Results tagged ‘ Alex Kowalczyk ’

Progress Report: An Interview with Crawdads Hitting Coach Kenny Hook

 

The Hickory Crawdads had a rough start at the plate. April rains in the area often limited the hitters work to the batting cage and on the field the Crawdads as a unit struggled to put an offense together other than homers.

Hickory jumped to the South Atlantic League’s lead in homers in April and still remain near the top. However, hitters too often missed in-game opportunities during individual at bats and wasted scoring chances as a team.

But, the season is long and as the sunshine returned to the area, the team perked up as well, especially during a late-April series against Columbia (S.C.). Yanio Perez tortured Fireflies pitching and won the Sally League hitter-of-the-week award as a result of that work and hasn’t looked back. Leody Taveras – the Texas Rangers top prospect – has been as advertised. He went through a 15-game stretch during which he had more hits (20) than swings-and-misses (15). Yeyson Yrizarri woke out of a 1-for-39 slump and has had two four-hit games this month. Anderson Tejeda has cut his strikeout rate.

The talent is here and, more importantly, it is developing. I had a chance to speak with Crawdads hitting coach Kenny Hook during the recent home stand about the young hitters and how that development is coming along.

Perez Taveras - Lin

Yanio Perez (left) and Leody Taveras have led the Crawdads attack in recent weeks (photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Let me ask you first of all, the team, started really slow. You and I talked a little bit on the side about all the rain we had and guys not being able to get into a routine. Suddenly, a lot of guys have found a stroke of genius that you’ve given them, or whatever. What about that turnaround and where the guys have come from?

Hook: The weather and not being able to spend a lot of time out on the field. The main thing is, you can get kind of fooled inside a cage sometimes. Being out on the field and seeing the flight of the ball offers you some pretty valuable feedback. So, that did play a factor, but some of it is being able to get locked in on a routine, develop more of a plan and an approach at the plate, and then getting a good understanding of how they’re going to get pitched in certain situations.

I think that’s been the biggest thing is the ability to get a better pitch earlier in the count, to not be afraid to get deep into a count, then be a little more refined in a two-strike approach. I think you saw that really with our last road trip. That was really good with two outs and two strikes was a big difference.

 

One of the things I noticed up front – and that turned around in the second home stand – is when guys would get in hitter’s counts, they almost seemed jumpy to try and do something, rather than waiting on the next pitch. That 2-1 or 3-0 pitch wasn’t the one you wanted and they weren’t ready for a fastball. That seems to have come around.

Hook: Yeah, I think some of that is having to do with their youth. I think a lot of them really want to get big hits instead of just getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it. They’re trying to do too much at those times. I think they get excited and a little anxious when they work themselves into good counts. They kind of anticipate something good is coming pitch wise and then maybe they chase a little bit and swing at a pitcher’s pitch in those counts.

That’s gotten a lot better. We’ve slowed it down and allowed pitchers to make mistakes more often. But, I think that’s going to come and go because we’re young. These guys get really high and then they get down on themselves because they all want to perform and they put a little too much pressure on themselves at the plate in certain situations. They’ll get better at the more games and the more times they are in those situations.

 

I’m going to do a little name association and start with Leody Taveras. As an 18-year-old, he brings a lot. I know you’ve watched the twitter things I’ve posted of him having more hits that missed bats over the last couple of weeks. For an 18-year-old, that’s pretty rare.

Hook: You know what, I would say, other than his baseball skills, I’ve been most impressed with just his preparation, how intense he is. He shows up and performs every night and he is really locked in as far as playing one pitch at a time. He really understands what he needs to do in certain situations in the game. He understands that guys aren’t just going to just attack him and allow him to get good pitches in certain situations.

Leody Taveras - Lin vs Columbia

The switch-hitting Leody Taveras in a game vs. Columbia (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

I think the switch to the three hole has really kind of changed his mindset there. He’s been more patient and he’s really refined his play, as far as looking for a really small zone early in the count, something he can do some damage on, and then later in the count being able to use the whole field. I think shrinking the zone early has allowed him to work into deeper counts and get ahead in counts, and then trust that he can drive the ball the other way later in counts is huge for him.

 

You mentioned his preparation, what does he do differently than the average 18-year-old that stands out to you?

Hook: I think it’s just mentally. I don’t think it’s something you can really see as far as that. I think all the guys prepare physically. I think he has a certain way, as far as his demeanor and really processing whatever it takes to win. He’s a fierce competitor. I think a lot of them are competing and are great competitors, but he just has a knack for being able to stay in the moment and not get too outside of himself or try to do too much in certain situations. Where I think he’s built a little different, as far as being able to control his emotions at such a young age, is what stands out for me the most.

 

 

Yanio Perez started slow, but man did he find a stick in the Columbia series. He pretty much tortured anything they threw up there. He was one of those that seemed a little jumpy in hitter’s counts early, but has found a groove.

Perez: For him, I think it’s just his mind set as a hitter. He’s so good at kind of being able to hit breaking balls and offspeed pitches up the middle and the other way to where, he was seeing a lot of them and he was just giving up on fastballs and looking to drive the breaking stuff the other way and get his hits that way.

What you saw in the Columbia series, and kind of the ongoing thing with him as far as what he needs to improve on, and what we’re preaching is, stay on the fastball timing all the time. Because, at any point, he recognizes well enough to where he can still hit the offspeed the other way. What you saw in that series is, he was looking fastball and he was committed to it, so when they did hang a slider or offspeed, you saw him get the bathead out and pulled more baseballs in that series. When he gets extended and pulls the ball, obviously you’re going to do more damage. So, you saw big power numbers in that series.

Yanio Perez Spike Owen - Lin

Yanio Perez (left) and manager Spike Owen shake hands as Perez rounds the bases after one of four HRs against Columbia at L.P. Frans Stadium (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

When Andy Ibanez came here last year, one of things that the Rangers wanted him to do was having him get used to how baseball is played here. How has Perez coming here and playing here made those adjustments at this level, in this country, at this setting, etc.?

Hook: I think he’s done a really good job, especially for a guy that’s played multiple positions and is getting moved around a lot. He’s transitioned pretty well. Offensively, that’s been the easiest aspect. The defensive stuff at first base – he may be in right field, left field, third base, first base – I think that’s something that’s his biggest asset, as far as being able to move around. But at the same time, it does take a certain understanding that you have to get your groundballs during BP, you have to get fly balls. There’s a lot of work to stay ready to play those positions.

I would say is, what you’re seeing is that he’s a pretty sound defender when he’s on the dirt and he can always go play corner outfield, but I think being able to do both is a huge asset, I would think in the industry as a whole and obviously, for our club.

 

Ti’Quan Forbes has gone the opposition direction. He started real hot and has cooled off. But the thing I noticed about him last year and the start of this year is that his confidence is so much above when he started here last year. What you do you see in him, even now when he is slumping, what he is bringing to the plate?

Hook: What I think is that it’s a trust in himself and maturing and understanding his body and his swing, and he realizes if he sticks to his plan and stays and gets ready to hit fastballs, he’s athletic enough to where good things are going to happen. That confidence and I think it’s a matter of maturing.

As kids mature, they start to understand what kind of player they are, what’s important for them to have success. You’ve seen that and even through not getting hits, he’s still hitting the ball hard every night. He’s still a threat in our lineup. He spent a lot of time in that four hole where you go into a series and you put that batting average and those power numbers up on the board, they’re going pitch him a little different. I think he’s shown how much he’s grown up by the way he’s handled that.

He’ll come out of it and they’ll start falling. He hit two balls last that were right on the barrel and hit them over 90 miles an hour. That’s all you can ask for as a hitter is hard contact and eventually those are going to turn into hits.

Ti'Quan Forbes at 3B - Lin

3B Ti’Quan Forbes continues to play stellar defense while developing his stroke at the plate (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

It doesn’t look like it’s hurt him defensively and it didn’t last year. He doesn’t take it to the field.

Hook: He’s got a great routine and he realizes how important his defense is. So, I think that’s one other aspect of his maturity. He understand that once it’s time to play defense, he really focuses on that and doesn’t let his offense affect his defense and vice versa. It’s just a matter of being a well-rounded play and understanding his role and his job.

 

Where does Anderson Tejeda get that power? He’s still a bit of a scrawny guy and not much bigger than my 15-year-old?

Hook: Well, I think it’s what he generates in his swing. He’s got a big leg kick and he really gets a lot of separation, and there’s a ton of bat speed in there. He’s a guy who’s at bats have gotten a lot better because he’s been able to control his body a little bit. He’s another guy that understands that people aren’t going to throw fastballs inside, because that’s his strength. So, he’s been able to be more selective. He can hit the ball out to any field. I think trusting that has been the key for him. He doesn’t have to pull the ball to do damage. He’s just a talented, gifted hitter that, at his age, is pretty impressive.

Anderson Tejeda leg kick - Proffitt

Anderson Tejeda with the high leg kick as he prepares to swing in a game vs. Rome (photo courtesy of Anderson Tejeda)

 

Yrizarri came back and for me, that was a bit of a surprise. He came back here and struggled at the start, but has seemed to find himself again. Did he struggle with all of this coming back and trying to figure out what he’s doing here and moving positions?

Hook: I think there’s probably something to that, as far as feeling a little disappointed that he didn’t move up from here. You know, I think he understands at this point that’s what’s best for him. He’s got to take it for what it’s worth, but come out and improve on what he did last year here and play a little more second base and being able to control the strike zone better and really get more of a well-round game. I think what you’ve seen with him lately is he’s got a lot of two-strike hits. He’s not chasing as much.

I think what you saw early on was a guy who felt like: I was one swing away every time I went up there, getting big hit and then getting moved out of here as fast as possible. You’ve just got to do what you can and stay in the present every time and that stuff will take care of itself.

Yeyson Yrizarri at 2B - Proffitt

Switched to 2B for 2017, Yeyson Yrizarri struggled at the plate at the start of the season, but has two four-hit games in May (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

I’m really happy with his work ethic through all his struggles. He’s been at it every day and his mindset hasn’t changed. He’s a great kid that puts a ton of pressure on himself. He’s very emotional and cares so much about the team and about his performance that sometimes to a fault. Keeping an even keel is probably the biggest challenge and will directly affect his success.

 

What happened with Eric Jenkins? He came here and had really good at bats the first couple of games. But there was the Columbia series where the team had a tight game in the ninth, and he had a chance for a big hit and the uppercut swing came back. What mindset do you see with him so far?

Hook: I think it’s a work in progress. I think he was on to some really good things and having some plate discipline in there. I think, as it is with any hitter, if you don’t start to see the results, as any human would do, you revert back to what you know and what you’re comfortable with.

Eric Jenkins - Lin

Eric Jenkins struggled to make contact during a 2017 cameo with Hickory (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

I expect him to go down there (extended spring) and work and be back here soon. He’s very talented and a very likable kid and he’s got a lot of tools. So, I think it’s a matter of giving him a chance to step back and just understand what he needs to do to develop his game. He’ll be back here, I’m sure pretty soon.

 

Who has surprised you the most to this point of the season?

Hook: To this point, I think Ricky Valencia. I’ve known, but I haven’t seen Ricky, though this is my fourth year with Texas. Ricky has never been in a situation where he’s been a frontline guy, in my time with the Rangers. His leadership – he’s a little bit older – but his ability to hit and to understand having a plan, and being that guy that can teach the younger Latin kids. He’s a great role model and a great leader for them. He’s a solid, solid guy. Every night, you know what you’re going to get. Whether he’s 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he’s pretty much the same.

He’s probably been the most impressive because I’ve never seen him in that role and it looks like he’s talking full advantage of that chance and opportunity.

Ricky Valencia 2 - Lin

C Ricky Valencia in a game vs. Rome Braves (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Kowalczyk is taking advantage of his opportunity.

Hook: Yeah, he’s a big strong kid that can obviously generate some bat speed. He just needs experience, I think, learning how to call a game and learning the catching position at this level. He’s been impressive since he’s gotten here with the bat.

 

 

What do we look for in Aparicio?

Hook: A guy that is a lot like Tejeda. He’s got a little pop. He can really play the outfield and has a really good and a really food competitor. He’s a guy that sprays the ball around. I think he’s got some real tools. He can run. He’s got the hitability. I think we’re getting a player that’s exciting, a lot like that players we have here right now, so he should fit in great.

A Kentucky Player Rebounds, but It’s a Baseball Game; Crawdads score early and win 6-2

Tuesday afternoon’s game was a reversal of the script that occurred much of the home stand.

The Hickory Crawdads opened up a big league early in support of strong starting pitching by Kyle Cody and cruised to a 6-1 win over the Grasshoppers in front of 3,025 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win gave the Crawdads (15-23) the final two contests and forged a split of the four-game series and closed out a 3-4 home stand. While teams generally are unhappy with that kind of homestand, given the angst of the club after a woeful stretch of pitching, 3-4 gives the Crawdads a sense of “whew” as they head out for an eight-game trip to Kannapolis and Lexington, KY.

For Greensboro (21-17), losses the last two days dropped it from second to fourth place in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division chase. The Grasshoppers now sit two games back of first-place Hagerstown (Md.)

What happened?:

Hickory scored two in the first and four in the second off starter Jordan Holloway, who started his morning by hitting Franklin Rollin on the calf. A hit-and-run brought fruit as Miguel Aparicio bounced a single through the right side that moved Rollin to third. Leody Taveras’s grounder to first scored Rollin and later Alex Kowalczyk singled in Aparicio to make it 2-0.

The Crawdads batted around in the second to build a 6-0 cushion. Jose Almonte steered a single to left and one out later went to third when Anderson Tejeda doubled into the RF corner. Rollin and Aparicio both walked, which scored Almonte. The assault continued against reliever Marcus Crescentini as Yanio Perez singled in two and Kowalczyk added his second RBI hit of the game.

That was more than enough for Crawdads starter Kyle Cody, who pitched brilliantly Tuesday afternoon. The 6-7, 245 lbs. right-hander from the University of Kentucky pitched four-hit ball over seven shutout innings and struck out a pro-career high ten. After Greensboro singled in each of the first and second innings, Cody held the Grasshoppers hitless until they put up two in loading the bases with two outs in the seventh. Cody kept the fledgling shutout in tact by getting Corey Byrd to tap back to the mound.

Crawdads reliever Tyler Ferguson struck out the side around a walk in the eighth but ran into trouble in the ninth. With one out, Boo Vazquez doubled off the fence in left and advanced to third on Jarett Rindfleisch’s single. A fielder’s choice by Mason Davis got the runner from third home, but Rindfleisch reached second on a throwing error by 1B Perez. Corey Bird singled to load the bases, but then Ferguson struck out Aaron Knapp and got Justin Twine to fly to center to end the game.

 

Put-Away-Pitches Put Holloway Away:

Greensboro pitcher Jordan Holloway has had control issues much of his pro career (20 BB, 3 HBPs in 36.1 innings for this season after today), but his stuff (MLB.com has his fastball and curve at a 60 grade on the 20-80 scale) has been enough to put in the mid-teens range as a Marlins prospect. His control did indeed waiver as se walked three today and hit a batter during his 1.2-inning stint, but his inability to put away hitters ultimately did him in.

I didn’t see “every” pitch, but I don’t recall seeing many curveballs by Holloway, and the ones I did see didn’t have much bite. Otherwise, he stayed fastball/ change, but nothing that was commanded well.

To Hickory’s credit, the lineup did a good of spoiling his pitches and making him work. In the first, Taveras fell behind 1-2 before working the count full and rolling over the seventh pitch for a grounder to the right side that scored a run.

During the Tejeda at bat in the second, Holloway got ahead 0-2 and then left a fastball up that Tejeda smoked into right. Rollin fell behind 1-2 and then walked. Aparicio fell behind 0-2 and he, too, walked.

Perez victimized the reliever Crescetini, but taking a low breaking ball up the middle for a two-run single.

With the count 0-2 or 1-2 in the second inning, the Crawdads went 2-for-3 with two walks and four RBI.

 

A 6-7 player from Kentucky rebounds, and it’s not basketball:

After his last outing (2.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K), Kyle Cody was in charge from the start. Many of his Ks came on the slider to right-handed hitters and he was able to paint the arm-side corner with his fastball for punch outs. I talked with pitching coach Jose Jaimes about Cody’s start and to the differences from last week to today.

“I’m pretty excited about Kyle. Last time was not him. Today, he came out and had the right attitude. The main thing today was that he was able to throw that slider for a strike early in the count and put guys away with it, and then also locating his fastball, for the most part.”

Kyle Cody - lin 2

Cody’s work in the seventh was especially impressive given the odd circumstances the bases were loaded. Colby Lusignan struck out to start the inning, but reached on a wild pitch. The second hit of the inning happened with first base wasn’t covered on a bouncer to second. Jaimes said the ability for Cody to keep his composure was a big step.

“The last inning, he had the strikeout, but we couldn’t make the out at first. I do know that the main thing is that he stayed focused. Even with two outs when something behind him happened, he didn’t lose command of his pitches.”

 

About Yanio:

I’m starting to get asked about Yanio Perez and if he is going to be promoted soon. At .354/.430/.600 over 37 games, he is certainly making a loud statement that he is ready for a challenge. However, as with his Cuban countryman last year Andy Ibanez, there are other parts of his game to work on, namely defense.

I made that response to a tweet question this afternoon and soon after a couple of plays showed up that made me look like a prophet. With two outs in the seventh, Mason Davis bounced a ball to the right side of the infield. Perez made two quick steps to the ball, then let it go to Blaine Prescott at second. Looked like a routine play, except Perez didn’t retreat to the bag at first. Davis reached without a throw.

In the ninth, a throw by Perez to start a routine 3-6 force play (I don’t think it would’ve been a double play) sailed into left center.

However, like Ibanez last year, and possibly even more so with Perez, who is two years younger than Ibanez, the Rangers could be content to just let him get used to the country and the American way of playing the game and just letting him be for a bit and having him dominate.

Greensboro Ballin’: Crawdads wildness leads to 14-2 thrashing.

Had the Crawdads lineup not put together 12 hits, Saturday night’s 14-2 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers might be one of the uglier losses in my own memory here.

Eleven walks, three hit batters, a wild pitch, an error on a throw to first following a strikeout, two passed balls all added up to every bit of that 14-2 defeat.

To the Grasshoppers credit, the lineup was patient and took advantage of the opportunities given them. Greensboro went 10-for-28 RISP and still stranded 14 for the game.

 

What happened?:

It started so innocently. Crawdads starter Demarcus Evans needed just ten pitches to get through the first. Good, lively fastball and three F-8’s later we’re thinking, here we go. Then it happened…

Hit batter, walk, walk, K, then a walk to .134 hitter Luis Pintor sent manager Spike Owen to the mound with a matter-of-fact walk to remove Evans. Reid Anderson entered and gave up a two-run single to Corey Bird (4-for-5) and a run-scoring double to Aaron Knapp (3-for-5, 5 RBI).

In the third, with one out, Colby Lusignan and Eric Gutierrez singled. Anderson K’d Boo Vazquez, but a passed ball on strike three scored Lusignan from third. Then, hit batter, Pintor’s RBI single, Bird RBI single and Knapp’s three-run homer made it 10-0 after three.

Grasshoppers starter Dylan Lee then just had to throw strikes and he did. Through seven scoreless innings, he scattered seven hits and struck out two.

Ismel Lopez was next up for Hickory and Greensboro got him for single runs in the fifth and sixth. Pintor walked and scored on a bases-loaded walk to Lusignan. In the sixth, Knapp’s sacrifice fly brought in Jarett Rindfleisch.

An unearned run made it 13-0 in the seventh. James Nelson earned the golden sombrero, but got all the way to second when catcher Alex Kowalczyk’s throw to first to complete a strikeout went into right. Vazquez eventually singled him in.

Finally in the ninth against CD Pelham, Vazquez and Rindfleisch hit back-to-back doubles.

The Crawdads got their runs in the ninth as Ti’Quan Forbes and Yeyson Yrizarri each had RBI singles.

 

The damage:

Our internet combined with Gameday’s brain fart late in the game skewed pitch counts from the sixth inning on. By my count, I had the Crawdads combining for 234 pitches with 125 going for strikes. Just 28 first-pitch strikes to 55 hitters.

Evans threw just 19 strikes out of 42 pitches to get five outs.

 

What may be:

Getting the feeling that there will be some changes made and it could be a wakeup call for some guys. Tonight was the quarter-mark of the season and we now see what the reality is. Guys are not throwing strikes or commanding pitches in the strike zone. With manager Spike Owen having to go to the pen in the first through third innings too often, guys in the bullpen are shouldering a ton of work. The rotation and pitching roster may look different when the Crawdads go to Kannapolis on Thursday.

 

Tough night for Kowalczyk:

Whether it was the strain of trying to will pitchers into, or catching nearly every day for a week after sitting out until last week, Kowalczyk had a tough night. Two passed balls in the third, several other pitches that were simply dropped and then the error in the seventh on a routine throw to first. He had a ground single in the fourth, but otherwise K’d twice and bounced to second.

 

Leody busts it:

After a tough night Friday (2 Ks and a GIDP), Taveras was his young self again Saturday. After a Willie Mays, cap-fall-of-the head running catch in the first, he lined an 0-1 pitch hard off the mound, which bounced high into centerfield. He grounded to short and third in his next two ABs, but both times he sprinted hard to first and made both routine plays close. Taveras got rewarded for that hustle in the ninth when he beat out an infield hit to third.

 

Yay for Yay-Yay:

Yeyson Yrizarri had the best AB I can recall seeing in the third. (This was with the team down 10-0). A 9-pitch adventure, during which he spoiled five different 1-2 pitches, turned into a hard-hit single to left on a hanging curve. An infield hit in the fifth, a double into the LF corner in the eighth and an RBI single in the ninth and he winds up with a four-hit night. Add in a leaping catch of a liner to save two runs in the fifth and that’s a pretty good night for a guy during a game when he, and others, could’ve mailed it in.

 

Anderson at second:

Anderson Tejeda looks pretty comfortable at second and I think I could get used to seeing him there. Made two difficult plays look easy as he charged in on both and made the quick, across the body throw to first on the run.

 

Yanio is Yanio:

Three hits, two of them smoked, and I think he’s getting ready to go to Columbia, S.C. with Taveras for the SAL all-star game.

 

Rollin is rollin’

Franklin Rollin went 1-for-5, but could’ve easily had three more hits. Lined hard to first twice and to short to end the game. Just one of those nights.

 

As a matter of fact:

Several hitters torched the ball but found gloves. Along with Rollin’s smashes, Ti’Quan Forbes smoked a liner to third in the seventh that nearly doubled off  Perez at third. Rollin’s smash to first did double off Yrizarri in the third. Almonte had a hard hit liner to center in the fifth. Hickory had 12 hits, but could’ve had more.

Charles(ton) in Charge: RiverDogs Take Bite out of Crawdads 14-4

The Charleston RiverDogs entered Thursday night’s game with a South Atlantic League high .319 batting avg. in May. The Hickory Crawdads have the league’s worst pitching statistically. That’s proved to be a bad combination over the last two nights and on Thursday, the result was a 14-4 thrashing by Charleston in front of 2,525 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

For the second straight night, Charleston (17-17) scored the first nine runs of the game and cruised to victory. The Crawdads (12-21) have been outscored 25-6 over the first two games of the three-game series.

 

What happened?:

Charleston put the first five runners aboard and eventually sent ten to the plate in the first inning to open a 6-0 lead. Poor defense and poor pitch execution by starter Michael Matuella went hand-in-hand. (More on the defense later.)

Matuella had little command of the fastball in his lone inning, which started with a four-pitch walk to Estevan Florial. After a dubious bloop single to center by Isaiah Gilliam, Hoy Jun Park tripled in both runners. Blake Rutherford singled in Park. Oswaldo Cabrera’s sac fly got a run and Diego Castillo’s two-run single capped the scoring and ended Matuella’s night.

The RiverDogs treated lefty Sal Mendez no better in the second as they sent eight more to the plate and scored three. Gilliam reached on an error and after Park replaced him on a fielder’s choice, Donny Sands singled him in. Cabrera added two more with a single.

Brian Keller kept the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fourth before Miguel Aparicio’s grounder went through the infield. Hickory finally got on the board one inning later as Isaiah Quiroz singled in two.

Alex Kowalczyk (2-for-4) hit a two-run homer in the sixth to cut the Crawdads deficit to 9-4.

However, RiverDogs tacked on three in the eighth and two in the ninth, all against Jake Lemoine, to account for the final margin.

“They have a good hitting ballclub, no doubt,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “We just have to find a way pitching wise to limit the damage and make better pitches. That’s the bottom line. We’re not doing it. We’re not getting it done. The last two nights, we’ve not given our offense a chance to do anything.”

 

Crawdads pitching beginning to look historic… and not in a good way.

As a team, the Crawdads 5.72 ERA and 1.59 WHIP are the worst in the Sally League. They also have allowed the most hits, runs, and earned runs. With the quarter of the season two games away, one begins to look at how they stack up to Crawdads club records. They’re chasing a few.

Hickory has had just two seasons with an ERA over five, which came in back-to-back seasons in 2007 (5.13) and 2008 (5.02). The club record for the worst WHIP in a season is 1.54 in 2007.  The Crawdads are also on pace to set club records for the most hits, runs and earned runs allowed.

 

Defense was offensive:

While Matuella didn’t have his best stuff, some of the first inning struggles could be laid at the feet of the defense.

After Florial walked, Gilliam hit a short fly to center that appeared to be an easy can of corn for Leody Taveras. Meanwhile, shortstop Anderson Tejeda and second baseman Yeyson Yrizarri were pulling a double-play decoy on Florial running hard to second. The decoy worked beautifully except… Taveras couldn’t pick up the ball and with no fielders pointing out the ball, eventually it fell harmless to the turf. So what could’ve been a double play with Florial totally fooled at second turned into a 1st & 2nd situation with no outs.

Later in the inning, a routine double play turned into one out when Tejeda’s throw to first went wide of Yanio Perez’s stretch at first.

And still later in the inning, 3B Ti’Quan Forbes took his time on a grounder by Ben Ruta. Forbes circled around to make the play, but as he appeared in no particular hurry to complete the play, Forbes throw to first was beaten by the hustling Ruta.

A frustrated Owen spread the blame around equally between hurlers and defenders.

“It accumulates and everything when you don’t make plays,” said Owen. “But, we talk to (the pitchers) all the time that sometimes you’re going to have to get four outs and sometimes five outs in an inning. You’re even going to do that in the big leagues. Obviously, not nearly as much, because they are big league infielders, but they have to overcome those things. They sooner they learn that and figure it out rather than say, ‘I should’ve been out of the inning’ or whatever. It is what it is out there….”

Owen later added, “We’ve got to clean it up all the way around, especially the pitching and defense. We’ve been working really hard during the last four defensively and cutting b.p. time saying ‘Let’s have a clean game.’ We haven’t been able to do that.”

 

Better Call Sal:

Once Mendez got settled, he went on to retire the last 14 batters he faced and fanned 6 over 5.1 innings. His work allowed the Crawdads offense to chip away at the lead and take some momentum into the late innings.

The two parts of his outing show just how careful he has to be with his stuff. His changeup is a formidable pitch, at least at this level, and had 7 or 8 missed bats. That with his fastball at 90-91, if he keeps his pitches down, he’s tough.

“I thought Mendez did a really nice job,” Owen said. “His first inning of work he left some balls up and he paid for it. Then he comes out and puts up zeroes from that point on. That’s a good adjustment by him.”

 

Batter Adjustments:

The way that Charleston starter Brian Keller mowed through the first three innings, it looked like history was in the making. He fanned six of the first ten hitters, which included a 10-pitch, three-strikeout third inning. The second time through the order, Keller started missing his location and the Crawdads hitters adjusted to the breaking ball.

Owen: “The guy that started was impressive and did exactly what you’d want to see with a guy that’s got a nine-run lead in popping and pounding the zone. We made some adjustments. It’s good to see that you’re down nine runs and still have competitive at bats from our side.”

 

Smoral on the Fire:

Lefty Matt Smoral made his Crawdads and Rangers affiliate debut on Thursday. A tall presence at 6-8, a SLOW delivery seemed to make his fastball even faster as it whipped from his left hand to the plate. However, the delivery never seemed in control as he flailed about the mound. There’s a lot of moving parts to the motion.

Smoral walked two and threw quite the wild pitch to the back stop.  Control has been the issue for the former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick as he has walked or hit 122 batters in 107.2 innings as a pro

 

Who was that Lemoine’s jersey?

There seemed to be a body language on the mound that said, “here ya go, hit it if you can.” And Charleston did: Five runs on six hits – all hit hard – over two innings of relief. Fastball straight as an arrow and it went to the wall harder. Throw in a walk and two wild pitches and you have a RiverDogs lineup fattening their stats.

Meanwhile, It’s the second poor outing in a row for the right-hander, who allowed two in a walkoff loss at Hagerstown (Md.) last Saturday.

 

Series Preview: Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs at Hickory Crawdads May 8-10

Charleston RiverDogs (New York Yankees) (15-17, 5th SAL Southern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (12-19, 7th SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads continue a weeklong home stand with a four-game series against the Columbia Fireflies at L.P. Frans Stadium in South Atlantic League action.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Wednesday at 6:00 p.m., Thursday-Friday at 7:00 p.m.

 

PROMOTIONS:

Wednesday – Kids Win Wednesday: All kids 12 and under admitted free, also get vouchers for free meal, bounce house, speed pitch and carousel; Wine & Design with the Crawdads.

Thursday – “Thirsty Thursday”; Salute to Scrubs.

Friday – Post-game fireworks; Hispanic Heritage Night.

 

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. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Cheese 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 (Charleston / Hickory):

Wednesday: RHP Jio Orozco vs. RHP Kyle Cody

Thursday: RHP Nick Nelson vs. RHP Michael Matuella

Friday: RHP Nick Green vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads held a 4-3 edge in the 2016 season series, but lost two of three at home to the R-Dogs in late August. The two teams have been nearly even since the 2005 season, with Hickory scraping a 59-58 edge, which includes a 29-28 mark at L.P. Frans and 30-30 at Charleston. Since the Rangers-Crawdads affiliation began in 2009, the Crawdads are 49-40 overall, 26-19 at home.

 

About the Crawdads:

After the bullpen blew their second 8-1 lead of the season during game two of the four-game series at Hagerstown (Md.), the Crawdads won the final two games to earn a split against the Northern Division’s current pacesetter… After a sputtered start at the plate, Hickory’s lineup has been at full throttle lately. The Crawdads have scored six or more runs during eight of the last 11 games with 8+ in six of those. Their .311 batting avg. in May (they hit .235 in April) is second in the SAL behind Charleston’s .318. Hickory scored 34 runs during the four games at Hagerstown… Despite the Crawdads strong performance at the plate, the pitching has had much to do with just a 6-5 mark over the last 11 games. Hickory remains last in the SAL in ERA (5.32), hits allowed and WHIP (1.55)… The Crawdads have had to play catch-up much of the season, scoring first in just 11 of 31 games. Even more troubling has been the ability to hold early leads as the Crawdads are 4-7 when scoring first… The series will feature two of the worst teams from the SAL in terms of fielding. The Crawdads have committed 41 errors with Charleston holding up the bottom with 46. Hickory’s errors have led to 29 unearned runs, trailing just Augusta (Ga.) in that category.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. The 18-year-old has seen the ball incredible well over the past two weeks. Over his last 14 games, Taveras has 238 pitches and he has more hits (19) than swinging strikes (15). In his last 18 games, he is 25-for-69 (.362) with three doubles, a triple, a homer, 12 runs scored, 15 RBI, 6 walks, and 12 Ks.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Has been error prone lately with five miscues over his last six games and 6 in his last 9. Has begun to percolate at the plate, however. Tejeda went 4-for-11 in the last 3 games with five runs scored and a three-run homer. Shows some struggles not uncommon for an 18-year-old in a full-season league – 36 Ks in 108 PAs (36%) – but his 15 walks (14%) is quite uncommon for this level.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Has asserted himself as THE big bat in the lineup over the last couple of weeks. Has at least one hit in 13 of the last 14 games (24-for-53) with a slash line of .453/.492/.830. Has just 10 Ks during this stretch.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) to start the season, Yrizarri is nearly back to the .200 mark (.196/.222/.304). Had a four-hit game during a 7-inning contest on Sunday and went 7-for-15 at Hagerstown.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. Was on the path of becoming a first-overall pick in 2015 before back troubles and then Tommy John surgery derailed that promise. He pitched in only three innings last summer at short-season Spokane before further elbow tenderness caused the Rangers to shut him down. Threw 46 pitches in his first start vs. Columbia, then pushed up to 56 last week at West Virginia. Had 5 Ks vs. Columbia, none vs. the Power.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Missed a week with a leg injury and then returned during the road trip and went 5-for-23 with two walks. Has seven free passes in 23 games after just 9 all last year.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Working on a string of five straight scoreless outings covering 7.1 innings with 14 Ks. Went 5-for-12 in the series at Hagerstown with a homer and 7 RBI.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Getting the bulk of playing time at catcher due to an injury to starter Ricky Valencia.

OF Franklin Rollin: 2013 international free agent out of La Romana, D.R. Continues to press for playing time with strong performances at the plate. Had a four-hit game Saturday at Hagerstown and has hits in 6-of-7.

RHP Kyle Cody: 6th-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky. Along with Jonathan Hernandez, Cody has held steady in the rotation. Has lost three straight starts, but has allowed just four earned runs (three homers) and fanned 11 over 15.2 innings in that stretch.

 

About the RiverDogs:

Managed by Pat Osborn in his first season at Charleston. Obsorn managed high-A Tampa to the Florida State League finals in 2016… The R-Dogs lead the SAL with a .318 average in May, but are 2-5 so far, all during a just-concluded homestand. Four of the losses were by one run, which bumped the R-Dogs to 4-8 in such games this season… Playing at a home ballpark that is not conducive to power, as a team, the R-Dogs single opponents to death. Charleston is second in the SAL in hits, but in the middle of the league in homers and dead last with just ten homers. The R-Dogs are third in the league at .266 and they put the ball in play. Charleston has the second fewest K… On the mound, the staff has fanned the most in the SAL, something that bears watching in facing a team with the second most Ks at the plate.

 

Prospects to watch –Charleston:

CF Blake Rutherford: (No. 3 MLB.com, No. 3 Baseball America) First-round pick in 2016 out of Chaminade Prep (Canoga Park, CA). Played for 18-and-under USA National Team. After a satisfactory first month (.277/.388/.361) of the season, the 20-year-old is perhaps feeling the grind as the calendar turned to May (.182/.240/.318). Will work a walk (17 in 123 PAs), but is learning to watch breaking balls as is 29 Ks might indicate. Despite hitting left-handed, he has handled left-handed pitching quite well (.326 to .210 vs. righties). Currently fourth in the SAL with 10 doubles and sixth in walks. Has fanned 7 times over his last five games. Signed a Yankees-record $3.2 million contact, the most for a hitter draftee.

CF Estavan Florial: (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 16 MLB.com) International free agent in 2015 from Port au Prince, Haiti. Saw a 10-game hitting streak end in the finale of the R-Dogs homestand. Is fourth in the SAL in runs scored. Has 35 Ks in 125 PAs, 7th in the league.

C Donny Sands (No. 26 MLB.com) 8th-round pick in 2015 out of Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, AZ). Is 10-for-40 over his last ten games. A project at the plate, the former 3B is currently at the bottom of the SAL in catching base stealers, nabbing just 9 of 46 trying to steal.

 

Others to watch –Charleston:

SS Hoy Jun Park: International free agent in 2014 out of Seoul, South Korea. Leads SAL with a .362 average and is 9th in slugging (.532). Went 9-for-16 over the last four games. Currently in his second season at Charleston.

RHP Nick Green: Acquired by the Yankees in a trade with the Rangers last summer. Went to the Yanks along with former Crawdads Dillon Tate and Erik Swanson. Threw a one-hitter over eight innings and fanned nine in his last start on Saturday. Has allowed just four hits over his last 14.2 innings (two starts) with 16 Ks. Relies on a sinker to get grounders, has a 2.60 GO/AO and has yet to allowed a run in four road starts.

 

Note: The Crawdads sent OF Eric Jenkins and Argenis Rodriguez to the Rangers extended spring and received OF Miguel Aparicio and RHP Matt Smoral.

Series Preview: Hickory Crawdads at Hagerstown (Md.) Suns May 5-8

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (10-17, 7th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hagerstown Suns (Washington) (17-10, 1st Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads continue a two-city road trip with a four-game series at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Friday 7:05 p.m., Saturday 6:05 p.m., Sunday 2:05 p.m., Monday 10:35 a.m. (Games are streamed through the Suns website or milb.com

 

Promotions:

Friday – Post-game fireworks

Saturday – Disney Night & Vacation Giveaway

Sunday – Superhero Day

Monday – Education Day

 

TICKETS: $12 VIP section, $10 Grandstand, $9 General Admission

 Where is it?: 274 East Memorial Blvd., Hagerstown. From I-81, take exit 6A (US 40 East) through downtown Hagerstown. Turn right at Cleveland Ave.

PARKING: Free parking available at the stadium.

 CONCESSIONS: Municipal Stadium has standard ballpark fare (Burgers, hot dogs, pizza, funnel cakes, etc.) There is also a beer garden down the left field line.

 

Probables (Hickory / Hagerstown):

Friday: RHP: Edgar Arredondo vs. RHP Carlos Pena

Saturday: RHP: Argenis Rodriguez vs. LHP Tyler Watson

Sunday: RHP: Tyler Phillips vs. RHP Sterling Sharp

Monday: RHP: Jonathan Hernandez vs. LHP McKenzie Mills

 

Recent Series History:

The Suns took the season-series 5-3 in 2016, including 3-for-4 at Municipal Stadium. Since 2009 – the start of the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers – Hagerstown holds a 44-42 edge overall, but the Crawdads are 27-22 on the road.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads began the two-city road swing by winning game one of the series at West Virginia, then dropped the next two. The play in the field has been a concern of late. Hickory committed six errors in the Power series, and has at least one error in nine straight games, two or more in six of those. Collectively, the Crawdads are 11th in the 14-team South Atlantic League in fielding (.965)… After struggling the opening weeks of the season, the offense continues to perk up. Hickory has scored at least five runs in five of the last seven games. The homer pace has cooled off – only Yanio Perez and Anderson Tejeda have homered over the last four games – but Hickory’s 26 homers is one behind the SAL lead… The Crawdads remain at the bottom of the SAL in ERA (5.13), hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and WHIP (1.54). Three of the starters in the six-man rotation and one tandem member have ERAs above 6.62 (Phillips). Hickory is 5-8 on the road.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. In the middle of a six-game hitting streak (10-for-27) and has reached base in eight straight. Went 5-for-13 in the series at WV. Has played in all 27 games for the Crawdads, just one of two players to do so (3B Ti’Quan Forbes). Is second in the SAL in at bats. Has hit better on the road (.333/.397/.509) than at home (.189/.246/.245).

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Went 3-for-12 in the series at WV and had the team’s only homer. Is 2-for-17 against lefties with 7 Ks. Strikeouts continue to plague the phenom with 34 in 89 plate appearances (38%).

OF Eric Jenkins (No. 14 MLB.com, No.26 Baseball America). Second-round pick in 2015 out of West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.). After a promising couple of games for the 20-year-old, Jenkins has returned to his contact issues from a year ago. Has at least one K in seven straight and 11 in 36 PAs (31%). Speed is his game, but the SAL’s leading base stealer from a year ago has just one as he has posted a .129/.229/.161 slash. Recently moved to the No. 9 slot in the order after leading off all last year.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. After claiming the SAL’s hitter of the week award, the 21-year-old cooled off to just 2-for-11 in the WV series. Has hit right-handers (.338) and left-handers (.333) equally, but powered up against lefties, slugging .750 against southpaws. Gone five straight games without a K.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. In an 0-for-11 funk with four Ks and a double play. Hitting just .128/.143/.213 on the road.

RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 Baseball America, No. 18 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2013 from the D.R. After a rough start, had his best outing of the year at WV on Tuesday, needing just 80 pitches to get through seven innings. Though he can through up to 97 mph, he is at his best when his changeup is working. Got 11 groundball outs in the start at WV.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Returned from the DL (leg) this week and went 2-for-7. Has six walks in 19 games after just 9 all last year. Hit 8 homers in 57 games last year, he is still looking for his first in 2017.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Continues to dominate over the last couple of weeks. Has been unscored upon over his last four outings (6.1 IP) with 11 Ks to just three hits allowed. The league is hitting .219 against him.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick out of Pittsburgh. Expected to be activated for the series after missing all three games at West Virginia. Likely to receive a bulk of the playing time while starting catcher Ricky Valencia is out with a hamstring injury. Is 0-for-4 in his lone game after joining the Crawdads last week.

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: 2nd -round pick out of Columbia (MS) High. After a hot start, has cooled up to .267 for the season. A likely candidate for a day off, has 2 Ks in each of the last two games and two errors over the last three.

2B Brallan Perez: 2012 international free agent out of Cartegena, Colombia. Rejoined the Crawdads to start the road trip and went 3-for-7 with a pair of walks in two games.

OF Franklin Rollin: 2013 international free agent out of La Romana, D.R. Has begun to receive more playing time lately, filling in at right for Almonte and as the DH. Went 5-for-13 in the WV series.

RHP Tyler Phillips: 16th round pick in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace High, Pennsauken, NJ. Finally put together a decent outing last time out Sunday against Columbia on the back end of a tandem with Demarcus Evans. Allowed one run on one hit and a walk over four hits. Not an over powering pitcher, he has to keep the ball down and let his defense work. The SAL is hitting .290 against him.

 

About the Suns:

Managed by Patrick Anderson in his fourth season with the Suns (255-190). Led the team to the SAL playoffs two of his first three season. Lost in the SAL finals in 2014 and in the first round last year… The Suns took a 2-1 series win against Rome (Ga.) and have taken four of the last five…The offense is nearly unstoppable as their team slash of .285/.353/.438 leads the SAL in all categories. Added to that, they lead the league in runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI and have the fewest strikeouts. Hagerstown set the SAL record with 30 hits in a game at Lexington on Sunday… However, the pitching staff can be had as shown by a 4.26 ERA. The Suns are one of two SAL teams without a shutout. They’ve allowed 27 homers, tied for second most in the SAL.

 

Prospects to watch – Hagerstown:

SS Carter Kieboom (No. 4 mlb.com, No 8 Baseball America): First round pick (28th overall) out of Walton High (Marietta, GA). Currently in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak (13-for-30). Had a three-homer, five-hit game for the Suns during their 30-hit outburst on Sunday. He is fourth in the SAL in total bases and slugging pct. (.570), tied for 4th in hits and homers (5), 8th in batting avg. (.333). His brother Spencer made his MLB debut with Washington in 2016.

3B Sheldon Neuse (No. 6 mlb.com, No. 17 Baseball America) Second-round pick in 2016 out of Oklahoma. Three-time, first-team All-Big 12 for the Sooners. Tied for 5th RBI and 9th runs scored. Saw his seven-game hitting streak (9-for-27) snapped on Wednesday.

1B Anderson Franco (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 15 mlb.com): 2013 international free agent out of Bani, D.R. Had four hits on Sunday, but is hitting at a .200/.303/.307 pace this season. Has a good eye at the plate (12 walks), but thin-railed (6-3, 190). Missed much of 2016 with a back injury.

CF Blake Perkins (No. 16 mlb.com, No. 20 Baseball America) Second-round pick out of Verrado High (Buckeye, AZ). Went 0-for-8 in the Rome series and is in the midst of a 2-for-29 skid. A natural right-handed hitter, the switch-hitter is hitting .339 as a lefty, but only .171 from the right side. He is currently second in the SAL in runs scored.

LHP Tyler Watson (No. 19 mlb.com, No. 27 Baseball America): 34th- round pick in 2015 out of Perry High (Gilbert, AZ). 6-5 lefty came out of nowhere to post a 1.88 ERA and 10 Ks-per-9 innings with short-season Auburn (NY) last year and got a late-season promotion to the Suns. Has fanned 34 of the 110 batters he’s faced. Fanned 8 over six innings in his last start. Signed away from a commitment to Loyola Marymount (CA).

LF Nick Banks (No. 25 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick in 2016 out of Texas A&M. Enters the series with a nine-game hitting streak (11-for-34). Named SEC Tournament MVP in 2016. Played for Team USA in 2015.

OF Daniel Johnson: (No. 29 mlb.com) Fifth-round pick in 2016 out of New Mexico St. Named the WAC player of the year in 2016. Tied for second in HRs (6), fifth in total bases and slugging (.565). Had five homers in his first ten games, but just one since. The left-handed hitter is hitting .339/.369/.645 against righties.

 

Others to watch – Hagerstown:

2B Jake Noll: Seventh-round pick in 2016 out of Florida Gulf Coast. Is 11-for-21 with five RBI and 6 runs scored.

LHP Jordan Mills: Free agent signee, last pitched for the Houston Astros chain in 2015. Unscored upon in his last eight outings, with 13 Ks and no walks over 13.1 innings.

LHP McKenzie Mills: 18th round pick out of Sprayberry High (Marietta, Ga.). Has 35 Ks to just seven walks over 25.2 innings this season. Allowed two runs (one earned) over his last three starts.

Note: Preston Scott was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday (undisclosed injury) and Jose Almonte returned to the lineup…. Suns RF Juan Soto (No. 100 prospect mlb.com/ No.3 Nationals) went to the DL after suffering an ankle injury on Tuesday. His .360 batting average is third in the SAL.

Game Story 4/29/17: Crawdads Rally, Defeat Fireflies in Extras

The Hickory Crawdads shook off the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies with a tying run in the ninth and a walk-off RBI double by Preston Scott in the tenth to claim a 9-8 win in front of 4,325 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (9-14) is the third in a row during the four-game series, which concludes Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Columbia (12-12) has dropped four of its last five games and six of eight.

 

What happened?:

Columbia’s outfielder Tim Tebow did not play. The crowd behaved and were quite well-mannered. Only one chant of Tebow occurred in the ninth inning.

 

What really happened?:

For the third straight game, the Crawdads offense got in gear and carried the team to the walk-off win. After scoring just 22 runs over its first 10 home games, Hickory now has 28 over the last three.

Columbia took a 3-0 lead after its first two at-bats. In the first, Andres Gimenez, the New York Mets No. 8 prospect (MLB.com) who was just added to the Fireflies roster, homered in his first stateside at-bat, a towering blast over the 32-foot high billboards in rightfield. Gene Cone added a two-run double in the second.

The Crawdads, who lead the Sally League in homers, added two in the second as Yanio Perez and Preston Scott snacked back-to-back solo blasts to left against starter Harol Gonzalez.

The Fireflies got the two runs back in the fourth. Jay Jabs singled and Desmond Lindsay walked before a passed ball moved both runners up. Ali Sanchez slammed a liner off the back of starting pitcher Argenis Rodriguez. 3B Ti’Quan Forbes scooped the ball up and made the play to first, but Jabs scored on the play. Milton Ramos doubled in Lindsay.

Yanio Perez then continued his assault on Fireflies pitching with a three-run homer to left to tie the game at 5-all. For the season, Perez is now 10-for-20 in six games with a double, four homers, four walks, 8 runs scored and 11 RBIs.

Hickory took the lead in the fifth as Yeyson Yrizarri singled in Eric Jenkins and scored himself on Forbes’ groundout.

The see-saw affair continued in the sixth when Columbia scored three times to take an 8-7 lead. Sanchez singled in two runs before Cone’s grounder brought in Lindsay for the go-ahead run.

The score remained there until the bottom of the ninth when Anderson Tejeda doubled to start the inning. One out later, Yrizarri squeezed in a single through the left side of the infield. Taveras then lofted a blooper just beyond the reach of the shortstop Gimenez, who had retreated to center, to score Tejeda.  Matt Blackham then struck out Forbes and Ricky Valencia to end the inning and send the game to the tenth.

A perilous moment occurred in the tenth, when Ramos drove a deep fly to left. Eric Jenkins trotted back to the track, then dropped the ball and allowed Ramos to reach second. However, C.D. Pelham recovered to strike out Cone looking to end the threat.

In the bottom of the tenth against new reliever Joseph Zanghi (0-2), Perez got his third hit of the game with a hard single to left. Scott then lasered a double to the wall in left center to score the winning run.

Pelham (1-0) pitched two-hit ball over three scoreless innings with three strikeouts to keep the Fireflies at bay. Jake Lemoine preceded Pelham’s work with two shutout innings of his own.

 

Tejeda base savvy:

I have to make note of a couple of brilliant base-running plays by Anderson Tejeda in the game, both occurring on second-to-third plays.

In the third, Yeyson Yrizarri hit a grounder to Ramos at third. Ramos made the diving stop to his left and threw to first on his knees for the out. Watching the play, Tejeda crept off the bag at second and then scrambled to third ahead of the return throw.

After he doubled in the ninth, Yrizarri’s grounder was just out of the reach of Ramos and Gimenez at short. Tejeda, anxious initially, waited until the play developed before making his move to third.

 

A near disaster in the OF Part 1:

Columbia’s Luis Carpio lined a shot to the gap in right-center field. Perez from right and Taveras from center both tracked the ball with neither calling the other off. The two converged and bumped, but Taveras made the catch and held on. The two had a conversation before returning to their positions. For a brief moment, it looked scary.

 

A near disaster in the OF Part 2, or Jenkins part 1:

There’s no gentle way to put this. On the play in left in the tenth, Jenkins trotted and pranced to the track and then put the glove up for the nonchalant catch. Except he didn’t make the catch. It didn’t look good.

 

Jenkins part 2:

In talking with Eric some on Saturday, he talked about some of his adjustments, especially in addressing the strikeouts from 2016. He talked about not following the swing high, but keeping the swing up the middle. An emphasis on working the count is also a part of his approach. For the most part, he’s done well with getting deep into counts and putting the ball in play. Though the average hadn’t shown it, he hadn’t been giving away at bats.

The two steps forward this week is now a step back. First AB was a one-pitch, weak grounder to 1B. The second AB was a one-pitch fly to LF. He reached on an infield hit in the fifth, then was looking on three pitches in the seventh and tried to muscle up a pitch in the ninth and struck out.

 

Taveras mastery at the plate:

In this homestand, Taveras has seen 102 pitches. He has swung and missed just five. Think about that when considering this is an 18-year-old. Three of those were vs. Braves No. 6 (MLB.com) prospect Ian Anderson.

One of those was tonight in the ninth when he wailed violently at a 1-0 fastball from Matt Blackham with runners on the corner. He settled down, worked the count full, then put the bat to the ball. It wasn’t a full-swing, but he made enough contact to loft the ball into short center for the game-tying RBI single.

In the fifth, he yanked an 0-2 off-speed pitch to RF for a single. Two innings later, it was an 0-2 fastball off the plate that he served to left.

Looking back through my mind’s eye, I remember how good Jurickson Profar was as an 18-year-old here. More walks than Ks, he would spoil two-strike pitches to the point of driving opposing pitchers batty. At 17 and early 18, Nomar Mazara, though he fanned a good bit, would battle and battle with two strikes. For me, at least for now, Taveras is right up there as far as strike-zone judgment.

 

Perez zeroed in:

After the two homers, he saw only curveballs during a full-count walk in the fifth. In the eighth, he crushed a change which wondered over the plate that Gimenez made a leaping catch of. The single in the tenth, also a fastball, was smoked to left.

 

Baserunning rally killers:

Both teams made curious decisions on the bases that stunted run-scoring innings. In the fourth, Columbia scored two and took a 5-2 lead with seemingly more on the way. With one out and Cone at the plate, Ramos wondered off the bag at second as Cone bunted through a pitch. Alex Kowalczyk saw the play and calmly threw to second for the pickoff. Cone then struck out to end the inning.

Hickory took a 7-5 lead with two in the fifth and had runners at the corners with two outs. With the count 2-2 to Preston Scott, Perez took off from first. When the throw from the catcher Sanchez went to second, Taveras scrambled for home. Luis Carpio cut off the throw at second and easily gunned down Taveras at the plate.

 

Walk-off remembered:

The walk-off win is the second of the season for the Crawdads and the first over the Mets Low-A affiliate since a 17-inning win over Savannah on 5/9/15, when Jose Cardona lined a homer into the leftfield corner. The day after, manager Jose Leger, who had argued Cardona’s homer was foul, was ejected during the home-plate meeting.

Roster Moves: Matuella heads list of new Crawdads

The Texas Rangers announced several moves today regarding the roster of the Hickory Crawdads. They are as follows.

Added to the Hickory roster:

RHP Michael Matuella, RHP Ismel Lopez, LHP Sal Mendez, C Alex Kowalczyk

Matuella was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Duke University. The 22-year-old was a potential first-round pick before suffering spondylosis, an issue involving vertebrae in the lower back, and then undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015. He had one appearance with Spokane in 2015, which lasted three innings before he was pulled due elbow tenderness.

Lopez signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013 from Carupano, Venezuela. The 22-year-old is making his stateside debut after pitching the last three seasons in the Dominican Summer League. There, he struck out 114 in 111.1 innings over 52 appearances out of the bullpen. He has been a heavy groundball pitcher with a GO/AO ration of 2.38 in his career. Opposing batters hit .262 against him.

Kowalczyk was drafted in the 12th round by the Rangers in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. The 23-year-old native of Landsdale, PA put up a .288/.331/.432 slash in 31 games for short-season Spokane. Defensively last year, he threw out 8 of 38 baserunners attempting to steal. He will likely split catching duties with Ricky Valencia.

Mendez’s addition is a paper move.

 

Going to extended spring:

LHP Christian Torres, C Isaias Quiroz, RHP Luke Lanphere, RHP Jonathan Hernandez

Torres posted a 3.86 ERA in six games over 9.1 innings. He struck out ten and walked three with 8 hits allowed. Had a couple of rough outings in the past week vs. West Virginia and at Kannapolis. Otherwise, he had four other scoreless outings, but for now, it was not enough. I’m guessing he’ll show up on the Spokane roster in June unless the need arises again for bullpen help at Hickory. The move leaves just CD Pelham as the lone lefty in the pen, as Sal Mendez appears to be the piggy-back option for Matuella.

Quiroz was 3-for-23 (.043) in seven games with the Crawdads. Had served as the backup to Valencia behind the plate, but with Kowalczyk on the roster that playing time has evaporated. I would think he’ll play in Arizona this summer.

Lanphere posted a 12.60 ERA and South Atlantic hit a robust .429 against the righty. A third trip to Spokane this summer appears to be in the cards for the 21-year-old.

Hernandez’s move is on paper and he is expected to make his next start on Tuesday.