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Pitching and Defense the Difference in Tourists Win

Asheville has a lineup with plenty of firepower, but on Tuesday it was the Tourists pitching backed by key defensive plays that was the difference in a 2-0 win over Hickory at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Tourists (6-7) have now earned a split over the first two of the three-game series after the teams have now traded 2-0 wins. Hickory (9-3) will host the finale Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. before embarking on a three-game trip to Columbia, S.C.

The series was to have featured the top two South Atlantic League lineups. However, the teams have combined for four runs and 19 hits combined over the 18 innings played. In fact, the Crawdads have struggled at the plate during the current homestand. They entered Tuesday’s game at a .203/.254/.451 line during the first four games played at Frans this year. Tourists left-hander Ryan Rolison added to that misery with a stellar performance.

Rolison, the Colorado Rockies’ first-round pick in last June’s first-year player draft, held the Crawdads without a baserunner through the first five innings. With only one three-ball count in the game, Rolison (2-1) constantly had the Crawdads guessing at which of the four pitches at his disposal that he would use. Pounding the strike zone, he struck out seven – five in a row at one stretch – with 46 strikes out of 62 pitches.

The Tourists gave Rolison all he needed with a run in the third against starter Yerry Rodriguez (1-1). The Crawdads hurler retired the first two batters, but Cade Harris extended the inning with a single to right. On successive pitches, Will Golsan singled and Rodriguez hit Hunter Stovall with a pitch to load the bases. The wild streak continued when Rodriguez walked Terrin Vavra to force in a run.

The Crawdads bats finally came to life in the sixth, when with one out Jonathan Ornelas grounded a single up the middle just past the dive of Vavra at short. Frainyer Chavez reached when he was able to line a bunt past Rolison on the first base side of the mound and outrace him to the bag. However, the Tourists escaped damage when a sharp line drive hit by J.P. Martinez was caught by first baseman Grant Lavigne, who then easily doubled up Chavez at first to end the inning.

Harris walked and later scored on a double-play ball to add an insurance run in the eighth.

However, the Crawdads appeared to be on the verge of at least cutting the deficit in half in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and nobody on, Miguel Aparicio doubled. A fielding blunder then kept the rally alive, as Ornelas hit a high chopper up the third-base line. The ball appeared to be curling foul, but pitcher Frederis Parra picked the ball up just inside the line to give Ornelas a single and put Aparicio at third. Chavez followed with a bouncer up the middle that tipped off the pitcher’s glove. The second baseman Stovall made a lunging stop of the ball.  While remaining stretched out, he fired a strike to first to retire Chavez and end the inning.

Alexander Martin closed out the game by striking out the side in the ninth for his second save of the season.

Brennan Locks Up Tourists for Crawdads Win

Tim Brennan allowed just two baserunners over six shutout innings and shutdown the South Atlantic League’s top offensive to lead the Hickory Crawdads to a 2-0 win Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

In winning the first of the three-game series, the Crawdads (9-2) remained in second place in the Northern Division a half-game behind the Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds (9-1), who defeated Kannapolis at home on Monday. During the current homestand, Hickory is now 3-1 and will look to improve on that against Asheville on Tuesday as the series continues with a 6:30 p.m. first pitch.

The Tourists entered Monday’s game with the league’s top numbers across the board (.282/.363/.493/ .856), but the starter Brennan had little trouble working his way through the lineup.

He retired the first 12 before surrendering a walk to current SAL hitter-of-the-week Willie MacIver to start the fifth. The lead runner was retired on successive fielder’s choices leaving Daniel Montano at first with two outs. He stole second second and moved to third on catcher Matt Whatley’s throwing error. However, Brennan got Coco Montes to fly to center to end the lone threat against him.

Hunter Stovall broke up Brennan’s fledgling no-hit bid in the sixth with a clean single to left to start the inning.

Brennan left the game after clearing the sixth on 73 pitches (46 strikes).

The right-hander was supported for his first professional win (1-0) in two starts by the offense, which gave him all he needed four batters into the game. Facing Ryan Feltner (0-2), J.P. Martinez drilled the righty’s second pitch to the leftfield wall for a double. He moved to third on Matt Whatley’s fly to the track in right for Curtis Terry ripped a double to right for the run.

Sam Huff hit a slider over the billboards in right for a solo blast in the sixth to account for the second run. His home run was the fourth of the season with ties him for the SAL and pushed his team’s league high to 14 on the year.

Asheville threatened to erase its deficit in the seventh against Abdiel Mendoza. Grant Lavigne singled and MacIver got his second walk of the game. Two outs later, Mendoza loaded the bases by walking Montes. However, Stovall flied out to shallow left to end the rally.

Scott Engler pitched two perfect innings for Hickory, striking out five of the six he faced to pick up his first pro save.

Game Notes: Cole Uvila was promoted to High-A Down East on Monday. The 40th-round pick of the Rangers last June (GA. Gwinnett) went 2-0 in three relief outings with ten strikeouts over seven innings. He allowed just three hits and one walk… The Crawdads now have three shutouts on the season and have seven games out of 11 with 0 or 1 run allowed.

 

Resilient Crawdads Take Extra-Innings Win

The Hickory Crawdads showed resilience Saturday night and wound up with a 6-5 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators in front of 1,523 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium Saturday night.

With the win the Crawdads (8-2) have earned at least a split in the four-game series and look to take the series outright tomorrow with a first pitch at 3 p.m. Kannapolis (4-5) has now dropped four of five.

Kannapolis scored an unearned run in the second, but the Crawdads used their powerful lineup to pull ahead.

Pedro Gonzalez continued his assault on Kannapolis pitching during his stay with the Crawdads with a solo home run in the third. In hitting his third against Kannapolis in as many games, Gonzalez has eight home runs, five doubles and 19 RBI  in 19 games over the last two seasons against the Intimidators.

The two starters battled through six innings and left with the score tied at one. Hickory’s John King allowed six hits and struck out four to go with the unearned run. Konnor Pilkington allowed just two baserunners over six innings, chipping in a walk to go with Gonzalez’s homer and striking out eight.

Against the new pitcher Vince Arobio, the Crawdads jumpstarted things briefly in the seventh. The jolt started when Curtis Terry hit his third of the season, a two-run blast that was his second in two games. Sherten Apostel followed with a line drive over the fence in left for his first of the year. It as the third straight game Hickory launched back-to-back homers. Hickory leads the South Atlantic League with 13 homers.

However, things fell apart for the Crawdads in the ninth and for the second night in a row, the team’s only walk of the game cost them. Facing reliever Grant Wolfram, Amado Nunez reached on an error at third by Apostel and was joined one out later by a Gunnar Troutwine, who walked. Luis Curbelo then took a fastball away and lifted it over the fence in right to tie the game at 4-4.

Curbelo’s home run was the first for Kannapolis, as well as the first surrendered by Hickory.

The Crawdads had a chance to put the game away in the ninth after putting runners at second and third after an error by third baseman Bryce Bush kept the inning alive. But Bennett Sousa got Sam Huff on a grounder to short to extend the game.

Lenyn Sosa’s sacrifice fly scored Ian Hawkins to give Kannapolis the lead in the tenth. Hickory put runners at second and third and none out. Sousa struck out Jonathan Ornelas before the Intimidators cut down a runner at the plate on a grounder to first. However. Chris Seise got enough on an 0-2 pitch to reach on an infield hit to short and score Gonzalez from third.

Cole Uvila (2-0) struck out two in the 11th to reset the Crawdads at plate. With Matt Whatley at second to start the inning, Curtis Terry steered an 0-2 slider past the bag at third for the walk-off double.

 

Late Rally Overcomes 3 Crawdads Blasts

The Kannapolis Intimidators picked up a pair of runs in the ninth and defeated the Hickory Crawdads 6-4 Friday night in front of 2,121 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Intimidators (4-4) win snapped their three-game losing streaks and also ended the four-game winning streak by Hickory, which dropped to 7-2.

With the score tied at 4-all after eight, the Intimidators got the winning started with one out in the ninth against reliever Grant Anderson (0-1). Alex Destino picked up his team’s only walk of the game and was joined next on the bases by Ramon Beltre, who singled. Ian Dawkins (3-for-5) lined an offspeed pitch for a ground-rule double to left-center to score Destino. Steele Walker added an insurance run with his second sacrifice fly of the night to score Beltre.

Kannapolis never trailed in the game after score the first four in the second against starter Jean Casanova. Michael Hickman singled, as did Destino one out later. The hit parade continued with Beltre’s RBI single before Dawkins sneaked in a bloop single to left to score a run. Walker’s initial sacrifice fly made it 3-0 before Lenyn Sosa capped the uprising with a hard-hit single to right to score Dawkins.

The Crawdads used the long ball to chip away at the lead. Facing starter Davis Martin, Curtis Terry lined a two-run shot in the third to cut the Crawdads deficit in half. Hickory tied the score after the seventh-inning stretch when Pedro Gonzalez and Jonathan Ornelas (3-for-4) lined the first two pitches of the inning for back-to-back home runs. The three home runs on Friday gave the Crawdads the South Atlantic League lead with ten.

Hickory had a chance to take the lead in the eighth against Sam Long (1-0).  Jose Almonte reached base to lead off the inning when Destino’s throw from third skipped away. Almonte moved to second with two outs, but Long struck out Sam Huff to end the threat.

The Crawdads got four strong innings of middle relief that allowed the hitters to get the team back into the game. Hever Bueno allowed one hit and struck out three over two innings of work. Dylan Bice nearly matched his pen mate with two Ks and one hit allowed over the seventh and eighth innings.

However, the Intimidators’ bullpen allowed just Almonte to reach over the final 2.2 innings and struck out three. Long fanned one before closer Wilber Perez retired the side in the ninth and K’d two more to earn his second save.

The series continues with game three of the four-game series with the first pitch set for 6:30 p.m.

Tyree Ties Up Shorebirds: Hickory wins 5-1.

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.”

Tyree Thompson

Tyree Thompson allowed a run on three hits over 7.1 innings vs. Delmarva on Tuesday (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

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.

Ball game.

Walk-off Winner: Ratliff’s single gives Hickory 2-1 win

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.

Casanova and Huff go to “Plan B”: Crawdads get the benefit in 4-3 win over Rome

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.

Sam Huff

Catcher Sam Huff from an early 2018 game (photo courtesy of Sam Huff

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.

Jean Casanova.jpg

Jean Casanova (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

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.

 

Scoreless third changes Crawdads fortunes: Columbia wins 8-3

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.

Crawdads Cap Tough Month with a Walk-off Win

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. “

Crawdads Bats Heat up: Have a Legendary Night

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.

Thoughts:

***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.

Eric Jenkins HR rob

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.