I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.
The Rome (Ga.) Braves muscled two home runs to account for all their runs in a 5-1 win over the Hickory Crawdads Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the win, the visiting Braves (58-80 overall, 27-41 second half) kept pace with the Lexington (Ky.) Legends for the battle to stay out of the cellar in the overall standings in the Southern Division. Rome is looking to avoid a second-straight, last-place finish, which would also be the fifth such finish in eight seasons.
Hickory dropped to 79-57 overall, 35-33 in the second half. The Crawdads are looking to the final two games of the series to pick up their 80th win for the second straight season. Hickory last had back-to-back 80 win seasons from 2002 to 2004.
The Braves scored all the runs it would need in the fourth when Tanner Murphy cranked a three-run shot (7) in the fourth. Matt Tellor added the other two runs in the sixth with a blast to right, his fifth of the season.
The Crawdads scored their only run of the game in the sixth with Edwin Garcia tripled and scored on Jose Trevino’s grounder to third.
Trevor Belicek picked up the win (1-0) for Rome with Austin Pettibone talking the loss (3-7).
Jeffrey Springs: The Texas Rangers 30th-round pick this past June out of Appalachian State struck out three over two perfect innings of relief. In what was his first home game, the left-hander showed a biting curve that missed six bats, along with a 90-91 mph fastball.
Chris Dula: Gave up two hits during his lone inning of the game in the seven, but arguably had his best stuff of the season. He started the inning by striking out Erison Mendez with the final pitch of the at-bat being a 97-mph fastball that was low and away to the right-hander. He gave up back-to-back hits – the first an infield hit by Stephen Gaylor to short before Luis Valenzeula smacked a high slider for a single. Dula got out of the inning with a 95-mph sinker that Jordan Edgerton beat into an around-the-horn double play.
Eric Jenkins: Went 3-for-4 for and showed the promise he has to be a legitimate leadoff hitter. He started the first with a bunt up the third-base line that gave Edgerton no chance to make a play. In the fifth, the left-handed hitter turned on fastball for a sharp, ground-ball single to right. In the eighth, it was a slider the Jenkins nailed hard to right. Jenkins has reached base five times in nine trips over the two games he’s played the series. He’s shown for now the ability to catch up to fastballs but stay back on secondary pitches.
Jairo Beras: Continued a strong second half (308/.349/.467) with two hits and a walk. He laid off a couple of close breaking pitches to get the base-on-balls in the second. A slider in was rapped hard for a double to left in the fourth, as was an inside fastball in the sixth. The lone out came in the eighth when he lined a fastball to second.
Dylan Moore: Singled in the third and walked in the fifth to go with a hit in his Crawdad debut on Friday.
Eric Jenkins: As talented a hitter as he’s shown in two games, several aspects of his game need work, especially in the outfield. After misreading two fly balls on Thursday, he nearly played a fly to left into a hit in the second. Braxton Davidson hit a soft liner that sent Jenkins back a couple of steps before he reversed course to make a running catch in shallow left. He cost the Crawdads a run on the eighth when he stayed at third during a 1-6-3 double play. His athletic talent is there, but how well can he pick up some of the technical side of the game?
Baserunning: Jenkins gaffe aside, the Crawdads had a couple of other blunders on the base paths. Manager Corey Ragsdale was overly aggressive in sending Beras on Moore’s third-inning single. Right fielder Braxton Davidson’s throw easily beat Moore to the plate, as he was tagged by the catcher Murphy before he got to the batter’s box… Beras was caught stealing in the sixth as he broke for second with pitcher Trevor Belicek still in the stretch. Belicek calmly stepped off the rubber and threw to second for the easy out.
Austin Pettibone: Had a decent outing, save the two homers. Stayed almost exclusively with a fastball (90-91) and slider with a rare change tossed in. He need only 24 pitches to get through three innings and with any luck would’ve been out of the fourth with little trouble. With two outs and a runner at first, Pettibone’s 0-2 slider was chopped slowly up the line by Luke Dykstra, who beat out the play at third. He then battled Murphy for eight pitches before Murphy turned a 91-mph pitch into a liner the cleared the fence in the leftfield corner. Murphy was able to pick up both fastball and slider, but never saw a change. In the sixth, Tellor whipped a flat slider of the wall in right-center .
Sunday’s game (July 19 vs. Augusta) marked the two-thirds point of the South Atlantic League season for the Hickory Crawdads and the story of 2015 has been the pitching staff. Five starting pitchers and a reliever claimed spots on the South Atlantic League’s all-star team and the group has a chance to rewrite the Crawdads record book.
With the final 46 games of the season still left to be played – plus the playoffs – the Crawdads have the potential to set single-season records in fewest hits, runs, earned runs, and homers allowed, as well as in ERA and WHIP.
Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark was in Hickory this week to fill in for Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale during his vacation. Clark had an extended, first-hand look at most of the pitching staff during his visit and he sat down with me to give an assessment of several individual pitchers.
First I just want to get just an overview. We are almost two-thirds of the way through the season and this has been one of the better pitching staffs we’ve had here. Let me first get your overall impression from what you’ve seen.
Clark: I think from the experience level that these guys have right now, coming into pro ball, most of them are one to two-year starters, to be able to do what they’ve done to this point, I think the biggest accomplishment to me is to make every start. That’s been a goal of ours to see from start to finish them being healthy. We’ve got two or three guys in the rotation who haven’t been able to do that in the past. So I think first and foremost, that’s our main goal.
Let me ask first about the guy that wasn’t talked about a lot coming in – seeing him pitch, I don’t know why – and that’s Ariel Jurado. Pretty much from day one he’s six, seven innings when he’s started. He kept down the opposition and has developed some pitches along the way.
Clark: I think in Jurado’s case, obviously, I’ve got to admit I didn’t see the high ceiling leaving instructs last year. Some of our pitching coaches were talking about changing a little bit on his arm slot and trying to get more of a run or a sink to his fastball. I think he took that in the winter and came back to spring training and was very impressive.
He had a very good spring training, so he earned his right to get here. Then from that point on I think just the confidence level that he’s had. Oscar Marin has done a good job of trying to keep him continue to go forward. A lot of times guys, especially young pitchers that jump out record wise, they look at their stats. We throw out new competitions for him and his mind to keep that cultivating. That has been a big plus for him.
Yohander Mendez and Jurado are in the tandem right now. Mendez started the season in the bullpen and I know the plan was to get him back into the rotation at some point. I know a lot of the focus with him has been to keep him healthy.
Clark: Last year we only had him for 31 innings and we had to shut him down. Our goal for this year was to get him to around the 90-inning mark. We see Mendez as a high-ceiling starter. He has a good feel for all three of his pitches. Sometimes a pitcher like that can become bored on the mound. So, just keeping those small, short-term challenges for Mendy has been the thing for him mindset wise, versus just looking at the results all the time.
The two of them have gone in tandem the last four or five starts. Is there a a point where they will break back out as individual spots? I know with Mendez you want to build up the innings and do you see that with Jurado as well?
Clark: Both of them, we’ve got to control their innings. You won’t see them be by themselves, other than the tandem, until the playoffs. We’ll keep them that way. We’re committed to keeping this rotation together.
We’ve tried to build this rotation how we have in the past with a couple of different rotations that’s been here to kind of keep five or six guys together, as they go through the system, I think competing against each other. But to answer the question of those two, I think they’ll have to stay on those things just from the innings standpoint.
Let me get an update on Luis Ortiz’s progress after being out the past month.
Clark: He went to Dr. (Keith) Meistner, our team doctor today. He should be back. We got good reports from him. We didn’t think it was nothing severe in anyway. We’re going to start seeing him do his throwing program next week and he’s going to start doing bullpens. So, we’re probably looking to see him realistically sometime in mid-August.
Stuff wise, for the most part, he looked really good.
Clark: Obviously, he’s got stuff. He was drafted in the first round for a reason. Our job is to not worry about stuff, but to cultivate all the maturity things that goes in to being a starting pitcher at a high level. So that’s the process that he’s going through. He’s doing a lot better in his workouts.
He’s doing a lot better, really, just paying attention to detail that goes into it. Obviously, we have a high ceiling for Luis. We think a lot of Luis. It’s just the process that he and a lot of guys have to go through.
Collin Wiles. Everyone I’ve talked to raved about his off-season work and how he put it into practice this year. What sort of challenges does he have left at this level before he moves up? Or has he shown you that he’s about ready?
Clark: In some ways, yes he has. I go back to Collin finally committed to having ownership of his career. I think it started there. I don’t think there was no one that was involved other than Collin.
Going forward, I do see sometimes, do we challenge Collin and send him to High Desert? I think it goes back to the philosophy of what we build the pitching rotations around, competing against each other more than the opposition. So we’ve decided to keep those same six guys together. Could he go? Yes, he probably could, but I think long term it allows him to compete against this team.
Let me ask you about a couple of guys of interest to me. Scott Williams was a guy that didn’t pitch a lot in college. He had trouble hitting the strike zone last year and a little bit at the start this year. Since early June, he’s found a groove and found the plate. He seems more comfortable with the off-speed pitches. Your view on him.
He’s a converted guy, who was a position player in college. So, anytime you convert someone it’s usually a year process before you start seeing more fluidity as a pitcher. Last year, he kind of threw like a position player.
I think Oscar’s done a good job as far as getting his hands more relaxed on the mound and getting his body in a better position, and then obviously confidence and results. When you have good results, confidence builds it, and it continues to go for him.
Yesterday, I was very impressed with him. More than anything, yes I saw the velocity, but I saw the easiness of the delivery. It wasn’t compared to last year, where I thought he forced a lot of things on the mound and tried to muscle the ball there, versus allowing his arm to carry the ball.
Let me ask you about Cody Buckel and his ups and downs. I know it’s been a long process. He’ll have some good days and he’ll have some not good days. Where do you see him in that process?
We all know Cody and he had a lot of success at an early age. Sometimes, that’s a fault, because we push him and he goes to big league camp as a 19-year-old and flies through A ball and AA.
Cody’s in a situation right now where I’m more concerned with how Cody is as a person. I focus on those things with Cody. We don’t try to focus on what he’s doing on the mound. Cody’s an outstanding person, a young man that’s got a lot of upside in whatever he does after baseball. So, I think we focus more on that with him right now and try to get some of the attention off of him, as far as being a pitcher, but just being an everyday person.
You’ve got a couple of guys sent here in Erik Swanson and Shane McClain. McClain seems to be a guy that can be used in various roles. Swanson at the back end can throw some heat. What are they here to work on?
Swanson, we held him back coming out of spring training. I see him as a starter eventually, so you’ll probably see him the next six weeks start building into more of a starter role, as we do some different things with some of the starters, maybe giving some guys some breaks. I do like his fastball. He does have to do some things to keep himself in top shape.
I think McClain is a guy who had a very good spring. He signed as a free agent last year after the draft. We felt like maybe we could push him a little bit to High Desert. Probably looking back, and I have told Shane this, we should have started him at Hickory and let him get his feet wet before we sent him going forward. So I take the blame for that more than anything. We can use Shane in a lot of different roles. He started for us in High Desert for a couple of spot starts. He can give his length and multiple innings, back-to-back days. So, he’s a very versatile pitcher.
Austin Pettibone has been interesting coming into the rotation. I know he started for you before. He can throw low to mid-90s and he’s talked about developing his changeup. What can you say about his development?
Austin was a starter in college. Coming out of spring training, you can only send six starters to a full-season club, so we had him starting in extended knowing that at some point that we were going to send him here. We just had to find the right time.
I see him as a sinkerballer, groundball type guy, He’s a mature guy. He’s a mature college pitcher. So, we kind of expect some of these things to happen here. We’re just now getting him stretched out. Really, in my mind, it’s a little early to make a decision on Austin whether he is going to the bullpen or if he is going to be a starter.
Let me ask you of one other guy and that’s Nick Gardewine. Another guy, like Pettibone, who started in the bullpen before coming to the rotation. He’s had some ups-and-downs, but had a nice last outing.
Nicky was a guy coming out of spring training who got hampered with a foot issue. So, we brought him here out of the bullpen. He was building up as a starter, so I felt like he got behind the eight ball there for about the first month. Nicky, for me, if his slider is on, he’s going to go deep in the game. He’s got to be able to have a better feel for his change. Until he can do that, I feel like that he, right now, is a two-pitch pitcher from what I saw a couple of days ago. He knows that and that’s things that he’s got to work on.
I still think Nicky’s a young guy – he’s a little older than most of the starters here – but when we get some innings on him, I foresee him down the road. Could he be a starter? Yes. Could he go into the bullpen? There’s a lot of options there because he does have a good fastball.
This year has been the first year, I can recall, of having a six-man rotation, with the idea that you’re not going to skip starts in the middle of the year like what has happened in the past. Has that gotten the results that you were looking for, as far as keeping guys healthy for the year?
We hope so. I don’t want to speak too quick on it because we’re doing it here and High Desert and Spokane. We’re doing it at all our lower levels. I’ve seen, as far as our velocity goes, more consistent velocity going across the board.
Typically in a five-man rotation at the lower levels, you hit June and August, you start seeing velocity drop. So, I haven’t seen the drastic drop as I have in the past. So, that’s one thing. Obviously being healthy, we’re seeing good signs of that. There’s a lot of positives to it. I think if you ask me the same question when the season’s complete and we start getting more concrete data, I might have a different opinion about it. As of right now, I like the flow of it. I like what I’m hearing from the pitchers and from the pitching coaches.
I’ve got to ask you about Brett Martin. He had a rough time in his last outing, but was obviously very sharp tonight (July 16 vs. Greensboro). He talked about having to stay within himself to make things work for him.
I thought he showed stuff early. Then after his stuff early, around the fifth inning he had to work himself out of some jams. I thought Martin’s fastball obviously was probably 93-95 tonight. His breaking ball for me was probably the least pitch of the secondaries. He tended to pitch to his changeup.
Brett’s got a very high ceiling. What I don’t think a lot of people understand with Brett is that you don’t teach the things that Brett has and he’s got a lot of God-given talent.
To me, I was more pleased to see him finish the seventh. I went out there to basically talk to him and see where he was at. He said he wanted to finish the seventh, and so I thought it was a huge development for him.
The Hickory Crawdads (51-30 overall, 7-6 second half) make their second of three trips this season to FirstEnergy Park to take on the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws (39-42, 6-7) in a five-game series.
Probables (Hickory/ Lakewood):
Wednesday: Cody Buckel (RH, 0-2, 2.79) vs. Ranfi Casimiro (RH, 3-5, 3.51)
Thursday: Brett Martin (LH, 3-3, 2.73) vs. Austin Davis (LH, 0-2, 2.40)
Friday: Ariel Jurado (RH, 9-0, 2.15) vs. Elniery Garcia (LH, 6-6, 3.08)
Saturday: Collin Wiles (RH, 9-3, 2.29) vs. Shane Watson (RH, 0-1, 2.45)
Sunday: Austin Pettibone (RH, 1-1, 3.94) vs. Will Morris (RH, 0-0, 0.82)
Recent Series History:
Lakewood holds a 5-4 edge in the 2015 season series after taking three of five at Hickory to open the second half. The Crawdads and BlueClaws split the series at Lakewood in early June. Hickory is 32-30 since 2009 – the start of the affiliation with the Texas Rangers – and 18-18 on the road.
Entering the Series – Hickory:
The Crawdads took the first three games of the series at Greensboro before dropping the matinee Tuesday afternoon. Winners of six out of the last nine on the road, Hickory (23-15) currently holds the best road record in the South Atlantic League.
The team pitching ERA of 2.82 is nearly a half-run better than second-place Lakewood (3.29). However the BlueClaws bats battered Hickory pitching for 32 runs on 51 hits in the recent five-game series at L.P. Frans. Overall, the Crawdads pitching staff has surrendered the fewest hits, runs and earned runs in the SAL. They also have the lowest WHIP at 1.16.
At the plate, Hickory has reclaimed the top spot in the SAL with 61 home runs. They are third in slugging pct. (.384).
In the field, the Crawdads remain at the top of the SAL in fielding pct, having committed the fewest errors and turning the most double plays.
Entering the Series – Lakewood:
After winning three straight at Hickory, the BlueClaws are 3-6. They split a four-game series at home with Hagerstown over the weekend.
Lakewood will put the ball in play as the hitters taken the fewest walks and have the second fewest strikeouts in the SAL. The BlueClaws are second in doubles and third in hits. They are next to last in OBP (.312).
Players to watch- Hickory:
SP Ariel Jurado: Currently pitching in tandem with Yohander Mendez, Jurado is expected to start, but could be switched to the relief role. He is first in the SAL in WHIP (0.96), tied for second in wins (9) and fourth in ERA (2.15). Jurado has thrown only six innings in the second half and will likely be limited to around three innings for now. He currently has 60 Ks to just eight walks in 67 innings.
SP Collin Wiles: Having won six of his last eight starts, two of those have come against the BlueClaws over the last month (12,1 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K). Opposing teams are hitting just .221 against Wiles. He is tied with Jurado with nine wins, is second behind Jurado in WHIP (1.00) and fifth in ERA (2.29)
SP Cody Buckel: After giving up nine baserunners in 2.2 innings against Lakewood on June 26, Buckel rebounded against Greenville with a three-hitter over six innings and struck out six to just one walk. SAL hitters are batting just .182 against Buckel, but he has thrown 16 walks and hit six batters in 29 innings.
SP Austin Pettibone: Has settled into the rotation nicely since gaining a permanent spot in late June. Spun a two-hitter over six innings against Greenville on June 30, then followed that up with a one-hitter through six at Greensboro before falling apart in the seventh for a no-decision.
RP Scott Williams: Has two wins and a save in the second half during which Williams has allowed one base runner (a solo homer) in seven innings and struck out 11. After sporting a 4.26 ERA in May, Williams has allowed two runs overall in 12.2 innings (8 appearances) on six hits and two walks with 17 Ks.
OF Luke Tendler: Arguably the hottest hitter in the lineup in the second half, Tendler is at .333/.375/.489 in the 12 games after the all-star break. He put up six RBI in the weekend series vs. Lakewood to open the second half and has a team-high of nine RBI against the BlueClaws this season. Tendler is tied for sixth in the SAL with 19 doubles.
C Jose Trevino: Has a .301/.322/.460 slash on the road compared to a .216/.252/.399 mark at home. He is off to a cool start in July (3-for-20) with all three hits coming at Greensboro on Saturday. Currently, Trevino is third in the SAL in homers (10) and tied for 11th in RBI (39).
OF Jose Cardona: Of current active players, Cardona has the highest avg. (.290) against the BlueClaws this season. Like Trevino, Cardona is off to a cool start in July and is three for his last 31 – two of the hits homers. His nine homers are tied for fourth in the SAL.
C Chuck Moorman: Joined the Crawdads at Greensboro, the 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2012 played two games at AAA Round Rock this season.
C-1B Jonathan Meyer: Had a six-game hitting streak (8-for-22) and a three-game RBI streak snapped in the shutout loss to Greensboro on Tuesday.
2B Carlos Arroyo: Currently in the midst of a three-game hitting streak (5-for-12) and has at least one hit in 17 of his last 22 games since going hitless in his first two games with the club.
OF Jairo Beras: Has begun to heat up again with hits in five straight games (7-for-18) before an 0-for-3 game on Tuesday. However, he has at least one strike out in seven straight (11 overall).
Players to watch- Lakewood:
SP Elniery Garcia: He has dominated the Crawdads in his two starts, having allowed two runs on nine hits over 13 innings with eight strikeouts. Garcia threw a four-hitter over seven innings against Hickory on June 28. He followed that up with a five-hitter over seven innings against Hagerstown in his last start. Garcia is ninth in the SAL in ERA (3.08) and WHIP (1.20).
SP Shane Watson: The first-round pick of the Phillies (Lakewood (CA) High) in 2012 missed all of 2014 with shoulder surgery and a 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse violation to start this season. Watson allowed one run on seven hits over 3.2 innings in his first start for the BlueClaws on Sunday.
SP Will Morris: Former teammate of Evan Van Hoosier at College of Southern Nevada, the 24th-round pick of the Phillies in 2013 made the first start of his career last Monday against Hagerstown (5 IP, 2 H, 2 K). Morris had 51 relief appearances over three seasons before the start.
RP Joey DeNato: Was selected to the SAL All-Star Game. He is eighth in the SAL with 26 appearances.
CF Herlis Rodriguez: Has two SAL hitter-of-the-week awards and is arguably the best hitter on the team after the promotion of key teammates Carlos Tocci and Rhys Hoskins to high-A. Currently seventh in the SAL in slugging (.469) and tenth in RBI (41).
3B Damek Tomscha: Has ripped through Hickory pitching this season at a .370/.419/.556 clip with seven RBI and a homer. He put together four straight multi-hit games at the end of June, but is hitless in his last four games and is 2-for-21in his last six. Tomscha has 20 doubles, tied for third in the SAL.
1B Kyle Martin: The Phillies fourth-round pick out of South Carolina last month made his pro debut at Hickory. He has a .340/.365/.580 slash in 13 games since joining the BlueClaws with six multi-hit games.
LF Cord Sandberg: Was the third-round pick of the Phillies in 2013 out of Manatee (FL) High and is currently the No. 13 prospect in the organization. Sandberg with 10-for-21 against the Crawdads two weeks ago with four extra-base hits, five runs scored and five RBI.
2B Scott Kingery: The Pac-12 player of the year was the Phillies second-round draft pick a month ago. Like Martin, he made his pro debut at Hickory with two hits in the opener. Kingery finished 6-for-21 in the series with six runs scored. So far in July, he is 3-for-24 (.125).
Hickory Crawdads pitcher Austin Pettibone was a key component from the bullpen during the team’s drive to the first-half Northern Division title. The 24th -round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014 out of UC Santa Barbara joined the Crawdads from extended spring on May 10. After a bumpy start to his Hickory career, he settled in to throw five-straight scoreless outings during which he allowed one hit and one walk with seven strikeouts in 9.1 innings.
However when pressed into service as a spot-starter in the first half, the results were less than stellar. Entering the current series against the Greenville Drive, Pettibone had a 2.76 ERA as a reliever. As a starter, the opposition had battered him for five runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings over two starts (one abbreviated due to a rain-suspended game).
But baseball is a game of opportunity and Pettibone took advantage of his Tuesday night when he filled Luis Ortiz’s rotation spot (due to a DL stint) against the Drive, the South Atlantic League’s best hitting and top-scoring club.
At first, it looked like the bubble would burst early when Greenville’s Mike Meyers tripled on the second pitch of the game. He scored on the fifth pitch, when a slider went to the backstop. The sixth pitch – another slider – was pulled into left by Michael Chavis.
That turned out to be the last hurrah for the Drive as the right-hander faced the minimum 18 hitters over the successive six innings and defeated Greenville 8-1.
Pettibone said that the wild pitch to score Meyers was almost a relief at the time.
“Once I had that wild pitch it was almost like time to restart and lock back in,” said Pettibone. “After that, it went the way it went.”
The way it went was Pettibone used a three-pitch mix (90-92 mph fastball, change and slider) to handcuff the Drive. Greenville put only one other runner on base – a walk in the third to Meyers that was erased on a double play.
Pettibone said the game plan coming in was to try to take advantage of a free-swinging lineup that is second in the SAL in strikeouts.
“We knew that they were an aggressive lineup,” Pettibone said. “So we were just keeping them off balance, throwing offspeeds for strikes early in the count and attacking late in it with the fastball.”
Of the 20 hitters he faced, seven started with an offspeed pitch – all for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 hitters.
A starter with the Gauchos in college, the Yorba Linda, Calif. native said the adjustment from the bullpen into the rotation has been mostly minimal. The biggest change is trying to economize the number of pitches to each hitter.
“I’d say just pitching off my fastball, which has a little sink on it,” said Pettibone when asked about his approach moving into the rotation. “So, just trusting that and pitching to contact more so than trying to get swings-and-misses later in games when I had to come in out of the pen. That was a good start for me to get swings early in the count and minimize pitches so I was able to go deeper by that.”
On Tuesday, Pettibone threw more than four pitches to just five hitters with no more than seven to anyone. It allowed him to give the Crawdads a chance to rest some arms in the bullpen after a tough series against Lakewood.
The six-inning stint surpassed a five-inning start he had last summer at Eugene when he three-hit the Emeralds in his third-career start. His manager Corey Ragsdale was presently surprised in the longevity of the start, especially given that his longest outing of 2015 had been three innings.
“Just for the fact that he hadn’t been stretched out,” said Ragsdale. “When he has that many innings that went that quickly, we decided to go ahead and let him try it and see if he could do it. He had a quick sixth again.”
His final pitch of the night was a high-and-in fastball that Chavis swung through to end the sixth.
Pettibone said, “The second strike was a fastball in and he fouled it off his foot. Jose (catcher Jose Trevino) called it again and I trusted it. I just tried to get it in there and I did and he ended up swinging through it.”
In the same manner as the 2011 team did, the Crawdads milled about in left field, waiting to find out if they had indeed clinched a first-half division title and a playoff spot in September.
When the final out in Charleston, WV sealed the Power’s elimination, the celebratory water coolers were spilled and the raucous, rowdy party was on.
It was cool to see these toughened, young men melt into excited boys again, delirious at what they had accomplished as a group… and oh, how they celebrated as a group. From the two-year vets, such as Wiles and Beras and Mendez and Pinto – who couldn’t believe he finally homered with Hickory – to the “young pups” Ortiz, and Jurado, and Morgan, to the steady Trevino and Tendler and Martin, to Buckel – who did this same celebration in 2011 – to the newcomers, Arroyo, Shoulders, Filomeno… they all reveled in the spoils of victory.
Whether in English or Spanish, on this field, their words shared a common meaning: champions.
They proudly smiled for the cameras, arms extended with index fingers pointed to the sky to have their baseball moment frozen in time and recorded for a lifetime.
They patiently tried to answer my questions, but mostly they spit out words of their happiness… and doused the interviewee.
Many congratulations to the 2015 Crawdads on a brilliant first half. Here is some of what they had to say.
About the division-clinching game:
It’s a credit to these guys. They just find ways to win. It’s not necessarily the two guys that we would expect to hit home runs right now. Jairo, a single with two outs and Shoulders gets a home run. J-Mo gets a double with two outs; Pinto got him with a home run. Give credit to the guys, they find ways to win.
Favorite memory of the first half:
Just watching the way that the guys played and the way they cheer for each other. You look into the other dugout and you see guys sitting down. You look at ours and guys are cheering for each other and staying on the rail. Just seeing guys who want to win and pull for each other.
About his start:
My mentality today was to basically go out and compete like I always do and give it my all. I’ve got eight, nine guys behind me protecting me. Attack the zone and they’ll make a play for you. That’s the way it was tonight. I threw the ball over the zone and I felt like everything was working for me.
About his comfort level in the first two innings:
The first and second innings were the hardest ones to get through. It was hot and humid, but I had to go out there and pitch. To become a good pitcher, you’ve got to go through everything. You go through the hot. You go through the cold. You have bad outings. On days you have bad, it’s how you handle it. It’s just pitching, basically putting it altogether and going out there and competing and giving it all you have. If they hit you, it happens. it’s a part of baseball.
About winning the first-half division title:
I’m happy today. I play good. I’m part of the playoffs. We’ll get back at it tomorrow and *&^@-ing win it (Ironically, he did with a homer in the 10th Tuesday night.).
About his third-inning homer:
I’d never hit a home run with Hickory. My team kept saying to me, “you need a La Bamba; you need a home run. You don’t have one.” I said, “ok, take it easy, take it easy, my brothers.” Today, home run, I’m happy.
About the ability for a different player to make a play to win a game each night:
It’s awesome We did this in Spokane last year when we won the first half and it’s cool to do it again and experience it again.
About the team’s success compared to winning last year in Spokane:
We all have another year under our belt of pro ball, so we’ve all improved and gotten better each day. It’s just a lot of fun to do it with these guys.
About the celebration:
This is awesome, but we’re not done yet, though. We’re not even close. We’ve got a whole other half and then we’ve got the whole post season. This is a really good team with a group of really good guys. The pitching staff and hitters, we’re all coming back together.
About his double in the third inning prior to Pinto’s homer
I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. Luckily he gave me one and I was able to square it up, luckily. I’m just happy that we clinched, but we’re not done yet. We’ve got a full half to go, but we’re excited about where we’re at right now.
About the second half:
Hopefully, we can keep going on and keep staying positive we’ll be successful. I’m happy to be here and hopefully we can finish it off.
About his fourth-inning homer:
At my first at bat, he gave me a first-pitch fastball, so I went up there ready for it. I might’ve been a little bit late, but I still got good wood on it. I did what I wanted to do; I was trying to go the other way with the fastball and hit it into the gap. Luckily I got it up over the fence and got it out.
About coming to the Rangers organization from the Cubs:
At the beginning, I was a little worried, being that it was my first time going to this organization. But this is a great group of guys. When I walked into spring training, they all welcomed me with open hands and open mouths; they were all talking to me and helping me get used to everything. So, when I came here, I knew a bunch of guys already, so it was easy for me to get acclimated.
The Hickory Crawdads popped two two-run homers and got strong pitching throughout to defeat the Savannah Sand Gnats 4-1 and close out the first-half Northern Division title in the South Atlantic League.
The win by Hickory (41-22) coupled with West Virginia’s 5-2 loss at home to Augusta sent the players into a celebration frenzy in left field as the final out in Charleston, W.Va. was recorded.
The Crawdads took the final three games in the four-game series to close out a 5-2 home stand. Hickory finished the first half 24-10 at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Savannah (34-30) dropped into second place, a game behind Greenville (S.C.) with six games to play in the Southern Division chase.
The Crawdads close out the first half with a six-game road trip starting Tuesday with three games at Rome (Ga.), followed by three at West Virginia.
The Crawdads put up only six hits but four of those came after two outs and led to all four runs.
After the Sand Gnats put up a run in the second, Hickory took a 2-1 lead in the third when Josh Morgan doubled with two outs and scored as Eduard Pinto crushed a 3-1 fastball off the billboards in right.
A similar script with different actors happened one inning later. With two outs, Jairo Beras sent an off-speed pitch through the hole at second. Rock Shoulders followed with a two-run, opposite-field shot to make it 4-1.
Luis Ortiz (4-1) allowed one run on three hits and struck out nine over five innings. Joe Filomeno pitched a scoreless sixth before running into trouble in the seventh. With two outs and a runner at first, Thomas Nido doubled off the wall and Patrick Biondi was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hickory then brought in Austin Pettibone to face SAL all-star second baseman Jonathan Johnson, who pulled a 2-2 slider to first for the 3-1 putout.
Pettibone worked around a single in the eighth before turning it over to John Fasola in the ninth. Fasola struck out the final two batters of the game to complete a 1-2-3 inning and pick up his SAL-high 13th save of the season.
Eduardo Pinto: His recent patience at the plate set up the heroics in the third. He ran the count to 3-1, then sat dead red and got an 89 heater from Bruce Meisner that Pinto turned on and sent it well out to right.
Rock Shoulders: Showed a bit of his strength when he put an inside-out swing on Meisner’s first-pitch fastball and sent it high over the fence in left. Made a big play to dig out a throw in the ninth (see below).
Jairo Beras: Seems poised to have a good stretch as he is staying back on secondary pitches, and yet is ready to hit the fastball. Had his second straight two-hit game with one hit coming on a fastball, the other on an off-speed pitch.
Luis Ortiz: Velocity 94-97 throughout, a good cutting slider, but he admitted after the game he didn’t have his best stuff. Said after the game the heat bothered him in the first two innings. But still, nine Ks in five innings (!), mostly coming on sliders and changups. Gassed a 96 mph past Johnson in the third and painted the corner at 97 for a called-strike three to John Mora. Finished the game with 81 pitches (53 strikes).
Austin Pettibone: Got a huge out with the bases loaded in the seventh when he got Johnson to pull a slider to first. K’d two in the eighth, both on sliders low and away to right handers.
John Fasola: Dodged a bullet to start the ninth when Mora lined a pitch hard off Fasola’s glove. Carlos Arroyo charged the ball toward the bag at second and then made an off-balanced throw that Rock Shoulders dug out to the RF side of first and held the bag with his foot. Fasola then gassed up his fastball to 95 and struck out the last two hitters.
Michael De Leon: Seemed to expand the strike zone in the game. Hitting left handed throughout, he K’d on a fastball away in the third, pulled a fastball in off the plate for a 3-1 grounder in the fifth, and a slider in at the knees for a grounder to first in the seventh.
Luis Guillorme: Had a brilliant defensive effort both series the Sand Gnats played at L.P. Frans this season. In the sixth, Trevino hit a sharp roller to the hole at short. Guillorme made the backhand play and then the quick transfer for the long jump throw to first and the out.
Jon Leroux: Not sure if he got a slow start at first, or if he himself is slow (I watched the play in the field), but a double off the wall with two outs in the seventh should almost always lead to a run. Was shocked to look up and see him at third.
Not known for their power the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs hit homers in back-to-back innings Thursday and sank the Hickory Crawdads 4-3 in South Atlantic League play Thursday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Despite the loss, Hickory (38-21) caught a break in its first-half Northern Division title chase when second place West Virginia blew a two-run lead in the ninth and fell to Savannah 4-3. The Crawdads lead the second place Power by 4 ½ games with ten to go. The magic number to clinch the first-half title is six.
For its part, Charleston (29-31) stayed in the race in the Southern Division. The win moved the RiverDogs into third place and put them four games behind both Savannah and Greenville.
The RiverDogs literally came out of the gate fast as speedy shortstop lined the second pitch of the game to right center for a triple. Dustin Fowler singled him in for the first run. One out later, Juan Graterol lined a double to the wall in left center to make it 2-0.
The Crawdads struck back in the first with a run. Josh Morgan walked, moved to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on Jose Trevino’s double to the left field corner.
Hickory took the lead in the second against R-Dogs starter Rony Bautista. Rock Shoulders walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. Carlos Arroyo singled him to third and also moved to second on a wild pitch. Jose Cardona then followed with a sharp single off the glove of the diving third baseman Ryan Lindemuth to give Hickory a 3-2 lead.
Collin Wiles then gave up his first home run of the season in the fourth when Austin Aune took him deep to right – his third of the season.
The home run surrendered by Wiles was the first given up by a starting pitcher since May 11, a span of 28 games covering 147.2 innings.
As rain began in the fifth, Fowler golfed a curveball out of the park in right for his third of the season to put the R-Dogs in front 4-3.
Entering the game 13th out of 14 teams in the SAL in home runs, Charleston has hit five of its 19 homers against Hickory pitching. The two homers allowed by Wiles was only the third time in 2015 that a starter has given up two in a game.
After a 29-minute rain delay, the RiverDogs replaced Bautista with reliever Matt Marsh. He shut down the Crawdads on two hits over the last five innings to pick up the win (1-0). The lone threat against Marsh came when Hickory put two runners on with two outs in the seventh, but was unable to score.
Austin Pettibone threw three perfect innings of relief for Hickory, striking out two. Scott Williams worked around a walk and a hit batter in the ninth to keep the Crawdads within a run. But Marsh struck out two in the bottom of the ninth, the last against Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to end the game.
**Jose Trevino had a complete game at the plate and behind it. He turned a 94 mph heater into the leftfield corner and stole a base to set the Crawdads up for a potential second run in the first. He reached six times in 12 plate appearances in the series and has a five-game hitting streak.
But it was his efforts as a catcher that was impressive. With a runner on first in the second, Trevino snagged a low glove-side curveball and made a strong throw to second to cut down Aune trying to steal. In the ninth, Williams struck out Aune with a slider that trickled behind Trevino. He found the ball quickly and put a throw on the money to Kiner-Falefa at third to cut down the slow-footed Juan Graterol at third.
He also had a hand in keeping the demeanor of a couple of pitchers in check. When Wiles had walked the first batter in the second and started the next hitter with a fastball off the plate, Trevino trotted out to the mound, said a couple of words, and then issued a backside slap before returning to the plate. Wiles then ended the inning with two pop ups before Trevino rang up the caught stealing. In the ninth, when Williams got into trouble due to control issues, again it was Trevino to the mound to go face-to-face with the hurler. A few words said, a two-handed love tap to the shoulders, then back to the plate. A 2-0 count to Aune turned into an infield fly before the strike-‘em-out-throw-‘em out.
**Eduard Pinto had walked six times total in his first 39 games entering the series. He walked twice on Thursday and finished with six walks the past three games. He also singled in the third and reached base 7 of 12 times in the series
**Isaiah Kiner-Falefa with a couple of nice play at third. In the second, he made a quick run to the fence past the dugout, then made a leaning catch for the out. In the eighth, Kiner-Falefa showed quick hands to snatch a sharp grounder from Fowler. The force of the hit spun Kiner-Falefa briefly before he recovered to make the throw to third.
**Jairo Beras appears to be on track to make a run at the plate. He took a fastball up and out to right for a lined single. In the sixth, he rapped the first pitch he saw from Marsh into the gap in left center for a giraffe-like gaited, legged-out double. In the eighth, Beras ripped a hanging curve that went straight to Aune in right.
** Austin Pettibone showed a good biting slider that played a big part in his perfect three innings. He missed four bats with the pitch and used it to set up a called-strike three on a fastball to Devyn Bolasky.
**Collin Wiles did not have his usual control much of the night. Fastballs and changes both stayed up and were spanked often. His breaking stuff didn’t have its usual bite. Wiles left an 0-2 change up that Fowler used for his RBI single in the first. He ahead of Graterol 0-2 in the first, but missed the plate with a fastball and slider before leaving a fastball over the plate for the RBI double. He did miss bats with his slider in the fifth and made a good pitch to Fowler – a curveball that Fowler went down to get and golfed out to right.
**Luke Tendler was eaten up with breaking stuff much of the night. After K-ing twice vs. Bautista – both on sliders down and in, the curveball of Marsh got him in the sixth. Of the ten breaking pitches he saw, Tendler whiffed on seven of them. The one fastball he struck, was late and turned into a routine 6-3.
**Matt Marsh held the Crawdads pretty well in check and had several hitters flailing at his curve (6 missed bats and a called 3rd strike). He did leave some pitches up that Hickory hitters were unable to get to fall. In the eighth, an 0-2 hanger to Beras was lined to RF for an out. The next batter Rock Shoulders saw a fat 0-2 fastball that was lined near the track in center.
**Fowler finished the series 7-for-12 with 3 RBI and 3 runs.
**Aune had a big hand in the outcome in right. He made a sliding catch of a slicing liner by Kiner-Falefa in the first, which minimized the damage for Charleston early. Two innings later, his strong throw to the plate was in time to catch Trevino trying to score from second on a single by Beras.