It was an adventure at times, but overall the first full game with the Hickory for Texas Rangers 2015 second-round selection Eric Jenkins was a success as the Crawdads rallied for a 9-4 win over the visiting Rome (Ga.) Braves to open a five-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The product of West Columbus High in Cerro Gordo, NC cracked a go-ahead RBI double in the eighth and also scored in the inning. Batting leadoff for the Crawdads, Jenkins, 18, scored also walked and struck out twice.
Jenkins had a tougher night in the field as he misjudged a pair a fly balls hit toward the centerfielder. The first play came in the fourth when Jenkins went back on a ball hit by Rome’s Luke Dykstra. The ball landed just past the glove of shortstop Edwin Garcia, who had retreated into short left. One inning later, a homer by Luis Valenzuela landed 30 feet to the left of where Jenkins had tracked into straight away center.
“When it was twilight, it’s kind of hard to judge the ball at that time of the day,” said Jenkins of the plays. “I talked to my teammates about it and they understand that because it’s my first time playing in Hickory. It was a good experience being that it’s my first game here.”
At the plate, Jenkins struck out in the first and fifth innings with both Ks coming on off-speed pitches. He worked a walk in the third and was called during a sacrifice bunt in the seventh as he was hit by a throw from catcher Bryan De La Rosa as Jenkins ran inside the 45-foot lane on the way to first.
However in the eighth, Jenkins showed his mettle for the go-ahead score. With the bases loaded and the Crawdads down 4-3, Jenkins at-bat got a fortunate start when Braves pitcher Taylor Cockrell was called for a balk prior to the first pitch. After Carlos Arroyo scored on the play, Jenkins swung through a 91 mph fastball from Cockrell and then fouled another off to the left.
The left-handed hitter then laid off back-to-back sliders just off the inside corner before driving a fastball over the head over centerfielder Stephen Gaylor, who had played Jenkins in shallow center field.
“I knew I had to make up for that fly ball I misjudged in the outfield,” Jenkins said. “I knew I had to redeem myself at the plate. I hit a good pitch with two strikes and just drove the pitch.”
Jenkins said the high-pressure situation was eased by the Cockrell’s balk.
Jenkins said, “Most definitely… I’m only 18-years-old, so the pressure’s on the line with bases loaded, so the balk kind of helped me.”
Jenkins then showed his speed as he easily scored from second on a two-run single by Jurickson Profar.
The young Jenkins, who put up a .249/.342/.339 slash in 51 games in the Arizona Summer League, was a bit surprised to get the call to Hickory after the AZL season ended.
Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale expects Jenkins to give the team the opportunity to rest some regulars leading into next week’s South Atlantic League playoffs and to give Ragsdale options to use him as a runner in late-game situations.
However he is to be used, Jenkins said that his mission is clear and simple.
“They said I’m going to play in the next few games and to just play hard.”