Archive for the ‘ Game story ’ Category

Unlucky Seventh Dooms Crawdads

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.

 

What happened?:

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.

 

 

Crawdads Win Exhibition: Snap Lengthy Winless Streak vs. Colleges

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.”

Quotes: 

**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.”

 

Thoughts: 

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.

Crawdads trim Legends 7-5

The Hickory Crawdads rallied from behind and then held on late to take a 7-5 win over the Lexington (Ky.) Legends Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the seconds straight for the Crawdads (25-38) in the four-game series and they will attempt to take just their fourth series win of the first half, the second at home in Monday’s finale. Meanwhile, Lexington (30-33) dropped its fifth in six games on the current road trip, which concludes on Monday at L.P. Frans.

What happened?:

Hickory pounded out 12 hits on Sunday, seven of those for extra bases, and it started with Eric Jenkins’s lead-off triple in the first. Leody Taveras brought him in with an RBI grounder to short.

Kyle Cody retired the first six hitter before running into trouble in the third. Joe Dudek doubled to the track in center. One out later, Rudy Martin singled in Dudek to tie the game.

Lexington grabbed the lead in the fourth with a three-run inning. Angelo Castellano led off with a single. Two outs later, John Brontsema singled and Yeison Melo bounced a double off the bag at third to score Castellano. Dudek’s second hit in two innings was a two-run single.

Alex Kowalczyk’s homer (5) to right got Crawdads within 4-2. Cody (2-6) provided a boost for his team by working out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. With one out and runners at second and third, Cody intentionally walked Emmanuel Rivera. He then struck out Gabriel Cancel and got Brontsema to fly out to center.

The Crawdads took that momentum to the bottom of the inning and turned it into three runs to retake the lead. Leody Taveras smashed a sharp grounder off the leg off Gomez for a single. Yanio Perez was hit by a pitch. One out later, Forbes doubled off the wall in left to score Taveras. Garay then doubled to the track in center for the other two runs to make it 5-4.

Despite the three-run deficit, Crawdads manager Spike Owen felt confident his club would be able to battle back. “We knew we were in the ballgame,” said Owen. “Especially with the wind blowing out. We put good at-bats on and put men on base and got a big two-out, two-RBI double from Garay.”

Cody pitched a scoreless sixth before Jake Lemoine added two more shutout innings, though he needed a big play to maintain the lead. Melo singled with one out and after Dudek moved him up with a grounder, Mark Sanchez ripped a sharp grounder to left. Eric Jenkins charged the ball aggressively and then hit the catcher Kowalczyk on the fly with a throw that was in time to nab Melo trying to score.

Blaine Prescott cracked his third homer of the season in the bottom of the inning, a two-run shot that made it 7-4.

“Blaine’s home run in the eighth was huge to give us a cushion,” Owen said. Jenkins play in the top of the eighth was big throwing the tying run out at the plate. We made the plays we had to make and got some timely hits.”

Jenkins throw and Prescott’s homer proved crucial has Khalil Lee clubbed his 10th homer of the season in the ninth. Castellano singled to center to bring the tying run to the plate. But Kaleb Fontentot induced Rivera to bounce into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

“That was a good ball game, today.” said Owen. “We made all the plays and got some big hits. The pitching kept us in the game. Nice to see it all in one game.”

 

Cody guts out six:

(I preface all this by reminding the reader that I am not a scout, baseball mind, etc. My main job at the games is to be the official scorer and so I see the games with those eyes and I miss some things. These are my observations and they could all be just bunk.)

Even when he retired the first six, I’m not sure that Cody had his best stuff today. Rangers trackers had him at 94-96, but pitches tended to stay up. Normally a groundball pitcher, 1.43 GO/AO, three of the first six outs were in the air. Dudek’s double to start the third was crushed to the CF track. Castellano’s single to start the fourth was a liner and Cody needed a leaping, sprawling grab by Forbes at third to take away a potential double off the bat of Rivera. Cancel then flew out to CF.

After the flyout, Cody did run into a bit of bad luck for the three runs with three straight groundball hits, including Melo’s slow bouncer that found the bag.

He seemed a bit rushed in the fifth on two straight walks as Kowalczyk walked in front of the plate to remind Cody to stay in front on delivery. Forbes made a tough, backhanded play for an out at third to move runners to second and third. An intentional walk to set up a double play seemed to settle him down. He got his footing back on three straight fastballs to K Cancel, before a routine fly to center ended the threat.

Of course, a pitcher will not have his best stuff every time out, but learning what to do in those situations will propel or impede a pitcher’s progress.

The Rangers have had a good run with Midwestern-born, hard-throwing, right-handed pitchers out of college in recent years. Nick Tepesch (Missouri), and Jared Eickhoff (Indiana) made it to the majors. Connor Sadzeck (Illinois) is knocking on the door of the majors, as he is on the Rangers 40-man roster at AA Frisco. With that sinking fastball, slider and change, and a good ability to mix them all, the Wisconsin native is intriguing to me. He’ll take his lumps -Tepesch and Eickhoff did during their year here – but pitching coach Jose Jaimes likes his ability to shrug off those lumps. That’s half the battle as a pro.

 

Defensive gems:

Forbes again, (see the Cody section above)

Cody and Perez: With Martin on first and one out, the Legends sent the speedster on a hit-and-run and the SS Yrizarri covered the bag. Lee put the ball in play and Forbes made a charging play towards the mound to collect the roller and throw to first. With Forbes and Yrizarri both in motion, third base was uncovered. Aware of the situation, Cody sprinted towards the open bag. 1B Yanio Perez, who’s not been reliable with infield throws, hit Cody on the run to third and Cody arrived in time to place a tag on Martin. The play kept the Lexington uprising in the third to just one run.

Jenkins: After a couple of poor performances in key spots on Saturday, his throw to nab Melo at the plate in the eighth was huge.

 

Forbes ready to fly?:

The dude picks it at third every single game. He’s made adjustments at the plate and is back smacking nearly everything hard. The K-rate has dropped. Is it time to allow him to ride the bus to different cities in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region? Not sure what else he needs to do.

Weird Baseball: Hickory outlasts Lexington 6-5

When you have a pre-game that has the Red Power Ranger and Dale Murphy throwing out first pitches back-to-back and the box manager announces the attendance dressed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume, the game itself must be weird.

After the offenses were dormant early, the Hickory Crawdads and the Lexington (Ky.) Legends battled back-and-forth until a play at the plate settled the contest, which the Crawdads won 6-5 on Saturday at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win snapped the Crawdads (24-38) losing streak at three and sent the Legends (30-32) to their fourth loss in five games on the current road trip.

 

What happened?:

Well, not much in the first 5 ½ innings. Lexington’s Jace Vines (KC’s 2016 4th round pick from Texas A&M) held the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fifth and a hit until the sixth. Meanwhile, his counterpart Walker Weickel allowed two hits, walked two and struck out five over his four innings.

Lexington scored in the fifth against reliever Christian Torres. Rudy Martin walked, stole second and scored on Angelo Castellano’s single to left.

Alex Kowalczyk broke up the fledgling perfect game with a leadoff walk in the fifth. In the sixth, Jose Almonte laid to rest Vines’s no-hit bid with a clean single through the left side of the infield. Yeyson Yrizarri singled up the middle before Vines walked Anderson Tejeda to load the bases. After Vines fanned Eric Jenkins, Leody Taveras ambushed a first-pitch fastball and drove it over the funeral home sign in center for a grand slam, his fifth homer of the season to make it 4-1.

“It happens in the game,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “(Vines) was throwing well against us the first five innings. We got to the sixth inning and finally had some quality at bats and got the no-hitter out of the way with Almonte’s single and Yrizarri had a great at-bat. Obviously, Taveras get the first-pitch fastball for the grand slam. Up to that point, we didn’t have anything going, but you’ve got to play nine innings. That’s what we’ve been preaching to them all year.”

Matt Smoral picked up for Torres in the seventh and after striking out the first two hitters, he walked the bases loaded. C.D. Pelham entered to face Emmanuel Rivera, who hit the lefty’s second pitch out to left for his fifth homer of the season.

The Crawdads fought back to tie it a 5-5 in the seventh, when Ti’Quan Forbes and Yrizarri pieced two doubles together for the tying run.

Lexington threatened in the eighth when it put Gabriel Cancel on second with one out. Yeison Melo ripped a Pelham pitch to left – or it would have landed there if not for the diving play of Forbes at third, who made the catch and fired to second to complete an inning-ending double play.

What turned out to be the winning tally started in the eighth when Eric Jenkins had a hustle double and moved to third on Taveras’s infield hit. Yanio Perez hit into a fielder’s choice to erase Taveras, but Jenkins inexplicably stayed at third. After Kowalczyk lined out to short, Forbes brought in Jenkins with a single.

Things got harrowing for the Crawdads in the ninth as Pelham hit Martin with a pitch with one out. After Pelham struck out Khalil Lee, Castellano singled Martin to second. Rivera hit a grounder up the middle that SS Tejeda knocked down, which seemingly would’ve kept Martin at third. Except, Martin ran with his head down and either didn’t see manager Scott Thorman with a stop sign, or Thorman didn’t throw one up. Martin circled around third and sprinted for home. Tejeda’s throw to the plate was in plenty of time to allow Ricky Valencia tag Martin sliding in.

 

Yes, Taveras is back.

I thought Taveras was on the way to his usual pest-like self again on Friday. When he’s on, Taveras is marvelously skilled at picking out his pitch. Whether it’s a first-pitch fastball, like on the grand slam, or a 9-pitch AB as in the first inning, he will seek out his pitch, and more often than not, smack it hard somewhere.

 

But he’s bunting?

After Friday night’s ninth-inning loss Spike Owen was pulling out the stops to get a win. AFter Jenkins double in the eighth,  Taveras fouled off the first two pitches on failed bunt attempts before connecting on a slow roller that set up the final run of the game. Hickory has only 8 sac bunts this season – Tejeda has 3 of them – it just seemed a weird strategy to take the bat out of your second-best hitter.

 

Forbes making noise like a duck:

Or he could if he gets a promotion to the Down East Wood Ducks. He offers stellar defensive play every night, but it’s been the stick that has held him back. He continues to see fastball and is willing to drive it where it’s pitched. Tonight, he got pitches in and he knows what to do with them. A great play at third deprived him of three hits.

 

Eric, oh Eric:

There is so much raw talent, but wow, there seems to be some baseball acumen missing at times. In the sixth with the bases loaded, he swung through a fastball up –  a big swing, when just putting the ball in play most likely gets a run. Later in the AB, he fouled off a high slider that screamed “hit me”. Jenkins did work the count in the AB, but eventually flew out to shallow left. When he is in a key situation in an inning, he tends to overswing.

Him holding at third with runners on the corners and no outs was just odd – just as odd as it was for the Legends to play back for a double play with no outs and the go-ahead runner at third in the eighth.

Legendary Rally Sinks Crawdads 4-3

It’s been a tough season for the Hickory. The pitching staff has taken its lumps. The defensive play has been iffy. There has been time the two aspects have performed well, but the bats went silent.

Friday night had all the makings of a good team win. Solid pitching, nearly flawless defense, and timely hitting added up to a 3-1 lead. And then the ninth…

Taking advantage of a key error, the Lexington (Ky.) Legends tallied three runs in the top of the ninth and claimed a 4-3 victory over the Crawdads in front of 3,025 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Legends (30-31) snapped a three-game losing streak and picked up their first win during a weeklong road trip after being swept at Columbia (S.C). The win was also the first of the season after trailing in the eighth inning. Lexington was 0-25 in such games before Friday’s rally.

Meanwhile, Hickory (23-38) dropped its third straight, all at home where the Crawdads are 11-21. It was first loss (14-1) when leading after eight innings.

 

What happened?:

Crawdads starter Matt Ball held the Legends in check for six innings and Nick Dignacco added two more solid innings to help get the Crawdads to the ninth with the lead.

Ball allowed one run on seven hits and struck out ten before Dignacco tacked on three Ks over two scoreless innings.

Meanwhile, the Crawdads put up two runs in the second against Andre Davis. With two outs, Jose Almonte singled and Yeyson Yrizarri doubled him in. Anderson Tejeda reached on an infield hit and Yrizarri scored when second baseman John Brontsema’s throw to first went into the dugout.

Khalil Lee hit his ninth homer of the season in the third to trim the Legends deficit in half.

Hickory got the run back in the fourth when Alex Kowalczyk singled and came around to score on Carlos Garay’s doubled to the track in center to make it 3-1. And then the ninth…

Rudy Martin and Lee opened the inning with singles to chase Dignacco. Reid Anderson entered to face Angelo Castellano and this was the key sequence of the inning. Castellano sent a 2-1 fastball on a liner to left, which scored Martin from second. On the play, LF Eric Jenkins charged the ball aggressively, but it skipped to Jenkins left and that allowed Lee to go to third and Castellano to second.

Gabriel Cancel atoned for a four-strikeout night with a sacrifice fly to the track in left that easily scored Lee from third and was deep enough to allow Castellano to move to third. With the infield in to try and keep the go-ahead run from scoring, the next hitter, Emmanuel Rivera, hit a grounder to Yanio Perez at first. He made the quick grab of the ball and fired home, but Castellano was able to slide under the tag of the catcher Kowalczyk to make it 4-3.

Anderson pitched out of further trouble, but aside from Yrizarri’s second double of the game with two outs, Gavin Grant had little trouble setting down the Crawdads to close out the game.

 

Matt was Ballin’

With a decent arsenal of four pitches (fastball 91-92, change, curve and a slider I don’t remember seeing last year), I was a bit surprised the Rangers hadn’t given him much of a look in the starting rotation other than as a spot-starter. With Demarcus Evans going on the DL, and Tyler Phillips and Jonathan Hernandez moving to different affiliates, Ball has picked up a rotation spot. The results up till Friday in the rotation have been not good: 14 earned runs in his last 14 innings (three starts) with 7 walks. But the Ks have increased. He had eight in 6.1 innings at Delmarva and posted 14 over the last three starts.

He hadn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher, but more of a groundball hurler. The SAL hit .266 against him last year, but when he keeps his sinking fastball down and throws his secondaries for strikes, he’s tough. Friday was one of those nights.

He got Ks on all four pitches – spotting the fastball on corners for looking Ks. He threw a few changes early to good effect, but started leaving some pitches up.

Lee’s homer was a rope that skipped off the top of the 32’ billboard in right – a true liner. In the fourth, Rivera lined to right, Meibrys Viloria then nearly decapitated Ball with a liner up the middle and Brontsema added a hard-hit single. From there, Ball began to amp up the breaking ball arsernal and K’d both Joe Dudek and Marteen Gasparini on good sliders.

Running out of gas in the sixth – a walk and hit batter – Ball got his final K on a slider to Dudek and later returned to the change for a fielder’s choice.

 

Digging Dignacco

The 40th round pick in 2014 finally returned to action after serving out his commitment to West Point and he’s not messing around. Dignacco has a quick pace and brings an 88-90 mph fastball and a curve that seems to have two speeds. It was especially tough on lefties as a couple of them bailed on the bender. He also got a couple of hitters to chase changeups, with which he used to expand the strike zone to righties looking for the curve to come over the plate.

 

Eerie Yrizarri:

Yeyson Yrizarri was moved to second for this season with most of the playing time going to Anderson Tejeda. Occasionally the two will switch, as they have for the last couple of games. Personally, I like Yrizarri more at short. Cannon of an arm and the range to play the position, I thought he made the position look easy last year and continues to do so this year. The issue of him taking his time to make plays has seemed to vanish this season.

One such play on Friday showed his prowess at the position. In the second, Brontsema hit a grounder that seemed destined for a single to center. Cheating up the middle prior to the pitch, Yrizarri fielded the ball to the first-base side of the bag at the cut of the outfield grass. He quickly twirled and fired a bullet to first for the out.

But there were a couple sequences on force plays that seemed to tax him mentally. In the sixth with runners at first and second, Gasparini hit a ball up the middle that Yrizarri fielded near the bag. What looked like a routine step-on-the-bag-at-second play to end the inning, turned into a throw to first that the speedy Gasparini beat out. One inning later, a similar play occurred when Yrizarri fielding the ball near the bag, but there seemed almost a mindset of, “I won’t mess that up again”. He looked up to Tejeda covering at second and the ball kicked off the glove for an error.

 

Taveras back?:

A 1-for-18 at Delmarva (Md.) last weekend seemed to be a cry for help in the form of time off for the 18-year-old. With Monday’s off day, he got three days of R&R before returning to the lineup Thursday. He looked a little rusty last night, but seemed back on track again. In the first, a 9-pitch AB right-handed AB turned into a hard out to right. He waved through a breaking ball for an out in the third, then in the fifth Taveras slapped a pitch away to the RF corner for a double. Batting lefty in the eighth, he turned on a fastball in and again peppered the right fielder with a liner.

Success in Middle Management: Greenville Tops Crawdads 5-3

Greenville (S.C.) scored five runs over the middle innings to support the start of Jhonathan Diaz as the Drive defeated Hickory 5-3 at L.P. Frans Stadium Thursday night in front of 1,725 fans.

The Drive (37-23) took the three-game series by winning the final two games and now lead the South Atlantic League’s first-half Southern Division standings by three games over the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies with ten games to play.

Hickory drops to 23-37 in the first half and are three games behind sixth-place Delmarva (Md.) in its bid to avoid the first last-place finish in a half-season since 2008, when the team was affiliated with the Pirates. The Crawdads are also trying to avoid the worst half-season record by a Rangers affiliated club. The 2009 second-half team finished 30-40.

 

What happened?:

Both lefties – Hickory starter Sal Mendez and Diaz – held the hitters at bay for the most part through the first three innings. The lone flaw by Diaz over the first five innings occurred in the third, when Jose Almonte golfed what appeared to be a low fastball over the fence. The solo blast was his fourth of the season and it gave the Crawdads their only lead.

That was short lived as Greenville returned fire in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead. Ryan Scott doubled hard to left and scored one out later on Rolandi Baldwin’s double to center. After Tucker Tubbs popped out, Tyler Spoon ripped a liner to right for a single. Almonte charged the ball and threw a one-hop bullet home that handcuffed the catcher Ricky Valencia and allowed Baldwin to score. (More on this play later)

In the fifth, Steven Reveles and Chris Madera both singled and later scored when Scott lifted a single past the drawn-in infield (Also more on this play later)

The Drive tacked on their final run in the sixth against Luke Lanphere. Spoon doubled to left, advanced to third on a grounder and scored on Reveles’s ground single up the middle through another drawn-in infield.

Meanwhile, Diaz faced one over the minimum through five innings, the lone blemish being Almonte’s homer and a single by Franklin Rollin in the first that was erased on a double play. The 20-year-old Venezuelan, making just his third stateside start, struck out eight through five innings.

However, the Crawdads finally got to him in the sixth with three straight hits. Yeyson Yrizarri singled to left and moved to third on Anderson Tejeda’s opposite-field double.  Rollin singled in Yrizarri and in the process chased Diaz. Pat Goetze faced Leody Taveras, who bounced into a fielder’s choice to third. Reveles charged the play hard in order to get the force at second, but his throw sailed high and allowed Rollin to reach and Tejeda to score. But with runners at first and second, Yanio Perez hit into an infield fly and Forbes hit into a fielder’s choice. The inning ended when a double-steal attempt blew up and Rollin was caught stealing at home.

The Crawdads mounted an uprising in the eighth against Hildemaro Requena.  With two outs, Taveras and Perez slapped back-to-back singles to place runners at the corners. However, Requena fanned Ti’Quan Forbes to end the threat.

Requena worked around a walk in the ninth by striking out the side to earn his third save of the season.

 

Examples of why errors and earned runs do not tell the whole story:

My friend Scott Lucas, who sends out a Rangers minor league report daily during the season, does a primer at the beginning of the season. In it, he explains that while ERA does reflect some of how a pitcher is doing, there are things that happen during a game that have more of an effect on earned runs (on none) than what meets the eye. Heck, an official scorer’s demeanor might get in the way of a judgment call at times. (Though I’m not one of those… I don’t think.) Earned runs, or the lack of them, do not always tell the fan the whole story.

Hickory was charged with three errors on the night and none officially had anything to do with the scoring. A glance at the box will tell a person the Crawdads played poorly defensively – and they did  – then you look at the pitching line for Mendez and you’ll think, “well, they played poorly, but they didn’t affect Mendez’s earned run total.” While the errors didn’t affect earned runs, misplays that are not charged as errors did.

The first error came opening batter of the game, when Yrizarri’s high throw allowed Chris Madera to reach. Madera was erased on a double play hit into by Santiago Espinal, so no biggie.

The second error was the play that handcuffed Valencia at the plate. The runner, Baldwin, should have been out by 10 feet, as Almonte’s throw was on the money. But, you don’t assume the runner would be out or safe on such a play. There’s usually a benefit of the doubt given to the runner with the hitter getting the RBI. So, what was the error for? Allowing the runner, who had stopped at first, to advance to second. In short, the second run of the fourth shouldn’t have scored, but it did and it ups Mendez’s ERA total.

In the fifth with runners at first and second and none out, Espinal hit a sharp grounder to Perez at first. Perez made the fielding play cleanly, but a hesitation cost him a chance to throw to second for a simple force out, though a double play would’ve been tough. Perez did record an out at first, but his misstep took away a chance at a double play later to end the inning. So, with a runner at second and third and one out, Crawdads manager Spike Owen had to have the infield play in to try and keep the runner at third on a ground ball rather than at normal depth to try and turning an inning-ending double play. It cost them an out and a second run in the inning as Scott’s base hit was a routine pop up just beyond the second baseman’s position ad it fell in for a two-run single. It’s not a play an official scorer can award an error on, but the right kind of out saves a run. Regardless, it cost Mendez an earned run.

One inning later, Taveras and Almonte converge at RCF to retrieve a single that fell in. The runner stopped, but moved up when the two outfielders couldn’t decide on who would make the play. The ball bounced between them and so I gave the error to the player that should’ve taken charge, the CF Taveras – even though neither of them touched it.

Mendez deserves better, but….

The defense did cost him two runs, but Mendez didn’t help his cause by elevating his pitches. Throwing a well-spotted 89-91 mph fastball, he accompanied that with a changeup that dipped well, especially to left-handed hitters early. His effective mix of speeds worked well as he missed several bats with the change.  He pounded the strike zone for first-pitch strikes (17 of 24 hitters). Add to that four broken bats, 10 groundball outs and two Ks and it was good night…. Except in the fourth and fifth he left a lot of pitches up that were spanked. It looked like Valencia kept reminding Mendez to stay out in front rather than fly open on delivery.

I like him more than most. He’s not going to wow you with “stuff”, but to me, there’s a lot there with that changeup that tantalizes hitters to swing… and miss. He has to keep his pitches down, as there’s not enough otherwise to keep him from getting mauled on the mound.

Greenville Rallies, Defeats Hickory 5-3

The Greenville (S.C.) Drive rallied with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to defeat the Hickory Crawdads in front of 3,625 fans, many of whom spent the 10:30 a.m. matinee in line at the lemonade stand at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Drive (35-23) snaps both their three-game losing streak and the Crawdads (23-36) three-game winning streak. Pending today’s other action in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, the Drive is guaranteed at least a three-game lead with 11 games to play in the first-half title chase. Columbia (S.C.) already defeated Lexington (Ky.) today and is three back. Rome (Ga.) will play at in-state rival Augusta this evening. The Braves started the day 2 ½ games behind the first-place Drive.

The loss assured the Crawdads first sub-.500 record for a half-season since the second-half of the 2009 season. Hickory is now simply trying to avoid its first last-place finish since their affiliation with the Pirates ended in 2008. They entered the day two games behind sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The Crawdads worst half-season record as a Rangers affiliate came in the 2009 second half with they finished 30-40.

 

What happened?:

The Greenville started the game with a single by Chris Madera and a walk issued by Edgar Arredondo (2-3) to Santiago Espinal. One out later, Tyler Hill doubled to left to score Madera.

Hickory pounced back with two of its own in the bottom of the first against Darwinzon Hernandez. With two outs and the bases empty, Yanio Perez singled and then walks to Ti’Quan Forbes and Alex Kowalczyk loaded the bases. Carlos Garay hit a broken-bat, jam-shot blooper into shallow center to score both Perez and Forbes.

That turned out to be almost the last of the Crawdads offense as Robby Sexton replaced Hernandez in the second and was nearly unhittable in earning his first pro win (1-5). The lefty, a 14th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2016 out of Wright State, retired the first 11 and 18 of the 20 hitters he faced.

Greenville vaulted ahead 3-2 in the fifth with two runs that came after the Crawdads missed a chance for the third out.  Mitchell Gunsolus doubled and one out later moved to third on Arredondo’s wild pitch. Madera joined him on the bases when he was hit by a pitch. The key play of the inning occurred when Espinal flew out to shallow right. Jose Almonte made the catch and while Gunsolus held at third, Madera, for some unknown reason, tagged up from first and tried to advance to second. 1B Yanio Perez cut the ball off, but his throw to second to cut down Madera was high and the runner slid in safely. Ryan Scott singled in both runners to give the Drive a lead they would never relinquish.

Greenville used a two-out rally for a run in the sixth. Reliever Christian Torres loaded the bases by sandwiching walks to Gunsolus and Madera around a single by Carlos Tovar. Espinal hit a liner that was initially caught when SS Yeyson Yrizarri made a leaping grab. However, the ball tumbled out as he fell to the ground and that scored Gunsolus.

Franklin Rollin hit his third homer of the season in the eighth off closer Stephen Nogosek (11th save). However, Madera returned serve with his third homer of the season to start the ninth and accounted for the final score.

 

Strikes matter:

A missed opportunity for the final out in the fifth aside, the game came down to the ability of the pitchers to throw strikes. When Hernandez couldn’t throw strikes in the first (32 pitches, 16 strikes), the Drive moved quickly to shuffle in Sexton and he was brilliant. He mixed in a few breaking balls to miss bats – especially to Jose Almonte and Alex Kowalczyk – but it appeared he stayed with a fastball that was 88-90 according to the pitch trackers with a few changeups mixed in. Sexton (65 pitches, 46 strikes) moved the ball around well, hit spots and the Crawdads never really made solid contact against him.

Arredondo’s fastball was in the 90-92 range with iffy command and he had difficulty getting any of his secondary pitches (change, curve, slider) over the plate. He finished with just 57 strikes out of 87 pitches through 4 2/3 innings.

Christian Torres walks (32 pitches, 19 strikes) cost him a run in the sixth, though he used his change effectively in getting out of Arredondo’s jam in the fifth.

 

Early-run woes continue:

The first-inning run by Greenville was the 30th time in 59 games that an opponent has performed that feat. Further, Hickory has kept the opposition off the scoreboard over the first three innings just nine times.

 

Center field prospects take the day off:

Hickory’s Leody Taveras – the Texas Rangers No. 1 prospect – had his second straight off day on Wednesday. He had missed only one game this season prior to this week and on the heels of a 1-for-18 weekend at Delmarva (Md.) a chance to rest and regroup could be what is needed for now.

Greenville’s Lorenzo Cedrola – the Boston Red Sox No. 15 prospect – sat out on the heels of getting pulled from Tuesday’s game for not running out a groundball.

 

 

Crawdads Drive Greenville to 2-1 loss

Tuesday night, it was the last place (Northern Division) Hickory Crawdads against the first place (Southern Division) Greenville (S.C.) Drive. So of course, the Crawdads won 2-1 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the third straight (23-35) for Hickory and sent the Drive (34-23) to their third loss in a row. However, the loss didn’t harm Greenville in the chase for the first-half Southern Division title. It remains 2 ½ ahead of second-place Rome (Ga.), which lost at Augusta (Ga.). However, Columbia (S.C.) moves to three games out with 12 to play.

 

What Happened?:

Four Crawdads pitchers combined to hold the Drive to seven baserunners and Ti’Quan Forbes drove in both runs, including the go-ahead tally in the eighth.

Michael Matuella retired nine of the first ten hitters he faced before Santiago Espinal hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Espinal stole second and scored when Ryan Scott lined a hard single to center to chance Matuella.

Hickory got even in the bottom of the inning against starter Bryan Mata. Yanio Perez singled with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch before Forbes singled him in.

Mata held the Crawdads in check through the sixth innings as he allowed just the one run on four hits, one walk, and fanned six.

Kaleb Fontenot quelled further damage by Greenville in the fourth and went on to pitch three scoreless. He struck out three and allowed a walk and a hit.

Hickory’s Matt Smoral and Matthew Gorst matched scoreless seventh innings before action for both sides in the eighth determined the final score. Smoral walked Chris Madera to start the eighth and that prompted manager Spike Owen to bring in Reid Anderson. Espinal failed at two sacrifice attempts before Anderson got him looking. Scott then bounced back to the mound and Tyler Hill flew out to right to end the threat.

Gorst retired the first two hitters in the eighth before the Crawdads put together three hits. Miguel Aparicio lined to right, Perez followed with an opposite field liner to right. Forbes then singled to left to score Aparicio.

Roldani Baldwin singled to start the ninth and moved to second with one out on a wild pitch. Anderson then struck out Isaias Lucena and got Mitchell Gunsolus to ground out to second and end the game.

“We haven’t had a lot of those from the standpoint of solid pitching, good defense and timely hitting,” said Owen. “That was a fun game. A 2-1 game, obviously, you want to be on the winning side of it, but that’s all we’re looking for is good baseball. That was a good baseball game.”

 

Forbes back to April?:

Ti’Quan Forbes was a pleasant surprise when he cranked out a bunch of homers and hits to start the season. Then, what seemed like a hitch showed up in the swing in the latter part of April and was it made him late on fastballs. He also swung through a ton of breaking balls.

During the last homestand, Forbes seemed to have an approach of taking everything up the middle and away and was able to pick up the breaking pitches better, but was still able to stay on the fastball.

Mata chewed him up with breaking pitches (looked like sliders) in the second for a strikeout. In the fourth, Forbes waited back on the curveball and bounced it along the line and past third. In the eighth, he sat dead-red and ambushed a fastball to left.

He now has a six-game hitting streak (8-for-24). Over a longer stretch, he has hits in 15 of the last 18 games, five of those with two hits. More importantly for him, he has just 10 Ks in that stretch over 69 plate appearances (14.4%). Forbes whiffed 27% of the time in April. He still needs to work the occasional walk, but he’s seeing the ball better and making contact.

 

Matuella no-match for the Drive:

The Rangers pitch trackers had him at 96-98 mph and most of his secondaries were changeups. There seemed to be a few sliders mixed in, but I was told they were changes. He needed only 38 pitches (27 strikes) to get through the third and so having him go to the fourth seemed to be an easy call. The first sign of trouble got him pulled.

“He had a good fastball and threw some changeups,” Crawdads manager Spike Owen said. “He’s still on a pitch limit and once action started happening in the fourth, we went ahead and went to the pen.”

As good as his stuff is, whether Matuella is tiring or hitters are adjusting to him, the few times he faces the lineup the second time through the order, he is getting hit. Both hits tonight came the second time through the order and both were smacked hard. He’s faced the order a second time in four starts and thus far hitters are 6-for-15 (2 Ks) with two doubles, a hit batter and a sac fly. There are adjustments to be made on Matuella’s part as to what he offers the hitters.

 

Fontenot signaling he is ready to become a DEWD?:

He throws 91-92 with a slider, change and curveball. When he is on, the fastball is spotted well and he can befuddle hitters with the breaking stuff. His 12.54 Ks per 9 innings (52 Ks in 37.1 IP this season) is the fifth best among SAL relievers.

Over the last four outings, he has allowed two hits, hit two, walked three and struck out 14 over 11.2 innings.

“Fotenot’s been outstanding all year,” said Owen. “He can flat out pitch. He throws harder than you think and he can put it where he wants. He’s got a good changeup and slider he can throw at any time in the count, so he’s able to keep them off balance. He’s not afraid to throw an offspeed pitch behind in the count. He’s been really good.”

 

Smoral and Anderson:

Smoral’s fastball was at 85-87 with iffy command which led to two walks of the five hitters he faced. He was able to get the slider to miss bats and it accounted for the lone K. His delivery out of the stretch is glacially deliberate and it led to his removal Smoral walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth with the game tied.

“He could’ve went more, but his situation was once he walked the leadoff guy, we wanted to be able to control the running game better,” said Owen. “He’s slow to the plate and we didn’t want to ask him to do something he’s not comfortable doing right now.”

The outing for Anderson was a needed one, as tonight was just the fourth scoreless outing in 13 appearances (2 starts). He attacked the strike zone with the fastball, pounding 17 of his 23 pitches for strikes.

“I’m happy for him and I hope he can gain some confidence off that in a tight game, coming in with a go-ahead run at first base and doing what he did,” said Owen. “Then once we took the lead, coming back and attacking the strike zone.”

 

Prospect benched:

The Drive entered Tuesday night’s game on the heels of two straight shutouts, the last a 17-0 pasting on Sunday by Charleston. So, when Drive CF Lorenzo Cedrola (Red Sox No. 15 prospect) jogged unenthusiastically to first on a 4-3 grounder to start the game, it was not received well. 1B coach Wilton Veras gave him an earful as he returned to the dugout and manager Darren Fenster took out the lineup card in the third-base coach’s box.

Surprisingly, Cedrola took the field in the bottom of the first, though he did not return for the second.

 

What’s the Mata?:

The 18-year-old from Maracay, Venezuela has impressed in his first three stateside starts. The Red Sox No. 27 prospect has now 16 Ks in 15 innings with 11 hits and five walks allowed. On Tuesday, he was clocked in the 90-92 mph range with which he was able to paint the corners for punchouts. Add in a curveball that had some bite and found the strike zone, Mata was tough to solve at times. However, the curve could be loopy and Forbes was able to wait on one long enough for an RBI single in the fourth.

From what I saw, there’s a lot for Red Sox fans to be excited about.

Offensive Tourists Rude to Hosts: Defeat Crawdads 8-6

Hickory reached the 50th game of the season and a familiar theme through the first 49 played out again on Sunday afternoon.

The Asheville Tourists built a big lead early and the held on to an 8-6 win Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Tourists (21-27) took three out of four in the series and sent the Crawdads (19-31) to their seventh loss in eight games and the eighth out of ten.

 

What Happened?:

Two in the first, one in the third, four in the fourth nearly put the game out of reach for the Tourists, though the Crawdads did make it interesting in the middle innings.

With Jonathan Hernandez – the reigning South Atlantic League’s pitcher of the month – on the mound for the Crawdads, Manny Melendez led off the game with a single to center. One out later, Colton Welker (4-for-5) sliced a liner just on the line in right for a run-scoring double. After Willie Abreu popped out, Max George hit a long fly ball to the warning track in center. Leody Taveras tracked the ball, but was never able to get his body square for the catch and it fell in for a triple.

Alex Kowalczyk (3-for-4) took a dead-fish fastball from Ty Culbreth and sent it in orbit over the fence in left-center to cut the Crawdads deficit in half. However, Abreu slapped a Hernandez changeup off the billboards in right to reclaim the original two-run lead for the Tourists.

What turned out to be the difference in the game was the fourth inning. Carlos Herrera tripled and scored on Eric Toole’s squeeze bunt. The inning fell apart with two outs in the ninth when Campbell Wear, the Tourists’ backup catcher, who entered the game hitting .067, walked. From there, Wear stole second and scored on Melendez’s single. Jose Gomez doubled, Welker lined a single to left and it was now 7-1.

With rain falling beyond centerfield – but not in the ballpark – Hickory got back into the game with three in the fourth. Taveras walked and Kowalczyk singled. A fly ball to right advanced Taveras to third and he scored on Carlos Garay’s sac fly. Jose Almonte made the game interesting with a two-run homer to left-center to make it 7-4.

In need of a shutdown inning, it didn’t happen in the fifth. George doubled, moved to third on a Hernandez wild pitch and scored when SS Anderson Tejeda – playing in to try and keep the runner at third from scoring – fielded a groundball hit by Joel Diaz, then double pumped the throw home, which was enough to allow George to slide around the tag of Kowalczyk and score.

The Crawdads got within 8-6 in the seventh when Tejeda doubled and one out later scored on Leody Taveras’s single up the middle. Ti’Quan Forbes walked to put the tying run on, but Asheville brought in Julian Fernandez to finish the inning. He did so emphatically (up to 100 mph!) with a strikeout of Garay.

That turned out to be the game. Fernandez breezed through the eighth to earn the scorer’s-decision win. J.D. Hammer struck out two in the ninth to work around a one-out single and earn his third save of the series, the fifth overall.

 

Hernandez today:

(The following is my own observation. I could be WAAAAAY off base, but this is what I saw. There are smarter people than me that may say this is all bunk.)

Today was the first time I’d seen Hernandez pitch since he started a stretch of four, strong starts that eventually led to a one-hitter over seven innings vs. Greensboro. The thing I noticed was the windup seemed to be much more deliberate than in the past. He starts out facing the catcher, turns as if to reset himself into the stretch position, then the windup and a pitch. Hernandez has a tendency at times to rush his delivery and then fly open, which, to me, seemed to make his pitches flatten out. I’ve seen him use the towel drill between starts to work on staying in line with the plate upon the delivery – he’s done this at least for two seasons now.

In talking with pitching coach Jose Jaimes during the last homestand, he mentioned that Hernandez has developed the ability to throw his changeup at any count. He has a fastball that sits 95-97 – but it is often straight – and he can mix in a slider that does catch the strike zone. The money pitch for him is when that changeup is on. He misses bats with it, but it’s the groundball outs that is the clue as to whether he will be effective or not. Today, it wasn’t.

Today, out of the stretch, he tended to fall off the first-base side of the mound and his pitches flattened and stayed up. Two groundouts (should’ve had a third on the fielder’s choice in the fifth) and a ton of well-struck pitches for hits or outs.

It looked like in the third he was finding a groove. Hernandez started the third with back-to-back whiffs on a change and a slider for the K, then got a quick grounder from Welker. Abreu followed and Hernandez appeared to get him to swing through a change to get the count to 1-2. The umps ruled Abreu checked the swing and whether it was from frustration or something else, another change followed that stayed up and left the yard.

After he gave up the first run in the fourth on Toole’s squeeze, Hernandez seemed to lose concentration. The five-pitch walk to .067-hitting Wear followed and one could sense that things would fall apart… and they did.

Hernandez understands what he’s to do and is working to fix the mechanics. Some day’s he’ll have it; some day’s… no. This was a no day.

Jonathan Hernandez - Proffitt

Jonathan Hernandez (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Forbes:

Went 0-for-3 with a walk. Two fly balls to right and a strikeout on an 9-pitch AB. The approach is better; he’s seeing pitches better. Hopefully the results will follow as they did on Saturday when he homered to center and singled to right.

 

Taveras:

That fly-ball triple to Taveras in the first, I honestly thought he was going to catch it. He seemed to have no trouble tracking it down and raced it to the warning track. However, it seemed like he couldn’t get his body turned the right way to catch it. Now, admittedly, the play was 450+ feet from me, and so it may have been a harder play than I am describing. But, such as the expectations one has when watching Taveras on a near daily basis.

At the plate today, he looked like his “old” self, working the count or ambushing fastballs. I swear, nearly every plate appearance is over six pitches or 1-2.

 

Kowalczyk:

The dude is strong and right now, he is seeing everything. His third hit in the fifth was a thing of beauty. Down 1-2, he spoiled a Bryan Baker slider (?), then laid off a pair of breaking balls to work the count full. The play-by-play stringer and I both thought there’s no way – given how he attacked the first two ABs – he’d see a fastball, especially with a base to work with. Kowalczyk saw one low and in and he ripped it to left.

Alex Kowalczyk - Proffitt

Alex Kowalczyk homered and knocked in two on Sunday (courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

He’s a tall kid, built solid and, at least at this point, the bat is ahead of SAL pitching. The whole adjustment to pro-game breaking balls hasn’t phased him for now. His defensive work, however, has been suspect. Kowalczyk entered Sunday’s game catching just one of 14 baserunners attempting to steal and the throws – at least on this homestand – have not been close. Several have sailed into center, or bounced well to the 3B side of second. Take on three passed balls and four errors thus far on the season – and would’ve added a fifth if not for Taveras backing up the play and throwing out Joel Diaz at third – and it’s been a tough road for him.

 

Falling behind:

Hickory simply falls behind too many times and often it’s big. Here are the numbers:

The Crawdads have scored first in just 19 games this year and when the opponent scores, it comes during the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning in 24 games. The Crawdads have scored just 25 total first-inning runs.

The opposition has scored in the first three innings in 43 of the games and hold a 139-88 over innings 1, 2 and 3 combined. Nine times, Hickory has given up six or more runs over the first three innings 8 times, 5 runs two more times.

The emphasis for the Rangers in their system is to command the fastball. It’s pretty certain that at Hickory, the starters are not commanding that pitch.

Homers Gain Home Team a Win: Crawdads Rally 6-4

A pair of homers, including one that capped a three-run inning in the sixth, helped the Hickory Crawdads to a come-from-behind 6-4 win over the Asheville Tourists Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (19-30) snapped a six-game skid and set them up for a chance to split the series after the Tourists (20-27) took the first two of the four-game set Thursday and Friday. First pitch of Sunday’s finale is scheduled for 3 p.m.

 

What Happened?:

For just the 18th time in 49 games, and the first time since their last win on May 20, the Crawdads scored first. With two outs and the bases empty, Leody Taveras singled to left and reached second when 3B Travis Snyder’s throw to second for the force sailed over Max George’s glove as he covered the bag. Facing Brandon Gold, Ti’Quan Forbes then launched a three-run blast, a high-arching shot that kissed the batter’s eye in center. The homer was Forbes’s sixth of the season, but the first since April 17.

However, the Tourists rebounded quickly against Crawdads starter Matt Ball with two runs each in the second and third innings. In the second, Manny Melendez, Carlos Herrera and Joel Diaz all singled, with Diaz’s hit scoring Melendez. Ball then struck out Robbie Perkins, but a run scored when Diaz took off for second on a double-steal attempt. Herrera scored on the play as Diaz got caught in a run down between first and second.

In the third, Vince Fernandez singled and scored when Jose Gomez hit a sinking liner that Taveras closed in on and attempted to make a diving catch. The ball fell in and scooted past Taveras to the track, turning the play into an RBI triple. Gomez then scored easily on Willie Abreu’s double to the RCF track.

The Tourists had a chance to tack on more runs in the fourth when Ball walked the bases loaded after two outs. However, Ball settled down and struck out Gomez to end the inning.

Hickory held the deficit to 4-3 until the sixth when it scored the decisive runs. Anderson Tejeda singled and then scored all the way from first when Gold fielded Franklin Rollin’s swinging bunt and threw it down the right-field line. Rollin went to third on the play and scored when Valencia lofted a deep fly just over the fence in right for his second homer of the season.

Ricky Valencia - Lin 3.jpg

Ricky Valencia’s two-run HR in the sixth was the difference in the game (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

After Ball got out of the bases-loaded jam in the fourth, he and C.D. Pelham allowed just one baserunner until Pelham walked Abreu to start the eighth. With the tying run at the plate, Pelham struck out Melendez and Herrera. Jake Lemoine was then summoned to face Diaz, who swung at the first pitch and hit into a force play.

Asheville threatened in the ninth after Perkins reached on an error by Forbes and Lemoine walked Fernandez with two outs. However, Gomez ended the game when his soft liner was snagged in the hole at second by the leaping Blaine Prescott.

 

Forbes getting the money swing back; at least, I think he is:

I sent out a tweet Friday night that it appeared Forbes was getting close.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Feel like Ti’Quan is close: hitting ball middle away. Took drive to warning track in CF, last AB was 11 pitches</p>&mdash; Mark Parker (@CrawdadsBeat) <a href=”https://twitter.com/CrawdadsBeat/status/868275387561857025″>May 27, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The first pitch fastball from Gold was a no-doubter to center. Forbes did try to pull a couple of pitches away and both turned into grounders to short. However in the eighth, he sent the same pitch up the middle for a hard-hit single. He’s still plenty quick enough on the fastball, but secondary pitches away have given him trouble. It appears that he is trying to use his hands more on those pitches – that is when he recognizes them.

 

Taveras pressing?:

It’s only natural during a losing streak to see players try to do something to put the team on their backs. For the most part, he 18-year-old Taveras has been immune from that, but over the first few games of the homestand, it looks like he is trying to do too much.

Though he doubled on Thursday – with the help of a deflection off the 1B’s glove – he seemed impatient on his final three ABs with just three pitches for each one, all strikes with four swing-and-misses – an unusual amount for him.

On Friday, Abreu stole second and moved to third on the overthrow by the catcher. Taveras backed the play up correctly, but even with no real chance for the out at third, he threw it anyway. The ball landed on the protective screen behind the third-base dugout. Add to that a K and a couple of weak grounders – two pitches on each of those ABs – and you have a kid that is trying to do too much. Eight Ks in 7 games (through Friday) was not like him.

Tonight, his dive into center was ill-advised – perhaps he didn’t read it well as it was hit directly to him – and what should’ve been a single to set up first and second with one out turned into a run with another at third.

Taveras is very good at ambushing fastballs, or working long counts to get a pitch he can do something with. The single in the first tonight was classic-Taveras. Hitting left-handed, he served an 0-1 fastball away into left. Later in the eighth, we saw him work the count and earn a walk. That serves him well when he doesn’t get those first-pitch fastballs.

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Leody Taveras (Crystal Lin)

 

The rally that almost wasn’t:

After the Crawdads had four – four! – runners thrown out on the bases Friday night in a one-run loss, including pinch-runner Franklin Rollin, who was inserted as the tying run in the seventh and then proceeded to get picked off, a near disastrous start to the sixth almost occurred. If it had, I think manager Spike Owen would’ve had a coronary on the field.

Anderson Tejeda opened the inning with a lined single to right. As Tejeda rounded the base at first, a throw from Willie Abreu in right was already on the way behind him and nearly picked him off as he scampered back to first.

 

Was this closing day?:

The first few innings had the feel of the final day of the season, as the hitters went hacking. Gold needed just 51 pitches to get through the fifth inning and the Tourists hitters went hacking against Ball. Of the seven hits allowed by Ball over the first three innings, five of those were on the first or second pitch as the hitters saw a flat fastball.

Gold went on to record a complete game, despite the loss, needing just 93 pitches. He did a good job of pounding the strike zone (71 strikes) and getting the Crawdads to swing at his pitches early for weak contact. In fact, just six of the 34 Crawdads saw five or more pitches.

 

A smooth CD:

Like fine music, this C.D. (Pelham) was smooth and kept the Tourists in a relaxed state. As Gold did, the 6-6, 235 lb. lefty got outs quickly (39 pitches, 26 strikes over three innings) then finished them off with either a change or a slider. The slider was especially good to lefties as three of the four Ks came courtesy of that pitch. Given the rough treatment Pelham got at Lexington (KY) on Wednesday (2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER), the bounce back was badly needed.

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CD Pelham retired 9 of  the 10 he faced and fanned four (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)