Tyree Thompson pitched a masterpiece, Sam Huff and Kole Enright supported him at the plate as the Hickory Crawdads defeated the Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds 5-1 at L.P. Frans Stadium Tuesday night.
The win was the second straight by Hickory (16-24) to open the four-game series, which continues Wednesday night at 6 p.m. Delmarva (26-17) lost its third straight game and has dropped six of the last eight overall. The Shorebirds now trail first-place Kannapolis by two games in the first-half Northern Division standings.
It was the Tyree Thompson show from the start as the right-hander kept the Shorebirds off balance throughout the game. The New Orleans native allowed just six baserunners over a pro career high of 7.1 innings and struck out three.
Meanwhile, the Crawdads, led by Huff and Enright, supplied the runs Thompson (2-3) needed early. Facing starter D.L. Hall, Austin O’Banion doubled and scored when Huff also doubled off the left field wall. In the fourth, Huff doubled with two outs and Enright swatted his third homer of the season to left-center to make it 3-0.
Franklin Rollin’s speed played a large part for a run in the seventh. He reached on an infield hit, stole second and moved to third on an error from where Tyreque Reed doubled him in.
The right-hander was economical all-night, needing just 65 pitches to get through seven innings. No Shorebirds hitter saw more than four pitches in a plate appearance before the game reached one out in the eighth. That batter, Arlington (Tex.) native Jaylen Ferguson, lined a 3-2 pitch over the fence in left for his first homer in the second game since joining the Shorebirds. After Thompson walked Kirvit Moesquit, the Crawdads brought in reliever Alex Speas, who recorded the final two outs.
Hickory added a run on a bases-loaded walk in the eighth. Speas returned with a dominant ninth, striking out the final two batters of the game for his fourth save of the season.
More on Tyree Thompson:
When the Shorebirds Moesquit hit the second pitch of the game, a middle-in fastball, hard to Reed at first, it looked ominous. As it turned out, it was the last hard-hit ball by the Shorebirds against Thompson until Jean Carrillo lined out to center in the fifth.
Thompson’s fastball started the night topping at 93 mph, but he stayed around 89-91 much of the night and spotted it well. It was the second strong start in a row for the 20-year-old – he allowed one run on four hits and three walks over six innings last week against Rome (Ga.) – which he said has been the result of a mechanical adjustment.
“I’m just tweaking some simple things with my hands, as far as movement,” Thompson said. “It helped me as far as conviction wise and command wise to be able to throw the ball wherever I want.”
That command was with three pitches: the fastball, change and an occasional curve. Thompson broke his first curveball off to strike out Trevor Craport in the second. After a walk and an error put two on in the second, Thompson got Carrillo to bounce a changeup into a force play.
The changeup got a lot of play by Thompson and it was largely responsible for the ten groundball outs recorded.
Overall, Thompson threw 53 strikes out of 82 pitches, starting 17 of the 28 hitters with first-pitch strikes.
“They’re a good hitting team,” said Thompson of the plan of attack. “But once you get ahead early in the count, they’re protecting. My strength is getting ahead of batters and getting them out in four pitches or less.”
A couple of defensive plays aided Thompson’s gem. In the first, Thompson tried to make a backhand stab of a comebacker. The ball deflected to the first-base side of second, where shortstop Cristian Inoa made a quick charge of the play and threw to first for the out. Playing center on Wednesday, Rollin saved a hit in the fifth with a full-out dive and catch to his left.
The defensive plays along with the early runs boosted Thompson’s confidence.
“If I get a run ahead, that’s a plus for me because I know what kind of pitcher I am, and I know my strengths. When I get a run ahead, it makes me compete more, knowing my defense is behind me. I throw strikes and do what I have to do, knowing my defense will make plays.”
The game’s turning point:
D.L. Hall, the Baltimore Orioles No. 4 prospect, had spotty control early, but got into a groove into the third. Gassing around 94-95 with increasing command of the changeup, Hall had retired eight in a row after Huff’s RBI double in the second. He was ready to make it nine with two outs in the fourth and Huff back at the plate.
The Shorebirds went after Huff in the second with three straight secondary pitches, the third of which was a hanging curve that Huff roped off the wall. So in the fourth, Hall came with two straight fastballs that put Huff in an 0-2 hole. A third fastball missed just inside and before Hall went back to two straight changeups. Huff spoiled both.
The final pitch of the AB was a 93 mph just off the plate – too close to take – that Huff not only spoiled, but got enough of the pitch off the end of the bat to bounce the ball past first for a double.
Enright followed with a homer on a 2-0 fastball and that turned out to be the game.
Alex Speas ninth:
The dude was gassing.
After a 4-3 grounder, Speas made Ryan Ripken uncomfortable in the box. A 98 mph heater had the left-handed hitting Ripken stepping towards first on a swing-and-miss. Ripken flicked a second 98 into the stands. Expecting another heater, Speas fooled him with an 89 slider that closed into the hitter’s hands. A half-hearted swing completed the strikeout.
Then to Ben Breazeale: 99, 99, 99, 100, 98, 98.
Tyler Ratliff lined a single into left to bring in pinch runner Franklin Rollin and sent the Hickory Crawdads to a 2-1 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the win, Hickory (13-21) has won two of three during the current series and it will try for the series win Tuesday morning starting at 10:30 a.m. Rome (22-15) dropped into second place, a game behind Augusta (Ga.) in the South Atlantic League Southern Division.
Facing Braves reliever Brandon White (0-2), the Crawdads started the ninth with a booming double off the wall in center field by Tyreque Reed. Austin O’Banion’s grounder to first moved Reed to third from where Rollin took over. Reed wasted little time for the walk-off winner by lining an 0-1 pitch from the side-arming White into left.
Pitching dominated Monday’s contest as a pair of No. 30 prospects – Rome’s Huascar Ynoa and Hickory’s Tyler Phillips – started the game.
Ynoa held the Crawdads hitless through five innings with the help of center fielder Drew Waters. The Braves No. 18 prospect made an on-the-run, leaping catch of a liner at the wall off the bat of Bubba Thompson in the first. Near the same spot, Waters – who also had two of the Braves seven hits – made an even better grab on a ball hit by Ratliff in the fourth when he scaled and reached over the wall to bring back a home run. Otherwise, Ynoa’s night was uneventful, as he struck out six and walked three. The lone hit against Ynoa was a home run by Justin Jacobs in the sixth.
Tyler Phillips matched zeroes on the scoreboard with five shutout innings. The Crawdads right hander allowed five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He, too, got defensive help as Hickory turned two double plays behind him. The lone trouble for Phillips came in the fourth when William Contreras and Kurt Hoekstra each singled with two outs to put runners and first and third. Phillips got out of the inning by striking out Jean Carlos Encarnacion.
New reliever Derek Heffel entered the game for Hickory in the sixth. He allowed just two base runners over three innings and struck out three. However, the first base runner was a leadoff home run by Hoekstra to start the seventh and tie the game.
Alex Speas (1-0) dominated the Braves in the ninth with fastballs registering 96-98 mph. The right hander retired the side and struck out two.
Down three runs early, Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Jean Casanova settled down and his teammates fought back to take a 4-3 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win for the Crawdads (12-20) in the series opener with the Braves was the third in four games of the current homestand. Despite the loss, Rome (21-14) remained in a tie for first the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League.
Hickory scored the decisive run in the eighth after two were out. With Austin O’Banion on first, Ryan Dorow put up his third single of the game. Cristian Inoa then hit a grounder that got past second baseman Derian Cruz and allowed O’Banion to score from second.
It looked as if the Crawdads would be run out of the stadium. Facing Jean Casanova, Braves center fielder Drew Waters hit the second pitch of the game out of the ballpark. Two outs later, William Contreras, Kurt Hoekstra and Jean Carlos Encarnacion hit consecutive doubles and suddenly Rome held a 3-0 lead.
The Crawdads pecked away at the lead, starting in the second with Tyreque Reed’s second home run of the season. In the third, Cristian Inoa and Bubba Thompson steered back-to-back doubles just inside the bag at third to get Hickory within 3-2.
Tyler Ratliff worked an eight-pitch at bat into a walk in the fourth. He stole second with two outs and came home when Ryan Dorow lifted a soft liner into right center.
After giving up the homer and five doubles into the third, Casanova settled down and retired 12 straight before he walked Encarnacion to start the seventh.
Sal Mendez (2-2) got out of the inning and worked around an error with two outs in the ninth to seal the win.
Casanova and Huff Work Plan B:
Simply put, the Braves were pounding the fastball of Casanova early. So Casanova, pitching coach Jose Jaimes and catcher Sam Huff decided to alter the attack against an aggressive Braves lineup that had six extra-base hits through the first 11 hitters. After Riley Delgado doubled on a first-pitch fastball in the third, Casanova started the next nine hitters with an offspeed pitch. The right-hander retired the next 12 hitters, striking out four.
Huff and Casanova talked about the change of strategy and what went into the decision to use plan B.
It didn’t look like there wasn’t much of a fastball at the start and they were hitting it. You guys made the decision to go offspeed. I think I had one time where you went through the whole order and started everybody offspeed. How did that decision come about?
Huff: Before pregame, we were talking about the hitters. A lot of them, their percentages were they’re early swingers. They’re going to swing at first-pitch fastballs no matter what. Their two-hole shortstop (Riley Delgado), he is ten-percent on striking out, so he’s putting the bat on the ball. The first inning, we kind of got an idea and we got on the same page and we just started working it. I knew he had a good curveball, slider and changeup and we started mixing those in and then just get guys thinking and uncomfortable.
They hit you and hit you hard early. There were five doubles and a homer over the first three innings. What was your part in this decision to make a change in what you were going to throw?
Casanova: The first inning, that came from my head. I was like, “I’m not going to give up. I’m still going to attack the zone.” We all went over to the side with our pitching coach (Jose) Jaimes and we talked about, “Let’s start over and use the offspeed, curveball. Then, when the guy’s got two strikes on them, throw the slider because the slider is way faster than your curveball.” Then we started with the changeup and then the fastball and it started working. So, we just kept doing that throughout the rest of the game after the first inning. That helped a lot.
Is there are a macho thing where guys will say, “I’m going to throw my fastball, come hell or high water” and you overuse it?
Casanova: As a pitcher, I like to be aggressive with my fastball. Tonight, after they were hitting my fastball, I just worked with whatever was working earlier in the bullpen, which was my curveball and the slider and the changeup looked pretty good. So, I mixed those up. Then, a couple of times I threw a fastball when they were waiting for a breaking pitch and that’s when my fastball started playing.
At what point are you watching him and saying, “Okay, this is what we need to do.”? They’re hitting the fastball and you have your pregame stuff and you see what is actually taking place. At what point do you make a decision to call it this way?
Huff: First thing, once I saw them being aggressive throughout the at bat, I was just like, “We’ve got to go curveballs now. We’ve got to switch it up and we’ve got to get them out on their front foot and get them uncomfortable.”
We were talking about going in and they were sitting there. So, we started going away and then hard away and then soft away. I mean, we tried to get them uncomfortable and thinking.
Four guys I knew for sure were like, “he’s throwing a curveball right there” and we’d throw a fastball the first pitch. And then, he’s pretty much already given up on his at bat and then we’d throw two sliders inside.
I have to read hitters, too, and know which guys are going to be swinging no matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fastball or a curveball or a changeup or slider, they’re swinging. And then the guys that are more picky and will take – because the guys that take, they take a curveball right down the pike and, okay, it’s strike one. Here comes another curveball, fouls it off and they’re 0-2. Alright, you can go fastball, curveball, changeup or slider. It just depends on what he wants.
We were pretty much on the same page. He shook me off maybe two or three times and we executed it. We took what we wanted from the first inning and built off of it. We’re taking that as a learning experience and the next time that we play them, maybe not go straight fastballs, but more working counts and getting guys uncomfortable.
Have you ever thrown that many offspeed pitches in a row to start a hitter?
Casanova: No, that was the first time where I had to start with my curveball or my slider or my changeup.
Huff: He’s a big fastball guy. This is the total opposite of what he does. He looked the part. He showed you that he can pitch both ways and still carve. You don’t need to just to just trust your fastball. You can use other things. Seeing that, I was really happy to see that from him. For him to hold and get out of that first inning and then come in and go back out there and just say, “You know what, hit it. Try and hit this.” It was really cool to see.
Casanova: It was special to me because he is the catcher that knows me the most. We’ve been together for like three years now. We got onto the same page and everything. After the first inning, I put it away and throw it in the garbage. This is a new inning and I’m going to try and compete and stay in the game as long as I can. That’s what I tried to do and it worked out.
In a game like this, you had the golden sombrero tonight and I know you’re not happy about that, but you had to take a lot of pleasure in working in that way. That was more important win wise than what you did at the plate?
Huff: As a team, we want to win. If it means I go 0-for-4, it means I go 0-for-4, but if I’m helping my pitchers and my whole staff and my team to win a ballgame behind the plate, then I’ll take it every day of my life. I love to win. I want to win.
Ratliff’s battle rewarded
It seemed innocuous at the time, but Ratliff’s at bat in the fourth played a big part in getting the Crawdads the tying run. An eight-pitch plate appearance turned into a walk and began the process of running up the pitch count of Odalvi Javier, who had thrown 42 pitches one out into the fourth.
“The first at bat, I was kind of late on his fastball and I got a hit off his changeup or slider,” said Ratliff about his approach for the key AB. “I actually got into an advantage count to 2-1. I fouled it off and got back even with a 3-2 count. He just kept throwing fastballs, fastballs. He kept trying to get me to chase the fastball up, which I couldn’t lay off of. They weren’t quite up enough to take. He just kept aggressively throwing the fastball up, up, up. I was sitting fastball and then the last pitch was kind of a spiked changeup. It was nice to get rewarded for a long 3-2.”
After hitting .167/.254/.250 in April, Ratliff has come around in May and is now at .371/.421/.486 for the month. He has multi-hit games in six of his last nine contests.
:I was working with Chase Lambin (Crawdad hitting coach) and Josue (Perez), our hitting coordinator, and (coach) Turtle (Thomas) and (manager) Matt (Hagen). They were all like, ‘You just have to go back to you, which is not chasing pitches up.’ I was trying to do too much, like I said. I was trying to go for the big home run. I’m not that type of player. I’m the type of player that’s going to hit balls in the gap, and hit doubles, and make hard contact and grind out at bats.”
Rome roaming out of runs:
The Braves baserunning cost them a couple of scoring opportunities. In the second, Isranel Wilson hit a liner to deep right. Through right fielder Justin Jacobs quickly retrieved and relayed the ball back in, Wilson hustled and reached second well ahead of the throw. However, he slid well past the bag, even avoiding the tag of Inao at short. Inao was able to snare Wilson in the ensuing rundown.
The more perplexing play happened in the seventh. After Encarnacion walked, Drew Lugbauer hit a swinging bunt in front of the plate. Mendez hopped down the mound and quickly got the out at first. Meanwhile, Encarnacion sped around second and made tracks to third. First baseman Tyreque Reed’s strong throw to the waiting Ratliff at third was well ahead of Encarnacion’s slide.
Tyreque Reed’s blast:
Check out Dan Victor’s (@slydanno70) video of Reed’s blast.
The Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies rallied back from an early deficit and salvaged the final game of a three-game series with an 8-3 win Friday night over the Hickory Crawdads at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Fireflies (18-16) snapped a three-game losing streak and now return home to face Delmarva (Md.) in a four-game series. Meanwhile, the Crawdads (11-20) host Rome (Ga.) for four games starting Saturday night.
The Crawdads put up single runs in the first and second to build a 2-0 lead. Tyreque Reed singled in Miguel Aparicio and Sam Huff popped his second home run in as many games.
However, Columbia put together four straight hits to start the fourth. Scott Manea’s infield hit broke up a fledgling no-hit bid by A.J. Alexy. Gio Alfonzo followed that with a single and both runners scored on Hansel Moreno’s triple into the corner. Raphael Gladu singled in Moreno.
Matt Winaker blasted his second home run of the season in the first before Austin O’Banion got the run back by tripling in Reed to make it 4-3 Columbia.
Hickory missed a chance at a double play and that contributed to a two-run seventh. Quinn Brodey singled and then Jeremy Vasquez hit a grounder to Huff at first. Huff quickly fed a throw to Cristian Inoa who relayed the throw to the pitcher Joe Kuzia covering at first. Kuzia caught the ball but he was unable to find the bag behind him with his foot. Winaker walked before Rigoberto Terrazas and Manea each singled with Manea’s hit scoring Vasquez. A wild pitch scored Winaker and the Fireflies led 6-3.
Columbia added the final two runs on Brodey’s run-scoring double and Vasquez’s single.
The game’s turning point:
I didn’t get to see the dominant performance of Alexy at West Virginia last Friday, but if it was anything like the first inning on Friday, it must have been special. Alexy overmatched the Fireflies in the first, needing 11 pitches to get through the inning. The big right-hander threw all fastballs in the 93-95 mph range before he capped the first with a high-heat 96 that Brodey couldn’t catch up to.
The second inning gave clues as to the direction the remainder of Alexy’s start would go. A first-pitch curveball missed and then another one hit Vasquez. The fastball settled into the 92-93 range and began to miss spots. Winaker flew out to deep center and Terrazas drove a pitch to deep left. Both were outs, but both were squared up well. Manea was hit by a curveball – the umpire ruled he didn’t attempt to get out of the way – and then was walked on four straight. Alexy rebounded to paint the corner with a fastball to fan Alfonzo.
Though the Fireflies didn’t score, the third inning had much to do to foul up Alexy’s night. With one out, Gladu and Blake Tiberi both walked, as Alexy started to bring in the changeup for the second time through the order. Brodey joined them after he was hit by a pitch. Alexy completed the 28-pitch inning by striking out Vasquez and then Brodey. The Brodey strikeout seemed to charge the Crawdads battery as Yohel Pozo gave an emphatic fist pump when he left his crouch and ran to the dugout, while Alexy strutted resolutely from the mound.
Up to that point, the Crawdads hitters had the chance to feast on the offerings of Joe Cavallaro. Using a three-quarter delivery that occasionally dropped lower, the right-hander had trouble getting his slider to bite and the flat, middle-in changeups he served to Reed and Huff were punished accordingly. Combine that with an 87-88 fastball that Cavallaro had trouble spotting. With the Crawdads sending up hot hitters in the bottom of the third, the game seemed ready for the taking facing an ineffective pitcher that had thrown 41 pitches already. A long inning like the previous two would give Alexy a chance to regroup and give him a bigger cushion with which to work.
Reed grounded to short on three pitches. O’Banion struck out on four. Pozo lined to right on the first. Eight pitches total and a wearied Alexy was back to the mound.
The fourth started well as Alexy fanned Terrazas. However, an 0-2 breaking ball was beaten into the ground. Third baseman Ryan Dorow valiantly tried to make the run-and-grab throw to first but bounced it on what was ruled Columbia’s first hit of the game. The small leak in the dam became a steady flow as Alfonzo, Moreno and Gladu each squared up Alexy’s pitches that turned into three runs.
The Fireflies and Crawdads traded runs, but Columbia never trailed again and put the game on ice with the runs in the seventh and eighth.
On the brink of another loss to Delmarva (Md.) to end a dreadful homestand on the final game of a tough month, the Hickory Crawdads on Sunday erased a five-run deficit over the final three innings, which was capped by a wild pitch that scored a runner from second base to end a three-run, ninth-inning rally and beat the Shorebirds 7-6 at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win for Hickory (8-14) ended both its four-game losing streak and the Shorebirds (16-8) four-game winning streak. The Crawdads also avoided the first sweep by the Shorebirds at L.P. Frans Stadium since July 2008.
The walk-off win was the first by Hickory since defeating the Shorebirds on July 9, 2017 on a solo homer by Blaine Prescott. It was also the first walk-off win by a wild pitch for Hickory since May 23, 2013 when the Crawdads capped a five-run 12th innings as Jordan Akins scored against Kannapolis.
The Crawdads entered the game with a total of six runs over the first five meetings with Delmarva and it looked like they would be snake bit again. After Seamus Curran put Delmarva ahead with a two-run single in the third, the Crawdads cut the deficit in half when Melvin Novoa doubled in Miguel Aparicio. Novoa went to third on the throw home and it appeared he would score the tying run when Sam Huff lined a single up the middle. However, Huff’s liner struck the base umpire and Novoa was sent back to third. Yohel Pozo then fouled out to right to end the inning.
Delmarva’s 2-1 lead increased by four in the seventh when the Shorebirds put the first four on base against reliever Dario Beltre. Jean Carrillo homered, Branden Becker and TJ Nichting both singled and scored on Mason McCoy’s triple. Josh Advocate entered and struck out the first two he faced before Will Robertson lined an RBI double to make it 6-1.
Hickory cut the lead by a run in the seventh but missed a chance for more after loading the bases with one out. The Crawdads settled for an Eric Jenkins RBI grounder.
In the eighth, Scott Burke walked Novoa and Huff to open the inning. Both runners advanced on Pozo’s deep fly to right and scored when Tyler Ratliff got enough on a soft liner to left for a single. Reliever Alex Katz entered and induced Kole Enright to ground into a double play.
The Shorebirds had a chance to increase the 6-4 lead in the ninth as they worked two walks and a hit batter. However, Grant Zawadzki started a 1-6-3 double play during the inning and he struck out Ryen Ripken to get through unscathed.
Delmarva entered the game statistically as the best defensive team in the South Atlantic League but it was its defense that played a hand in the decisive ninth. With one out, Yonny Hernandez and Jenkins walked. Aparicio chopped a bouncer back to Katz on what appeared to be a game-inning double play. Katz initially dropped the ball but recovered and threw to second on time only to have the shortstop McCoy drop the ball allowing Jenkins to reach to load the bases.
Reed Hayes was brought in to face Novoa, who lined a hard single to left to bring in Hernandez and Jenkins to tie the game. On the play, Delmarva missed a chance for an out as when the throw from left fielder Zach Jarrett skipped away past home, Novoa was caught between first and second as Aparicio remained at second on the overthrow. A throw to first from Hayes, who had backed up the play, was in plenty of time to get Novoa, but Ripken never turned to apply the tag as Novoa sneaked by.
With Huff at the plate, a wild pitch by Hayes skipped away from the catcher Carrillo. With the runners taking off, Novoa was caught in a rundown on his way to second. Though he was tagged out after the fourth throw of the play, Novoa stayed in the rundown long enough to allow Aparicio to sprint from second to home to score the winning run.
Novoa’s day: The 21-year-old returned behind the plate for the first time since taking a pitch off the right knee in a game against Greensboro on Wednesday. He certainly played a big part of the outcome on Sunday in the batter’s box and defensively.
Novoa went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a walk. (The one out was a hard liner to short.) He had two of the four hits allowed by Hall, including a run-scoring hit in the third.
“He’s a good pitcher,” said Novoa. “But when I go up to home plate and I make good contact I can have a good moment. I want to help my team for at bat and every pitch. It was a good moment for the team and we want it to continue.”
Novoa threw out McCoy attempting to steal in the fifth, the fifth runner nailed out of six trying to steal this season. Manager Matt Hagen said that Novoa blocked seven balls in the dirt as well.
On the game’s final play, Novoa said, “When I got into the rundown, I think I was able to cause some confusion and Miguel was able to score and win the game. “
Winter-like weather here on the east coast has held some plants at a dormant stage in this area. The Hickory Crawdads bats could be included on that list much of the early season.
With more seasonal temperatures last night, the Crawdads bats stirred and had their biggest scoring output in eight seasons at L.P. Frans Stadium as they overwhelmed the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 18-6.
The 18 runs were the most scored by the Crawdads at home since putting up 18 against Lexington on June 6, 2010. Overall, it was the most runs since scoring 19 in a road win at Lexington on August 4, 2016.
Eight of the nine players scored, seven coming across the plate at least twice. Hickory collected 14 hits – eight for extra bases – walked six times and were hit by four pitches.
Melvin Novoa led the way with three extra-base hits (a homer and two doubles), four runs scored and three RBI. Along with Novoa, Eric Jenkins and Yohel Pozo each hit their first homers of the season.
After the Crawdads put up four in the first, they put the game away with nine in the third. Miguel Aparicio’s three-run triple and Novoa’s two-run blast were among the highlights.
The Legends cut their deficit to 13-6 after bringing in four in the sixth. However, the Crawdads answered with four of their own to squelch any hopes of a comeback. Jenkins’s three-run triple was the big hit of that inning.
Tyree Thompson (1-1) was the beneficiary on the mound for Hickory. The right-hander gave up five runs (two earned) on five hits over 5.2 innings with two strikeouts. Jean Casanova threw two scoreless innings of relief and Sal Mendez struck out two during a scoreless ninth.
***I wanted to write a little bit about Eric Jenkins on Saturday, but time constraints worked against me there. I’m certain the Rangers would like to see the youngster finally put together the natural tools he has and take a step forward in 2018. Contact can still be an issue (15 Ks in 47 PAs), but, at least to me, it seems on this home stand that he is willing to battle more rather than give up ABs. The 21-year-old is in the midst of a mini five-game hit streak and has multi-hit games the last three.
The game that got my attention was Saturday’s contest at West Virginia. After taking off Friday following a three-K effort the night before, Jenkins had one of those games were his natural ability stood out. He just missed reaching on a bunt in the first. One inning later, he turned on a 0-2 offering and ripped it into the corner for a two-run triple. In the third, a bunt single plus a steal of second. In the fifth, a walk and a steal of second. Defensively, he made arguably his best catch of the three seasons with Hickory, a leaping catch in left to rob Dylan Busby of a homer.
With a plethora of center fielders in the Texas Rangers system, Jenkins, who was the Crawdads starter at that position in 2016, has been taken out of the conversation for now. But if he puts together those natural tools of speed and occasional power, the mentions of him by others could return.
At a game that begin with the temperature at 50 degrees and the wind gusting in the neighborhood of 20 mph, starting pitchers Reid Anderson of the Hickory Crawdads and Andres Sotillet of the Lexington Legends did everyone a favor. They threw strikes.
Hickory scored two in the third and made them stand up for a 2-1 win in a game that lasted two-hours, 15 minutes at L.P. Frans Stadium Monday night.
Anderson, a native of New Egypt, N.J. had no issues with the frigid temperatures that dropped into the upper 30s by game’s end with light snow flurries swirling as fans left the ballpark.
“I’m used to Northeast baseball,” said Anderson. “I love pitching in this. It makes hitters a lot more tentative, so I just attacked them.”
Attack he did, as Anderson put together arguably his best start over the two seasons of his Crawdads career. The right-hander was the story for much of the game as he retired the first 15 hitters on his way to the longest outing of the season to date for a Crawdads starter. Lasting 6.1 innings, Anderson gave up one run on three hits and struck out six.
“He looked really strong and was rested,” said Crawdads manager Matt Hagen. “His tempo was tremendous. He was like, ‘Give me the ball’, throw a strike, ‘Give me the ball’, throw a strike, which is something that we preach. When you see a guy go out there and create tempo, it’s fun to watch.”
Working quickly, Anderson, who had just two three-ball counts, used a fastball/ changeup mix with an occasional curve thrown in. The game plan was keep the hitters back on their heels.
Said Anderson, who threw 86 pitches (58 strikes) “We had a plan to go in and just not trying to nitpick pitches but going right at them.”
With only 56 pitches tossed over the first five innings, it was a curious question as to just how long Anderson would be allowed to take a stab at a perfect-game bid if it developed deeper. As the game approached the middle innings, the thought of that rare accomplishment began to creep into Anderson’s mind.
“It’s hard to not think about it,” he said. “It’s always in the back of your head, but you’ve got to push that away and focus on the next batter at hand.”
Although the Crawdads committed three errors for the game, the Crawdads play in the field had much to do with Anderson’s success.
The first challenge to Anderson’s perfect-game came on back-to-back plays in the fourth. Marten Gasparini lifted a high fly ball that carried to the track in straight-away center. Fighting the wind, Pedro Gonzalez cruised back, turned his body twice before twisting against himself to make an over-the shoulder, basket catch. With the Crawdads shifted to the right side, the next batter, Nick Pratto sliced a pitch into left that Eric Jenkins sprinted to and made a diving catch.
“Jenkins almost overran the ball,“ Hagen said. “The wind pushed it back so much. Give those guys credit, it was not an easy night to be an outfielder.”
On the infield, third baseman Tyler Ratliff handled a bad hop on the backhand and threw to first. Later, Justin Jacobs had a mini-bad hop as he went to field a grounder and step on first.
“Those guys did a great job, said Anderson. “They had my back all night and they made incredible plays behind me. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Lexington countered with Sotillet, who was nearly Anderson’s equal. The right-hander pounded the strike zone to the tune of 49 strikes out of 63 pitches. On the way to striking out six, he threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 20 hitters.
“Their starter did a great job, too,” Anderson said of the pitching duel. “That definitely helps you focus in and it helps you really bear down because you know you don’t have much room to work with. I think everyone would prefer having a big lead and pitching in that, but tight games really help you lock in.”
The only troublesome inning for Sotillet came in the third with the help of an odd defensive play. With one out, Yonny Hernandez was hit by a pitch. Jenkins lifted a ball into shallow center that Gasparini charged and then attempted a diving catch. The umpire immediately ruled the ball in play, but thinking he had made the catch, he fired to first for a double play attempt and thereby missing a chance to catch the lead runner Hernandez at second for a force play. Miguel Aparicio hit a seeing-eye single to right that scored Hernandez and Jenkins scored when right fielder Seuly Matias’s throw home went to the backstop.
The Legends opened the sixth with their first base runner, a single to left by Oliver Nunez. Sebastian Rivero blooped a single to right and a wild pitch moved both up. One out later, a contact play resulted in Nunez getting caught in a rundown trying to score. Anderson got out of trouble with a groundout by Gasparini.
Lexington’s only run came in the seventh when Matias doubled. A wild pitch bumped him to third and Matias scored on MJ Melendez’s sac fly.
The Legends threatened in the eighth and ninth innings. Facing DeMarcus Evans in the eighth, Rivero got a four-pitch walk and went to third when Evans fielded Ricky Aracena’s sac bunt and threw wildly past first. Cal Jones struck out and then Gasparini flew out to Jenkins in shallow left with Jenkins easily throwing out Rivero at home trying to score.
The suspense built again in the ninth when with one out Matias reached second on an infield hit and a throwing error. Alex Speas struck out Melendez, but a wild pitch put runners on the corners. Speas gathered himself and fanned both Guzman and Nunez to end the game.
***The fastball from Alex Speas has been as advertised. We don’t yet have a speed-gun reading available at the ballpark, but judging by the swings from the hitters during the two outings I’ve seen him it has life and it gets there in a hurry. However last night, it was the breaking ball that did a lot of the dirty work among the nine missed bats in his inning. It appeared to have that falling-off-the-table sink, one of which Melendez flailed at and catcher Melvin Novoa had to chase down near the Crawdads dugout.
He didn’t panic with a runner at third and one out but continued to throw the pitch and trusted Novoa to make plays if needed. Speas then set up Nunez for a fastball on the inside corner for a called third-strike that ended the game.
Said Hagen of Speas: “You take the error away and then the wild pitch that got away from Melvin, it was a tremendous inning. Either way he ended up with four strikeouts. Watching him from last year to this year, and to see the progress and the maturation has been really fun to watch. To go from where he was at as a starter to coming in as a reliever and hoping for a good result to coming in as a reliever and knowing that you’re going to get really good results coming into the game.”
*** This is a game Anderson likely loses in 2017. He would have games like this where he would dominate for several innings but a quirky inning or a bad pitch would get away and cost him the game. In a preseason interview, pitching coach Jose Jaimes said Anderson is better prepared this season to go deep into games. Anderson agrees and talked about his mindset on the mound this season.
Anderson said, “Mainly it’s just not trying to think ahead. Last year, I would go out there I would be in the first inning and I’d already be thinking about the sixth. This time, I’m just focusing batter to batter, pitch to pitch and not trying to get ahead of myself.”
In similar circumstances to game one of the series, the West Virginia Power took advantage of an error in the first to score three times and never trailed during a 6-4 win over the Hickory Crawdads in front of 2,925 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium Friday night.
The Power (4-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with the win and evened the series with the Crawdads (1-7).
In game one of the series Thursday, the Crawdads used a first-inning error to score four unearned runs on the way to a 6-2 win. On Friday, the roles were reversed.
After Crawdads starter Jean Casanova (0-1) retired the first two batters in the first, Dylan Busby hit a high pop-up near home plate. Catcher Sam Huff settled under the ball, which carried to the fair side of home plate and ticked off the glove for the error. The Power made Hickory pay with a double by Mason Martin and a three-run homer by Oneil Cruz.
Miguel Aparicio cut the deficit to 3-1 with his first homer of the season, a high drive off the top row of billboards in right. Ryan Dorow added his first blast of the season in the second.
The Power regained their initial three-run lead in the third. Cruz walked and Kyle Watson reached on an infield hit that chased Casanova. Sal Mendez entered and recorded two straight grounders, the second by Ryan Peurifoy scored Cruz. Chris Sharpe blooped a single into short right to bring in Watson and the Power led 5-2.
From there, the Crawdads threatened several times with runners scoring position in five of the last seven innings. Melvin Nova singled and scored on Tyler Ratliff’s double to get Hickory back within 5-3. However, Yohel Pozo grounded to third and Gavin Wallace fanned Huff to strand the runner.
Dorow doubled with one out in the fourth, but never advanced. Pozo double to start the sixth, but he, too, never moved.
Cruz’s second homer of the night in the seventh pushed the Power ahead 6-3 before Pedro Gonzalez tripled and scored to create what turned out to be the final margin.
The Crawdads loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but reliever Evan Piechota struck out Gonzalez to end the attempted rally.
Piechota then worked around a two-out single in the ninth to record the three-inning save (1).
Wallace got the win (1-0) with six innings of work during which he gave up three runs on eight hits.
***This felt like a game that Hickory would win. The Power stranded seven over the first four innings and the Crawdads responded each time West Virginia scored. However, the inability by Hickory to capitalize on presented opportunities ultimately doomed the team. The Crawdads went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position for the game and left 10. Through 7 games with RISP, the team is at .190/.239/.206. It feels like the pitcher has the advantage rather than the other way around.
***First home appearance for Alex Speas and it looked sharp. Cruz touched him for the second homer, but the pitch appeared to be a fastball that was down and away. Cruz lined it opposite field, down the line in left. Otherwise, Speas brought a live fastball (sorry, no speed gun readings) with a change and breaking ball (looked like a slider) that kept hitters honest. He fanned four of the last five swinging.
***Wallace didn’t appear to have his best stuff. Was told by the Power radio guy that keeping his sinker down was the key to his success. Wallace left a good bit up that Hickory hit hard. But Wallace mixed in the secondaries well until he could find the touch on the sinker and he went on to record nine groundball outs. While fastball command wasn’t there, the control was as he issued no walks. He seemed poised when in troubled and never panicked. After the Power pulled their starter after the first on Thursday, Wallace’s outing was a balm to the Power’s staff.
***Casanova should have been out of the first with just six pitches, but the error started a chain of events from which he never recovered. Like Wallace, he also had command issues with the fastball and it was punished. One wonders what his evening would be like had the error not happened. However, he seemed to panic and was never the same.
***The first “Wow” moment for me this season was Gonzalez’s triple in the seventh. He took a Piechota offering and lined it hard into open grass down into the right field corner. Gonzalez was in full stride between first and second… and then accelerated. It was another gear!
The line will show that Hickory left-hander Sal Mendez had a rough seventh inning, and certainly he contributed to his demise on the mound. However, a couple of unlucky breaks did him in, and in turn it proved to be the difference in a 4-3 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers Sunday afternoon at First National Bank Field.
Hickory took a 3-1 lead into the seventh-inning stretch and after Sal Mendez dominated Greensboro in the sixth, the Grasshoppers got their revenge when they sent eight to the plate to score the decisive three runs.
JC Millan started the inning with a solidly lined single to right. With the middle infielders playing at double play depth, Micah Brown hit a medium-speed grounder to the hole at second. Kole Enright from his second base position ranged far to his left, made a diving stop of the ball, but from the seated position he wasn’t able to get enough on the throw to first for the out.
Michael Hernandez then line a shot through the box – I thought it might have hit Mendez – and zoomed into center to score Millan. Zach Sullivan’s sacrifice put runners at second and third before Mendez walked Aaron Knapp.
The tying run scored when Sam Castro hit a checked-swing grounder between the mound and first. First baseman Sam Huff charged the ball but he had no play at home for the force. He turned to get the out at first, however no one covered the bag and the bases remained loaded. That proved crucial as the next hitter Isael Soto hit a high chopper that the 6-4 Huff leapt to snag and then step on first for the out.. However, that made it only two outs and Hernandez score the go-ahead and subsequent deciding run.
The Crawdads took a 2-0 lead in the first on Pedro Gonzalez’s two-run blast to right off the scoreboard.
Hickory started Noah Bremer but was pulled after the first with an oblique injury. A.J. Alexy entered in the second and gave up a lone run on a double play grounder in the fourth. Huff’s first homer of the season accounted for the Crawdads other run in the sixth.
After the blast, Hickory had just two more baserunners. Yohel Pozo doubled to start the seventh. From there, Remey Reed, RJ Peace and Tyler Frohwirth combined to retire the next seven straight, which ended with Gonzalez’s check-swing single. Pozo hit the next pitch for a 6-4-3 double play.
The offense is offensive: Just five hits on Sunday, two of those left the yard, and the Crawdads leave First National Bank Field with a .214/.267/.337 slash. Hickory fanned 11 times today and have Ks in over 25% of its at-bats.
I do wonder how different this weekend would have been had the team scored in the first two innings of the opening game of the season. Having the bases loaded twice, the Crawdads came up empty both times and needed a ninth-inning HR by Enright to avoid the shutout. After going 5-for-20 RISP, they only had three opportunities Sunday afternoon and went hitless.
There are a couple of members struggling to make contact. Gonzalez is 4-for-12, but 7 of his 8 outs are Ks. Tyler Ratliff is 0-for-10 with 5 whiffs and Chad Smith is 0-for-7 with 4 Ks. But strikeouts aside, the issue I saw on Thursday and a little this afternoon, is the inability to take advantage of opportunities. When Greensboro starter Brady Puckett got into those opening-inning jams, Hickory went first-pitch hacking and let him off the hook.
This afternoon, speedy Eric Jenkins in the eighth went up 3-0, then swung through three straight pitches. In the ninth after Pedro Gonzalez reached on a checked-swing single, Yohel Pozo went first-pitch hacking and hit into a game-ending double play.
I think this team will hit and do it well and score some runs. But, they need that spark. Unfortunately, guys are trying to force the issue.
AJ’s day: I’m guessing Alexy had planned to pitch today, but not as early as the second inning and perhaps he wasn’t loose, etc.
According the Marlins pitch fx guy, Alexy was around 92 mph with the fastball. He appeared to have trouble spotting the pitch consistently, especially from the stretch. By my count – there was no stringer for Greensboro today, so I kept my own pitch count – Alexy threw just 43 strikes out of 75 pitches in four innings. He missed 10 bats, only one on the fastball (at least it appeared to be a fastball from my vantage point in the pressbox, located in the ionosphere. The curveball seemed to have good bite to it.
Sal Mendez: I’m guessing I like Sal Mendez more than most and it’s because of innings like the sixth that appeal to me. The lefty breaks a bat on a fastball to start the inning. He then gets back-to-back strikeouts on a swing-through change and a curveball for a called third-strike. Then there are those moments like the seventh when weird things happen and he is unable to minimize the damage.
He is able to get outs, but his stuff is such that there is a small margin of error to get outs or to get hit. Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes loves Mendez’ changeup and it is an outstanding pitch when he can keep it down and miss bats. When he misses his spots, he’s very vulnerable.
Defensive gems: Hickory has been almost flawless in the field. Through the first three games, the lone two errors have come of pickoff throws by pitchers. The group covers a lot of ground and, at least to this point, are sure-handed.
Jenkins in left went back and to his left to make a diving catch of a liner off the bat of Millan in the second. SS Yonny Hernandez bailed out catcher Yohel Pozo’s off-line throw on a steal attempt. Hernandez had to cross the bag and avoid the sliding runner, but he managed to make the catch and slap a tag on Sullivan, who was sliding in.
After the top of the second, my first thought was, “Again?”
For those that don’t know the Hickory Crawdads recent history against local colleges, it hasn’t been a good run. With a team that had Andrew McCutchen and Steven Pearce in 2006, the Crawdads needed a 7th-inning rally to defeat Lenoir-Rhyne College, as the school was known as then.
One year later, LRC and Hickory tied and then the series was put on hold until 2015.
Now known as Lenoir-Rhyne University, the Bears used a big game by future LA Dodgers draftee Ivan Vieitez to defeat the Crawdads – a team that won the 2015 South Atlantic League title – 4-3.
One year later, LRU got a ninth-inning homer to defeat the Crawdads 7-4. The game was rained out last year.
This year, the Crawdads scheduled a game with Catawba Valley Community College, one of the better Division II JUCO programs.
The Red Hawks entered the game 24-9 and after an inning-and-a-half they held a 2-0 lead and were the aggressors.
So, you understand my thinking: “Again?” But then the roof caved in and Hickory scored in seven-straight innings to rout CVCC 12-2.
“They’re there because of who they are and our guys are trying to get to that level,” said CVCC head coach Paul Rozelle after the game. “So, it was nice to come out early and put some hits together and get a lead there early.
“That was a positive for us, but they’re pretty good and we just didn’t have enough for them coming down the stretch. That’s a credit to them and how good they are, but what an unbelievable experience for our guys to come out here and get this valuable lesson during the midweek. There’s no team we’re going to play this year that are going to look better than them.”
Red Hawks starter Matthew Dailey used a good mix of pitches and speeds to frustrate the Crawdads lineup early, fanning four of the first seven hitters.
Meanwhile, CVCC scored what turned out to be its only two runs in the second. After Crawdads starter Alex Eubanks needed only nine pitches to get through the first, Graham Mitchell lined a high fastball to left. David Graves sent right fielder Miguel Aparicio sprinting to the wall in right to retrieve a double. Aparicio retraced his same path for the next batter Kyran Russ, whose double scored both runners.
After a walk, Eubanks settled down to strike out the next two and then escaped further damage by getting Cory Watt to ground to second.
The game turned on a basic play in bottom of the second. With two outs and a runner at first, Kole Enright hit a slow, rolling comebacker to the box. Dailey mishandled the grounder for an error and he paid for it when Yonny Hernandez knocked a ball off the wall in left for a two-run triple.
The Crawdads then put together four straight hits in the third and scored them all on Yohel Pozo’s singled and Melvin Novoa’s three-run homer.
“They had a good pitcher,” said Crawdads manager Matt Hagen of Dailey. “He kept the ball down and changed speeds. He’s got a breaking ball and a changeup that he can throw for a strike or throw below the zone if he needs to. It took us a while to figure him out and get him timed up, so give our guys credit.”
Aparicio added a two-run shot in the fourth and the rout was on.
Sam Huff added a mammoth blast in the sixth and Eric Jenkins cleared the 32-foot-high fence in right during the eighth for the Crawdads fourth homer and final run.
The Crawdads sent eight pitchers to the mound – with only the starter Eubanks going two innings -and retired 24 of the last 26 they faced. Together, they struck out 12 and gave up just the three hits in the second. AJ Alexy and Demarcus Evans each fanned two in their lone inning of work.
“We showed everything we’ve got in the bullpen tonight, except for a couple of guys, Hagen said. “We’ve got some good fastballs coming out of the bullpen. That’s the formula for success, get a lead and have those guys throw strikes.”
**The Crawdads starting lineup was the following: Jenkins-7, Aparicio-9, Pedro Gonzalez-8, Pozo-3, Novoa-2, Tyler Ratliff-5, Chad Smith-D, Enright-4, Hernandez-6.
When asked if that would be the general lineup, Hagen responded, “What we threw out there tonight is close to what our starting lineup is going to look like, with the exception of a couple of guys that will rotate in. We’ve got good depth.”
**Rozelle said the difference for his starter Dailey was the inability to adjust to the hitters the second and especially the third time through the order.
“You saw Dailey come out and have success early and punched out a bunch of different guys and changed speeds and his locations were good,” said Rozelle. “But that second and third time through the lineup, they’ve now seen him and now we’ve got to execute even more. We left a couple of pitches up in the zone and good hitters hit them out.”
**Hagen was especially in awe of Huff’s solo homer in the sixth, a towering blast to left center that left the Red Hawks outfielders flat-footed.
“Huff hit a ball that half the stadium couldn’t find,” he said. “It was halfway up the lights in left center.”
**Rozelle was impressed with the run of arms the Crawdads marched to the mound. He said the experience will be valuable for his hitters as they continue through the college season.
“For our hitters, they’re not going to see much like that. In our league, we’re going to see one or two arms a weekend that are going to look like that. It’s understanding how to compete in those at bats and how to grind out and understand which pitches to swing at. They did a great job of getting strike one, and now they’re in control and they can dictate the at bat and we expand the zone, swinging at balls in the dirt because we’re put in the defensive position.”
Arms: Hard to really get a read on the Crawdads pitchers facing an overmatched lineup. They did throw pitches for strikes and, as Rozelle stated, controlled the zone for the ballgame. Eubanks was fantastic in the first, then left pitches up in the second that were spanked. Speas appeared to have the more electric fastball – there was no one in the stands with the speed gun – but control at times was spotty. But in all, those two, along with Noah Bremer, Alexy, Speas, Evans, Jean Casanova, Joe Barlow and Grant Zawadzki were never really extended. Only Eubanks second inning (22 pitches) went past 15 pitches in a single inning.
Bats: As mentioned above, the Crawdads group had trouble with the young, lefty starter at first, then adjusted as Dailey started getting pitches up. However, in what is admittedly inferior competition, the players seemed to go to the plate with a plan, rather than flail-and-bail if it’s close.
What will make Hickory more interesting on offense than the 2017 version are the wheels. They ran the bases well this evening, especially a play in which Hernandez read a play that turned into a diving catch that allowed him to go second to third and eventually score on a wild pitch. It’s not the total team-speed of the 2016 squad, but they’ll make things uncomfortable for opposing pitchers while on the bases, leading to hittable mistakes.
CVCC: There’s a reason they are 24-9 in its classification. They do a lot well on the field and know where to be. CF Cory Watt made a highlight-reel play on an over-the-shoulder diving play. They get the ball in quickly and appear to communicate well.
Dailey looks like a pitcher to watch at higher levels. He did mix speeds well and used the breaking ball to miss bats and until his error was in control of the hitters.