vic Buttler (’01-’02, ’05) told of his first meeting with Young at the Pirates complex in Bradenton, Fla.

“I still vividly remember until this very day, after getting drafted and being shipped to Bradenton, Florida. Walter Young was the very first person that greeted me as I exited that white van. He asked me my name and told me his. From that day forward, Walt and I developed a strong bond and were roommates during our playing seasons together. Although Walt stood amongst the giants, he was the friendliest and most courteous peer I’ve ever played with!”

Young was certainly revered by fans and the Crawdads front office staff that got to see Walter Young play. When I began working with the team’s front office in 2005, occasionally you’d here talk of “Big Walter” with big smiles and occasional laughter. It was simply a reflection of what they had received from Young himself.

“Walter Young always had a big smile and was very kind to everyone that he met,” recalled former long-time Crawdads employee Barbara Beatty.

When Young received what turned out to be his lone major league call-up in September 2005, those who knew him were genuinely glad to see Big Walter get his chance with the Baltimore Orioles.

Perhaps the best story from those who worked for the Crawdads comes from former Crawdads bat boy, Eric Davidson, who celebrated his 18th birthday on the night the Crawdads won the decisive game five of the SAL Championship Series at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory.

“I was working as the batboy for the series and right after the final out was recorded,” Davidson recalls. “We were all out on the field celebrating and Walter walks up to me with a bottle of champagne and dumps it over my head while singing, Happy Birthday.”

Young played through the 2009 season before returning home to his native Purvis, MS, where he worked as a deputy sheriff.

“He was always kind, funny, and reached out to everybody,” Lytle said. “I am sure he is making someone laugh now. You will be missed JR.”

 Walter Young

Former Crawdads on-field emcee Jeremy Neisser added a few memories of Walter Young’s 2002 season.
#1 – Before the start of the season the Hickory Daily Record put together a piece on the Crawdads. They asked if we knew what Walter looked like since him and Chris Young had the same last name. They wanted to do a piece on the “Youngs” but we had no clue anything about Walter.

#2. Walters walkout song was “It’s getting Hot in Here” by Nelly.

#3. Mike Maulding at Peak Motors down the street got Walter to sign a bat for him, I remember him and Walter chatting after the championship game about how much fun the season was and how Walter was a man playing with boys during the year. Walter literally lead almost every offensive category that year.

#4 Walter made the 2002 SAL All-Star team with Keppinger, Vic Buttler, Jeremy Harts, Chris Shelton and Manager Tony Beasley. I believe Bautista was too. Walter was named the Most Outstanding Prospect and MVP of the game. That same year Robinson Cano, Angel Pagan, David Wright and Ryan Howard all made the All-Star team with the Crawdads boys.

#5 Our last series before the All-Star game we were playing in Hagerstown. I was on the road doing radio with Canio. Before we left the plan was for me to drive our All-Stars to Lakewood from Hagerstown. We rented a van from enterprise and I drove Walter Young, (Jeff) Keppinger and (Jeremy) Harts while Chris Young drove (Chris) Shelton. It was a fun and interesting ride from Hagerstown as Harts and Keppinger and Walter just shot the breeze about the season and the goal to win the championship. It was like being that fan who had the chance to sit in the clubhouse and shoot the breeze about the game and the season. Walter was never an outgoing guy so that was a special moment.

#6 Walter lived with Harts across from our Brad and I inside Northside Apt. We routinely picked up these guys for player appearances and all these guys wanted to do was sleep. Can’t blame them, I would too.

#7 Chris Shelton and Walter routinely switched back and forth between who was DH and 1B, Beasley had a pretty easy job putting together that lineup. I can still remember it like it was yesterday, Shelton caught the foul pop-out to end the Championship game and we all celebrated like we were world champs! After the celebration on the field ended the team and staff headed to the clubhouse. Champagne was getting popped and beers were getting poured on peoples’ heads. It was a fun celebration. I vaguely remember Walter not participating. He was hanging up his jersey, cleats, etc while everything was happening. Not sure why he didn’t.. maybe he knew this was going to happen all along.

The Throw: Beras’ Tools on Display in SAL Playoffs

Before the first game of the opening round series 2015 South Atlantic League playoffs between Hickory and West Virginia, I ran a tweet that said,

“Going to give a prediction that Jairo Beras has a huge series. It’s time he takes the work he’s done in the 2nd half and do big things”

Jairo Beras did indeed do big things throughout the playoffs and his game-saving throw in the seventh inning during the decisive game three of the SAL Championship Series was a key play for the Hickory Crawdads in closing out a three-game sweep of the Asheville Tourists.

Championship-caliber play didn’t seem likely on the second game of the season when the native of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R. continued a behavioral pattern that happened occasionally in 2014 – lack of hustle on pop-ups or groundballs. After getting sent to baseball purgatory for a month – extended spring training in Arizona – a hamstring injury upon his return cost him two more weeks.

Another “lack of hustle” incident occurred in a game on June 29, this time in front of Texas Rangers senior director of player development Mike Daly. Beras was benched for a game.

During an interview I did with Daly after the June 29 game, I asked him about the continued disinterest that Beras seemed to have in his own abilities.

“It’s really up to the player to decide that they’re going to do the things each and every day that’s part of being a professional player…” Daly said in June. “Our job as an organization is to support him and when he doesn’t do the things that he’s supposed to do to correct them and teach him and to make sure he learns from him. Ultimately, it’s up to Jairo to make those changes.”

Beras did indeed make those changes in putting up a 21-game hitting streak in the second half, which included a hustle single that broke up a fledgling prefect-game bid on July 20.

He carried his strong second half into the playoffs with a two-hit game – including a homer – in game one at West Virginia. In the final game of that series, he threw out Power runner Kevin Newman in the first inning of what turned out to be 1-0 win for Hickory.

In the championship series, he reached base four times over the first two games and knocked in three runs, but it is his throw in the final game that had the Crawdads players, coaches and players in awe.

The right field wall at Asheville’s McCormick Field is measured at 297 feet from home plate to the foul pole, 320 in the gap – the approximate distance of a football field.

It is from that distance that right fielder Jairo Beras made what Hickory Crawdads radio voice Jason Patterson called on the air “a throw Beras will tell his children and grandchildren about.”

The play developed with Nunez at first and two outs. Tourists hitter Roberto Ramos hit a low line drive to Beras in right for single. Trying to come up the ball, it skipped past Beras and rolled to the wall. Beras sprinted back to recover from the mistake, gathered the ball, and from the wall, fired an on-target throw that hit catcher Jose Trevino chest high and easily beat the runner by several steps.

“He fired an absolute laser,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “I just stood in awe and watched it. It was unbelievable.”

Said pitcher Shane McCain in the locker room, “I’ve never seen a throw like that before.”

Players that go onto the majors seem to have those moments that springboard them toward that level. Those that watched Beras in the 2015 playoffs may have just seen that leap.

SAL championship celebration

Jairo Beras (5) far right, celebrates with his teammates at the conclusion of the Hickory Crawdads sweep of Asheville in the SAL Championship Series (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Walter Young Dies: Former SAL MVP had brief MLB career

Walter Young, a first baseman for the Hickory Crawdads during their first South Atlantic League (SAL) championship in 2002, passed away on Saturday, September 19 in his hometown of Purvis, MS, where he served as a deputy sheriff. He was 35.

The first baseman came to Hickory three seasons after the Pittsburgh Pirates took him in the 31st round of the 1999 draft out of Purvis High.

Young was named the SAL Most Valuable Player for his dominant work in the Crawdads lineup. In 132 games that season, Young posted a .333/.390/.563 slash with 34 doubles, 25 homers and 103 RBI. His doubles mark at the time set the club’s single-season mark. He led the SAL in hits (164), homers and total bases (277).

Other top-10 Crawdads marks still held by Young: second in total bases, third in hits and RBI, sixth in batting avg. and slugging, seventh in HBP (15) and eighth in games played.

Along with his MVP honors in 2002, Young was named to Baseball America’s Low-A all-star team. He went on to all-star honors in the Carolina League at High-A Lynchburg in 2003 and in the Eastern League at AA Bowie of the Baltimore Orioles chain in 2004.

Young played much of 2005 with the Orioles’ AAA farm team at Ottawa before he got his lone big league callup to Baltimore on September 6.He went 10-for-33 in 14 games with a double, a homer and three RBI.

His lone homer in the majors came on 9/13/05 for the Orioles at Texas – a solo shot in the seventh inning against R.A. Dickey.

Young’s affiliated career lasted one more season in 2006 with the Astros and Padres. From there, he played for various independent league teams, the last coming in 2009 at Edmonton of the Golden League.

SAL Championship celebration photos

I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

Talented Humility: Luis Ortiz Mixing the Two for a Promising Career

Hickory Crawdads pitcher Luis Ortiz literally brings a world of talent to the mound. Named the World Cup MVP for the gold-medal winning, 18-and-under Team USA national baseball team, the Sanger, Calif. native was selected in the first round by the Texas Rangers in June 2014. When he came to Hickory last summer, Ortiz was the first high school pitcher since 1993 to be drafted by the Rangers and then later pitch for a full-season minor league club in the same season.

Those who rank prospects love him. MLB.com currently lists Ortiz as the No. 91 prospect overall in the minor leagues and the Rangers fifth-best prospect. Baseball America tabbed him as the Rangers’ ninth-best prospect prior to the 2015 season.

His 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame supports an easy, fluid motion that belies the 94-96 mph fastball that suddenly springs from his right hand. Wielding that pitch along with a hard, mid-to-upper 80s slider and an occasional change, there is much to like about Ortiz.

After putting up a 1.80 ERA in 50 innings with 65 strikeouts and 15 walks this season, the playoffs have truly given him a center stage in which to display his talents.

Last Saturday in a 1-0 win to clinch the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division series, Ortiz threw arguably his most dominant two innings of the season by striking out four of the six hitters he faced. His slider missed five bats and two of the strikeouts came on a fastball that zoomed up to 98 that kissed the glove-side corner at the knees.

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

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

Tuesday against Forrest Wall, the number four second base prospect (mlb.com), Ortiz had Wall swinging through a changeup, fastball and slider on successive pitches.

“He’s got a great arm and has a huge upside,” said Rangers field coordinator Casey Candaele said of the 19-year-old. “He’s young and still has a lot to learn, of course, but he’s moving in the right direction.”

While many of his age would rightfully tout their success at such a young age, at this point, Ortiz will have none of that. When you speak with him, you quickly gauge that he has confidence in ability. However, there is a bit of his personality that gives you the feeling that he wonders what all the fuss is about. This is a humble kid and he learned that humility from his earliest days. It’s become an asset to his baseball career.

Known as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree City,” Ortiz’s hometown of Sanger is located near Fresno, nestled against the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California’s Central Valley. It was this small town of raisin and orange farmers that Ortiz grew up with his siblings to a single mom and her family. With a large gang presence there in the area, and his mom working two jobs to support the family, Ortiz credited his great-grandfather Ricardo Santiago for keeping him out of trouble and serving as the male role model growing up.

It was Santiago, who Ortiz said was a catcher in the Mexican League, that helped him developed his love for baseball. But it was Santiago’s work with the area’s homeless population that stuck with Ortiz the most.

“My great-grandfather had a decent-sized home on the west side of Fresno, which is not a bad area,” said Ortiz. “But there’s a lot of homeless and he brought in a lot of homeless. A lot of homeless people were living in the back of his house. He had cooking and a whole set-up for them back there. So, I grew up around a lot of people like that. He showed me how to care in the way that I grew up.”

Ortiz also credits Terance Frazier – the founder of Central Cal Baseball Academy in Fresno – for seeing the immense talent that was there and getting him on track so that Ortiz could do what needed to be done to use that talent.

“He took me into his home and helped me get off the streets and become a better person,” Ortiz said of the man he called a father figure. “I grew up, lost weight, started traveling and getting good grades in school. He transformed me. I went to showcases and made a name for myself, and here I am now playing professional ball.”

The Rangers signed Ortiz away from a commitment to Fresno State for a reported $1.75 million. He had hoped to use the bonus money to put his mom into a better home, but true to her family’s humble spirit passed down from Ortiz’s great-grandfather, she would have none of it.

“My mom didn’t want one single penny from me,” Ortiz said. “No one did. I wanted to help, but they said get to the big leagues. That’s the only thing they wanted me to do was to get to the big leagues. My mom still lives with my grandparents.”

Candaele sees a lot of that humble spirit in Ortiz. He feels that trait along with his talent will serve him well on the road to the majors.

“If you show humility, and have a lot of confidence inside,” said Candaele. “And you can do a lot of things, and be successful in the game, that’s the ultimate teammate, the ultimate player you look at.”

The lessons with which Ortiz grew up still continue with him nearly four years after Santiago’s death in July 2011, following Ortiz’s freshman year in high school. Ortiz honored his loved one with his first autographed baseball that was then placed into Santiago’s casket.

Carrying his great-grandfather’s handkerchief in his pocket, Ortiz still looks to his great-grandfather for advice about humility. In doing so, he recalls the words of Santiago that stick with him to this day.

“Stay humble, no matter what you’ve got, because there are others that want to take it away from you.”

Luis Ortiz struck out 65 over 50 innings with a 1.80 ERA in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Luis Ortiz struck out 65 over 50 innings with a 1.80 ERA in 2015 (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

The Anthem Singer: An Undefeated Season at LP Frans

(The following does not represent the views of the Hickory Crawdads, its management, staff or players, nor of Crawdadsbeat.com, or its blogger… it’s tongue-n-cheek, enjoy)

Most of my time at the ballpark is spent as the official scorer for the Hickory Crawdads. I make decisions that affect the livelihoods of ball players, manager and coaches all across the South Atlantic League. I carefully weigh the pros and cons of every call and rule with an iron first. I am firm, but fair, leaving all parties basking in the glow of my baseball knowledge and wisdom.

But a side task is the infrequent rendering of the National Anthem. It is a task in which I feel great honor in performing. I’m usually called upon when there is a no-show, or a night when they couldn’t get a live body to come out. So I sing.

My offering of the anthem is short, sweet, and to the point. There are no 47-note melismas per line, no three-syllable words for “by: (buh-eye-ee), no five seconds to sing the word “light” (Lie –hah-hah-huh- high-ee-yi).

There are no key changes when it gets too high. I do not sing it as a rock ballad, or a song you might use to bury your mother to. There is nowhere that Francis Scott Key is to believe to have said, “I spent half the night awake afraid for my life, but we kicked the British’s tails, so I wrote this poem. I hope someone writes a mournful dirge to it.” I sing it in 3/4 time, not 4/4.

It is for this reason that I believe I am the favorite anthem singers of ball players everywhere around the South Atlantic League. I know all the words, and the other than the occasional battle with phlegm and a gnat flying around my face, there is no drama. I get on, gather everyone for 65 seconds of their time, and then hand the microphone back and go sit back in the press box for my scorekeeping duties. Long ago, I have come to terms that no one has paid so much as a nickel to hear me sing the national anthem.

I’ve done this for 11 years now, but this year something magical has happened with the anthem. I believe I may have had a hand in the SAL championship run. You see, this season, the Hickory Crawdads went 13-0 when I sang the anthem.

I first noticed this trend about a month ago when I was 6-0. I told the community relations director Megan Meade about this and so we began to test the luck as the playoffs approached.

First try with the knowledge of the streak vs. Charleston on Aug. 28… winner.

Two separate games vs. Rome in the final five games of the season … winners both.

It was soon playoff time, but not without fear. Down one game to none against West Virginia and the tough Stephen Tarpley, I sang. It was a see-saw battle, but the righteousness of my anthem lingered over the field. And the Crawdads were inspired and they won.

In the decisive game three, against pitcher of the year Yeudys Garcia, the notes stayed into the hearts of the brave boys on the field. And they won… 1-0.  I was greeted in the clubhouse with a hero’s welcome. It went something along the lines of, “You are (blanking) singing the (blanking) anthem against Asheville, right?”

So I put my 11-0 record on the line Monday in game one of the SAL championship series… and they won. And the chants grew, “Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark!”… or maybe it was a player yelling at me in the clubhouse (Yeah, you Joe Filomeno!).

On Tuesday, the legend had grown to 12-0. Would it be an unlucky 13th game that would do us all in? Not on your life! Another win in the final home game of the season!  13-0.

The last I saw of Megan Meade, sh was in a conversation with the Asheville GM as to whether or not they had an anthem slot open for the games at McCormick Field.

I have suggested that should the Crawdads go on to win the SAL championship, two things should happen. One, I get a ring. I mean… 13-0. And two, the microphone is permanently retired, dipped in gold and hung in the press box for all to see and recall the miracle at Frans.

And if the Crawdads lose on Thursday, I may show up unannounced on the field at McCormick and hijack the anthem.

Looking at my best side, I put my spell upon the unwittingly vexed Asheville Tourists in the SAL Championship opener. (photo courtesy of Crystal Cook)

Looking at my best side, I put my spell upon the unwittingly vexed Asheville Tourists in the SAL Championship opener. (photo courtesy of Crystal Cook)

SAL Championship Game 2 Story: Asheville at Hickory

For the second straight game, the Hickory Crawdads took an early lead. They then used five pitchers to shut down the Asheville Tourists 3-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. The Crawdads now lead the best-of-five series 2-0. After a day off Wednesday. the remaining games shift to Asheville’s McCormick Field starting on Thursday with a game time at 7:05 p.m.

The Crawdads are seeking the club’s third SAL title, the first since 2004. Hickory also claimed the 2002 championship.

What Happened?:

Hickory put together four hits to score two in the second against Tourists starter Ryan Castellani. Edwin Garcia and Eduard Pinto sandwiched singles around a fly out. After Juremi Profar struck out, Carlos Arroyo slapped a soft liner into left to score Garcia. Castellani walked Jose Cardona to load the bases and then took a liner from Dylan Moore off the foot that scored Pinto.

In the fourth, Profar reached when Josh Fuentes’ throw short hopped Roberto Ramos at first. A sac bunt from Arroyo and Cardona’s single pushed Profar to third before he scored on Moore’s grounder to third.

Nineteen days after injuring his hip, Brett Martin returned to the hill and threw a brilliant start. He allowed just two hits and struck out four while pitching to just one over the minimum.

Facing Adam Dian, the Tourists put the first two on before a sac bunt put the runners at second and third. Cesar Galvez ripped a run-scoring single to score Roberto Ramos scoring on the play. After a mound visit by Oscar Marin, Dian got Yonathan Daza to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

The similar script played out in the sixth for the Tourists against reliever Shane McCain. A walk and hit batter put runners and first and second with one out. Again after a mound visit by Marin, McCain got Dom Nunez to roll into a 6-4-3 double play.

That set up Luis Ortiz to enter the game in the seventh and throw two scoreless innings of relief. He struck out three and allowed one hit to earn the scorer’s decision win.

Scott Williams hurled a perfect ninth to get his third save of the playoffs.

Martinized:

After a 19-day layoff, the unknown of what Brett Martin would provide on the mound was the story line prior to the game. It is fair to say that all is well with the 20-year-old as he retired the first seven hitters of the game and 11 of the 13 he faced.

“After the first throw I had in warmups, I knew I was going to be fine,” Martin said. “Everything felt right and was going well. The hip fell great and then I got up there on the mound and just relaxed and stayed calm and did what I know to do.”

His most dominant inning came in the second when he struck out the side – the last two on six pitches. By my count, Martin finished with 52 pitches, throwing 37 strikes. He missed 11 bats with the changeup especially effective, garnering six of the swing-and-misses (4 on fastballs at 91-93, 1 curve).

“I threw it a lot more playing catch the past three weeks that probably I have all season,” said Martin. “I’m just trying to get comfortable with that pitch again. I knew I was going to need it against them to keep them off balance.”

His dominance didn’t go unnoticed by manager Corey Ragsdale, who had said prior to the game Martin would be limited to four innings.

Said Ragsdale of Martin’s outing, “Wow! Coming back and throwing like that, that’s obviously huge setting the tone.”

Middle Management:

Unused in the playoffs prior to Tuesday night, Adam Dian and Shane McCain were put into a tight ball game following Martin’s brilliant work. Their job was simply to bridge the gap to Luis Ortiz in the seventh. The two relievers shook off the rust and made big pitches to get out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings.

Dian – eight days removed from his last appearance – was shaky at the start and it seemed the Tourists line was glad to see someone other than Martin. Roberto Ramos lined an 0-1 slider to right before Dian walked Josh Fuentes on four pitches.

“It didn’t start out the way that I wanted it to,” said Dian. “But I was pretty happy the way that I was able to work out of it and at least limit the damage. It’s pretty tough to pitch when you haven’t thrown in a while, but it’s not an excuse. I thought I made some good pitches off the bat, but I was up a little bit and they took advantage of that. “

After Galvez’s RBI single, Oscar Marin made a mound visit to help Dian gather himself.

“He just told me to take a deep breath and trust my stuff,” Dian said. “He was thinking that I was kind of letting the game get to me a little bit. It was speeding up; you get two runners on right off the bat and it’s a little tough for you to calm down and stay focused on what you need to do. He just wanted to give me a breather and make sure I had my mind straight before I faced that next hitter.”

Dian served up a 2-1 fastball away to Yonathan Daza to get the 4-6-3 double play and keep the Tourists at bay 3-1.

After 11 days off, lefty Shane McCain came in and also struggled at first with fastball command and then the slider in putting two men on.

“I was a little tight,” McCain said. “It did feel a little weird to be out there. I hadn’t been out there in a week or so, or maybe more. I really just had to trust my stuff. I was having trouble keeping my slider in the zone. That’s been my best pitch. I wasn’t able to start it where I wanted to, where I needed to.”

Another mound visit by Marin brought on an adjustment by McCain with the slider.

“I knew I had to start my slider more behind the lefthanders,” said McCain. “Once I did that, I got the two ground balls that I needed and luckily I got out of it.”

Facing LH hitter Dom Nunez with one out after the mound visit, McCain’s slider away was rolled to Edwin Garcia at short for the easy twin-killing.

“Those two guys right there, they went through the heart of the lineup,” said Ragsdale. “So, those two guys were huge for us tonight.”

Dian said that although he and McCain were both out of sorts after not pitching in a regular routine, they were still expected to do their jobs in the ball game.

Dian said, “That’s what Ragsdale asks of us, to come and to our job. It’s nice when you don’t have to have somebody come bail you out and you’re able to finish your inning. Obviously, it could’ve gone a number of different ways for both of us. I thought we both did a good job. We just gutted it out. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but we were able to minimize the damage. Shane did a hell of a job getting out of that situation.”

Ortiz Breaking Down Wall:

Luis Ortiz didn’t have the sharp command of his fastball, but he didn’t need to either. Omar Carrizales was able to expose that in the seventh when he worked the count full and then drilled a high slider for a single. Ortiz got out of the inning with no further damage.

Ortiz then cranked up the slider in the eighth, using three straight to fan Daza. He got away with a poorly placed fastball that Rogers lined hard to second to bring up Forrest Wall, the number 4 second base prospect in the minors (mlb.com). Ortiz struck out Wall on three pitches, swinging through a changeup, fastball and slider.

Domineering Williams:

After getting Shane Hoelscher to fly to right, Williams worked through a nine-pitch battle with Dom Nunez, finally getting him to undercut a high fastball that went lazily to right. A first-pitch slider to Ramos was rolled easily to second.

Moore and Moore:

Dylan Moore continues a strong playoff run with a couple of hits and an RBI. He stayed on Castellani’s slider in the first for a single, then was able to gear up for the fastball that was lined off Castellani’s foot for the RBI hit. Moore pulled off an away fastball in the fourth, but got enough on it to score the runner from third.

Castellani’s Early Struggles:

The 19-year-old threw a fastball that ranged 93-95 mph that at times had a slider look. However, he is a pitcher that relies on keeping the ball down (1.30 GO/AO) and the inability to do that early cost him. Six of the nine hits against him were hard liners with seven of his outs coming on liners or fly outs. He dodged a bullet in the fifth when Juremi Profar ripped a line drive that went straight to Fuentes at third. The catch likely saved two runs.

Defensive Woes Continue:

A lazy throw by Fuentes to first allowed Profar to reach and score in the fourth to make it a three-run lead. In the fifth with Beras at first, Pinto lifted a bloop single to left center. Beras running on contact made it easily to third, the left fielder Carrizales threw to third anyway, which allowed Pinto to move up to second.

Small Ball, Small Expectations:

Down two runs in the fourth, the Tourists got a base hit from Wes Rogers to start the inning. Rather than taking a chance with leading base stealer (46 steals) to try and get to second on his own, Asheville chose to use Wall – the number one draft pick and No. 4 second base prospect, who had a .288/.355/.438 slash as a 19-year-old – as a bunter. The sacrifice worked, but Rogers advanced no further.

In the fifth after the Tourists put the first two runners on, they chose to use their SAL all-star leftfielder – who as a 20-year-old posted a .286/.333/.410 slash and hit into one double play all year – as a bunter. The sacrifice was successful and a run was scored, but it also proved crucial when a double play ended the inning.

It seems to me those were opportunities for the Tourists to try and siphon some momentum by letting a player make a play. But managers manage to a fault at times and this appeared to be a case of overmanaging.

Shutting down the running game:

Not enough can be said as to how well the Crawdads during the series have shut down the running game of the Tourists, who stole 258 bases this season. The pitchers have been relentless at keeping the runners close and allowing the catcher Trevino to make plays. He’s thrown out both runners trying to steal in the series, including the lone attempt on Wednesday.

SAL Championship Game 2 Preview: Asheville at Hickory

Game 2: Asheville Tourists (72-67, Southern Division Champions) at Hickory Crawdads (81-57, Northern Division Champions) Hickory leads the best-of-five series 1-0.

Site/ Time: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, N.C..  7 p.m.

Affiliations: Asheville (Colorado Rockies)/ Hickory (Texas Rangers)

Game 1 Recap: The Hickory Crawdads took the lead in the second inning and coasted to a 7-2 win Monday night at home. The Crawdads went up 1-0 when Edwin Garcia and Jairo Beras steered back-to-back doubles into the left-field corner. Luke Tendler’s first playoff homer put Hickory up 2-0 in the fourth. Poor outfield play opened the game up for Hickory leading to the final five runs. In the sixth, Tendler scored from second when Wes Rogers was slow in getting the ball back to the infield after catching Jairo Beras’ fly to center. Eduardo Pinto doubled in a run to make it 4-0. In the eighth, Dylan Moore reached third on a dropped fly ball in left. Trevino drove him in with a single and scored himself on Tendler’s double. Beras’ RBI triple completed the score. Pedro Payano pitched a six-hitter over six shutout innings and struck out eight. Joe Filomeno added two more scoreless innings of relief and fanned two. The Tourists scored their only run on a two-run homer in the ninth by Shane Hoelscher against Dillon Tate.

Probables: ASH: Ryan Castellani (RH, 2-7, 4.48) vs. HKY: Brett Martin (LH, 5-6, 3.49)

Lineup: ASH: Wes Rogers-8, Forrest Wall-4, Shane Hoelscher-D, Dom Nunez-2, Roberto Ramos-3, Josh Fuentes-5, Omar Carrizales -7 Cesar Galvez-6, Yonathan Daza-9.

HKY: Jose Cardona-8, Dylan Moore-4, Jose Trevino-2, Luke Tendler-D, Edwin Garcia-6, Jairo Beras-9, Eduard Pinto-7, Juremi Profar-5, Carlos Arroyo-3.

Castellani vs. Hickory: In his lone start of the season against the Crawdads, Castellani allowed two runs on six hits and struck out five over five innings at McCormick Field on July 24. Hickory took a 1-0 against him in the first when Cardona, Josh Morgan and Pinto all singled. Trevino added a fourth hit in that inning, but Morgan was thrown out on the bases to limit the rally to one run. They made it 2-0 as Pinto was hit by a pitch, Trevino singled and Tendler brought in Pinto with a sac fly. Profar had the other hit against Castellani with a double in the second.

The No. 17 prospect (mlb.com) in the Rockies organization was the second-round choice of Colorado out of Brophy Prep School in Phoenix. The 6-foot-4, 19-year-old brings a low 90s fastball with a change and a looping curve according to mlb.com. He tries to keep the ball down as his 1.30 GO/AO ratio suggests and he has allowed only five homers this season – just two at McCormick. However, he relies on contact to get outs (94Ks, 113.1 innings). The lack of missed bats has hurt him at times as the SAL is hitting .291 against him this season. The OBA has jumped in the second half to .308 (.268 in the first half) and the ERA jumped to 5.32 (3.23). In his 16 road starts, he has a 3.52 ERA and hitters are batting .293. Castellani has gone past five innings just three times this season and has given up seven or more hits seven times. He has shown good control (29 walks), walking more than two hitters just three times.

Martin vs. Asheville: The native of Morristown, Tenn. faced the Tourists in two road games this season, taking the win in a strong start back on April 20 and a no-decision on July 23.

In the April start, Martin needed only 60 pitches (41 strikes) to easily handle the Tourists to the tune of one run on three hits over six innings. He retired the first ten of the game before Emerson Jimenez singled in the fourth. Henry Garcia homered against Martin to lead off the sixth with Wes Rogers getting the other single. Ten of the 18 outs he recorded came on groundouts (7) or strikeouts.

The July start was a bit more harrowing as he allowed four runs on nine hits in four innings. Much of the damage came when the Tourists jumped him for three runs on five hits in the first. Max White tripled in Carrizales, who had singled, and then scored on a sac fly by Hoelscher. Nunez and Jairo Rosario hit back to back doubles with Daza getting the final hit. Fuentes and Carrizales each singled in the second without scoring; White singled and later scored in the third. Martin was off the hook for the loss as they scored seven runs over the first two innings in an 8-6 win.

Martin has not pitched since injuring his hip on August 28, when he allowed three runs on seven hits over 4.2 innings to Delmarva. He’s had two other lengthy layoffs this season with mixed results. After a 15-day layoff from May 22-June 6, Martin gave up four runs on six hits over 4.2 innings. Martin came back from an 11-day layoff in early August and pitched a three-hitter over four shutout innings.

Martin is currently the Rangers No. 16 prospect according to mlb.com. The 20-year-old has a low 90s fastball with some run to go with a curve and change. Martin generally exhibits good control, but can run into spates of wildness at times. He has walked three or more batters in four starts, fewer than two in 14 starts. He leans slightly as a groundball pitcher (1.19 GO/AO) and has induced 13 double play balls in 95 innings. Martin can go deep into games if he finds a groove (pitched into the seventh three times), but the Rangers will likely limit him to five innings coming off the injury.

Tourists hitters vs. Hickory: Shane Hoelscher had three hits – including the ninth-inning homer, which was the lone extra-base hit – and Forrest Wall and Josh Fuentes each had two in the game-one loss.

Despite playing seven of the nine regular-season games at hitter-friendly McCormick Field this season, the Tourists batted only .244 against the Crawdads this season with five homers among 24 extra-base hits.

Yonathan Daza led the team at .346 (9-for-26) vs. Hickory. SAL All-star Omar Carrizales hit .333 (4-for-12) and his all-star teammate Shane Hoelscher was 3-for-10. SAL No. 4 second base prospect Forrest Wall was 5-for-15, which included a grand slam at L.P. Frans. Daza also had four RBI to lead the team.

Crawdads hitters vs. Asheville: In game one, the Crawdads pounded six extra-base hits with Beras ripping a double and triple, with Tendler lining a double to go with his homer.

Jose Trevino has five home runs and 12 RBI in eight games to go with a .313 (10-for-32) average in eight games this season. Eduard Pinto had 17 hits (.532) and eight RBI. Luke Tendler struggled against the Asheville staff with 11Ks in 37 plate appearances.

What to watch for: With neither starting pitcher expected to go deep into the game, middle relief should play a role. For Hickory, Joe Filomeno and Dillon Tate are likely out. Luis Ortiz could be available to eat innings to get to close Scott Williams. Other middle relievers Adam Dian, Shane McCain and Chris Dula have not pitched in the playoffs.

With 246 steals the Tourists run and run often and do so throughout the lineup with six players totally double-digit steal totals. Martin has allowed 14 of 21 runners to steal and catcher Jose Trevino has thrown out 33.7% of the runners trying to steal.

Conversely, though Hickory has run very little – only Jose Cardona has 10+ steals (30) – they may take shots against catcher Dom Nunez, who has caught a league worst 21.2% of runners trying to steal.

The opposites on the defensive sheet could not be more different as Hickory led the league in defense (121 errors) with Asheville committing the most (206). That played out last night with the Crawdads taking advantage of two outfielder miscues. An error on pickoff by Asheville put Moore at second in the first, but he was stranded there.

The Crawdads have done well in tight games, posting a SAL-best 27-16 mark in one-run games. Asheville was last at 14-22. They’ve also done poorly in the middle innings of tight games. When tied after the fifth, the Tourists are 10-14 (Hickory 14-7). Tied after the sixth, they are 9-12 (Hickory 6-7) and after the seventh they are 7-9 (Hickory 8-0).

The Tourists look to SAL all-star close Josh Michalec, who led the league with 30 saves.

SAL Championship Game 1 Story: Asheville at Hickory

Game Story: Asheville Tourists at Hickory Crawdads (Game 1, SAL Championship)

The Hickory Crawdads never trailed in taking the first game of the best-of-five series by a score of 7-2 over the visiting Asheville Tourists Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. Game two of the SAL Championship will take place at Frans with the first pitch at 7 p.m. After a day of Wednesday, the series picks back up Thursday at McCormick Field in Asheville.

The Crawdads are two wins away for their third SAL title in club history, the first since 2004.

What Happened?:

The Crawdads took the lead in the second inning against Helmis Rodriguez when Edwin Garcia and Jairo Beras led off the inning with back-to-back doubles to the left field corner.

Luke Tendler made it 2-0 when he cranked his first homer of the playoffs, a towering shot to right over the billboards.

That was more than enough for Crawdads starter Pedro Payano, who threw a six-hitter over six innings and struck out eight. The right-hander struck out six straight at one point.

Hickory added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth with the key play coming on a defensive miscue. With one out and runners on first and second, Jairo Beras lifted a fly ball to Wes Rogers in deep center. As Tendler tagged and moved to third, the throw to the infield from Rogers was a high-arching throw. Seeing the throw, manager Corey Ragsdale coaching at third waved Tendler around and he scored without a throw home. Eduard Pinto then ripped a double to center to score Edwin Garcia from first and put the Crawdads up 4-0.

In the eighth, Dylan Moore reached on a three-base error when Max White dropped a routine fly ball in left. Jose Trevino singled up the middle through the drawn-in infield to score Moore and then scored on Tendler’s double to center. After Garcia struck out, Jairo Beras drove a triple to center to bring in Tendler for the final run.

Asheville broke through in the ninth when Shane Hoelscher homered to left-center against Dillon Tate. The homer broke a 21-inning shutout streak by Crawdads pitching.

Four-Pitch Pedro:

Payano, the 20-year-old from San Francisco de Macoris, D.R., continued a strong end-of-the season run for the Crawdads and is making a bid for a top-30 prospect spot. Along with catcher Trevino’s pitch selection, the two did a masterful job of mixing speeds and keeping the Tourists hitters off stride much of the night. Payano offered a fastball sitting 91-93 mph to go with a change, his most effective secondary pitch. He also threw a 12-to-6 curve and an occasional slider.

Payano needed 79 pitches to get through six innings, tossing 55 strikes. Of the 55 strikes, 17 missed bats on four different pitches, 15 of those on secondaries (8 CHs, 4 curves, 3 sliders). Both looking Ks came in the second with fastballs on the corner.

“He’s been a special kid ever since he got here,” said Ragsdale. “To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about him when he got here.  He’s exceeded my expectations and has been a real pickup. He’s fit right in with the rest of the starters that have been really good helped us out. He was very good tonight.”

Hustling Pays off:

I’m sure the players hear the same manager-speak about busting tail and I’m sure it gets old as routine play after routine play is made. On Monday, it paid off twice and was and the two plays were the turning points of the game.

On Jairo Beras’ fly ball in the sixth, Tendler sprinted from second to third in such a manner that when Ragsdale from the third-base coaches’ box saw Rogers make the lollipop throw back to the infield, he decided to take a chance to send Tendler.

“Very surprised, it kind of shocked me a little bit,” said Tendler when asked of his reaction at the time. “That was a big run to give us a three-run lead. It was game-changer for us.”

Ragsdale said that with two outs, it was worth taking a shot to get a third run against Helmis Rodriguez and give an additional cushion to the pen. It also seemed to increase the momentum for his team.

“It seemed maybe they got down a little bit and it seemed to pick our spirits up a little bit,” Ragsdale said. “We were able to go on from there and put another good inning together.”

In the eighth, Moore sprinted from the start as his fly ball sailed into medium left field. When White dropped the ball, Moore was already well past second base and easily slid into third. Trevino then worked a 3-1 count before bouncing a Jerad McCrummen fastball into center.

 

Heart of the Order at the Heart of Success:

The number 3-6 hitters reached base eight times with six hits – five for extra bases – with five runs scored and six RBI.

Trevino’s leadoff walk started the sixth inning rally and he singled and scored in the eighth.

Tendler homered in the fourth, walked and scored in the sixth, doubled and scored in the eighth.

Garcia doubled and scored in the second, reached on a fielder’s choice and scored in the sixth.

Beras put up an RBI double to left in the second, an RBI triple to center in the eighth and had the key sacrifice fly in the sixth.

Filomeno Performs Well:

Joe Filomeno’s fastball-slider mix overpowered the Tourists during his two innings. He struck out two in the seventh, missing bats for strike three on a slider and a fastball. The lone hit was a leadoff single in the eighth, a grounder up the middle by Josh Fuentes. A double play followed by Yonathan Daza to end the threat.

Tate mixed reviews:

It was a little surprising to see Dillon Tate pitch with a seven-run lead in the ninth. However, because he had warmed up in the eighth, rather than wasting him on Monday – and likely not have him available for Tuesday – the decision was made to use him.

Forrest Wall started the minor rally for the Tourists in the ninth with a broken bat, bloop single to shallow center. From there, Tate seemed to struggle with fastball command. Hoelscher blasted 96 mph middle and slightly up for a homer just to the left of straight-away center.

An error by Juremi Profar at third extended the inning. After striking out Roberto Ramos, LH hitter Max White turned on a fastball in for a single to right.

Tate’s slider ended the night when Josh Fuentes flied out to center.

 

Defense Saves Tourists Early:

While their defense would let them down late, the Tourists kept the Crawdads at bay early with a couple of nice plays in the field.

With a runner at second with two outs in the first, Tendler smoked a sharp grounder up the middle. SS Luis Jean, playing near the bag to hold the runner Dylan Moore, made a quick pick of a short-hop at the cut of the outfield grass before a strong throw to first completed the out.

In the second with runners at the corner and one out, Ramos handled a one-hopper on the grass from Carlos Arroyo to start a 3-6-3 double play and save a run.

Base running Blunders Costly:

Rogers broke up Payano’s strikeout streak with two outs in the third when he fisted a changeup into shallow left for a hit. He then tried to stretch the play into a double, but was out easily as Eduard Pinto threw a bullet to Moore at second for the tag.

One inning later, Wall and Hoelscher each singled to start the fourth inning. With cleanup hitter Dom Nunez at the plate, Wall took off for third and was cut down easily on Trevino’s throw. The bigger blunder happened when Hoelscher stayed at first on the play. After Nunez struck out, the mistake was magnified when Ramos steered a slow bouncing single through the hole at second – a hit that with two outs would’ve likely scored Hoelscher.

SAL Championship Preview: Game 1 Asheville at Hickory

(My apologies for grammatical or spelling errors, I was in a hurry– Mark)

Game 1: Asheville Tourists (72-67, Southern Division Champions) at Hickory Crawdads (81-57, Northern Division Champions)

Site/ Time: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, N.C.

Affiliations: Asheville (Colorado Rockies)/ Hickory (Texas Rangers)

How Asheville Got Here: With the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats winning both half-season titles, the Tourists needed to claim the second overall best record in the Southern Division. They did so on the final day of the season last Monday when the Greenville (S.C.) Drive fell to Savannah. The Tourists defeated the Sand Gnats at home in game one, then after dropping game two at Savannah they rebounded to capture the series with a 2-1 win on Luis Jean’s two-run homer in the eighth.

Asheville playoff history: The Tourists are the defending South Atlantic League (SAL) and are looking for their third title four seasons. Since rejoining the SAL in 1980, Asheville has three league championships altogether (1984, 2012, 2014). The Tourists have made eight trips to the SAL playoffs and have lost in the champion series twice (1986, 1987).

How Hickory Got Here: The Crawdads won the first-half Northern Division title to clinch a playoff spot. In the Northern Division series, Hickory dropped game one on the road to West Virginia, then returned home take two straight from the Power to claim the series.

Hickory playoff history: The Crawdads are making their third appearance in the SAL Championship Series, having claimed titles in 2002 and 2004. This is the 10th playoff run in the team’s 23rd season.

Season series: Hickory went 7-2 this season vs. the Tourists, with a 1-1 mark at L.P. Frans in early April.

Probables: ASH: Helmis Rodriguez (LH, 9-8, 3.36) vs. HKY: Pedro Payano (RH, 3-1, 1.10)

Lineup: ASH: Wes Rogers-8, Forrest Wall-4, Shane Hoelscher-D, Dom Nunez-2, Roberto Ramos-3, Max White-7, Josh Fuentes-5, Yonathan Daza-7, Luis Jean-6.

HKY: Jose Cardona-8, Dylan Moore-4, Jose Trevino-2, Luke Tendler-D, Edwin Garcia-6, Jairo Beras-9, Eduard Pinto-7, Juremi Profar-5, Carlos Arroyo-3.

Rodriguez vs. Hickory: Rodriguez faced the Crawdads just one time in a home start on July 23. In that game, the Crawdads took advantage of Rodriguez’s wildness as they received five walks to go with three hits and a hit batsman in 1.2 innings. Hickory scored six runs against Rodriguez and went onto an 8-6 win. Jose Trevino tagged him for a two-run single in the first inning of that game and Jairo Beras followed with a singled. Eduard Pinto ripped a three-run double in the second to chase Rodriguez.

The No. 27 prospect (mlb.com) in the Rockies has walked as many as five in four of his 27 starts this season, including seven twice. However, he walked just two overall in his last two starts covering 14 innings, though he did hit three batters. Rodriguez has issued 63 walks this season in 147.1 innings, third in the SAL. He relies on getting groundball outs (1.61 GO/AO) and has done a remarkable job keeping the ball in the yard given the hitters-paradise of his home ballpark at McCormick Field. All nine home runs allowed by Rodriguez have occurred at home.

Rodriguez, 21, has posted a 2.42 ERA on the road (4.52 at home), but has given up 32 walks and hit 11 batters in 81.2 innings. He has gotten stronger over the last month of the season, posting a 1.98 ERA since August 4, which included a no-hit bid that lasted into the eighth inning at Rome on August 20. Rodriguez has the ability to go deep into games as he has pitched seven or more innings seven times, six or more 15 times.  He is a pitcher that opponents have to get early as his ERA in the first is 5.67 with19 walks in 27 innings. After the third, his ERA drops under 2.00 with 22 walks in 69 innings.

The native of Coloncito, Venezuela offers a high-80s fastball, but his change is his best pitch according to several scouting reports. Rodriguez also throws a curve and has added a slider.

Payano vs. Asheville: The native of San Francisco de Macoris, D.R. has made only six starts since joining the Crawdads on August 4, none of those against Asheville. His last start came against Rome at home on September 6 when he allowed one run on five hits and struck out a season high of nine. In 32.2 innings, Payano, 20, has struck out 31 and walked ten.

In his two home starts, Payano has allowed two runs on 11 hits and struck out 15.

He’s had some minor trouble facing hitters the second time through the order as his ERA is 3.60 in the third inning.

Payano features a mid-90s fastball that has some run into right-handed hitters. He also throws a change and a sweeping curve that he uses for strikeouts.

Tourists hitters vs. Hickory: Despite playing seven of the nine games at hitter-friendly McCormick Field this season, the Tourists batted only .244 against the Crawdads this season with five homers among 24 extra-base hits.

Yonathan Daza led the team at .346 (9-for-26) vs. Hickory. SAL All-star Omar Carrizales hit .333 (4-for-12) and his all-star teammate Shane Hoelscher was 3-for-10. SAL No. 4 second base prospect Forrest Wall was 5-for-15, which included a grand slam at L.P. Frans. Daza also had four RBI to lead the team.

Crawdads hitters vs. Asheville: Jose Trevino has five home runs and 12 RBI in eight games to go with a .313 (10-for-32) average in eight games this season. Eduard Pinto had 17 hits (.532) and eight RBI. Luke Tendler struggled against the Asheville staff with 11Ks in 37 plate appearances.

What to watch for: With 246 steals the Tourists run and run often and do so throughout the lineup with six players totally double-digit steal totals. The ability of Payano to keep runners off the base as much as possible, and then to maintain composure as an untried pitcher in a big-game atmosphere could be a key. Four of the five baserunners attempting to steal against Payano have done so successfully. Catcher Jose Trevino has thrown out 33.7% of the runners trying to steal.

Conversely, though Hickory has run very little – only Jose Cardona has 10+ steals (30) – they may take shots against catcher Dom Nunez, who has caught a league worst 21.2% of runners trying to steal.

The opposites on the defensive sheet could not be more different as Hickory led the league in defense (121 errors) with Asheville committing the most (206).

The Crawdads will not likely have Scott Williams available after closing out back-to-back wins on Friday and Saturday. Hickory will probably turn to Adam Dian to close out a late-game situation. Dillon Tate and Luis Ortiz will likely not pitch and so with Payano probably going 5-6 innings, middle relievers Joe Filomeno and Shane McCain will probably get looks to bridge the game to Dian.

The Crawdads have done well in tight games, posting a SAL-best 27-16 mark in one-run games. Asheville was last at 14-22. They’ve also done poorly in the middle innings of tight games. When tied after the fifth, the Tourists are 10-14 (Hickory 14-7). Tied after the sixth, they are 9-12 (Hickory 6-7) and after the seventh they are 7-9 (Hickory 8-0).

The Tourists look to SAL all-star close Josh Michalec, who led the league with 30 saves.