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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.

Anderson Chillin’: Crawdads Starter Freezes Legends Lineup on a Cold Night

At a game that begin with the temperature at 50 degrees and the wind gusting in the neighborhood of 20 mph, starting pitchers Reid Anderson of the Hickory Crawdads and Andres Sotillet of the Lexington Legends did everyone a favor. They threw strikes.

Hickory scored two in the third and made them stand up for a 2-1 win in a game that lasted two-hours, 15 minutes at L.P. Frans Stadium Monday night.

Anderson, a native of New Egypt, N.J. had no issues with the frigid temperatures that dropped into the upper 30s by game’s end with light snow flurries swirling as fans left the ballpark.

“I’m used to Northeast baseball,” said Anderson. “I love pitching in this. It makes hitters a lot more tentative, so I just attacked them.”

Attack he did, as Anderson put together arguably his best start over the two seasons of his Crawdads career. The right-hander was the story for much of the game as he retired the first 15 hitters on his way to the longest outing of the season to date for a Crawdads starter. Lasting 6.1 innings, Anderson gave up one run on three hits and struck out six.

“He looked really strong and was rested,” said Crawdads manager Matt Hagen. “His tempo was tremendous.  He was like, ‘Give me the ball’, throw a strike, ‘Give me the ball’, throw a strike, which is something that we preach. When you see a guy go out there and create tempo, it’s fun to watch.”

Working quickly, Anderson, who had just two three-ball counts, used a fastball/ changeup mix with an occasional curve thrown in. The game plan was keep the hitters back on their heels.

Said Anderson, who threw 86 pitches (58 strikes) “We had a plan to go in and just not trying to nitpick pitches but going right at them.”

With only 56 pitches tossed over the first five innings, it was a curious question as to just how long Anderson would be allowed to take a stab at a perfect-game bid if it developed deeper. As the game approached the middle innings, the thought of that rare accomplishment began to creep into Anderson’s mind.

“It’s hard to not think about it,” he said. “It’s always in the back of your head, but you’ve got to push that away and focus on the next batter at hand.”

Although the Crawdads committed three errors for the game, the Crawdads play in the field had much to do with Anderson’s success.

The first challenge to Anderson’s perfect-game came on back-to-back plays in the fourth. Marten Gasparini lifted a high fly ball that carried to the track in straight-away center. Fighting the wind, Pedro Gonzalez cruised back, turned his body twice before twisting against himself to make an over-the shoulder, basket catch.  With the Crawdads shifted to the right side, the next batter, Nick Pratto sliced a pitch into left that Eric Jenkins sprinted to and made a diving catch.

“Jenkins almost overran the ball,“ Hagen said. “The wind pushed it back so much. Give those guys credit, it was not an easy night to be an outfielder.”

On the infield, third baseman Tyler Ratliff handled a bad hop on the backhand and threw to first. Later, Justin Jacobs had a mini-bad hop as he went to field a grounder and step on first.

“Those guys did a great job, said Anderson. “They had my back all night and they made incredible plays behind me. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Lexington countered with Sotillet, who was nearly Anderson’s equal. The right-hander pounded the strike zone to the tune of 49 strikes out of 63 pitches. On the way to striking out six, he threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 20 hitters.

“Their starter did a great job, too,” Anderson said of the pitching duel. “That definitely helps you focus in and it helps you really bear down because you know you don’t have much room to work with. I think everyone would prefer having a big lead and pitching in that, but tight games really help you lock in.”

The only troublesome inning for Sotillet came in the third with the help of an odd defensive play. With one out, Yonny Hernandez was hit by a pitch. Jenkins lifted a ball into shallow center that Gasparini charged and then attempted a diving catch. The umpire immediately ruled the ball in play, but thinking he had made the catch, he fired to first for a double play attempt and thereby missing a chance to catch the lead runner Hernandez at second for a force play. Miguel Aparicio hit a seeing-eye single to right that scored Hernandez and Jenkins scored when right fielder Seuly Matias’s throw home went to the backstop.

The Legends opened the sixth with their first base runner, a single to left by Oliver Nunez. Sebastian Rivero blooped a single to right and a wild pitch moved both up. One out later, a contact play resulted in Nunez getting caught in a rundown trying to score. Anderson got out of trouble with a groundout by Gasparini.

Lexington’s only run came in the seventh when Matias doubled. A wild pitch bumped him to third and Matias scored on MJ Melendez’s sac fly.

The Legends threatened in the eighth and ninth innings. Facing DeMarcus Evans in the eighth, Rivero got a four-pitch walk and went to third when Evans fielded Ricky Aracena’s sac bunt and threw wildly past first. Cal Jones struck out and then Gasparini flew out to Jenkins in shallow left with Jenkins easily throwing out Rivero at home trying to score.

The suspense built again in the ninth when with one out Matias reached second on an infield hit and a throwing error. Alex Speas struck out Melendez, but a wild pitch put runners on the corners. Speas gathered himself and fanned both Guzman and Nunez to end the game.

 

Thoughts:

***The fastball from Alex Speas has been as advertised. We don’t yet have a speed-gun reading available at the ballpark, but judging by the swings from the hitters during the two outings I’ve seen him it has life and it gets there in a hurry. However last night, it was the breaking ball that did a lot of the dirty work among the nine missed bats in his inning. It appeared to have that falling-off-the-table sink, one of which Melendez flailed at and catcher Melvin Novoa had to chase down near the Crawdads dugout.

He didn’t panic with a runner at third and one out but continued to throw the pitch and trusted Novoa to make plays if needed. Speas then set up Nunez for a fastball on the inside corner for a called third-strike that ended the game.

Said Hagen of Speas: “You take the error away and then the wild pitch that got away from Melvin, it was a tremendous inning. Either way he ended up with four strikeouts. Watching him from last year to this year, and to see the progress and the maturation has been really fun to watch. To go from where he was at as a starter to coming in as a reliever and hoping for a good result to coming in as a reliever and knowing that you’re going to get really good results coming into the game.”

*** This is a game Anderson likely loses in 2017. He would have games like this where he would dominate for several innings but a quirky inning or a bad pitch would get away and cost him the game.  In a preseason interview, pitching coach Jose Jaimes said Anderson is better prepared this season to go deep into games. Anderson agrees and talked about his mindset on the mound this season.

Anderson said, “Mainly it’s just not trying to think ahead. Last year, I would go out there I would be in the first inning and I’d already be thinking about the sixth. This time, I’m just focusing batter to batter, pitch to pitch and not trying to get ahead of myself.”

Series Preview: Lexington (Ky.) at Hickory April 16-18

(Late getting this together and I haven’t proofread yet, so be kind.)

 

Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals) (8-2, 1st in SAL South) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (1-8, 7th SAL North)

The Hickory Crawdads continue the season-opening homestand with a three-game homestand against Lexington. The Legends travels to Hickory after a three-game series at Augusta (Ga.)

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Monday and Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

 

Promotions:

Monday – Make-A-Difference Monday (Donate an item $5 or more in value to receive a free ticket). Pajama Night (Wear your pajamas to receive a free ticket.)

Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday (Dogs admitted for $1 each, Hot Dogs $1 each, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

 

Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

 

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Lexington/ Hickory):

Monday: RHP Andres Sotillet vs. RHP Reid Anderson

Tuesday: RHP Nolan Watson vs. RHP Tyree Thompson

Wednesday: LHP Garrett Davila vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

 

Recent Series History:

Lexington won 7 of 11 against the Crawdads in 2017, including a split of the eight games played at L.P. Frans. The Crawdads hold a 21-18 advantage since the Legends began their affiliation with the Royals in 2013, but are 12-13 at home.

 

About the Crawdads:

The rough start to the season may have reached a new low with a loss in the final game of the rain-shortened, three-game series with the West Virginia Power. Up 11-8 with a chance to win the series, the Power scored seven runs to win the game… The Crawdads entered the series with the Power last in the SAL in all three slash line stats (.182.239/.251). They are still last in OBP (.281) and slugging (.338), but against the Power, Hickory was .314/.349/.475 with 13 extra-base hits in three games… Defensively, Hickory is currently at the top of the SAL with just six errors (.981 fielding pct.). Four of the six have been charged to catchers and pitchers.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2018 stats: .229/.250/.371, 1 3B, 1 HR, 14 K (tied for 5th in SAL), 1 BB, 3 SB. Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucory. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): Not expected to pitch in the series. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: .258/.281/.355, 1 HR, 6 K, 1 BB. Signed with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 3 games (all in relief), 4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 HR, 4 BB, 7 K, 1.62 WHIP. Second round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2018 stats: .120/.154/.240, 1 HR, 8 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Reid Anderson: 2018 stats: 2 games (1 start), 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R (unearned), 2 BB, 4 K, OBA .158, 0.83 WHIP. Was 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ. Native of New Egypt, N.J.

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2018 stats: 2 games (1 start), 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R-ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1.33 WHIP. Was 26th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out or Edna Karr HS, New Orleans.

RHP Tyler Phillips: 2018 stats: 2 games (2 starts), 8.2 IP, 12 H, 7 R-ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 11, K, .324 OBA, 1.73 WHIP. Was 16th round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken, NJ.

RHP Joe Barlow: 2018 stats: 3 games, 4 IP, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R. Was 11th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Salt Lake CC. Native of Riverton, Utah.

OF Eric Jenkins: 2018 stats: .235/.278/.294 1 3B, 2 BB, 13, K, 6 steals (tied for SAL lead). Native of Cerro Gordo, N.C. Was the 2nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of West Columbus High.

IF-OF Justin Jacobs: 2018 stats: .438/.500/.625, 3 2B, 2 BB, 3 K. After not playing the first five games of the season, he has started the last four. Non-drafted free-agent out of Gonzaga. Native of Auburn, Wash.

IF Ryan Dorow: 2018 stats: .385/.467/.692, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 4 K. Went 4-for-8, HR, 2 R, BB in last two games vs. West Virginia. Was 30th-round pick of Rangers in 2017 out of Adrian (Mich.) College. Native of South Haven, Mich.

 

About the Legends

Managed by Scott Thorman in his second season (70-77) with the Legends… Lexington has not had a winning record since the days of Jose Altuve and J.D, Martinez in 2010 as a part of the Houston Astros system. After losing 80 or more game the last three seasons, the Legends are 8-2 to begin this season and were 2-1 at Augusta to start their current road trip… The Legends have staked their early surge on pitching. Their 2.12 team ERA is the best in the SAL and they’ve allowed the fewest hits… Defensively, the Legends are quite porous with 21 errors in the 10 games, third most in the SAL. Melendez has shown a big arm behind the plate, throwing out four of the ten attempted base stealers. However, he has four errors and a passed ball in ten games.  A trio of third basemen have combined for six errors… The lineup has much promise but are a work in progress. Lexington is last in the SAL in batting (.212) and 12th in OBP (.297) and are already above 100 Ks in 10 games (3rd in SAL). However the Legends are in the middle of the pack in runs scored because of their speed. They are tied for the SAL lead in steals and just off the pace in triples…Royals No. 6 prospect CF Michael Gigliotti is on the disabled list.

 

Prospects to watch:

1B Nick Pratto (No. 2): 2018 stats: .303/.378/.485, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 BB, 11, K, 1 SB. First-round pick of the Royals in 2017 out of Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS.

RF Seuly Matias (No. 3): 2018 stats: .286/.342/.686, 1 3B, 4 HR, 2 BB, 17 K, Tied for 1st in SAL in HRs, 3rd with 10 RBI, tied for 3rd total bases (24), 1st in Ks (17), 4th slugging, 5th OPS 1.028. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of La Isabela, D.R.

C MJ Melendez (No. 4): 2018 stats: .300/.391/.600, 2 2B, 2 3B, 3 BB, 8 K, 1 SB. Second-round pick of the Royals in 2017 out of Westminster Christian HS (Miami, FL).

LHP Daniel Tillo (No. 19): Not expected to pitch in the series.

SS Jeison Guzman (No. 20): 2018 stats: 259/.286/.407, 2 3B, 1 BB, 11 K, 2 SB. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP Janser Lara (No. 27): 2018 stats: 1 game, 1.2 IP, 1 BB, 2 K. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of San Cristobal, D.R.

 

Others to watch – Lexington:

RHP Andres Sotillet: 2018 stats: 1 game (start), 4.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R (0 ER) 2 BB, 5 K. Signed with Royals as international free agent in 2015. Native of Cumana, Venezuela.

RHP Nolan Watson: 2018 stats: 2 games (2 starts), 10.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 1 HB, 2 BB, 11 K, .138 OBA, 1.16 ERA. First-round pick of Royals in 2015 out of Lawrence North HS (Ind.) Native of Indianapolis, Inc.

LHP Garrett Davila: 2018 stats: 2 games (2 starts), 8.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 6 BB, 8 K, .265 OBA, 1.73 WHIP. Fourth-round pick of Royals in 2015 out of South Point HS (Gastonia, NC).

RHP Tyler Zuber: 2018 stats: 4 games 5 IP, 1 H, 1 HB, 8 K. Tied for first in SAL with 3 saves.

 

Power Cruzing: West Virginia takes early lead, evens series

In similar circumstances to game one of the series, the West Virginia Power took advantage of an error in the first to score three times and never trailed during a 6-4 win over the Hickory Crawdads in front of 2,925 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium Friday night.

The Power (4-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with the win and evened the series with the Crawdads (1-7).

In game one of the series Thursday, the Crawdads used a first-inning error to score four unearned runs on the way to a 6-2 win. On Friday, the roles were reversed.

After Crawdads starter Jean Casanova (0-1) retired the first two batters in the first, Dylan Busby hit a high pop-up near home plate. Catcher Sam Huff settled under the ball, which carried to the fair side of home plate and ticked off the glove for the error. The Power made Hickory pay with a double by Mason Martin and a three-run homer by Oneil Cruz.

Miguel Aparicio cut the deficit to 3-1 with his first homer of the season, a high drive off the top row of billboards in right. Ryan Dorow added his first blast of the season in the second.

The Power regained their initial three-run lead in the third. Cruz walked and Kyle Watson reached on an infield hit that chased Casanova. Sal Mendez entered and recorded two straight grounders, the second by Ryan Peurifoy scored Cruz. Chris Sharpe blooped a single into short right to bring in Watson and the Power led 5-2.

From there, the Crawdads threatened several times with runners scoring position in five of the last seven innings. Melvin Nova singled and scored on Tyler Ratliff’s double to get Hickory back within 5-3. However, Yohel Pozo grounded to third and Gavin Wallace fanned Huff to strand the runner.

Dorow doubled with one out in the fourth, but never advanced. Pozo double to start the sixth, but he, too, never moved.

Cruz’s second homer of the night in the seventh pushed the Power ahead 6-3 before Pedro Gonzalez tripled and scored to create what turned out to be the final margin.

The Crawdads loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but reliever Evan Piechota struck out Gonzalez to end the attempted rally.

Piechota then worked around a two-out single in the ninth to record the three-inning save (1).

Wallace got the win (1-0) with six innings of work during which he gave up three runs on eight hits.

 

Thoughts:

***This felt like a game that Hickory would win. The Power stranded seven over the first four innings and the Crawdads responded each time West Virginia scored. However, the inability by Hickory to capitalize on presented opportunities ultimately doomed the team. The Crawdads went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position for the game and left 10. Through 7 games with RISP, the team is at .190/.239/.206. It feels like the pitcher has the advantage rather than the other way around.

***First home appearance for Alex Speas and it looked sharp. Cruz touched him for the second homer, but the pitch appeared to be a fastball that was down and away. Cruz lined it opposite field, down the line in left. Otherwise, Speas brought a live fastball (sorry, no speed gun readings) with a change and breaking ball (looked like a slider) that kept hitters honest. He fanned four of the last five swinging.

***Wallace didn’t appear to have his best stuff. Was told by the Power radio guy that keeping his sinker down was the key to his success. Wallace left a good bit up that Hickory hit hard. But Wallace mixed in the secondaries well until he could find the touch on the sinker and he went on to record nine groundball outs. While fastball command wasn’t there, the control was as he issued no walks. He seemed poised when in troubled and never panicked. After the Power pulled their starter after the first on Thursday, Wallace’s outing was a balm to the Power’s staff.

***Casanova should have been out of the first with just six pitches, but the error started a chain of events from which he never recovered. Like Wallace, he also had command issues with the fastball and it was punished. One wonders what his evening would be like had the error not happened. However, he seemed to panic and was never the same.

***The first “Wow” moment for me this season was Gonzalez’s triple in the seventh. He took a Piechota offering and lined it hard into open grass down into the right field corner. Gonzalez was in full stride between first and second… and then accelerated. It was another gear!

 

Trusting the Process: The Development of a Low-A Hitter

After a brutal season-opening road trip that saw the team score 10 runs in six games, the Hickory Crawdads scored four runs in the first on the way to a 6-2 victory over the West Virginia Power Thursday night. It was the team’s initial win of the season.

The Crawdads came home holding up the bottom of the South Atlantic League in most offensive statistics. The .182/.239/.251 slash was easily the worst in the league in all three categories. Yet, in talking with the coaches, the collective feeling is that the team performed well overall and they were in a period where they couldn’t catch a break.

As one looks at where the team is at the plate, the big picture of how they will perform ultimately at the plate is still coming into focus and it will develop over a longer period of time than a week. The bad start perhaps has skewed perception of what this team will be eventually. Put the slump in the middle of July and the average fan will shake it off as a bad week. Yet, we see the numbers what they are and panic.

Fans must remember that class Low-A is a laboratory of minor league baseball. The guys have showed potential at rookie and short-season level – that’s why they are even at Hickory – but now the real work begins: the process of becoming a professional hitter.

I took some time Thursday to talk with Crawdads hitting coach Chase Lambin about the mindset of the hitters coming off the road trip and about “The Process” of learning about hitting at a professional level.

 

I know it’s a long season and I know this isn’t the way you wanted to start, but you and I talked prior to this, that it was a little bit of a perfect storm with Delmarva (Md.) throwing some guys, the cold weather, etc. Take me through the week of your hitters and the mindset of where they are at the moment.

Lambin: Yeah, it was tough. It’s challenging for them and it’s even challenging for us as a staff. Through it, it was remarkable to see the resilience the guys had and how their work didn’t change and how their attitude didn’t change.

We had some meetings where guys said powerful things and every day the energy in the dugout and the clubhouse was strong. It’s a resilient bunch, but it’s a young bunch. So. They’re going to have their bumps, especially early. Maybe, we didn’t expect it to be this early and this big of a bump, but it’s part of it and part of the process. It’s part of what the maturation process is about and learning how to handle adversity and especially in an environment they’ve never been in.

 

You guys always talk about “the process”. Jose Jaimes (Crawdads pitching coach) will talk about “the process” and (Crawdads manager Matt) Hagen, and so on. What is the biggest part, as far as your hitters, of getting them to understand the process of getting from here to the next level and on up to Arlington, or wherever they are going?

Lambin: It’s understanding the routine, understanding their body, understanding their mind and all those things have to come together. If one is missing, you’re going to struggle. You’ve got to know what you’re doing before the game. You’ve got to have a plan in your approach when you go to the plate. You’ve got to understand your movements. It takes time to learn those things.

They’ve all been successful at lower levels, but that level doesn’t ask you to do as much. Each level you go up has new challenges where you have to be a little more dialed in with each one of those things. That’s what they’re doing. They’re young. They’re 18, 19-years-old and they’re trying to figure out themselves and their approach and their plan, and they will because they’re tremendous athletes.

 

What’s the biggest hurdle in getting them to trust that process?

Lambin: The adversity that baseball puts on them, and the doubts and fears and anxiety that the game puts in your mind. I mean the game is a great equalizer and it will challenge you and it will rip your guts out and make you feel miserable. So, how do you take that pain and turn that into good?

On the other side of pain is growth. That pain is a part of it, like you’re being hardened from the inside-out. You have to explain it like, “I don’t want you to struggle, but this is a part of it and it’s better now than in Arlington.”

This is what you have to do and the game will expose you. It’s exposing some of them that they don’t have a clear plan. They don’t have a clear approach. They don’t trust the routine. They don’t understand their swing. This will show you that you need to make these adjustments because until then, if they’re batting .330 every year, they’ll be like, “This coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

 

Who is the person right now – and I get it, it’s six games in – that has the best understanding of where they are in that process?

Lambin: That’s a good question. There are some cerebral guys that are good thinkers. (Kole) Enright has been pretty good in the conversations I’ve had with him mid-game. Pedro Gonzalez is a sharp tack. He talks through what he’s feeling, what he’s seeing from the pitcher and what he going to do in the next at-bat. Chad Smith is another smart one. Justin Jacobs and (Ryan) Dorow are the college kind of veterans. They are the guys that are lower end on talent but they’re higher end on approach and plan and the mental toughness. So, combining all those together, they each have their shortcomings, but they’re all getting better.

 

Who is the person right that you think in the long run will get through that process? Maybe they don’t understand right now, but you talk to them and you see – maybe it’s not the ability necessarily – but you see they’ll have a chance to work through that?

Lambin: I think Pedro is a combination of talent and the mind and the deliberate work ethic. He asks questions and he’s hungry to learn and he’s humble enough to know that he needs to learn.

Some of these guys are so talented that that humility hasn’t hit yet. This six-game losing streak and batting .180 will give you some of that humble pie. Pedro stands out for me. (Miguel) Aparicio’s got a really good feel for hitting. (Yohel) Pozo is a tremendous, instinctual hitter. He’s still learning the thought process that goes behind it, but he’s the type that is just going to hit and hit and hit. He’s an unbelievable barrel finder.

There’s a lot of guys on this team. For me, my job is not to pick who’s going to be a big leaguer. Some are more advanced that others, but my job is to teach them up to be big leaguers.

 

What’s the biggest hurdle for you as a coach to help them get over that?

Lambin: Building trust as a coach is always difficult. I feel like that’s one of my strong suits. I teach with empathy and kindness and service, and I’m not a dictator.

I get with them on their level. I understand the struggles they’re in, I’ve been through it. I’ve been down that road and back 100 times. This game has ripped my guts out. So, I get on their level and I let them know this is going to be hard, but I also know how to work. I show them how to get after it and to have clarity and to have the right intentions with their work and in their process. In doing so, they start to listen to me more.

It’s challenging because they’re still young and their retention level. They may understand it for one day, but to get them to understand it the next day, it’s like they forgot everything when they fell asleep. It’s like a blank slate again the next day. It’s like, “Man, I need you to remember what I told you yesterday.” But at this level, you’ve got to tell them over and over again.”

 

Is there a point as a coach were you guys as coaches step back and let the failure be a part of the process? You see what they’re doing and let them get the golden sombrero.

Lambin: Failure is a gift. It’s part of being a baseball player. It’s going through the failure and rebuilding, fail, rebuild. The way you’re rebuilding your mind, and then your body and your routine.

Yeah, it’s hard, because I want them all to go bat .330 from start to finish and have a great year. But, the reality of it is that you sometimes have got to let them – it’s just like a young kid learning how to walk. If you’ve never let them fall, then they’ll never learn how to walk. You got to let them fall like a parent would let a child fall. They’re like my children in that sometimes I want to make it easy on them and make the fall stop, but sometimes pain is a great teacher. Nobody wants to go to its class, but pain will let you know.

It’s hard on me sometimes, because every time they get out, I feel it in my heart. It hurts me, but I want to grow and get better, too.

 

Melvin Novoa

Melvin Nova strokes a double during the Crawdads 6-2 win over West Virginia Thursday night (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Series Preview: West Virginia at Hickory April 12-15

West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh Pirates) (3-4, Tied for 4th SAL North) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (0-6, 7th SAL North)

The Hickory Crawdads start the 2018 home scheduled with a four-game series against the Power, who are making their first road trip of the season.

 

If You Plan to Go:

GAME TIMES: Thursday and Friday, 7:00 p.m., Saturday, 6:00 p.m., Sunday, 3:00 p.m.

 

Promotions:

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday, Fill the Frans Night (If the Crawdads have 4,000 in attendance all fans receive a free ticket to another game.), Magnet Schedules to first 1,000 fans.

Friday – Post-game Fireworks

Saturday – Texas Rangers night, Poster Schedules to first 1,000 fans

Sunday – Jackie Robinson Day, Church Bulletin Sunday (Bring church bulletin for a $6 ticket, $4 goes back to the bulletin’s organization), Fun in the Sunday

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

 

Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

 

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. Here is that menu http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130627&content_id=51970362&sid=t448&vkey=team4

The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (West Virginia / Hickory):

Thursday: RHP Travis MacGregor vs. TBA

Friday: RHP Gavin Wallace vs. RHP Jean Casanova

Saturday: RHP Evan Piechota vs. A.J. Alexy

Sunday: TBA vs. Reid Anderson

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads were 3-7 against the Power in 2017, with West Virginia sweeping Hickory in the only three games played at L.P. Frans. Hickory has not won a home series against the Power since 2014, which is also the last time it won a season-series. West Virginia is 17-9 against the Crawdads the last three years, 4-9 at Hickory. Both teams switched affiliates prior to the start of the 2009 season – the Pirates moved from Hickory to West Virginia and the Rangers aligned with Hickory. Since those partnerships began, the Crawdads own a 44-40 edge in the series, 22-20 at home. The clubs faced each other in the 2015 SAL Northern Division Playoffs when Hickory took 2-of-3 en route to the championship

 

About the Crawdads:

The 2018 season started about as poorly as could be imagined. Hickory was swept in three games at Greensboro and then suffered the same fate at Delmarva (Md.)…The bats have shoulder much of the blame, putting up ten runs in the six games. Among the 14-team South Atlantic League, Hickory is last in batting avg. (.182) on-base percentage (.239), slugging pct. (.251), runs scored (the next team has double the number of runs), hits, total bases and walks … On the mound, the Crawdads have held their own. The 4.13 ERA is 11th in the SAL, but the Crawdads have allowed the fewest hits in the league and have surrendered just two homers…Defensively, Hickory has committed just four errors, three of those on either pickoffs or a catcher’s interference. Behind the plate, catchers have nailed half the runners (4 of 8) trying to steal with Melvin Nova catching all three of the attempted base-stealers.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory (rankings are by MLB.com):

CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2018 stats: 4-for-20, two-run HR, 2 steals, 11 Ks. Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucory. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 1 start, 4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: 5-for-21, 2 runs, 1 RBI, 1 BB. Signed with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 2 games (both in relief), 2.1 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 3 K. Second round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2018 stats 2-for-17, solo HR, 6 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Alex Eubanks: 2018 states: 1 game (start), 5.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 K. Was 14th-round pick 2017 out of Clemson. Native of Duncan, S.C.

RHP Jean Casanova: 2018 stats: 1 game (relief), 2 IP, 1 K. Was 35th-round pick by the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukeegan (Ill.) High. Born in the Dominican Republic but moved to the states in fifth grade.

RHP Reid Anderson: 2018 stats: 2 games (1 start), 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R (unearned), 2 BB, 4 K, OBA .158, 0.83 WHIP. Was 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ. Native of New Egypt, N.J.

OF Eric Jenkins: 2018 stats: 5-for-24, 1 BB, 9 K, 2 steals in 4 attempts. Native of Cerro Gordo, N.C. Was the 2nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of West Columbus High.

2B Kole Enright: 2018 stats: 3-for-15, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 SB. Is the lone Crawdads everyday hitter slugging over .350.

 

About the Power:

Managed by Wyatt Toregas in his second season (72-71). The Power opened the season with a weeklong homestand. Split a four-game series with the defending SAL champs Greenville (S.C.) before they dropped the final two of a three-game series against Lakewood (N.J.)…Not to the extent of the Crawdads, but West Virginia has also struggled at the plate, posting a .211/.304/.417. The Power is 12th in batting avg. and 11th in OBP. They are tied for the SAL-lead with Lexington (Ky.) with 8 HRs, but all of them came during a three-game stretch when the Power scored 26 of their 34 runs… The Power has struggled on the mound with a 5.21 team ERA and a 1.61 WHIP, both of which are next to last in the SAL. They have given up 71 hits in seven games, and the defense has contributed to 13 unearned runs already.

 

Prospects to watch – West Virginia:

CF Lolo Sanchez (No. 10): 2018 stats: 6-for-26, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 3 BB, 10 K. Native of Santo Dominguez, D.R. Was signed as an international free agent in 2015.

SS Oneil Cruz (No. 14): 2018 stats: 2-for-21, 1 HR, 4 BB, 12 K, Native of Nizao, D.R, Originally signed as an international free agent by the L.A. Dodgers in 2015. Traded to the Pirates last summer for former Crawdads LHP Tony Watson.

LF Calvin Mitchell (No. 16): 2018 stats: 6-for-22, 2 triples, 1 HR, 4 BB, 3 K. Native of San Diego, Calif. Was second-round pick of the Pirates in 2017 out of Rancho Bernardo HS.

RHP Travis MacGregor (No. 25): 2018 stats: 1 game (start), 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 12 K. Native of Tarpon Springs, Fla. Was second-round pick of the Pirates in 2016 out of East Lake HS.

1B Mason Martin (No. 26): 2018 stats: 5-for-20, 2 doubles, 2 HRs, 5 BB, 9 K. Native of Kennewick, Wash. Was 17th-round pick of the Pirates in 2017 out of Southridge HS. Was Gulf Coast League MVP in 2017.

LHP Braeden Ogle (No. 29): 2018 stats: 1 game (start), 3 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 4 K. Was fourth-round pick of the Pirates in 2016 out of Jensen Beach HS (Fla.)

 

Others to watch – West Virginia:

RHP Gavin Wallace: 2018 stats: 1 games (start), 5 IP, 6 H, 5 R (3 ER), 2 BB. 4 K. Native of Staten Island, N.Y. Was 15th-round pick of the Pirates in 2017 out of Fairfield Univ.

RHP Evan Piechota: 2018 stats: 1 game (start), 5 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 7 K. Native of Livonia, Mich. Signed with the Pirates as a non-drafted free agent in 2016. Pitched in college at Madonna Univ. (Mich.)

 

Series Preview Hickory at Delmarva April 9-11

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (0-3) at Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles) (4-0)

The Crawdads play the second series of a two-city, season-opening road trip with three games at Arthur W. Purdue Stadium in Salisbury, Md.

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Games Monday and Tuesday are at 7:05 p.m., then Wednesday morning at 10:35 a.m. All games are streamed live on the web through milb.com or the Delmarva Shorebirds website.

TICKETS: Ticket prices range from $8-$13 in advance, $1 more on game day. Upper reserved are $2 on Monday.

PARKING: Parking at the ballpark is $4.

CONCESSIONS: Purdue Stadium offers standard ballpark fare (hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, etc. The Bird’s Eye Café has BBQ sandwiches, crab dip and shrimp salad. The Angus Stand serves Angus Burgers, BBQ sandwiches and steak subs. Vegetarian, gluten-free options are also available.

Where is it?:

From Salisbury, take U.S. 50 east towards Ocean City. Turn right onto Hobbs Rd.

 

Probables (Hickory/Delmarva):

Monday: RHP Reid Anderson vs. LHP Zac Lowther

Tuesday: RHP Tyree Thompson vs. LHP DL Hall

Wednesday: RHP Tyler Phillips vs. RHP Michael Baumann

 

Recent Series History:

Hickory took the 2017 season-series 7-4, which included a 4-3 advantage at Purdue Stadium. During the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers, Hickory is 72-45 overall, 33-26 at Delmarva. The Crawdads have lost one season series to Delmarva since 2009. Oddly that came in 2015, the season Hickory won the SAL title.

 

Entering the series:

While Hickory was swept by Greensboro in a rain-shortened, three-game series over the weekend, Delmarva punished Asheville in a four-game sweep by a 40-17 margin. The 40 runs are the most scored by a SAL team over the weekend while the Crawdads scored a SAL- low of 7. Four of the seven runs by Hickory came on homers.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2018 stats: 4-for-12, two-run HR, 7 Ks. Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucory. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2018 stats: 1 start, 4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2018 stats: 4-for-14, 2 K. Signed with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2018 stats: 1 game, 1.1 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 2 K. Second round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2018 stats 1-for-7, 1 HR, 2 K. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.).

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Tyler Phillips: 2018 stats: 1 start, 3.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER,l 2 BB, 4 K. Native of Lumberton, N.J. 16th round pick in 2015 by the Rangers out of Bishop Eustace, Pennsauken , N.J.

C/1B Yohel Pozo: 2018 stats: 3-for-12, 2B, 2 K. Native of Maracaibo, Venz.

LF Eric Jenkins: 2018 stats: 4-for-12, 1 BB, 4 K, 2 SB. Second round pick of the Rangers out of West Columbus HS, Cerro Gordo, N.C.

2B Kole Enright: 2018 stats: 3-for-10, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 1 BB, 2K. Third-round pick of the Rangers out of West Orange, HS, Winter Garden, Fla.

RHP Reid Anderson: 2017 stats: 28 games (13 starts) 88.1 IP, 32 BBs, 65 Ks, 5.30 ERA, .272 OBA, 1.45 WHIP with Hickory. 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ.

RHP Tyree Thompson: 2017 stats: 13 games (all starts) 68.2 IP, 22 BBs, 44 Ks, 3.15 ERA, .245 OBA, 1.24 WHIP at Spokane. 26th round pick by Rangers in 2016 out of Edna Karr HS in New Orleans, La.

Notes of interest: This was the second-straight season the Crawdads lost 3-for-4 in the opening series of the year at Greensboro,

 

Prospects to watch-Delmarva:

LHP D.L. Hall (No. 5): 2017 stats: 5 games (all starts), 10.1 IP, 10 BBs, 12 Ks, .263 OBA, 1.94 WHIP with rookie GCL Orioles. First-round pick (21st overall) of the Orioles in 2017 out of Valdosta (Ga.) High. Signed away from a commitment to Florida St.

RHP Brenan Hanifee (No.10): 2017 stats: 12 games (all starts), 68.2 IP, 12 BBs, 44 Ks .249 OBA, 1.12 WHIP at SS-A Aberdeen. Fourth-round pick of the Orioles in 2016 out of Ashby High in Bridgewater, Va. Signed away from a commitment to East Carolina. Named to New York-Penn League All-Star Game and tabbed as an Orioles organizational all-star by MILB.com.

RHP Michael Baumann (No. 15): 2017 stats: 11 games (10 starts), 42.1 IP 19 BBs, 43 Ks .175 OBA, 1.09 WHIP between GCL Orioles and Aberdeen. Third-round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of Jacksonville Univ. Native of Mahtomedi, Minn. and pitched in HS there. In his opening night start, threw four-hit shutout over five innings with 10 Ks and a walk.

LHP Cameron Bishop (No. 16): 2017 stats: 9 games (all starts), 37.2 IP, 16 BBs, 39 Ks, .162 OBA, 0.98 OBA between GCL Orioles and Aberdeen. Was 26th-round pick of Orioles in 2017 out of Univ. of California-Irvine. Attended Brea-Olinda HS (Calif.). Allowed two runs (1 earned) on four hits and three walks with 6 Ks over 6 innings on Friday. Named Atlantic Sun Conference pitcher of the year in 2017.

LHP Zac Lowther (No. 17): 2017 stats: 12 games (11 starts) 54.1 IP, 11 BBs, 75 Ks, .182 OBA, 0.85 WHIP at Aberdeen. Was Orioles second pick in competitive balance round in 2017 out of Xavier. Was Baseball America short-season all-star and New York-Penn League All-Star. Led Big East in Ks in 2017.

RHP Gary Fenter (No. 23): 2017 starts: 11 games (all starts), 30.1 IP, 10 BBs, 34 Ks, .187 OBA, 0.99 WHIP.  Seventh-round pick of the Orioles in 2015 out of West Memphis (AR) High. Signed away from commitment to Mississippi St.

SS Mason McCoy (No. 29): 2017 stats:.301/.382/.409 slash with 15 XBHs in 53 games at Aberdeen. Sixth-round pick in 2017 out of Univ. of Iowa. Named to New York-Peen A native of Peoria, Ill.

RHP Matthew Dietz (No. 30): 2017 stats: 26 games (all starts) 129.2 IP, 50 BBs, 92 Ks, .282 OBA, 1.50 WHIP at Delmarva. Second-round pick of Orioles out of John A. Logan CC (Ill.). In first start on Saturday: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K.

Others to watch-Delmarva:

C Ben Breazeale: 2017 stats: .318/.428/.467 slash with 19 XBHs in 57 games at Aberdeen. Seventh-round pick of Orioles in 2017 out of Wake Forest. New York-Penn player of the month in July 2017. All-Star game selection in that same league and named Baseball America SS-A all-star.

1B Ryen Ripken: 2017 starts .287.323/.378 slash with 11 XBHs in 51 games at Aberdeen. Signed free agent deal with Orioles in 2017. Played previously in SAL with Hagerstown (Washington) in 2016. Son of Cal Ripken, Jr.

RF Zack Jarrett: 2017 stats: /.201/.252/.288 slash with 8 XBHs in 45 games at Aberdeen. 28th-round pick of the Orioles in 2017 out of UNC Charlotte. Played his high school ball at Hickory High.

 

Notes of Interest: Both of the Shorebirds assistant coaches have ties to the Crawdads. Hitting coach Bobby Rose served in the same role with Hickory in 2014. Justin Lord made two starts for the Crawdads in 2004…Shorebirds manager Buck Britton is the brother of Orioles close Zach Britton. Buck was the hitting coach for Delmarva in 2017…TJ Nichting was a teammate of Jarrett at UNC Charlotte. Will Robertson played college ball at Davidson… Delmarva’s sweep over the week is the first to open the season since at least 2005. However, it is the 10th time in 14 seasons the team won at least 3 games in the opening series of the season.

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.

 

 

A Sense of Belonging: Phillips Returns as Opening-Day Starter

When Tyler Phillips last pitched for Hickory, it was at home against Greensboro on May 14. The pitching line for that game: 3.2 innings, 4 H, 5 R (2 ER), 3 hit batters, 1 BB, 3 Ks and a wild pitch. Of the 40 pitches he threw, 25 went for strikes.

Tyler Phillips 2

Tyler Phillips shown in his final game with Hickory, May 2017 vs. Greensboro. (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt

Fast forward to the South Atlantic League opener on Thursday, against Greensboro on the road. The pitching line: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R (all earned), 2 BB, 4 K, 68 pitches, 45 strikes.

While the pitching lines are similar, where Phillips is in comparison to the 2017 season is far different.

“I think last year was a big learning year for him,” said Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes in an interview earlier this week. “He had a good spring training. He showed up this spring stronger, bigger, but most important, more mature.”

The Rangers 16th-round pick in 2015 seemed almost out-of-place with the Crawdads and there seemed to be a timid approach to hitters by the then 19-year-old hurler. In 25.1 innings, he struck out just 15, but walked nine, hit five more and the SAL hit .280 against him.

There was none of that at Thursday night’s opener as he attacked hitters from the start.

In comparing the two circumstances from last year to this, Phillips feels more of a sense of belonging on the Crawdads roster this season.

“Yeah, it’s a lot different than last year,” said Phillips. “I came in and wasn’t really expecting to be here in Hickory. This year, I came in here and I was the opening-day starter, so it was pretty cool.”

After his re-assignment from Hickory, Phillips put the struggles behind him and put together a strong short-season at Spokane. With the Indians, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 73 innings with 78 strikeouts to just 11 walks.

The changes since leaving Hickory last May, Phillips said, were twofold.

Going to Surprise, Ariz., Phillips looked to re-center himself mechanically. Listed at 6-5, 200 pounds, he worked to find control of a fastball that ranged from 92-94 mph on Thursday. With the aid of Rangers pitching coaches at the team’s extended spring training complex, Phillips found some answers on video.

“What I did find out was at the beginning at Hickory,” Phillips said. “I got away from my routine and I changed a bunch of things with my mechanics. I got around the ball, around the side of it. So, I did fix my fastball; I got more on top of the ball and I was able to bring it down. My changeup has always been there. The curveball has always been a work in progress; I changed my grip up a little bit. So, I’m always trying to improve something.”

Mechanics and repertoire aside, there was perhaps an underlying issue at hand: believing he pitch.

“When I went back to Spokane, honestly, it was a big mindset thing,” said Phillips. “Just going out and being more confident with every pitch that I had, knowing that I could get guys out, knowing that I was good. I definitely found out that baseball is just a game and you’ve got to make it fun.”

With tools and a new outlook, Phillips took to the mound on Thursday and went after hitters. Of the 68 pitches he threw, 18 missed bats, including all three pitches during a second-inning plate appearance by Eric Gutierrez, and on two of the three pitches thrown to Isael Soto, who was caught looking in the third.

Phillips said that as his mechanics improved, the increase in swings-and-misses increased.

“It kind of just started when I got to Spokane,” he said. “A lot of those are the changeup. I kind of developed that, keeping the same arm speed as my fastball. The fastball, this year, it’s harder because I got into my lower half better, so that’s another thing I’m fiddling around with.”

So, while the numbers between the final start with Hickory the first are the similar, Phillips left Thursday’s start feeling more assured of where he is as a pitcher.

“The results, obviously, were not what I wanted them to be,” Phillips said. “But I feel like I accomplished the things I wanted to work on.”

 

Series Preview: Hickory at Greensboro April 5-8

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (0-0) at Greensboro Grasshoppers (Miami Marlins) (0-0)

The Hickory Crawdads and Greensboro Grasshoppers open the 2018 South Atlantic League season with a four-game series at First National Bank Field in Greensboro.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Games Thursday through Saturday are at 7:00 EDT with a 2 p.m. start on Sunday.

TICKETS: Ticket prices range from $7-11.

PARKING: Parking at the ballpark is $5. There are independently operated parking lots nearby that charge a varied amount. Metered parking about a block away from the outfield is free after 6 p.m., on weekdays and is free on weekends.

CONCESSIONS: First National Bank Field is more of a AA park and so the concession offerings are a vast upgrade from what a smaller Low-A ball park provides. Other than basic ballpark fare, there is a BBQ stand, Sausage Shack, Pimento Cheese along with veggie options. Here is the entire menu  

Where is it?:

From Hickory, take I-40 East to exit 218 B / Freeman Mill Road. That will turn into Edgeworth St. and the ballpark will be on the right. (Edgeworth and Bellemeade St.)

 

Probables (Hickory/Greensboro):

Thursday: RHP Tyler Phillips vs. RHP Brady Puckett

Friday: RHP Alex Eubanks vs. RHP Tyler Kolek

Saturday: RHP AJ Alexy vs. RHP Ryan Lillie

Sunday: RHP Noah Bremer vs. RHP Taylor Braley

 

Recent Series History:

The Grasshoppers won the 2017 season-series 13-9, which included a 4-7 mark at First National Bank Field. Since the stadium opened in 2005, Greensboro is 62-42 at home vs. the Crawdads, 42-38 during the Rangers affiliation (since 2009).

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10): 2017 stats: .294/.364/.475 in 2017, 25 XBHs in 51 games between rookie Grand Junction (Col.) with the Rockies and SS-A Spokane (Tex.). Came to the Rangers in a trade for C Jonathan Lucory. Originally signed with Rockies in 2015. Native of Santo Domingo, D.R.

RHP AJ Alexy (No. 17): 2017 stats: 24 starts, 94.1 IP, 3.53 ERA, 113 Ks, 52 BBs, .180 OBA, 1.18 WHIP with Low-A Great Lakes (LA Dodgers) and Hickory. Joined the Crawdads after a trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. Originally 11th round pick of Dodgers out of Twin Valley HS, Elverson, Pa.

RF Miguel Aparicio (No. 18): 2017 stats: .266/.315/.361, 19 XBHs in 95 games between Hickory and Spokane. Signed with the Rangers in 2015. Native of San Carlos, Venezuela.

RHP Alex Speas (No. 23): 2017 stats: 16 games (7 starts), 33.2 IP, 6.15 ERA, 45 Ks, 25 BBs, .223 OBA, 1.60 WHIP with Spokane. Second round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of McEarchern HS (Powder Springs, GA).

C-1B Sam Huff (No. 25): 2017 stats: .249/.329/.452, 20 XBHs in 49 games at AZL Rangers. Tied for AZL lead in HRs last season. Seventh round pick of Rangers in 2016 out of Arcadia HS (Phoenix, Ariz.)

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

RHP Tyler Phillips: 2017 stats: 20 games (17 starts), 98.1 IP, 4.21 ERA, 93 Ks, 20 BBs, .269 OBA, 1.28 WHIP between Hickory and Spokane.

C/1B Yohel Pozo: 2017 stats: .323/.351/.478, 21 XBHs in 54 games between Hickory and Spokane. Signed with Rangers in 2013, AZL post-season all-star in 2016. Native of Maracaibo, Venz.

LF Eric Jenkins: 2017 stats: .207/.264/.289, 15 XBHs in 73 games at Hickory. Second round pick of the Rangers out of West Columbus HS, Cerro Gordo, N.C.

 

Prospects to watch-Greensboro:

RHP Edward Cabrera (No. 13): 2017 stats: 13 games (6 starts) 35.2 IP, 5.30 ERA, 32 Ks, 8 BBs, .286 OBA, 1.40 WHIP with SS-A Batavia (N.Y.) Native of Santiago, D.R., signed with Marlins in 2015.

OF Isael Soto (No. 27): Missed entire 2017 season with fractured foot, his third leg injury in three seasons. 2016 stats: .247/.320/.399, 38 XBHs in 113 games at Greensboro. Signed with Marlins in 2013. Native of Bani, D.R.

RHP Tyler Kolek (No. 28): 2017 stats: 5 games (4 starts) 3.2 IP, 29.45 ERA, 1 K, 14 BBs, .286 OBA, 4.91 WHIP with rookie GCL Marlins. Missed all of 2016 and much of 2017 after “Tommy John” surgery. First round pick (2nd overall) of Miami 2014 out of Shepherd HS, (Tex.)

 

Others to watch-Greensboro:

RHP Reilly Hovis: 2017 stats: 22 games, 29.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 8 BBs, 35 Ks .205 OBA, 1.06 ERA. Ninth round pick of the Marlins in 2015 out of Miami. Played high school baseball at Forestview in Gastonia.

RHP Brady Puckett: 2017 stats: 12 games (5 starts), 47.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 35 Ks, 9 BBs, .280 OBA, 1.28 WHIP with GCL Marlins and Batavia (NY). Native of Murfreesboro, Tenn. Was 15th round pick out of Lipscomb Univ.

Notes of Interest: Hickory’s Matt Hagen makes his managerial debut with Hickory after leading the SS-A Spokane Indians to the 2017 NW League playoffs. Hagen was an assistant with Hickory in 2016 ….  Greensboro RHP Brandon Miller and Hickory RHP Reid Anderson were teammates at Division II Millersville (Pa.) Univ. and were both drafted in 2016… Grasshoppers CF Aaron Knapp is the brother of Philadelphia Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp… Grasshoppers manager Todd Pratt, a 14-year major league veteran, played for the old Greensboro Hornets in 1986, then an affiliate with the Boston Red Sox. Pratt is in his second season with the Grasshoppers… This is the second straight season the Crawdads have opened a season at Greensboro and the third time in 5 seasons. Hickory has opened the season against a North Carolina rival seven of the last 8 seasons (Hagerstown at home 2015).