Results tagged ‘ Alex Kowalczyk ’

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory July 4-6

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (43-37 overall, 4-8 second half, tied for 6th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (34-48 overall, 7-5 3rd SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads begin a weeklong homestand with a three-game series against in-state rival Kannapolis.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

PROMOTIONS:

Tuesday – Independence Day Celebration and Post-Game Fireworks

Wednesday – Kids Win Wednesday: All kids 12 and under admitted free, also get vouchers for free meal, bounce house, speed pitch and carousel;

Thursday – Thirsty Thursday; Rudy Wright Night

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section. NOTE: Tickets for July 4 are $12 for regular seats, $17 for VIP section… while supplies last!

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 & 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 (Kannapplis/ Hickory):

Tuesday: RHP Yelmison Peralta vs. RHP Walker Weickel

Wednesday: RHP Blake Hickman vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

Thursday: RHP Luis Martinez vs. RHP Reid Anderson

 

Recent Series History:

In 2017, Hickory is 10-9 as the teams enter the final series vs. Kannapolis this season. The Crawdads have not lost a season series against Kannapolis since 2010 (7-9). The Intimidators hold a 4-3 edge in games played at L.P. Frans this season and are looking to win its season-series at Hickory since 2008 (3-1).

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads hope to springboard off a successful road trip and use that momentum to improve upon a 15-24 home record. They return home after their first winning road trip (5-3) of the season. Hickory won 3 of 4 at Kannapolis last week and then earned a split of a four-game series at West Virginia by winning Monday night’s finale… At the plate, the Crawdads are fourth in the SAL in total bases, supported by a league-leading 28 triples and 56 homers, which is fourth in the league. However, that has not added up to tallies on the scoreboard as the Crawdads are ninth in runs scored. Some of that has been due to impatience at the plate. Hickory is tied for last in walks received and next to last overall in on-base percentage (.305) …The Crawdads remain last in the SAL in ERA, but the trend continues towards improvement as the club is under five (4.87) and is no longer on pace to set a club record. Hickory is last in WHIP, and next to last in both walks and hits allowed.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Went 3-for-11 at West Virginia and has a .302/.415/.372 slash for the second half. Has just four extra-base hits since May 30. Tied for first in triples (5), second in ABs, 5th in games played, 8th in runs scored, tied for 9th in hits

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Went 2-for-11 in series at West Virginia. Has shifted mostly to 2B, playing just four games at SS since May 30. Tied for 6th in SAL with 4 triples. Is tied for 4th in Ks and has 13 in 52 plate appearances (31%) in the second half.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Went 6-for-15 at West Virginia with a homer and 5 RBI. Has hits in 9 of 11 games in the second half, including the last six. Hitting .325/.333/.550 in the second half.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Has struggled all season (.186/.248/.305) and is now losing playing time, seeing action in just 7 of 12 games. Went 1-for-14 on the road trip and is 2-for-22 with 7 Ks in the second half.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Named to the SAL All-Star Game as a reserve catcher. Went 4-for-11 at West Virginia and has hits in 6 of his last 8 games. Looking for his first extra-base hit since June 12.

1B Carlos Garay: Signed as an international free agent in 2012 out of La Victoria, Venezuela. Has settled into the starting first base slot since joining the Crawdads on May 20. Has hits in 10 of his last 11 games and multi-hit games in five of the last seven (14-for-32). Very much a contact hitter, has just 3 Ks over the last 11 games, but no walks. Overall, he has just 4 walks in 40 games, but just 14 Ks.

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High (MS). Has missed just three of 82 games. Went 5-for-15 at West Virginia and has 9 hits in 20 ABs. Is hitting just .217/.255/.319 at home.

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Went 3-for-13 at West Virginia. Is at .333/.368/.417 in the second half. At home, Kowalczyk is .368/.403/.559. Has had trouble however behind the plate with a SAL-high of 9 errors and four passed balls in just 28 games.

RHP Walker Weickel: Signed as a free agent in 2017 out of the San Diego Padres organization with which he was a first-round pick. In his last start at Kannapolis, allowed three hits, a walk and struck out seven over 6.2 innings.

RHP Edgar Arredondo: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Allowed two earned runs over five innings with five hits and three Ks at Kannapolis in his last starter. Has given up one for fewer earned runs in five of his last eight starts.

RHP Kaleb Fontenot: 21st-round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Pitched in three of the four games (2 saves) at West Virginia and has four straight scoreless outings.

 

About the Drive:

Managed by former Kannapolis infielder Justin Jirschele. The Intimidators won six of seven to close out the first half, which included a four-game sweep of then-first place Hagerstown (Md.) to claim the first half Northern Division title. Kannapolis will make its first playoff appearance this September since 2009…Winning the first half earned promotions for several players (six of the seven all-stars received promotions) and for now it has left Kannapolis scrambling for answers. At the plate, about 40% of the homers (21 of 52), one-third of the RBI, and nearly one-third of the hits are elsewhere. In losing the final seven games of its just-concluded homestand, Kannapolis scored 16 runs. It’s a team that doesn’t run much – a league low 50 steal attempts – and relies on station-to-station and situational hitting… The same holds true on the mound as players that made 48 of the 80 starts for Kannapolis are now elsewhere. Only one pitcher currently on the roster (Yosmen Solorzano) has made more than six starts (15).

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:   

RF Micker Adolfo (No. 21 mlb.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of San Pedro de Macoris, D.R. Went 3-for-16 vs. Delmarva in the last series. Had a 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) in May and was named the White Sox minor-league player of the month in May and June. He had ten homers, 19 doubles and 37 RBI during that stretch. He is tied for first in the SAL with 24 doubles, fifth in total bases and ninth in slugging (.483).

RHP Luis Martinez (No. 22 mlb.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2012 out of Carupano, Venezuela. Had a dominant first start of the season vs. Hickory on May 19 with 9 Ks and one run allowed on four hits over five innings. Bumped up to high-A Winston-Salem, he struggled (16 ERs, 25 hits, 10 BBs over 16 innings), then returned to Kannapolis on June 26 to again dominate Hickory (1 ER, 3 H, 5 K, 6 IP).

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick in 2016 out of Wright St. Went 3-for-19 vs. Delmarva. Named to the SAL all-star game. Shifted to SS after the promotion of Grant Massey. Currently fourth in the SAL in hits.

RHP Blake Hickman: 7th round pick by the White Sox in 2015 out of Iowa. Made his first pro start vs. Hickory on 5/31/17 and allowed one run on five hits and fanned two over six innings. Had a rough outing vs. Delmarva in his last start on June 30 (5.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 4 K.).

 

Crawdads trim Legends 7-5

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

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

What happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cody guts out six:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Defensive gems:

Forbes again, (see the Cody section above)

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

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

 

Forbes ready to fly?:

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

Weird Baseball: Hickory outlasts Lexington 6-5

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

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

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

 

What happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yes, Taveras is back.

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

 

But he’s bunting?

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

 

Forbes making noise like a duck:

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

 

Eric, oh Eric:

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

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

Legendary Rally Sinks Crawdads 4-3

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

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

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

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

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

 

What happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Matt was Ballin’

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

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

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

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

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

 

Digging Dignacco

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

 

Eerie Yrizarri:

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

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

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

 

Taveras back?:

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

Greenville Rallies, Defeats Hickory 5-3

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

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

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

 

What happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Strikes matter:

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

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

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

 

Early-run woes continue:

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

 

Center field prospects take the day off:

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

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

 

 

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory May 29-31

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (26-22, 4th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (19-31, 7th SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads continue the second part of a weeklong homestand with a three-game series against the Kannapolis Intimidators.

 

If you plan to go:

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

PROMOTIONS: Monday – Make a Difference Monday: Donate a requested item of $5 or more to Foothills House of Hope and receive a free ticket. Click here for requested items: http://m.foothillshouseofhopeministriesinc.com/Donation-Needs-List.html

Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday: Bring pet to the game for $1 each. Dog show each Tuesday night. $1 hot dogs, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products.

Wednesday – Business Card Special: Show your business card at the Ticket Office for a $5 ticket.

 

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 & 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 (Kannapolis / Hickory):

Monday: LHP Bernando Flores vs. RHP Kyle Cody

Tuesday: TBA vs. RHP Michael Matuella

Wednesday: RHP Jimmy Lambert vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

 

Recent Series History:

So far in 2017, the teams have split the 12 previous games played, including a 2-2 series at L.P. Frans in April. Hickory has not lost a home series to the Intimidators since 2014 and are 42-28 there since 2009. The Crawdads won three of five at Kannapolis earlier in May.

 

About the Crawdads:

Hickory opened the homestand by losing three of four and dropped to 9-16 at Frans this season. The Crawdads enter the series losers of 7 out of 8 and 8 of 10… Hickory is often playing catch-up and often in a big way. The Crawdads have been outscored 139-88 over the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning 24 times, while the Crawdads have 25 total runs in the first inning. In 43 games, opposition has scored at least one run in the first three innings… Pitching continues to make its effects felt on a disappointing first half. Hickory is last in the SAL in ERA (5.45), WHIP (1.54), hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and are next to last in walks allowed. For the season, Hickory has given up seven or more runs 21 times in 50 games, 15 of those during the last 29… The Crawdads continues to slug their way into runs. They are second in the SAL in homers with 42, but are eighth out of 14 teams in runs scored. They are fourth in slugging (.391), but 10th in on-base pct. (.313). They are next to last in walks accepted, but third in total bases.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has missed one game this season, leads SAL in at-bats, 10th in hits. After sitting out a game during the midst of four-straight games without a hit, Taveras has a hit in five of the last six. He’s also starting to get his patience back with a walk in each of the last two games. After ten walks in April, he has just five in May.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Tied for third in Ks (59). Both his K-rate and walk-rate have declined in May compared to April. Went 4-for-13 in his last three games with a run scored in each. Has two strikeouts in three of the last four games.

LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Hitting just .194/.286/.290 since joining the Crawdads on May 10. Has 14 Ks in 70 plate appearances.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Sat out the final two games of the series with Asheville. Has hits in 17 of the last 20 games, which boosted his average from .155 on May 4 to its current .245.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After a rough start, Matuella is coming off two straight strong outings with just one hit and a walk over his last six innings and 8 Ks. He will be limited to 60 to 70 pitches.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Hit a pair of homers over the weekend, but K’d 8 times in 16 ABs. Now with 42 Ks in 15 plate appearances this season (28%).

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After a hiccup in mid-May, Ferguson has two scoreless outings with three Ks over 3 innings and one hit allowed. Control is his key. He has walked or hit 12 of the 58 batters he has faced, but has fanned 24.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High (MS). Played in all 50 games, second in ABs in the SAL. Has posted a .333/.373/.500 slash vs. Kannapolis in 12 games. Hit a three-run homer vs. Asheville on Saturday, his first since mid-April. Has reached base in 12 straight games and is 12-for-41 in that stretch with four walks and two hit batters. Approach of late has been to take pitches up the middle and away.

C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Is 10-for-28 with six RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis in 2017

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Had three hits on Sunday and is 5-for-13 with two homers in his last three games. He is the leading Crawdads hitter in May, posting a .431/.484/.690 slash in May.

OF Franklin Rollin: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of La Romana, D.R. Is 15-for-36 with two homers and 9 RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis.

RHP Kaleb Fontenot: 21st-round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Currently third in SAL among relievers in Ks per 9 innings (13.50). Has 11 Ks in his last 7 innings over two outings.

 

About the Intimidators:

Managed by Justin Jirschele in his first season with the Intimidators… Kannapolis split a four-game series at Greensboro and are coming to Hickory after striking out 20 hitters in Sunday’s game. The Intimidators are in fourth place, but sit just 3.5 games behind first-place Hagerstown (Md.). Kannapolis will have a chance over the next 17 games to put itself squarely in the division chase. After the Crawdads series, Kannapolis plays four games vs. third place Greensboro, then travels to second-place Lakewood (NJ) for three and sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The run is capped with a three-game home series vs. Hagerstown… At the plate, Kannapolis is hitting .279 in May, which is second in the SAL. The Intimidators have scored eight or more runs in five of the last ten games. Overall, Kannapolis is third in the league in batting (.264) and OPS (.719)… On the hill, Kannapolis relies on strong starting pitching to eat up innings and get the game to its bullpen. The Intimidators are 18-8 when scoring first and an SAL-best 19-5 when scoring last. When leading after five innings Kannapolis is 20-3… Statistically, both teams should be able to use the running game to generate offense as Hickory and Kannapolis are at the bottom of the SAL in nabbing baserunners trying to steal. However, his is not the Intimidators game. They have just 21 steals in 36 attempts, both SAL lows. Joel Booker has ten of those… Defensively, Kannapolis is third from the bottom in fielding pct.

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:

LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 16 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Tied for 9th  in SAL with 12 doubles. Saw a 12-game hitting streak end on Saturday (19-for-47), he still owns a 14-game on-base streak. Has posted a .338/.422/.606 slash in May.

LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 19 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Allowed one run on four hits over six innings in his last start. Has split his two decisions vs. Hickory, gave up four runs on eight hits over 4 innings vs. Hickory on 5/18.

RF Micker Adolfo (No. 21 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Tied for 3rd in the SAL with 14 doubles. Had a 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) earlier this month. Currently in the midst of a 4-for-22 stretch.

P Victor Diaz (No. 23 mlb.com, No. 26 Baseball America): Traded to the White Sox from Boston in the Chris Sale trade. The Dominican native made his season’s first appearance on May 26. Has retired all nine batters he faced in two outings with six Ks. With an upper-90s fastball, his stay in Kannapolis could be brief.

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Quietly putting together a nice season as the Intimidator leadoff hitter. Currently second in the SAL in hits and runs scored, sixth in batting avg. (.318) and tenth in total bases.

RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Has allowed the fewest baserunners per 9 IP (3.96) among SAL relievers and is second in saves (8). He has yet to allow a run in 25 innings with 34 Ks to just 11 baserunners. He has given up four hits this season; Hickory has three of them.

RHP Jimmy Lambert: Fifth round pick in 2016 out of Fresno St. Is third in the SAL in innings pitched and has a 1.13 walk-per-nine-inning ratio, the best among starters in the SAL. Relies on defense to make plays, has allowed 57 hits in 55.2 innings. He is 2-1 vs. Hickory with a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings.

C Seby Zavala: 12th-round pick in 2015 out of San Diego St. Tied for second in the SAL with 10 homers and eighth in slugging (.520). Once a top-15 prospect with the White Sox, he’s struggled to make contact. Four of his HRs are against Hickory.

RHP Kyle Kybat: Non-drafted free agent out of Nebraska. Allowed 6.18 baserunners per 9 innings, third among SAL relievers, 0.65 BB per 9 innings 5th among relievers. Has a 0.59 ERA over 30.2 innings. Given up two earned runs, one of those surrendered to Hickory.

2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick in 2016 out of Wright St.  Tied for seventh in the SAL in hits. Slash line of .242/.279/.293 in May.

Offensive Tourists Rude to Hosts: Defeat Crawdads 8-6

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

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

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

 

What Happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hernandez today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Hernandez - Proffitt

Jonathan Hernandez (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Forbes:

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

 

Taveras:

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

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

 

Kowalczyk:

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

Alex Kowalczyk - Proffitt

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

 

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

 

Falling behind:

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

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

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

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

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.