This was an ugly one for Hickory Crawdads fans, but a delight for many of the 4,998 fans (announced as such anyway) cheering on their hometown Greensboro Grasshoppers at First National Bank Field. The Grasshoppers took the lead in the bottom of the first and went on to the easy win in the season opener for both.
A cool, brisk night had little effect on the offenses as they combined for 36 baserunners. Unfortunately for the Crawdads, 25 of them wore the Grasshopper white uniforms. The hit column was fairly close (13-9 Greensboro) as were the extra-base hit totals (6-4 Greensboro). What killed Hickory was 12 walks. Well that, and RF Dalton Wheat who had a chance at the reverse cycle by the fifth inning.
Wheat, signed by the Miami Marlins after being named the top independent league prospect by Baseball America in 2016, literally put on his work gloves and went to work on the Crawdads pitching staff.
After Hickory settled for a run in the first, despite three hits and walk, the left-handed hitting Wheat – he is from Kansas – lined a two-run shot just over the fence in left. The liner was most impressive given that it was into a 15-25 mph wind. Wheat capped a five-run second with a two-run triple and later scored on Colby Lusignan’s double. In the fourth, Wheat got a hustle double into the Bermuda triangle between three Crawdads defenders meeting in CF and later scored.
Wheat’s attempts to complete the cycle fell through as he walked in the fifth and seventh. A snag of Wheat’s hot smash by 1B Yanio Perez in the eighth spoiled the chase for history.
Alex Jones and Corey Bird each had three hits, and Justin Twine walked three times.
Hickory’s night was salvaged at the plate on homers by Anderson Tejeda and Ti’Quan Forbes. Yanio Forbes went 2-for-4 with an RBI double.
Texas Rangers 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Lemoine made his pro debut after missing two seasons with shoulder problem. He walked two and struck out two over 1.2 IP.
Kaleb Fontenot was the most effective of the quintet of Crawdads pitchers on the mound, allowing just one hit and striking out two over 1.1 IP.
Momentum thwarted early:
Hickory had a chance to put its collective claws between the Grasshoppers thorax and head early.
Blaine Prescott opened the season with an infield hit, but was caught stealing. Tejeda walked and moved to second as Leody Teveras reached on an infield hit. Perez sliced a long flyball that rainbowed just inside the line in right to score Tejeda and putting runners at second and third.
To that point, Grasshoppers starting pitcher Jordan Holloway had struggled with his command, as with a bit of bad luck on the three hits. Facing Jose Almonte, a 1-0 fastball went up and in, but Almonte was unable to check his swing. Now 1-1 instead of a 2-0 count, Holloway gathered himself and went on to fan Almonte. The next hitter Ti’Quan Forbes went ahead 2-1, but missed a fastball and eventually whiffed.
Wheat’s two-run blast in the bottom put Greensboro in front and it never relinquished the lead.
He’s only 18, but at 5-11, 185-pounds, Anderson Tejeda showed he can crank a fastball with the best of them at this level. His solo blast in the third was legendary. Greensboro’s staff has the technology to measure these things and they said it was 106 mph off the bat and it went 441 feet.
Here is the pic off the field. Above the red Budweiser sign there is what looks like 2/3 of a goal post. Above that is a LED decorated tree. It went past that tree.
In the fifth, Tejeda just missed a bunt single as the ball traveled up the third-base line before trickling foul at the bag.
Forbes 2016 carry over:
I can make an argument that 3B Ti’Quan Forbes was most improved Crawdads player in the second half of 2016. His slash line was remarkably better and his defense at third was stellar.
He’s continued to bulk up and the power was on display with a lined two-run homer to left. Greensboro’s stat folks had the blast timed at 109 mph off the bat. He had the best play of the night when he charged and barehanded a bunt halfway down the line and fired a bullet to first on the run for the out.
These cleats were made for walking:
Twelve walks by Hickory pitching will certainly get the ire of coach Jose Jaimes. With the guys coming from Arizona last week and two days of hard rain here, Tuesday was the only day the pitchers could get side work in. I don’t know if that would have an effect, but almost no one had command of the fastball, save Lemoine’s sixth inning.
Starter Jonathan Hernandez appeared bothered by the cold or wind or lack of control or whatever. He put together a strong final month in 2016, but last night’s start was a step back. Three walks, just five of 16 hitters started with a first-pitch strike, and 32 balls to 33 strikes on the evening. Fastballs were 92-94 range according to the Greensboro board, but often missed Valencia’s target arm side. Those that stayed over the plate were often punished.
Luke Lanphere at 90-91 mph fared little better as he walked three of the 14 he faced and threw 32 strikes over 58 pitches.
Jake Lemoine took a bit to find his feel and threw more secondary offerings than anyone I saw. From my high angle, many of those looked to be sliders. He had a strong sixth and point the exclamation point on things with a 91 on the glove-side corner to catch Aaron Knapp looking.
CD Pelham had a forgettable debut with four walks to the six batters he faced.