Series Preview: Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws at Hickory Crawdads April 25-28

Lakewood BlueClaws (Philadelphia Phillies) (6-14, seventh place, South Atlantic League Northern Division)

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (14-5, second place, South Atlantic League Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads continue their weeklong homestand with a four-game series against the Lakewood BlueClaws from Thursday through Sunday.

 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:

WHERE IS IT?: 2500 Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

GAME TIMES/ PROMOTIONS:

Thursday: Lakewood at Hickory, 7:00 p.m. Thirsty Thursday, Salute to Scrubs Week (Healthcare professionals receive a free ticket with a current ID badge), NFL Draft Party

Friday: Lakewood at Hickory, 7:00 p.m. Salute to Scrubs Week (Healthcare professionals receive a free ticket with a current ID badge)

Saturday: Lakewood at Hickory, 5:00 p.m. Sanctus Real Post-Game Concert

Sunday: Church Bulletin Sunday (Bring a church bulletin to the ticket office and receive a $6 ticket with $4 from each ticket donated back to the respective church), Red Out Night (Wear red and receive a free ticket to the game), Bark at the Park.

TICKETS: $9 tickets in advance, $10 at the gate. Children (12 and under) and seniors $8, $15 for VIP section. NOTE: Tickets for Saturday’s game and concert are $16, $21 for VIP seating.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

RECENT SERIES HISTORY:

The Crawdads took three of four from Lakewood in New Jersey to open the 2019 season. The BlueClaws dominated the South Atlantic League a year ago and they did not spare Hickory from their wrath. Lakewood won 7 of 10, which included a 3-1 mark at LP Frans last August. Since 2009, when the Crawdads-Rangers affiliation began, Lakewood is 17-16 at Hickory, 55-50 overall.

 

PROBABLES (Lakewood/ Hickory)

Thursday: RHP Colton Eastman vs. RHP Ronny Henriquez

Friday:  RHP Tyler McKay vs. RHP Jean Casanova

Saturday:  LHP Jhordany Mezquita vs. LHP John King

Sunday: RHP Francisco Morales vs. RHP Tim Brennan

 

ABOUT HICKORY

The Crawdads enter the series on the heels of two straight wins over Augusta (Ga.) to claim a 2-1 series win. Hickory is 6-3 at home this season.

Manager: Matt Hagen (2nd season)

Prospects – (team rankings are by MLB.com):

RHP Hans Crouse No.1 (No. 80 in top-100)

SS Chris Seise No. 12

IF Jonathan Ornelas No. 18

C Sam Huff No. 21

3B Sherten Apostel No. 22

RHP Ronny Henriquez No. 20

Possible lineups: C: Matt Whatley or Sam Huff; 1B Curtis Terry; 2B Frainyer Chavez or Jonathan Ornelas; 3B Sherten Apostel; SS Chris Seise; OF LF: Miguel Aparicio or Chad Smith; CF: Pedro Gonzalez; RF: Jose Almonte.

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

Jose Almonte – Tied for 9th doubles (6)

Pedro Gonzalez – Tied for 2nd homers (5)

Sam Huff – 1st home runs (8), 1st total bases, 1st slugging pct. (.750), 2nd OPS (1.063), tied for 9th runs, tied for 10th strikeouts

Chris Seise – 2nd caught stealing (4), tied for 10th stolen bases (5)

Curtis Terry – 1st RBI (21), tied for 2nd homers (5), 3rd total bases, tied for 3rd doubles (8), 5th slugging pct. (.600)

Matt Whatley – 5th walks

Individual pitching:

Tim Brennan – 8th WHIP (0.76)

Hans Crouse – 4th WHIP (0.69), tied for 4th hit batters (3), 10th ERA (1.33), 10th innings (20.1)

Scott Engler – Tied for 6th saves (2)

Abdiel Mendoza – Tied for 6th saves (2)

Team Batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.227 (19th)/ .291 (11th)/ .424 (2nd)/ .715 (3rd).

Other key rankings: 1st home runs, 3rd total bases, 4th runs, 11th hits, next to last walks,

Team Pitching:

1st ERA (2.42), 1st WHIP (1.02), fewest runs allowed, fewest earned runs allowed, fewest walks allowed, fewest hit batters, 4th fewest hits allowed, 11th home runs allowed (8),

 

ABOUT LAKEWOOD:

Though the lost the finale of a three-game series at Rome, Ga., the BlueClaws won two of three against the Braves coming off a 1-10 stretch. The two wins at Rome snapped an 0-8 start on the road.

Manager: Mike Micucci (1st season)

Prospects – Lakewood (rankings by MLB.com):

3B Alex Bohm No. 1 (No. 56 in top-100, No. 6 3B)

SS Luis Garcia No. 4

RHP Francisco Morales No. 8

C Rafael Marchan No. 14

RHP Dominic Pipkins No. 23

LHP Jhordany Mezquita No. 26

Possible Lineups: C: Rafael Marchan or Abraham Gutierrez; 1B: Matt Kroon; 2B: Luis Garcia or Jonathan Guzman; 3B: Alec Bohm; SS: Jonathan Guzman or Luis Garcia; LF: varied; CF: Yerwin Trejo or Malvin Matos; RF: Carlos De La Cruz or Malvin Matos.

 

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

Alex Bohm – Tied for 3rd hits, 6th batting avg. (.343), 6th on-base pct. (.425), tied for 8th walks, 9th OPS (.947), tied for 9th doubles (6), tied for 10th total bases

Carlos De La Cruz – Tied for 3rd caught stealing

Jonathan Guzman – Tied for 10th stolen bases (5)

Rafael Marchan – Tied for 9th doubles (6)

Individual pitching:

Colton Eastman – Tied for 6th earned runs allowed, tied for 8th runs allowed

Ethan Evanko – Tied for 9th appearances (7)

Kevin Gowdy – Tied for 2nd walks allowed

Robinson Martinez – Tied for 6th saves (2)

Tyler McKay – Tied for 10th earned runs allowed, tied for 10th runs allowed

Jhordany Mezquita – Tied for 6th earned runs allowed, tied for 10th runs allowed

Team batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS): .235 (6th)/.306 (7th)/ .313 (13th)/ .318 (12th)

Other key rankings: 1st caught stealing, 2nd steals, 3rd hits, 4th strikeouts, 11th total bases, 12th runs scored, 13th home runs (5)

Team pitching:

Most hits allowed, most walks allowed, 2nd most runs allowed, 2nd most earned runs allowed, 13th ERA (4.84), 13th WHIP (1.49),

Smith’s Blast Sting GreenJackets

Chad Smith rocked a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Hickory Crawdads a 5-4 win over the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets Wednesday night in South Atlantic League action.

The victory was the Crawdads (14-5) second in a row, which gave them the three-game series after losing the opener on Monday. Hickory has now won all six series to open the season. The win also kept Hickory two games behind Delmarva (Md.) in the early Northern Division standings. The Shorebirds (15-2) defeated Asheville 15-7 Wednesday night.

The weeklong homestand continues Thursday when the Crawdads open a four-game series against Lakewood (N.J.) with the first pitch at 7 p.m.

The teams entered the ninth tied at four with Augusta getting the first shot to break the tie. Facing Grant Anderson (2-1), the GreenJackets started the inning with a walk issued to Shane Matheny. Anderson then struck out both Diego Rincones and Frankie Tostado, but Jacob Gonzalez appeared to have given the GreenJackets the lead with a line drive to deep left-center. Off with the crack of the bat, Matheny was on his way to score easily on the hit, but Gonzalez’s drive one-hopped over the wall, which turned the play into a ground-rule double and sent Matheny back to second. Aaron Bond ended the inning with a grounder to short.

Smith finished the game quickly in the bottom of the inning by hitting Solomon Bates’ (1-2) third pitch over the fence in right center. The home run was Smith’s second since he joined the team last Thursday.

Home runs continue to be the story for the Crawdads offense during the first month of the season. Entering the game with the most in the SAL, Hickory added four more Wednesday night to push the total to 26 for the season, 11 more than second-place teams Asheville and Greensboro.

Pedro Gonzalez broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer to left-center. Augusta retied the game quickly in the fifth with a double by Matheny and a single by Rincones.

However, the GreenJackets gave away the lead in the bottom of the inning after Chris Seise reached on Jacob Gonzalez’s fielding error at third and later scored on Curtis Terry’s double.

Pedro Gonzalez added his fifth homer of the season with another solo shot in the sixth to put Hickory up 3-1. However, the Crawdads bullpen struggles continued Wednesday, this time against Tai Tiedemann in the eighth.

Matheny continued his series long assault against Hickory with a leadoff home run, his fourth of the year. Matheny finished the series 6-for-12 with a double and two home runs. Rincones and Tostado each singled to chase Tiedemann with Hickory choosing to bring in Anderson.

A passed ball placed runners at second and third, which set up consecutive sacrifice flies by Gonzalez and Bond, who put Augusta ahead 4-3. The GreenJackets eventually loaded the bases before Ismael Munguia grounded out to third to strand all three.

For the game, Augusta put together 12 hits and received five walks, but hit into two double plays and stranded 11.

Sam Huff set up the ninth with his eighth home run of the season, which leads the SAL. The solo blast was his second in as many nights, both hitting the batter’s eye beyond the centerfield fence.

Hans Crouse – the Texas Rangers’ top prospect (mlb.com) – started for Hickory and held the GreenJackets to one run over six innings with three walks and six hits allowed to go with four strikeouts.

Joey Wong – the San Francisco Giants’ no. 7 prospect – allowed three runs (two earned) on nine hits and struck out five.

Home Runs, Pitching Carry Crawdads to Win

The combination that has proven successful for the Hickory Crawdads this season was used again Tuesday night in a 3-2 win over the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets.

A crowd of 1,515 at L.P. Frans saw the Crawdads improve to 13-5 on the season with the victory. Hickory remains two games behind Delmarva (Md.) in the standings after the Shorebirds defeated Asheville Tuesday night.

After splitting the first two games of the series, Augusta (9-8) and Hickory will play the rubber game Wednesday night. The Crawdads have yet to lose a series this season and with the win on Tuesday, they avoided their first back-to-back losses of the season, following a 5-1 loss on Monday.

Hickory’s Yerry Rodriguez and Augusta’s Matt Frisbee matched zeroes through the first three innings before the Crawdads asserted the power game. Curtis Terry lined a 1-1 pitch to right field to break the scoreless tie with his fifth homer of the season. Huff followed Terry’s blast one out later with a first-pitch clout off the batter’s eye in center for his seventh of the year.

Huff and Terry are currently first and second in the South Atlantic League in home runs.  As a team, Hickory also leads the SAL with 22, seven ahead of second-place Asheville.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez (2-1) held the GreenJackets scoreless on four hits until the sixth. With one out, Diego Rincones barreled up an offspeed pitch to the wall in left-center for a double. One out later, Jacob Gonzalez singled in the run with a liner to left.

Rodriguez finished the night with one run allowed on six hits and a walk to go with seven strikeouts.

Wes Robertson struck out one over two perfect innings and Hickory supported the pitching further with an unearned run in the eighth. Miguel Aparicio reached on an error to start the inning and later scored on Matt Whatley’s sacrifice fly.

Augusta made it interesting in the ninth when Aaron Bond sneaked a home run just above the fence and just inside the right-field pole to make it 3-2.

However, Scott Engler averted further damage when second baseman Frainyer Chavez fielded a ball that ricocheted off Terry at first and completed the out at first to end the game. For his efforts, Engler picked up his second save.

With the two runs allowed, the Crawdads lowered their SAL-leading ERA to 2.33. Frisbee allowed the two runs on four hits and a walk and struck out six to take the loss (0-1).

 

Comfortable in His Own Stuff, Tim Brennan Strives to Keep Hitters Off-Balance

When Hickory Crawdads pitcher Tim Brennan made his last start a week ago, he faced the South Atlantic League’s best offense in the Asheville Tourists. Entering that three-games series against Hickory, the Tourists had the top mark in the SAL in all three slash statistical categories (batting avg., on-base pct., and slugging), and were second in home runs. Asheville also had the reigning SAL hitter of the week in Willie MacIver.

Making just his second pro start, it didn’t appear that Brennan, the Texas Rangers’ seventh-round pick last June out of St. Joseph’s, would be a good matchup against the powerful Tourists lineup. And it certainly wasn’t – for the Tourists.

Brennan retired the first 12 hitters and held the Tourists hitless through five on the way to a 2-0 win last Monday.

Entering the start, the right-hander said the plan was to use the aggressive nature of the Tourists lineup against them.

“I like when teams swing early,” said Brennan, who gave up one walk, one hit and struck out three for the win. “I want to get ahead, and I’m just going to try and miss barrels. I think I had 16 out of 20 batters with four pitches or less last night, which is exactly what I’m looking for to go deep into games.”

Compared to much of the Crawdads staff, Brennan, 22, doesn’t have the eye-popping velocity that catches the eye. The right-hander’s sinking fastball zips around 87-89 mph, which is relatively pedestrian to several other Crawdads pitchers that hit the gun regularly from 95-99. Brennan, who throws a slider and changeup as his secondaries, is comfortable with who he is.

“I know what I have and I know how it plays,” said the native of Philadelphia. “I’ve studied guys that throw similarly. I’ve watched a lot of Kyle Hendricks with the Cubs…I’ve had the same stuff since college and obviously my stuff has gotten a little better and I’ve tinkered with things. But, I’ve thrown the same way for the last four or five years and I’m comfortable with it. Now, I’m just trying to master it.”

After his selection last June, with a cold, college season at St. Joseph’s behind him and a touch of shoulder inflammation, Brennan sat out the summer before throwing some at instructionals last fall. He finally got his first official action in a start at Greensboro on April 9, when he allowed a run on three hits, with one walk and two strikeouts.

Along with getting his shoulder ready for this season, he prepared for his season and that first start by getting some advice from other pro pitchers. The advice he got mirrored that of the trust he has in his stuff – to be who he is.

“The biggest advice I got was to have fun and be yourself,” said Brennan. “If you try to do too much and be somebody you’re not, then you’re not going to be as effective. Go with what you’ve got and go out there and own it.  That’s what I try to do.”

Along with understanding what he has and using it to his advantage, Brennan thinks his style of pitching is advantage in the bigger picture of a game, when the high-velocity arms of the bullpen enter.

“The chances are the guys in our bullpen are going to be completely different,” Brennan explained. “There’s going to be different arm slots and 95-plus. Our bullpen has been absolutely electric this year. The goal is to get through the lineup three times, be winning the game and then turn it over to them, and then, we’re probably going to win.”

Looking at the rest of this season, Brennan, who says he manipulates his slider at times to give it the appearance of a curveball, wants to develop a fastball that stays up in the zone.

“With throwing all sinkers in college,” said Brennan. “I didn’t try and go up at all. Now, it’s just go up to get them off my fastball down and my offspeed. I’m getting more and more comfortable with it and I think that’ll be a big weapon for me down the road.”

Series Preview: Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets at Hickory Crawdads April 22-24

Augusta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants) (8-7, 2nd place, Southern Division)

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (12-4, 2nd place Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads start a seven-game homestand Monday with three against Augusta at L.P. Frans Stadium.

 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:

WHERE IS IT?: 2500 Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

GAME TIMES/ PROMOTIONS:

Monday: Augusta at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. Make-A Difference Monday (Bring canned goods $5 or more in value and receive a free ticket), Salute to Scrubs Week (Healthcare professionals receive a free ticket with a current ID badge)

Tuesday: Augusta at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. Dollar Dog Tuesday ($1 hot dogs, dogs admitted for $1), $2 craft pints, Salute to Scrubs Week (Healthcare professionals receive a free ticket with a current ID badge)

Wednesday: Augusta at Hickory, 6:30 p.m. Kids Win Wednesday (All kids 12 and under receive a free ticket, free meal voucher, and free bounce house, speed pitch and carousel voucher every Wednesday night game) Salute to Scrubs Week (Healthcare professionals receive a free ticket with a current ID badge), Wine Wednesday

TICKETS: $9 tickets in advance, $10 at the gate. Children (12 and under) and seniors $8, $15 for VIP section.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

RECENT SERIES HISTORY:

Hickory swept Augusta in a three-game series last June in the only series played by the two teams. The Crawdads have not played at Augusta since 2016 when they took two of three there. Since 2009, which is the start of the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers, Augusta holds a 31-29 edge in games played, 19-15 at Hickory.

 

PROBABLES (Augusta/ Hickory)

Monday: RHP Blake Rivera vs. RHP Tim Brennan

Tuesday: RHP Matt Frisbee vs. RHP Yerry Rodriguez

Wednesday: RHP Jake Wong vs. RHP Hans Crouse

 

ABOUT HICKORY

Hickory took two out of three at Columbia (S.C.) over the weekend. During their first homestand, the Crawdads went 4-2 against Kannapolis and Asheville.

Manager: Matt Hagen (2nd season)

Prospects – (team rankings are by MLB.com):

RHP Hans Crouse No.1 (No. 80 in top-100)

SS Chris Seise No. 12

IF Jonathan Ornelas No. 18

C Sam Huff No. 21

3B Sherten Apostel No. 22

RHP Ronny Henriquez No. 20

Possible lineups: C: Matt Whatley or Sam Huff; 1B Curtis Terry; 2B Frainyer Chavez or Jonathan Ornelas; 3B Sherten Apostel; SS Chris Seise; LF: Miguel Aparicio or Chad Smith; CF: Pedro Gonzalez; RF: Jose Almonte.

 

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

Pedro Gonzalez – Tied for 6th homers (3)

Sam Huff – 1st home runs (6), 1st total bases, 1st slugging pct. (.722), 3rd OPS (1.037), tied for 10th runs

Jonathan Ornelas – Tied for 10th runs

Chris Seise – tied for 8th steals (5)

Curtis Terry – 1st RBI (19), tied for 2nd homers (4), tied for 4th total bases, tied for 5th doubles (6), 7th slugging pct. (.569)

Matt Whatley – 4th walks

Individual pitching:

Hans Crouse – 2nd WHIP (0.35), tied for 3rd hit batters (3), 10th ERA (1.26)

Abdiel Mendoza – Tied for 5th saves (2)

Team Batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.229 (10th)/ .294 (13th)/ .416 (2nd)/ .710 (3rd).

Other key rankings: 1st home runs, 3rd runs, 3rd total bases, next to last walks,

Team Pitching:

1st ERA (2.18), 1st WHIP (0.97), fewest hits allowed, fewest runs allowed, fewest earned runs allowed, tied for fewest home runs allowed (4), fewest walks allowed.

 

ABOUT AUGUSTA:

The GreenJackets completed their first homestand of the season on Saturday with a 3-1 loss to Charleston (SC), but finished off the week at 4-2 overall. Because of The Masters in its backyard, Augusta had a nine-game road trip to start the year and managed a 4-5 record.

Manager: Carlos Valderrama (2nd season)

Prospects – Augusta (rankings by MLB.com):

RHP Sean Hjelle No. 6

RHP Jake Wong No. 7

RHP Gregory Santos No. 8

RHP Blake Rivera No. 18

3B Jacob Gonzalez No. 19

LHP Seth Corry No. 25

Possible Lineups: C: Andres Angulo or Jeffry Parra; 1B: Frankie Tostado; 2B: Shane Matheny or Wander Franco; 3B:Jacob Gonzalez; SS: Nico Giarratano or Shane Matheny; LF: Diego Rincones; CF: Jose Layer; RF: Aaron Bond.

 

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

Aaron Bond – 3rd strikeouts,  tied for 8th steals (5)

Shane Matheny – 4th RBI (15)

Ismael Munguia – Tied for 7th runs

Frankie Tostado – 9th batting avg. (.327), 10th on-base pct. (.411), 10th OPS (.921)

Individual pitching:

Seth Corry – Tied for 6th walks

Sean Hjelle – 1st innings (19.2)

Jesus Tona – Tied for 1st saves (3)

Franklin Van Gurp – Tied for 9th games pitched (6)

Ryan Walker – Tied for 9th games pitched (6)

Team batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.234 (6th)/ .333 (4th)/ .346 7th)/.680 (6th)

Other key rankings: 2nd fewest strikeouts, tied for 2nd walks, 12th hits, 12th doubles,

Team pitching:

4th fewest hits allowed, 7th ERA (3.35), 8th WHIP (1.29)

 

NOTES OF INTEREST: RHP Cole Uvila and OF Julio Pablo Martinez were both promoted to High-A Down East last week. RHP Ronny Henriquez, OF Chad Smith joined the club. Henriquez is the first person born in the 2000s to pitch for Hickory … According to MLB.com, should he get to the major leagues, Augusta’s Sean Hjelle would be equal to Jon Rauch as the tallest pitcher in major league history… Augusta’s Jacob Gonzalez is the son of Arizona Diamondbacks World Series hero Luis Gonzalez… Hickory’s Sean Chandler and Augusta’s Keaton Winn both pitched at Iowa Western CC and were drafted one round apart (Winn 5th, Chandler 6th) last summer… Augusta RHP Matt Frisbee is the lone player with a North Carolina connection, as he pitched at Enka High and UNC Greensboro.

Who’s In? Who’s Out? Rangers Tweak the Crawdads Roster

The Texas Rangers have moved a few players around over the past couple of days. Here is a quick overview of who has moved on and who has arrived.

Moving on:

The big name to leave Hickory was the Rangers top hitting prospect, Julio Pablo Martinez. Given that he is 23 and already has significant baseball experience under his belt from his days in Cuba, I did not think there was any serious thought Martinez would be here for an extended period. The two previous Cubans – Andy Ibanez and Yanio Perez – to play here under the Rangers affiliation were both promoted prior to the all-star break and I figured Martinez would go even sooner.

So, when the announcement was made that Martinez was bumped up just 13 games into the season, it was curious. Down East (high-A) was already stocked in the outfield, so either a promotion was happening there, or something else. Unfortunately, that “something else” was a broken hamate bone injury suffered by Bubba Thompson, who will miss at least four weeks.

In ten games with Hickory, Martinez posted a .250/.295/.420 line with a double, triple, homer and four steals. Sadly, we got to see him for just four home games. He hit the ball hard a couple of times but also struggled with breaking pitches, which contributed to his five strikeouts.

The other player to go up to Down East was left-handed starter Jake Latz. Slotted in the second spot behind Hans Crouse, Latz (5th round 2018/ Kent State) showed he was a advanced for this level at age 23.

In two starts, Latz gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits, walked three and struck out 14. In the one start we saw, he had the ability to use the changeup well to compliment his 91-92 mph fastball and an occasional curve. For Hickory, he would’ve been valuable as an innings-eater starter, when his pitch limit increased. He’ll be interesting to follow as time goes on.

 

Moving in:

With the Rangers being less aggressive with pitching assignments over the last couple of years, I was a little surprised to see the promotion of Ronny Henriquez to the Crawdads. Still just 18, the Rangers skipped him two levels in order for him to make his stateside debut with Hickory.

In 11 starts last year in the Dominican Summer League, Henriquez struck out 79 and walked just 8 over 58 innings. Given his age and build (5-10, 155), I suspect he’ll be brought along slowly. He pitched on Thursday at Columbia (S.C.) and made just 44 pitches before getting pulled. Henriquez is billed to possess a fastball in the mid-90s and a biting curve. On the 20-to-80 scouting scale MLB.com has his fastball at 60 and the curve at 55.

Outfielder Chad Smith returns to Hickory after a brief stint at the start of 2018. The fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of South Gwinnett (GA) High has been plagued with shoulders injuries the past two seasons. Began the year with the Crawdads a year ago and went 4-for-42 before leaving the team on May 1 with a shoulder strain.

 

Series Preview: Hickory Crawdads at Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies April 18-20

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (10-2, 2nd Northern Division)

Columbia Fireflies (New York Mets) (6-7, 4th Southern Divisioin)

The Hickory Crawdads take a quick roadtrip to Segra Park for a three-game series against the Fireflies

 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:

WHERE IS IT?: From Hickory, take Hwy 321 South to Gastonia, then I-85 North towards Charlotte. Take exit 30 to the I-485 outer loop, then I-77 South toward Columbia. Take I-77 to 277 South to Columbia. Take the Farrow Road/SC-555 exit. Turn left onto Farrow Road/SC-555. Continue onto Colonial Drive. Turn left onto Gregg Street. Turn right onto Freed Street. The ballpark is located on the left side of the street.

GAME TIMES/ PROMOTIONS:

Thursday: 7:05 p.m. (Copa de la Diversion, Thirsty Thursday)

Friday: 7:05 p.m. (Copa de la Diversion, Chicharrones Piggy Bank Giveaway to first 1,500 fans)

Saturday: 6:05 p.m. (Copa de la Diversion, ZOOperstars Appearance, Post-game Fireworks)

TICKETS: $9 tickets in advance, $10 at the gate. Children (12 and under) and seniors $8, $15 for VIP section.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

RECENT SERIES HISTORY:

The Crawdads have had decent success against the Fireflies since their move from Savannah (Ga.) after the 2015 season. Over the three seasons since the Fireflies relocation to Columbia, the Crawdads are 15-9 overall, 8-3 in Columbia. Last year, Hickory held a 4-3 edge in the season series with a split in the four-game series in South Carolina.

PROBABLES (Hickory/ Columbia)

Thursday: RHP Ronny Henriquez vs. RHP Christian James

Friday: RHP Jean Casanova vs. RHP Dedniel Nunez

Saturday: LHP John King vs. RHP Woods Richardson

 

ABOUT HICKORY

The Crawdads polished off a 4-2 homestand with a win on Wednesday morning over Asheville. Hickory took 2 of 3 in that series. They’ll take to the road for the second time this season after posting a 6-1 mark during the season-opening trip to Lakewood (N.J.) and Greensboro.

Manager: Matt Hagen (2nd season)

Prospects – (team rankings are by MLB.com):

RHP Hans Crouse No.1 (No. 83 in top-100)

SS Chris Seise No. 12

IF Jonathan Ornelas No. 18

C Sam Huff No. 21

3B Sherten Apostel No. 22

RHP Ronny Henriquez No. 30

Possible lineups: C: Matt Whatley or Sam Huff; 1B Curtis Terry; 2B Frainyer Chavez or Jonathan Ornelas; 3B Sherten Apostel; SS Chris Seise; LF: Miguel Aparicio; CF: Pedro Gonzalez; RF: Jose Almonte.

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

Pedro Gonzalez – Tied for 5th homers (3)

Sam Huff – Tied for 1st homers (4), tied for 4th total bases, 5th slugging pct. (.583), tied for 8th strikeouts

Chris Seise – Tied for 6th steals (5)

Curtis Terry – 1st RBI (19), tied for 1st homers (4), tied for 1st total bases, 2nd slugging pct. (.688), tied for 3rd doubles (6), 4th OPS (1.040), tied for 4th hits,

Matt Whatley – Tied for 10th walks

Individual pitching:

Tim Brennan – 5th WHIP (0.55)

Hans Crouse – 2nd WHIP (0.35), tied for 9th strikeouts (19)

Abdiel Mendoza – Tied for 3rd saves (2)

Team Batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.238 (4th)/ .299 (10th)/ .422 (2nd)/ .721 (2nd).

Other key rankings: 1st home runs, 2nd runs, 2nd total bases, 2nd fewest caught stealing, 3rd stolen bases, 3rd doubles, T-4th hits, tied for 12th walks

Team Pitching: 1st ERA (1.92), 1st WHIP (0.90), fewest hits allowed, fewest runs allowed, fewest earned runs allowed, 3rd fewest home runs allowed (2), fewest walks allowed, 4th strikeouts.

 

ABOUT COLUMBIA:

The Fireflies won three of their last four games to cap a seven-game roadtrip to Lexington (Ky.) and Rome (Ga.). Columbia was 3-3 during its first homestand to open the season.

Manager: Pedro Lopez (2nd season)

Prospects – Columbia (rankings by MLB.com):

SS Ronny Mauricio No. 3

3B Mark Vientos No. 4

RHP Woods Richardson No. 7

RHP Christian James No. 26

Possible Lineups: C: Juan Uriarte or Hayden Senger; 1B Brian Sharpe; 2B Chandler Avant or Walter Rasquin; 3B: Mark Vientos; SS: Ronny Mauricio; LF: Brad Marquez or Wagner Lagrange; CF: Anthony Dirocie; RF: Jose Miguel Medina.

SAL Rankings:

Individual Batting:

Ronny Mauricio – Tied for 1st hits, 5th batting avg. (.346)

Individual pitching:

Jose Butto – Tied for 3rd hits allowed, tied for 7th runs allowed,

Jaiso Vilera – Tied for 5th earned runs allowed, tied for 6th hits allowed, tied for 9th runs allowed, tied for 9th walks

Ezequiel Zabaleta – 1st games pitched (7), tied for 1st saves (3)

Team batting:

Slash line (BA. OBP/ SLG/ OPS):.229 (7th)/ .295 (12th)/ .319 (10th)/ .614 (11th).

Other key rankings: 3rd fewest strikeouts, 11th home runs, 11th walks, tied for 11th doubles, 13th runs scored, last steals (3).

Team pitching: 3rd hits allowed, 3rd fewest walks allowed, 3rd fewest strikeouts, 4th earned runs allowed, 8th WHIP (1.27), 11th ERA (4.22)

 

NOTES OF INTEREST: Crawdads CF JP Martinez (Rangers No. 2 prospect) was promoted to High-A Down East on Wednesday… RHP Ronny Henriquez will make his stateside debut on Thursday. In 11 starts in the Dominican Summer League last season, the 18-year-old struck out 79 and walked 8 over 58 innings with a 1.55 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP. He skipped two levels to join Hickory…Columbia is second in the SAL in fielding pct.

Pitching and Defense the Difference in Tourists Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reunion on the Diamond: Former Teammates Whatley and Varnell Now Rivals as Pros

It is always a special moment when former teammates from college or high school meet in pro ball for the first time as opponents. Knowing the foxholes that they both went through as teammates, there’s an extra level of respect that exists that is a notch above any other opponent. It’s an even deeper respect for former battery mates.

Kannapolis Intimidators pitcher Taylor Varnell experienced such a moment last Thursday when Hickory Crawdads Matt Whatley, his catcher from their days at Oral Roberts Univ., strolled to the plate to hit in the first inning. It was a moment that didn’t seem fated to happen when the Crawdads posted their lineup earlier that afternoon.

“I came into the clubhouse,” Whatley recalled. “And I didn’t see my name in the lineup. So, I go, ‘okay, I’ve got a day off.’ Then I see that Taylor’s pitching and I go, ‘Man, it’d be kind of fun to face him.’”

However, when a couple of Hickory players came down with minor ailments and were late scratches, Whatley was pressed into duty as the team’s designated hitter. Having already seen the lineup, Varnell, like Whatley, had thought his former ORU teammate was getting the day off.

“When he came walking up there,” said Varnell. “I was kind of surprised. It was hard not to smile a little bit at him.”

Seeing the moment at hand, Whatley tipped his helmet to the pitcher he caught for two seasons in college. “It was fun getting to face Taylor,” said Whatley with a smile. “The last time I got an at-bat off of him was my sophomore fall (season).”

During their time together at Oral Roberts, the two held a genuine respect for each other. In fact, Varnell, who pitched at Western Oklahoma State as a freshman before transferring to ORU, already knew about Whatley when he joined the team.

“From the first time I got on campus, I knew that he was going to be a high draft pick,” Varnell remembered. “I had heard all about him. He’s great behind the dish and a good hitter. I hadn’t seen him behind the plate yet, but he was crazy good back there.”

He credited Whatley, who eventually was the Texas Rangers third-round pick in 2017, for his strike-zone framing abilities, to which, as he said, “got me so many strikes that I wouldn’t have got otherwise.”

After his senior season, Varnell went on to become the 29th-round pick of the Chicago White Sox. Despite some ups-and-downs in his teammate’s career, Whatley thought the left-hander had the ability and would get a chance to go pro.

“It’s fun to see where he’s at from college until now,” said the Crawdads backstop. “He had the stuff, but he was a little inconsistent in college. Now, he’s way more consistent.”

Having thrown to Whatley for two seasons, as they faced each other last Thursday, Varnell knew that he would have to go about his approach to this hitter differently.

“It was kind of hard to attack him in the usual way,” said Varnell. “Because, he knows how I like to pitch. So, I tried to kind of mix it up a little bit.”

The mix of pitches got the better of Whatley in the first when Varnell struck him out. However, in the fourth, Whatley found a pitch he could handle. Unfortunately for Whatley, the line drive to the left side of the infield found the glove of third baseman Bryce Bush.

“It’s baseball,” said Whatley in reaction to the hard out. “Sometimes, you’re going to barrel some stuff up and not get some hits.”

Varnell agreed that Whatley got the better of him the second time.

“That’s a good play by my third baseman,” Varnell admitted. “That one was on me, he should’ve had the hit, honestly.”

In getting to the pros, both players gave credit to another Crawdads alum, Sean Snedeker, who was the pitching coach for Hickory in 1998 during the White Sox affiliation era and later went on to Duke and ORU.

“Sned is one of the best humans I know,” Whatley recalled. “He’s always wanting the best for both of us, but for everyone he’s ever coached. I couldn’t be more happy to have had Sean Snedeker as a pitching coach.”

Varnell said Snedeker, now the pitching coach at Lamar Univ. in Texas, was instrumental in getting his potential pro career on track.

“Going into college, I was a bit of a head case,” Varnell said. “I’d speed it up too fast in my head. He would help me out with the mental part, which is what I needed.”

 

Matt Whatley Taylor Varnell

Crawdads catcher Matt Whatley (right) and Kannapolis pitcher Taylor Varnell were teammates for two seasons at Oral Roberts Univ.

Brennan Locks Up Tourists for Crawdads Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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