Results tagged ‘ Chuck Moorman ’

Catching the Wave: An interview with Texas Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones

I will not be partial here. I love catchers. For me, the position is greatly undervalued. The good ones not only swing the bat and play the position almost flawlessly, but they are also full-time field generals and part-time psychiatrists. Most World Series teams have a guy behind the plate that is the heart, the soul, the pulse, the lifeblood, etc. of the team: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jorge Posada, Salvador Perez to name a few.

When the Texas Rangers were in the midst of their 2016 playoff run, they chose to give up prospects Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz – both former first-round pics – and Ryan Cordell to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. It was hoped that Lucroy would play a big role handling the pitching staff and bring another consistent bat into the lineup and put the Rangers in World Series contention.

Part of the need for Lucroy was because the Rangers had not developed their own catcher. A possible starter, Jorge Alfaro, was used in a trade in 2015 to get pitcher Cole Hamels. The lack of a homegrown catcher is something that Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones wants to see rectified.

Since joining the club in 2015 as the catching coordinator, Briones is helping the Rangers build a stable of young catchers in the minor-league system that may one day put “THAT GUY” in the forefront of leading the team. According to MLB.com, among the Texas Rangers top-30 prospects six are catchers at least part-time.

Crawdads catcher Sam Huff is a part of that top-30 group, but two others that started the season at Hickory are perhaps not far behind the list. Yohel Pozo hit .338 for Hickory in the second half of 2017 and Melvin Novoa showed good defensive skills (threw out 5 of 6 base stealers with Hickory) with a bat that was quickly deemed too good for this level and his now at high-A Down East. The three started the year at Hickory and rotated catching duties, then played first or DH’ed when not behind the plate, so as to keep the bat in the lineup.

Briones was in the area this week to check on his pupils and, as he calls his visits, to refill the tanks. I had a chance to talk with him about the Hickory catching situation, but also touch on the state of the Rangers catching prospects.

 

You had a three-headed monster here and now it’s down to two. I know it wasn’t the perfect scenario for what you wanted, but you had to get guys at bats. The three of them that were here, Novoa, Huff and Pozo, how did you see them working through that together?

Briones: It was a really unique situation to where you had three young catching prospects that are the same age and they needed to play. Like you said, the three-headed monster were going to get 45 games apiece for the season, rotate through at first base, rotate through as the designated hitter, and days they weren’t catching they were going to get the extra work with (coach) Turtle (Thomas). It was a challenge. As you think about it, was it going to be enough to consider really developing three catchers? And it was working out well.

The fact that Melvin came out swinging the bat really well, it created an opportunity to move him up and the opening up at Down East was there for him to basically slide in and split some time up there with Matt Whatley. In my opinion, it just creates a better opportunity for Sam and Pozo to get more reps. The more that they’re back here, I think the more opportunity there is to develop.

The game action is the most important thing to get versus the drills and all the practice. The more games and innings that they can add to that line, that’s where they get to develop – the game action.

 

I’ll just go through one at a time. Sam Huff, who I just talked to. He seems like a kid that just wants to win, period. He mentioned several times ”I just want to win, I just want to win.”

Briones: Absolutely. He actually gets that from Jose Trevino. He has a really good relationship with Jose. Jose’s bottom line is to win. He won here and Jose won at the next level. They spent a lot of time together in spring training. If that’s the goal, to win, then everything else will take care of itself. The way that Trevino went about his business, Sam is trying to follow in his footsteps.

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

Catcher Sam Huff (r) during a mound visit with pitcher Sal Mendez and pitching coach Jose Jaimes (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

What are some of the examples that Trevino set that Sam and some of the other guys are trying to follow? Are they the intangibles or other areas?

Biones: Definitely the intangibles, paying attention to the opposing team. Everything that we ask of the catchers, Trevino did: From taking care of the pitching staff, knowing the opposing hitters, just knowing everything that he could possibly know. From a catcher’s standpoint, that’s what I’m asking them all to do. Pay attention to all the little things, and create relationships, and have good communication with his pitching staff, have good communication with his manager and pitching coach. I always looked at the catcher as another part of the coaching staff, to where they need to know everything that is going on.

Jose Trevino catching

Catcher Jose Trevino during a 2015 game against Hagerstown (Tracy Proffitt)

To have the opportunity to have Trevino my first year and to see what he was like, he set the bar for all the young catchers extremely high. I use him as the example for the Pozos, the Novoas, the Sam Huffs, the Matt Whatleys. It’s like, this guy does it the way that you want to do it. Watch how he does it. He’s got his second Gold Glove a couple of weeks ago. In a short period of time, he’s got a tremendous resume and Sam looks at that. All of the other kids look at that and see how he does what he does. He’s got a great game plan and recipe for success.

 

What is Sam working on now? What do you see him working on for the remainder of year? Well, let me refocus, this is such an evolving position, what is he working on at this point?

Briones: From the defensive standpoint, just getting the innings and playing.

It’s the first time that he’s out of the complex. He’s an Arizona kid. He had the ability to go home every evening. Every Saturday, he could jump in his car and drive 40 minutes to go home and see Mom and Dad. This being his first opportunity to be away from home, I’m constantly checking on him to make sure he’s not homesick.

What is he working on the field? Every aspect you could possibly think of: running a pitching staff, learning to communicate, learning to pace himself with the grind of playing every single day and having one or two days off a month. This is something that he’s never done. In Arizona, they play 10:30 games and then they have the rest of the day off. Here, he’s got to learn how to time manage and know how to get everything that needs to be done in a day done, and be ready to play. We try to keep an eye on his workload, and keep an eye on his fatigue, and keep an eye on his diet and hold him accountable to do all of that also, and make sure he shows up ready to play every day.

Pozo. He came here and had a tremendous second half with the bat. A little slower to start this year, is part of that was, last year he was catching a lot in the second half last year, where as this year he is having to split more of that time?

Briones:  He’s splitting the time but he’s still in the lineup with the innings at first base and the innings as a designated hitter. So, he’s getting his at bats. It’s a little harder to get the rhythm defensively. The defense for me has been fine.

Offense, that’s a tricky one. It comes and goes. He’s getting his at bats. It’s not like he’s catching and hitting, and then getting two days off, and then catching and hitting, and then getting two days off. He’s still getting the consistent at bats. That’s how this game goes with scouting reports to where, they have last year’s scouting reports to go off of and they have an idea on how to pitch him. Whether you are in A-ball or AA or AAA, they’re going to find out what your scouting reports are – whether you are aggressive, if he chases. Repeating this level, they have notes on him and what he can do and what he looks for. That’s what scouting reports are for.

Yohel Pozo catching

Yohel Pozo during a 2018 game vs. Columbia (Tracy Proffitt)

What is he working on at this point?

Briones: Learning to love the work of defense. That’s where Turtle Thomas comes in on a daily basis. The kid loves to hit. He loves to hit. We’d love for him to get to where he loves the defensive side and the practice that goes into it. Running a staff and just working like Sam did last night – work his but off for nine innings and be able to separate the offense from the defense. Pozo, we’re trying to get him to where he loves the defensive side as much as he loves the offensive side.

 

What are the biggest intangibles that catchers at this level have to pick up on? Catching is such an intangible position beyond the defensive and offensive skills?

Briones: The biggest one is building the relationships and learning the pitching staff. Having the consistency of 12 to 15 pitchers to work with on a daily basis and to know who are the ones you have to wrap your arm around and who are the ones you have to kick in the butt. That’s something that Sam and Pozo and Novoa, when he was here, that’s not a physical thing that we can practice, but that’s something that’s highly important.

That’s something with which Trevino did a great job. When you build that relationship, you’re going to build trust. When you have that trust and you get out on the field – last night there was trust built between Casanova and Huff. It started off shaky, but they fed off of each other and it was a beautiful game. That’s something that Sam’s gotta learn. When you’re in Arizona as a catcher, there’s fifty pitchers there and it’s hard to build trust and a relationship when you have a pitching staff that’s huge.

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Melvin Novoa (left) congratulated by Sam Huff after scoring (Tracy Proffitt)

 

You look at almost every World Series team they have that catcher, the Poseys, and Yadier Molina, and Varitek and Posada. For the average fan, and probably for the average me, what is the thing behind the scenes that most fans don’t see that really goes into that position to make a major league team successful?

Briones:  The fact is that all the names that you mentioned, they are homegrown. I think that is something that is a key for a championship team. You mentioned the Buster Poseys, the Posadas, the Yadis, they all came through the system. They’ve known the system from the first time that they signed a professional contract. That’s something that we need to develop.

I look at the wave of catchers that we have from Trevino to Chuck Moorman to Novoa to Matt Whatley, who is the newest one in the mix. We have five, six, seven, eight guys that are in the system that are all homegrown. Now, we just need to graduate one and the first one, that hopefully we’ll graduate, will be Trevino. Actually Brett Nicholas was one of the first homegrown ones, but we need to create that. They know the system. They know what we’re looking for. They know they’ve got that trust with all their pitchers throughout the organization. We have waves of it. Every age bracket, we have them coming.

 

Trevino ready to take the next step forward?

Briones: Behind the plate, for me defensively, absolutely. Defensively, he can do the job. In the industry, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s a backup catcher. He just came back from the disabled list and in his first game back he went 2-for-2 with two homers.

Pitching has gotten better as he got to AA. It’s going to get better at AAA and it’s better in the big leagues. I think he can hit. I’ve seen him hit and we’ve just got to keep him healthy and get his bat right. If his bat is correct and it improves, he’s a front line, every day catcher. If the bat doesn’t improve, he’s a really good backup catcher.

 

Who’s behind him in your system right now?

Briones: Josh Morgan, who you saw as an infielder. He’s like the sleeper because it took a couple of years for him to agree to do the job and put the gear on and get there.

A guy who’s already in the big leagues who could do it, who I would love to see, is Kiner-Falefa. Kiner-Falefa, I mean, I could name 10 names right now of catchers that are in the wave. But Kiner-Falefa is 23-years-old, he’s two years younger than Trevino. If he gets the opportunity to catch, he’s going to hold his own and it would be wonderful. And he swings the bat.

You’ve got Trevino, 25, Kiner-Falefa, 23, Josh Morgan, 22, Chuck Moorman, 24, all these guys, given the opportunity, they can catch. So, there’s a lot of “next guy’s up”.

isiah Kiner-Falefa

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a Crawdads shortstop in 2014-15, is possibly among the future mix of the Texas Rangers catching corps. (Tracy Proffitt)

#RakersWhoPitch: Bolin’s night on the Mound

After the Hickory Crawdads were involved in so many lengthy extra-inning games last year, the Texas Rangers decided to limit the use of their pitchers in such marathon games. The result of that will be the use of position players on the mound once the game gets to a certain point. Enter Travis Bolin during Thursday night’s 12-inning win over the Kannapolis Intimidators.

Travis Bolin pitching - Lin

Travis Bolin as he prepares to deliver the pitch during Thursday night’s game vs. Kannapolis (Crystal Lin / Hickory Crawdads)

Bolin got an inkling a few days prior to Thursday’s game that he could be used as a pitcher at some point during the season, if the situation called for it. Then, it happened and no one was more surprised that Bolin.

“I came out here (to the bullpen) and threw about 20 pitches,” said Bolin. “Then they called me in. I thought they were joking at first. The last out came and the pitching coach (Jose Jaimes) called me and said, ‘Hey, you’re going in.’ And I was like, ‘Are you guys serious? You guys are actually letting me go out and throw?’ Yeah, I went out there and had a good time.”

A good time, indeed. Bolin pitched, despite the tie game and his scoreless inning was enough to get the win as Hickory scored a run for the 2-1 walk-off victory.

“That is pretty cool,” said Bolin of the decision. “I was just happy about my first strikeout, the first batter. I thought it was pretty cool.”

Bolin said he hadn’t pitched since high school and threw just a few innings then. His brother was a pitcher, and so in watching him, Bolin had some sense of pitching out of the windup, which was fairly seamless.

Travis Bolin windup - Lin

Travis Bolin windup (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

“I’m pretty accurate when I’m trying to hit my spots,” said Bolin. “I did a pretty good  job of it last night.”

The strikeout came as the inning’s leadoff hitter Zach Remillard swung through a 2-2 fastball. Grant Massey sent then a 2-0 fastball (heck, they were all fastballs) for a 6-3 grounder.

The one wrinkle came on a walk issued to Tyler Sullivan, an at-bat Bolin said he thought the umpire squeezed him on a pitch.

Bolin said, “Man, I painted one right on the corner and he didn’t give it to me. But that’s how it goes with pitching.”

The inning ended with a groundout to second by Joel Booker. Bolin threw all fastballs – topping out at 85, though he said he could gas up to 92, but was told to keep it eased back so as to not hurt his arm – but he was prepared to use a slider if needed.

“Actually, I was going to go to throwing a slider, or a real cut-fastball, but we ended up getting the guy out on the next pitch anyway, so we didn’t have to go to that.”

The response from teammates was described by Bolin as ecstatic and the opportunity may indeed arise again to pitch.

“I asked Spike today, I said ‘Hey, now that that actually happened, is that going to happen again?’ He said, ‘Of course, that was a test. Good job.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’”

Travis Bolin gets win - Lin

Travis Bolin receives congratulations as the Crawdads close on the win vs. Kannapolis (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Crawdads position players pitching:

It rarely happened in the early years of the club’s history, but as major league teams become more cautious about over using pitchers and keeping them in a routine, position players throwing in games is becoming more common.

Over the first 15 seasons, just five position players pitched for Hickory. None did until 1999 and then from 2007 until 2013, but since 2014 it’s happened ten times, five of those in 2016.

Below is an overview of those position players who have climbed the hill.

1999: 1B Carlos Rivera – and a future big leaguer – mopped up in a game during which he gave up a run on two hits in an inning.

2000: 1B/ OF Jason Landreth allowed three hits and walk, all of which scored during his lone inning.

2000: C Jose Hernandez walked the only batter he faced and took the loss.

May 15, 2005: 2B Dan Schwartzbauer. The Crawdads were completing a suspended game from the night before against Lake County (OH), which eventually went to extra innings. After the Captains scored three in the 11th – and with another full nine-inning game to go – Crawdads manager Jeff Branson brought in Schwartzbauer, who struck out the only batter he faced.

Schwartzbauer 2

Dan Schwartzbauer fanned the only player he faced in 2005.

June 28, 2007: 2B Jose J. De Los Santos. In the night cap of a doubleheader against Kannapolis, the Crawdads had blown a 5-2 lead and ran out of available arms to pitch in extra innings. De Los Santos was brought in and gave up six runs to take the loss in an 11-5 defeat.

May 23, 2013: LF Nick Vickerson. In one of the wildest games in Crawdads history – both managers were ejected and a walk-off homer was reversed – the Kannapolis Intimidators scored four runs in the top of the 12th to take the lead. Vickerson got Justin Jirschele – the current Intimidators manager – to hit into a fielder’s choice. The Crawdads went on to score five in the bottom of the inning for a 7-6 win.

June 25, 2014: IF Janluis Castro. In mop-up duty vs. Kannapolis, Castro retired all four batters he faced, fanning two.

July 8, 2014: IF Janluis Castro. Became the first Crawdads position player to pitch twice as he entered a game during a blowout loss to the Lexington Legends. Gave up two hits, but struck out two during a scoreless ninth inning.

Janluis Castro

Normally an infielder, Janluis Castro pitched in three times in 2014, including back-to-back games. (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

July 9, 2014: 2B Janluis Casto. The Legends scored three in the top of the 14th and rather than waste a pitcher, Castro moved over from second and strike out the only batter he faced. For the season, Castro allowed two hits and struck out five of the ten hitters he faced.

August 8, 2015: C Jonathan Meyer. Became the first position player to pitch on the road since 2000. Gave up a walk-off, three-run homer at Lakewood in the 18th inning for the loss.

May 15, 2016: 1B Dylan Moore. Back-to-back errors on what should’ve been inning-ending double play balls played a big role in seven unearned runs during a 9-2 loss to the Rome Braves in 19 innings.

Dylan Moore pitching

Dylan Moore vs. Rome (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

June 6, 2016: OF Josh Altman. The utilityman worked around two hits in the 13th inning during a game with Greensboro. However, two errors were costly in the 14th as Hickory dropped a 6-5 loss to the Grasshoppers.

Josh Altmann pitching - Lin

Josh Altmann holds a runner on while pitching during an extra-inning game vs. Greensboro (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

July 15, 2016. C Chuck Moorman. The starting catcher entered the game during a blowout loss to West Virginia and retired both batters he faced with one strikeout.

Chuck Moorman pitching

Normally a catch, Chuck Moorman catches the view from the mound (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

July 24, 2016. OF Connor McKay. A 15-3 blowout at Lakewood precipitated the use of McKay in the ninth, who retired all three batters he faced.

July 30, 2016. OF Connor McKay. After the Crawdads gave up four runs in the top of the 10th against Hagerstown, McKay was brought in and he retired the lone batter he faced.

Connor McKay pitching - Lin

Connor McKay pitched twice for the Crawdads in 2016 (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Game Story July 12: Lakewood Cools Hot Crawdads Bats

The Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws built a five-run lead, then fended off a late charge in claiming a 6-4 win over the Hickory Crawdads Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory.

The win by the BlueClaws (39-49 overall, 10-9 second half) – their fifth in six games – was the first in four meetings with the Crawdads (47-42, 9-10) this season. Hickory entered the game on the heels of a 5-2 road trip, but continued its woes at home, dropping to 19-22 at Frans this season.

Behind starter Matt Ball, the Crawdads eked out a 1-0 lead through five innings. The lone run came when Josh Altmann ripped a sharp, one-hop grounder past second baseman Josh Tobias to score Eduard Pinto. Ball allowed four hits and three walks over five shutout innings and struck out five.

Lakewood countered with a strong start by Seranthony Dominguez (1-1), who allowed just the one run on five hits and struck out three.

The BlueClaws took the lead for good against reliever Blake Bass (3-2) in the sixth. Josh Tobias singled to left and moved to third on Damek Tomscha’s double. Wilson Garcia’s grounder to second scored Tobias before Jose Pujols singled in Tomscha to take a 2-1 lead.

Dominguez and reliever Sutter McLoughlin held the Crawdads lineup in check, retiring 13 in a row from the fourth through the eighth.

Lakewood blew the game open in the ninth against John Werner. With one out, Cornelius Randolph doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch. Deivi Grullon then cracked a two-run homer to left to open the lead to 4-1. Tobias later singled in two more for Lakewood’s final runs.

Hickory’s lineup reawakened in the bottom of the ninth to make it a game. Pinto singled and scored on Dylan Moore’s double to left-center. After McLoughlin walked Altmann, Zach Morris entered the game to face Yeyson Yrizarri. Moore and Altmann worked a double steal and then both scored on Yriarri’s single up the middle. Morris then settled down to strike out Chuck Moorman and got the final out of the game when Ricky Valencia lined out to Carlos Duran in the left-centerfield gap.

 

Hot sticks stymied:

The Crawdads entered the game after scoring six or more runs over the past five games, and it appeared they would another to the list after a strong first inning. However, Dominguez settled down and overwhelmed the lineup with a lively, cutting fastball that stayed in the 95-97 mph range. The pitch was especially effective in running into the hands of left-handed hitters, elliciting weak contact. Early on, Dominguez was unable to throw the slider for strikes and dumped the pitch pretty much after the second inning, although he got Chuck Moorman to chase two of them to end the fourth.

Sutter McLoughlin had an effective changeup (83-84) to compliment a 93-94 mph fastball. The ball seemed to jump from the righty after a slow windup and delivery.

 

Pinto continues to smolder:

One day after winning the South Atlantic League’s hitter of the week award (.567/.581/.833) Hickory’s Eduard Pinto continued to hit the ball hard and picked up two hits on the night to extend his hitting streak to nine. In seven of those games, he has two or more hits. Pinto was one of the few hitters to solve the fastball of Dominguez, getting the bat out early to pull it into right for a single in the first.. A  liner to short in the third turned into a double play in the third. Another line out came in the sixth, this one to right. He saw just one offspeed pitch on the night, a changeup which he lined for a single to center in the ninth to start the Crawdads final rally.

Opportunity knocked but thrice:

Hickory missed chances to open up its early lead and it proved to be costly in the game’s ultimate result. On Altmann’s RBI single in the first, Dylan Moore rounded the bag aggressively at third, but manager Steve Mintz decided to hold him at the last moment. Moore slipped and fell trying to stop, then was tagged out trying to retreat to third.

In the second, Hickory led off with an infield hit by Yeyson Yrizarri, who used a grounder and a balk to move to third. With two outs, Connor McKay built a 3-0 count, but eventually struck out.

Eric Jenkins doubled and Frandy De La Rosa walked to start the third. Pinto’s liner to short turned into a double play that erased Jenkins. The play nearly became a triple play, but De La Rosa was able to scamper back to first.

Prevent defense actually works:

Only a no-doubles defense kept pinch-hitter Ricky Valencia from keeping the ninth inning alive, as his hard liner into the LCF gap was taken by Duran, who was playing near the track in center.

Failing to take Ball home:

Matt Ball held steady command in the early going for Hickory. It looked like he held mostly to a (94-96) / slider diet. The slider did much of the dirty work for him, ringing up four Ks, all swinging. A 94 mph was called for a third strike to finish off Zach Coppola in the third.

Ball’s fastball control began to fade in the fourth as he walked a pair of hitters. But after a mound visit, a fastball from Ball broke the bat of Jose Pujols and turned the ensuing weak grounder into a double play.

In the fifth, Lakewood put two on with two outs, the second a walk by Ball of Coppola. However, Duran undercut a hanging slider and weakly flew out to left.

No balm for relief:

Bass had a rough sixth inning, but it didn’t compare to the tough night for Werner in the ninth. Lakewood hitters jumped Bass’ fastball early in the count to start the rally, however, it was a broken bat single by Pujols on a slider that put Lakewood ahead. Bass eventually recorded the final two outs of the inning to keep the Crawdads in the game.

In the ninth, it was Werner’s slider that the BlueClaws attacked effectively, when it crossed the plate. Grullon hammered a hanger for an insurance, two-run homer. Randolph and Emmanuel Marrero also hit the pitch hard for base knocks.

But with all the problems with the slider, it was the demeanor for Werner that was evident. Werner argued that the homer by Grullon was foul – it appeared fair from the press box. A few slight kicks to the rubber and just general body language issues after a walk eventually brought manager Steve Mintz to the mound for a rare non-pitching change visit.

The homer was the sixth allowed by Werner, all of them coming since June 19 (seven appearance, 11.2 innings) when Yermin Mercedes took him deep in the ninth inning of a loss to Delmarva (Md.).

Interview with Mike Daly Part 2: Jenkins, Yrizarri & the Crawdads Hitters

This is part two of a lengthy interview I did with Texas Rangers Senior Director of Minor League Operations Mike Daly during the last homestand.

In part one, we talked about two of the higher profile prospects, Hickory Crawdads second baseman Andy Ibanez and starting pitcher Dillon Tate.

Part two is a look at the Crawdads hitters, with a longer look at 2015 second round pick, outfielder Eric Jenkins, as well as at shortstop prospect Yeyson Yrizarri.

 

Eric Jenkins struggling now. The speed doesn’t go into a slump and he’s been able to use that some, but a bit of a work in progress at the plate. We’re noticing sometimes he’s having difficult in fastball counts being able to be ready for those pitches. He seems to be seeing the breaking ball a little bit better. How is his progress as you see it at this point?

Daly: Any time that a young player, especially a high school kid, comes out and plays his first full season here in the South Atlantic League, it is a challenge. It is a grind of 140 games. It’s something that these guys have never gone through before. So understand that each and every night, no matter if you’re in a slump or if you’re hot, you have to be ready to play at 7:00 in front of fans with the scoreboard on. That’s a great challenge.

Eric’s got tremendous speed. He has a game-changing type speed. He’s a plus defender in the outfield. But these guys, as they start to play teams, professional pitchers that know how to attack hitters, that have scouting reports on Eric and other players it becomes like a big challenge for these guys. Eric, Yrizarri (Yeyson), (Ti’Quan) Forbes, they need to make adjustments and understand  that when the league adjusts to you, you need to adjust to the league.

So where Eric’s at, we think that it’s just him going through the first year of playing each and every day. His speed tool is great. It allows him to bunt. It allows him to put the ball on the ground and make some of the infielders really hustle in terms of having to throw to first base. Frankly with that speed, it should never be a prolonged slump, but I think with Eric, the fact that each and every day he’s healthy, he’s on the field and getting through that first year grind here in Hickory.

 

I have some people asking, “Why are they keeping him at the top of the order, why not drop him down?” And my response has been he’s got to learn how to hit lead-off and this is the place to do it. Have the Rangers basically wanted to see that through. at least at this point?

Daly: Most definitely, I mean it’s game-changing type speed. He’s a guy that had some success last year when we drafted him right away out in Arizona and was a part of the championship team here last year.  We’ve got a lot of confidence in Eric. He’s going to have some struggles, but Eric needs to work through that and he needs to know that the organization is behind him and he has the confidence to go up there and try to set the table for the meat of the lineup.

We want him to feel that pressure, if you will, batting leadoff. We want him to go up there and find a way to get on base and identify what the pitcher is throwing that night. So, we think it’s really good for Eric and he’s going to be at the top of the lineup here for some time to come.

 

 

I’ve enjoyed watching Yeyson Yrizarri play. I love defense. I loved watching Michael De Leon play shortstop the last two years. You guys have run some guys through the last two years that can flat out play defense and (Yrizarri) is certainly at the top of the list for me. He’s very well put together for a 19-year-old and does some things well for his age and his level. Let me ask you about his progression.

Daly: He’s a strong and durable young man. Obviously, he’s got some strong blood lines there, being the nephew of Deivi Cruz. He was a guy that had a really strong body when we signed him. It’s been step-by-step. He started out in the Dominican Summer League and he earned his way to Arizona. Last year, he played under the lights out there in Spokane.

You’re right, he’s here in a long line of shortstops that we’ve been lucky enough to send here to Hickory. It’s a cannon. It’s a bazooka over there at shortstop. He loves to play. I think it’s the same kind of thing that Eric Jenkins is going through – the grind of playing each and every night, playing against teams that have seen him multiple times and have an idea of how to pitch you and have an idea what some of your weaknesses are. It’ s a great challenge for Yeyson to make some adjustments with the bat. But he shows some power at the plate. He’s a plus shortstop with an absolute bazooka.

 

He seems like at the plate to be somebody that is a little bit more advanced than a Jenkins or a Forbes or other 18, 19 year olds. He’s able to work deeper into counts. He may eventually strike out or hit a week groundball, but he seems to have a better idea of how to go about an at-bat at this point.

Daly: Definitely, and I think it’s a credit to him. Yeyson has a very good aptitude and he’s also in a situation in where he signed in July of 2013, where Eric signed in June of 2015. So, Yeyson’s had a little bit more at-bats. He’s been in the organization almost two years longer. He’s been through more games in Arizona and Spokane, so I think that might be a little bit of a difference in terms of just a little bit more experience for Yeyson Yrizarri versus a guy like Eric Jenkins. But I think both those guys have great aptitudes and it’s exciting to see them go through their first full season here together. Yeyson has a clear idea of what he’s trying to do at the plate and it’s exciting to see.

 

Who is somebody at the plate that is maybe under the radar that a fan might want to pay attention to that is otherwise not being talked about?

Daly: I say, it’s like a few guys. I think it’s been a really good catching tandem with Chuck Moorman and Tyler Sanchez. I think those guys have really invested in our pitchers. They’ve done a really good job behind the plate and put together some really nice at-bats.

Dylan Moore playing first base, second base, shortstop and third base as been a really good player right in the middle of the lineup there for Steve Mintz. He’s a guy that brings a lot to the table and is able to bring lots of versatility for Steve Mintz every night to be able to play him at a lot of different positions.

I think Ti’Quan Forbes over there at third base is another guy that played next to Yrizarri last year at Spokane and the year before that in Arizona. He’s a guy that continues to get bigger and stronger and put together good at-bats and he’s been real exciting.

Eduard Pinto is a guy that certainly the Hickory fans have had some experience with and they see how he’s come back from the tragedy that was going on in his life. He’s a guy that’s been in the organization for four or five years, but always puts together a good at bat.

LeDarious Clark is an interesting guy that really lit it up last year in Spokane and is as athletic as they come, and has tools, and just being able to see how he’s gone about it each and every game and how he’s continued to get more and more experience and he’s starting to tie in his physical attributes with what he’s learned here on a daily basis.

I think all of the position players are very interesting at this point for the Crawdads.

 

Do you like how the team is developing with the speed game?

Daly: Definitely. I think it’s a credit to Steve Mintz to push our guys to run and to give a lot of them green lights and not to hold them back. I think it’s about development and how these guys are learning what they’re capable of doing and to see them have a lot of success. We have some speed on the team and it’s good to see these guys be aggressive and to take chances on the base paths and to see the success that they’re having.

It’s a dog fight. Hagerstown is a really good team and this whole South Atlantic League is really good. It’s good to see these guys compete and battle to try and win the first half.

Braves Hop Over Crawdads 3-2

 

The Rome (Ga.) Braves scored three runs in the fourth to edge the Hickory Crawdads 3-2 during a Wednesday morning contest held at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium.

 

What Happened?:

What had been a tough-hitting  series (14 total runs in the three games) continued on Wednesday as for the most part Rome’s Ricardo Sanchez and Hickory’s Erik Swanson held the opposing lineups in check.

Hickory (28-18) scored both of its runs in the second as Dylan Moore walked and Eduard Pinto followed with a two-run homer that just skimmed the tip of the fence in the rightfield corner.

The Braves (18-28) got their rally started with one out in the fourth as a ground ball to second baseman Andy Ibanez caromed wildly to Ibanez’s right for a single. A four-pitch walk to Wigberto Nevarez and a single by Jonathan Morales loaded the bases. Swanson (3-1) issued a second four-pitch walk in the inning, this time to Justin Ellison to score the first run. Carlos Castro popped up to first, but Alejandro Salazar singled in two runs to provide what turned out to be the game’s final margin.

Sanchez (3-4) allowed just the two runs on two hits with two strikeouts and two walks over 5.2 innings. He left in the sixth due to a shoulder injury.

Oriel Caicedo finished up for the Braves, though he had to work out of a Crawdads rally in the ninth. With two outs, Ibanez and Moore singled and Pinto walked to load the bases. However, Caicedo got Yeyson Yrizarri to pop to first to end the game.

Game management the difference:

The difference in the game was the ability of the two starters to work out of their one trouble spot in the game.

Sanchez:

In the second, Sanchez was clearly affected by a 3-2 pitch to the right-handed Moore that appeared to catch the outside corner, but was called ball four. After a fastball away to the lefty Pinto, a fastball in was pulled down the line and went about 333 feet and barely cleared the 10-foot fence.

After Yrizarri flew out to center, Ti’Quan Forbes beat out an infield hit to short.

The inning seemed to affect Sanchez, as he took several trips around the mound between pitches to collect himself. It took mound visits by the shortstop Salazar, the catcher Nevarez and finally Braves pitching coach Dan Meyer to settle down the 19-year-old lefty. Sanchez then got Chuck Moorman to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Swanson:

It appeared that Swanson was a candidate for a “Maddux” after needing 30 pitches to get through three innings. After getting Ray-Patrick Didder to ground to short, the inning began to unravel as Swanson’s pinpoint control with the fastball suddenly left him.

Four straight 95 mph pitches sailed to the righty’s glove side. Morales was able to get a seeing-eye single into left to load the bases before four straight fastballs then went off the plate arm side.

Castro popped up a 2-2 fastball onto the infield and then it appeared Swanson was going to keep the lead when he started Salazar 0-2. But a slider to Salazar caught a lot of the plate and he lined it hard to left and that turned out to be the ball game.

 

Stellar play in the field:

Third baseman Frandy De La Rosa and shortstop Yrizarri make stellar plays in support of Swanson in the second. De La Rosa snapped up a tough short-hop off the bat of Ellison to get the out. Yrizarri then made a grab of a grounder deep in the hole and then made a Jeter-like jump throw on the money to first to retire the slowfooted Castro.

 

Missed hitter’s counts:

What was an blip in the game log in the second turned out to be a key play as Moorman pulled a 2-1 fastball into a double play to keep Sanchez in the game with only two runs. But other hitters missed out on hitter’s counts as well.

In the third, Jenkins laid off a pair of curveballs away, but then mistimed a fastball and popped it to third.

One inning later, Moore worked a 2-0 count as two secondary pitches missed. But he, too, missed a fastball and bounced weakly to second.

In the fifth, De La Rosa saw a 2-0 fastball and bounced it to third.

Said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz after the game, “I don’t know why we couldn’t figure that guy out. I don’t know why we were getting in counts to hit and we couldn’t square up any balls.”

Rome Strikes (Out) for Win

The Rome Braves rallied with single runs in the eighth and ninth inning to claim a 3-2 over the Hickory Crawdads Monday night in the opener of a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The loss for the Crawdads (27-17) combined with a win by Hagerstown (Md.) at Lakewood (N.J.) dropped Hickory into second place by a half-game in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. The Crawdads have lost five of the last six games.

Although Rome (17-27) remains at the bottom of the Southern Division standings, the Braves continue to confound the Crawdads and have evened the series record at 4-4.

What Happened?:

Hickory’s Pedro Payano and Rome’s Patrick Wiegel held the opposing offenses in check for the most part, though each contributed to their own trouble in the game.

Rome used defensive miscues to get onto the scoreboard in the second. With one out, Carlos Castro singled to right and moved to second on a passed ball by Chuck Moorman. After Payano struck out Lucas Herbert, Payano’s attempted pickoff of Castro bounced into center and moved the runner to third. Leudys Baez blooped a single to left for the RBI.

Ti’Quan Forbes got Hickory even in the third with his first pro home run, a fly ball that carried over the fence in left.

Wiegel returned the favor with a miscue of his own that gave Hickory the lead in the fifth. With one out, Eduard Pinto singled. Forbes followed with a bouncer back to the mound. Wiegel turned to second for the force play, but instead bounced the ball into centerfield, which allowed Pinto to go to third. Moorman’s groundout to second scored Pinto.

Though the Braves struck out three times in the eighth, Rome used two of those whiffs to score the tying run. With one out, Blake Bass struck out Austin Riley, but the pitch bounced to the backstop and allowed Riley to reach. Riley stole second and Jonathan Morales walked to end Bass’s night. Reliever Joe Palombo struck out Justin Elliott, but Carlos Castro loaded the bases with his second hit of the night. The Crawdads appeared to be out of the inning as Herbert struck out, but his strikeout pitch went to the backstop with Riley scoring on the play.

Rome scored the go-ahead run in the ninth as Ray-Patrick got an infield hit, stole second, and scored on Austin Riley’s double with two outs.

LeDarious Clark singled and stole second with two outs, but got no further as Pinto bounced back to the mound to end it.

 

Sloppy ‘Dads Hinder Efforts:

At times Monday, Hickory looked like a team that was tired from a weeklong road trip. Alejandro Salazar hit what looked like a routine single in the first. However, when centerfielder Eric Jenkins was slow to retrieve the ball, Salazar turned it to a hustle double, sliding into second easily.

Frandy De La Rosa appeared to lose track of the count as he remained in the batter’s box to hit after a third strike was called for the out.

Chuck Moorman didn’t seem his usual steady self behind the plate as the passed ball and two wild pitches all came on breaking balls by three different pitchers.

 

Forbes Stock up or down:

Ti’Quan Forbes showed in the course of Monday’s game the inconsistent season that has played out thus far.

At the plate, Forbes took a hanging curveball from Wiegel and served it out to left. However, with runners at second and third, Forbes mistimed a first-pitch fastball from new reliever Grayson Jones and hit it into a 4-6-3 double play.

At third base, Forbes made a hard-charging, barehanded play on a bunt by Justin Ellison in the sixth. In the ninth, Forbes bobbled an easy roller to extend the inning.

 

Impatience at the plate:

Of the 33 hitters Hickory sent to the plate on Monday, 21 of them saw four or fewer pitches. Eleven of them faced 1 or 2 pitches.

 

Payano not what it seems:

Payano needed 91 pitches to get through six innings and his fastball wasn’t without control issues, but his line score looks worse than it appeared. Of the seven hits he gave up over six innings, only Castro’s liner in the second was well struck. His curveball throughout the game had good snap to it with several missed bats, including all three strikes in a five-pitch K of Castro in the fourth.

Lovin’ the Outcome: Hickory Edges Rome 8-7

A mistake-filled game by both teams led to a see-saw affair that the Hickory Crawdads finally were able to take an 8-7 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves on Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Now at 24-11, Hickory holds the best record in the South Atlantic League and is 1 ½ games ahead of Hagerstown (Md.) in the Northern Division. Rome has dropped to 12-23 and is tied with Greensboro for the worst record in the SAL.

What Happened?:

A crowd of 3,486 at L.P. Frans – many in attendance for the post-game concert by Christian artists “Love and the Outcome” – were able to see two of the top pitching prospects in minor league baseball in Rome’s Max Fried (MLB.com’s No. 10 Braves prospect) and the Crawdads Dillon Tate (No. 4). However, neither of the hurlers was sharp as the offenses took to the attack.

Rome scored three against Tate in the third. Yeudi Grullon used a strong wind to send a liner to the wall in right for a double. One out later, Luke Dykstra singled him in and then stole second. Juan Yepez and Justin Ellison collected back-to-back doubles to account for the other two runs.

The Crawdads got one back against Fried in the fourth as Eric Jenkins tripled and scored on Andy Ibanez’s single. Hickory then took the lead with four runs in the fifth. Josh Altmann and Ti’Quan Forbes opened the inning with singles and advanced to second and third after a sacrifice bunt by Chuck Moorman. Frandy De La Rosa singled in both runners before Chris Garia homered to right.

Errors by De La Rosa at second and Garia in left set up the tying runs for the Braves in the sixth as Grullon eventually singled in both Justin Ellison and Bradley Keller.

Rome took the lead with a run in the seventh. With one out, Dykstra and Jonathan Morales each singled. A wild pitch moved the runners up and Dykstra scored when Yepez hit a sharp grounder to Forbes at third. Forbes was able to knock the ball down and keep Morales at second, though Dykstra scored. Ellison walked to load the bases, but Crawdads reliever Adam Choplick got Lucas Herbert to fly out to shallow right and then struck out Keller to keep the deficit at 6-5.

The ability to hold the Braves to one run in the seventh proved crucial as the Crawdads returned serve for a final time in the bottom of the inning against Braves reliever Taylor Lewis. Moorman worked a leadoff walk followed by De La Rosa’s single. The key play of the inning came on Garia’s sacrifice back to Lewis in front of the mound. Lewis fielded the ball and as he turned to look towards third, dropped the ball and allowed Garia to reach and load the bases. Lewis struck out Jenkins, but then walked Andy Ibanez to force in Moorman. Dylan Moore singled in both runners to break the tie and make it 8-6.

Rome got to within 8-7 in the eighth as Crawdads reliever Joe Palumbo hit Ray-Patrick Didder with a pitch after two outs. Didder came all the way around to score as Dystrka doubled into the corner in left.

The Braves threatened in the ninth as Yepez doubled to lead off the inning. However, he remained there as Palumbo struck out Ellison and then got Herbert and Keller on fly outs to end the game.

 

The Wind:

What started out as a light spring zephyr at game time (11 mph) turned into a small gale a couple of innings into the game with the flags starched blowing left to right. Its first victim was Crawdads CF Jenkins, who had settled under a fly ball just short of the track in center, only to realize too late the ball was to his left by 20 feet.

Grullon’s first hit of the game in the third likely was wind-aided as it carried behind LeDarious Clark in right and off the wall. However, the wind likely took a homer away from Juan Yepez, as what looked an easy shot over the fence banged off the wall instead.

Garia’s homer to right was well struck in the fifth, but under normal circumstance it probably doesn’t leave the park. Garia made a nice play to circle around and catch a fly off the bat of Lucas Herbert to curtail further damage during the Braves three-run third. However, he misplayed a ball along the wall in left, then dropped the catch to enable Rome to score two runs in the seventh.

But as the wind taketh, the wind also giveth, as in the crucial seventh, the wind held up a blooper off the bat of Herbert and allowed Clark to make a running catch.

Pitching duel a dud:

Neither Tate for Hickory, nor Fried for Rome had their best stuff on display in the game.

Tate’s fastball was a tick down in velocity that what we’re used to seeing, but still running 93-95, with an occasional 96. We noticed in the press box that the high leg-kick Tate usually has in his delivery wasn’t quite as high on Saturday, and perhaps that affected his control, which at times was spotty. The fastball in the early innings tended to miss badly to his glove side. A strikeout of Yepez looking in the first caught the outside corner to the right-handed hitter. However, catcher Chuck Moorman’s glove was set up on the inside corner.

Tate’s changeup took the brunt of the beating in the third as both Yepez and Ellison jumped on pitches up and over the plate. The slider didn’t appear to get much use, nor did it have the same bite we’re used to seeing. With all that said, Tate managed to keep his composure on the mound in tight spots. After the wind-aided double in the second, Tate recovered to make Brandon Keller look silly on the best slider of the game and then blow a fastball by Alejandro Salazar to complete the inning.

Fried is, in a sense, getting his sea legs back after missing much of the last two seasons from “Tommy John” surgery. He ran a fastball in the 90-92 range, topping out at 94, which missed very few bats. Only Clark and Ibanez missed the pitch, which both times resulted in strikeouts. The lefty did throw the occasional change, though not for strikes, nor did it catch anyone off balance when it caught the plate. His main secondary of choice was the curveball that did have pretty decent bite, the best of which came prior to Clark’s strikeout.

So, with the secondaries average and the fastball on the straight side, Hickory hitters were able to square up good contact and keep Fried in trouble. Jenkins turned on a 93 mph heater inside and rifled it into the RF corner for his triple. Garia hit a fastball hard for an out in the first, but then got to one for his homer in the fifth. Forbes two hits against Fried came on fastballs and Chuck Moorman lined a first-pitch fastball to right in the second, but for an out.

Seventh the decisive inning:

Rome missed a golden opportunity to break open the game in the seventh, as Crawdads Adam Choplick struggled with curveball command. The key at-bat came with one out in the inning after a runner had scored with Choplick facing Herbert. After seven straight balls, Choplick got a 3-0 fastball over the plate and then got Herbert to chase a curve. A fastball in on the hands resulted in a jammed pop-up that LeDarious Clark ran down as the wind blew it to him in right. Choplick then got Alejandro Salazar to strikeout on three straight pitches. Hickory made Rome pay for the missed opportunity in the bottom of the inning.

Pickoff or not?:

Mild-mannered Crawdads manager Steve Mintz got tossed between prior to the top of the fifth inning, while arguing over the legality of a pickoff move by lefty Max Fried that resulted in two pickoffs, and kept the other Crawdads runners at bay at first.

With a flamingo like stance as he began his delivery, Fried was able to hold the front leg into place long enough to entice Hickory runners to break for second and become easy pickoffs. Both Dylan Moore and Josh Altmann fell victim to the tactic in the second. The move was a key part in a double play in the third, as Ti’Quan Forbes retreated a step to first on a pitch to the plate and then was an easy out on a grounder up the middle to second.

The question by Mintz was whether or not Fried was stepping towards first on the pickoff move to first, rather than a 45-degree step that he appeared to be taking on throws to the bag.

Baserunning still a work in progress:

Pickoffs aside, there were other miscues on the bag that I’m sure will be addressed. On De La Rosa’s two-run single in the fifth, Forbes ran a stop sign but up by acting manager Marty Hagen at third. Oddly enough, Rome chose to cut the ball off, allowing Forbes to score without a throw.

Chris Garia appeared to do the same on Dylan Moore’s two-RBI single in the seventh.  On the same play, Ibanez took a wide turn around second as the ball was cut off from the outfield and was easily out during a chase in the third.

Stats not always what they seem:

My friend Scott Lucas does a minor league primer each spring during which he explains the precarious nature of earned runs. Many times, they are a tool to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness, but at times, it can be subjected to the whim of the official scorer.

Both errors committed by Hickory in the seventh were on plays I thought were 50-50 calls. I went to the error side on both calls and totally expected Rome to challenge the calls after the game (the Braves didn’t, after all). I debated in my head the Garia error against the wind factor; radio voice Aaron Cox thought the De La Rosa error was harsh. Both errors resulted in unearned runs for Jon Werner, who pitched the sixth.

Official scoring also has a minor effect on offensive stats as well. In the case above, both hitters – Ellison and Keller – had their averages nicked downward. On Garia’s sacrifice that was botched by the Rome pitcher, I had to determine whether or not Moorman should have been out at third – thereby giving Garia a time at bat – or if Garia was to be the one out – giving him a sacrifice and not charging a time at. I decided on the sacrifice. These are things that keep me awake at night.

Davis & Company Set Down Legends to Cap 6-1 Homestand

After a see-saw affair through the first four innings, the Hickory Crawdads bullpen restored order and snared the team an 8-4 win over the Lexington Legends in a Monday morning game at L.P. Frans Stadium.

With the win and a split by Hagerstown (Md.) in its home doubleheader with Rome (Ga.), the Crawdads (17-8) now sit one-half game behind the Suns in the South  Atlantic League’s Northern Division. Lexington dropped to 10-15 and is now in sixth in the Southern Division, seven games out of first and one game ahead of last place Rome.

The Crawdads took three of four in the series and wrapped up a 6-1 homestand.

The teams exchanged leads three times before Hickory scored two runs in the fifth to keep the lead for good.

The bullpen was the story of the afternoon for Hickory as a quartet of relievers held the Legends to two hits over the final 4.1 innings and posted six strikeouts.

Tyler Davis picked up for starter Brett Martin with two outs in the fourth and struck out five of the seven hitters he faced. Adam Choplick gave up two hits after two were out, but got out a break when catcher Chuck Moorman threw out Marten Gasparini trying to steal third to end the inning. Johan Juan and Jeffrey Springs each pitched perfect innings to close out the game.

Jose Almonte hit his team-leading fourth homer of the season to tie the game in the fourth. In the fifth, Moorman singled in the go-ahead run and then Tyler Sanchez scored when Lexington botched a run-down play of Moorman between first and second. Yrizarri’s RBI double in the seventh and Dylan Moore’s run-scoring single in the eighth tacked on insurance runs for Hickory.

The Crawdads posted 13 hits on the afternoon and scored in six of eight innings. All nine batters had at least one hit with Eric Jenkins, Moore, Sanchez and Yrizarri collecting two each.

Yrizarri knocked in three runs and finished the series 7-for-12 with 3 runs scored and six RBI.

Yeyson Yrizarri hittinng

Yeyson Yrizarri had two hits and three RBI to finish off a 7-for-12 series against Lexington. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Bullpen Legen—wait for it – dary in Win:

The outing for Tyler Davis didn’t start well when he entered the game in the fourth. With two outs in the inning and DJ Burt at first, Burt took off for second and reached safely when Davis was called for a balk, as he attempted to turn and throw to second. However, Davis recovered to get Marten Gasparini looking on a changeup to end the inning.

“When Davis came in, he came in and pounded the zone with his fastball and was able to get some breaking balls and changeups in there,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “He really went after them and I think that gave us some momentum to start scoring a little more then without people all over the bases.”

Tyler Davis

Reliever Tyler Davis struck out five of seven hitters to get the win (2-0) for Hickory on Monday (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

 

The right-handed Davis – the Texas Rangers 23rd round pick in 2015 out of Washington – pounded the arm-side corner with an 89-91 mph fastball. But it was his ability to change speeds along that corner which that kept the Legends hitters off stride. In the fifth, Chase Vallot spoiled a fastball on the corner and then swung through a change in the same spot. Amalani Fukofuka was the one batter that seemed to solve Davis through a nine-pitch at-bat before whiffing on a slider off the plate to end the inning.

“I have to give Chuck (Moorman) a lot of credit,” said Davis. “He had a good plan behind the dish all day today. I was just pounding the strike zone with fastballs early and getting ahead of batters. Obviously, when you’re ahead of batters, it makes everything a lot easier. You can do a lot more with the at-bat; you can do a lot more with what you can throw. You’re basically in the driver’s seat.”

In the sixth Davis got Ben Johnson to swing through a slider off the plate before blowing an 89 mile an hour fastball by him. He used a similar plan to Xavier Hernandez, getting the first two strikes on off-speed pitches before painting the corner on a fastball to get him looking.

“I’m not an overpowering pitcher and I know that,” Davis said. “I really try to focus on keeping the ball down and getting ahead of batters and then mixing it up, getting them off balance a lot and keeping them off balance constantly with off-speed stuff and with fastballs as well. Being able to do that is huge and makes life a lot easier for me and the catcher and the coaches.”

Six-foot-eight lefty Adam Choplick used a 94 mph fastball and a biting curve to handle Lexington in the seventh. He left a pair of heaters over the plate that were struck into the outfield.  Overall, a good outing that was helped along when Gasparini was thrown out stealing third.

Johan Juan had little trouble in the eighth, sporting fastballs in the 92-94 range. Jeffrey Springs closed out the ninth on just six pitches.

A comedy of errors:

Whether it was the 10:30 a.m. start, or getaway day prior to an off-day for both teams, fundamental plays were difficult to come by.

In the first, the Crawdads had a chance to get out of the inning unscathed for starter Brett Martin. With runners at first and second, the slow-footed Samir Duenez hit what looked to be a routine double play ball to Frandy De La Rosa at second. However, he and Yrizarri and short were slow in getting the play in motion and Duenez beat out the play. Burt scored on Vallot’s single.

Lexington returned the favor defensively in the bottom of the inning. With runners at second and third with no outs, Moore rifled a shot that Jecksson Flores snagged at third. Instead of taking the sure out at first, Flores gambled and lost when he tried to tag Chris Garia scrambling back to third. Garia beat the play and the bases were loaded. Hickory then traded two outs for two runs in the inning.

The Crawdads appeared to add to its early lead in the second when Garia lifted a fly ball to right that scored Ti’Quan Forbes. However, Lexington successfully appealed the play and Forbes was ruled to have left third early.

A leadoff error by 2B Frandy De La Rosa led to a pair of unearned runs in the third that gave Lexington a 4-2 lead.  Then in the bottom of the third, a single and a double, a walk and another single led to only one Crawdads run as Eric Jenkins was picked off first.

“It took us a couple of innings to get together and then everybody pulled their heads back out and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got something to do here,’” said Mintz. “For the most part, we did what we had to do. We could’ve helped ourselves a little bit better early.”

Lexington appeared to get a break from Hickory in the fifth when Moorman was caught off first after Emilio Ogando’s pitch in the dirt was corralled by Vallot behind the plate. However, Bart’s throw during the rundown got away and Sanchez scored.

The Legends last chance to stay in the game came in the seventh. Down 6-4 in the seventh, Gasparini and Duenez both singled. But with Vallot at the plate at a 1-1 count, the runners took off for a double steal with Moorman easily throwing out Gasparini at third as Gasparini appeared to injure his left leg during the play.

Eric Jenkins reached on an error at short in the eighth with two outs and scored on Moore’s RBI single.

Martin looking for go-to pitch:

Crawdads starter Brett Martin needed 90 pitches to record 10 outs and it was partially his inability to finish off hitters that was his undoing.

An omen as to what was to come occurred in a lengthy battle between Martin and Gasparini. Martin continually stayed away from the right-handed hitter with a series of fastballs on and off the outside corner. Gasparini spoiled several fastballs and was then able to read a changeup in the same area and laid off a curveball away. On the tenth pitch of the plate appearance, Gasparini served an outside-corner fastball into right.

Martin had difficulty with throwing his secondary pitches consistently for strikes, leaving him without a trusted out pitch. On two-strike counts against Martin, Lexington went 6-for-12 with a walk. The botched double play ball and the De La Rosa error also hampered things for Martin.

“Martin threw okay,” Mintz said. “Just his execution today on some pitches when he was ahead on counts and different things, the execution wasn’t there. Obviously, he ate up some pitches, but we didn’t help him in the field there a couple of times.”

 

Running, running, running:

The Crawdads stole 19 bases during the four-game series, getting caught just three times. Nine different players stole a base in the series with Jenkins leading the way with five. Yrizarri and De La Rosa each had three, while Dylan Moore had two.

One-hit Wonder: Pedro Payano hums through Grasshoppers lineup in LP Frans gem

On April 27, 2016, an announced crowd of 927 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, N.C. saw Hickory Crawdads pitcher Pedro Payano throw one of the most dominant games in the club’s history. Had Payano given up one fewer hit, likely 9,270 fans would claim to have been there, including myself.

(A note here: Anytime a cool event happens at L.P. Frans Stadium, I am probably not working the game. This time, I was celebrating my 53rd birthday at dinner with the wife.)

Payano threw a one-hitter against the Greensboro Grasshoppers, needing just 99 pitches (70 strikes) to claim the rare complete-game shutout for a class Low-A pitcher.

The outing started out as anything but dominant, as Anfernee Seymour of Greensboro battled Payano through a seven-pitch at bat before sending a full-count pitch lazily to center. Seymour’s at-bat turned out to be the longest plate appearance by pitches in the game.

After Payano struck out Stone Garrett to start the second inning, Rangers pitching rover Jeff Andrews made a comment to the field staff that Payano was going to throw a no-hitter.

“It was obvious when we got into the second inning and looking at some of the swings,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “And how he was able to command his fastball, and the changeup and the breaking ball just got better as he got into the middle innings… it was fun to watch.”

During his previous start a week earlier against Greenville, Payano struggled to get through five innings, needing 80 pitches (47 strikes) to get there. Although he gave up two unearned runs, he had difficulty finding a consistent arm slot and thereby had difficulty commanding his pitches, especially the fastball.

“Better fastball command,” said Payano, when asked about the difference in the two starts. “I was throwing my fastball away and in really good, and that’s why we had success. I was throwing a lot of fastballs for strikes.”

First-pitch strikes were definitely huge for Payano, as he racked up 24 of them to the 28 batters he faced.

Mintz agreed that the fastball command had a lot to do with his success, as it helped his secondary stuff become more effective.

Said Mintz, “He’s got a really, really good changeup and his breaking ball is decent. But when he pitches off his fastball, using those two, that’s when he’s most effective. Last night being able to throw the fastball inside on both sides of the plate really opened up other avenues for his pitches. That was the biggest thing for us, as we sat and watched him, was his fastball command was keen. The other stuff complimented it.”

Chuck Moorman, his catcher on Wednesday, noted that Payano had a much better rhythm during the Greensboro game than in his previous start.

“He had great tempo tonight,” Moorman said. “He was able to get ahead. We mixed in some really good sequences.”

Those sequences paid off in the manner of getting quick outs for much of the night. After walking Isael Soto with one out in the second – the only other seven-pitch at-bat of the game – Payano threw five pitches or less to 22 straight hitters, hitting the five-pitch mark just three times.After Payano needed 42 pitches to get through the first three innings, he threw four straight innings of ten or fewer pitches (44 total), three of those single digits.

“We were also on the same page,” said Moorman. It’s fun to catch a guy that can command all four pitches in any count at any time.”

Payano 1-hitter Lin

Pedro Payano delivers a pitch during his shutout of Greensboro last Wednesday (Photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

As the innings went on and the idea of a potential no-hitter became real, Payano said he wasn’t so much nervous about pitching in the moment.  “I was good, I was good,” Payano said through a laugh when asked about his reaction when he realized in middle innings he had a no-hitter in tact. His main focus then became to keep the situation out of his mind, as fellow teammates began to ignore him.

Payano said, “I stayed by myself and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to think about this. Let me keep going.’”

Going and going he did. Having only 77 pitches through seven innings, there was no question in Mintz’s mind that Payano was going to get a shot at achieving the no-hitter.

“We have pitch counts and all that type stuff, but when you get into special moments like that – obviously, we’re not going to put the kid in jeopardy of hurting him – but if we can push him 10, 12, 15 pitches in order to be able to accomplish something like that, we’ll give him an opportunity… He looked strong. He stayed strong, even in the seventh and eighth innings, he was still throwing 92-93 mph. He looked good and he didn’t labor at all the whole night.”

The no-hitter was broken up by Soto to open up the eighth, as he sent a broken-bat flare over the head of shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri and into left.

“I’m good with that,” said Payano. “It was a blooper past the shortstop. It was a good pitch.”

It was assumed by several observers that with the no-hitter gone Payano’s night would conclude at the point. But after a mound visit by pitching coach Jose Jaimes, Payano stayed in and got Angel Reyes to hit the first pitch into a double play.

Still only at 86 pitches through eight – he had already thrown 91 during his first start of the season – Payano was sent back out for the ninth to try for the shutout.

“I felt good,” said Payano, when asked about getting a chance to get the complete game. “I felt normal. When I got done with the eighth inning, I said to myself, ‘I’m probably going to be done with this.’ But then Jaimes told me, ‘Hey, you’ve got to finish this. You’re going to go out again and finish this.’”

Payano needed just 13 pitches to strike out two of the three batters in the ninth, including Seymour for the final out and the 11th of the game.

Payano celebration by Crystal Lin

Pedro Payano (#40) celebrates with his teammates at the end of his one-hit shutout on Wednesday, April 27 (photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Crawdads No-hitter History:

The team has thrown four no-hitters in their history, but just one of those was a complete game.

Wayne Lindemann still claims the distinction of having the only complete-game, nine-inning “no-no”, which came against the Albany (Ga.) Polecats in Albany on May 15, 1993.

The next no-hitter, and the first one of two that came at home, was on July 26, 2004 against the Charleston (WV) Alley Cats. Brian Holliday pitched the first 7.1 innings and surrendered two walks and a hit batsman, fanning 11. Chris Demaria retired all five batters he faced to complete the no-hitter.

Martin Perez made a strong impression to Crawdads fans and the baseball world in his first start for the team in 2009. In the first game of a doubleheader on April 11, 2009, Perez, who had turned 18 the week prior, tossed four no-hit innings in a home outing against the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The future Texas Rangers big leaguer struck out six and walked three before giving way to Tyler Tufts for two perfect innings and Fabio Castillo for the seventh to close out the game.

The last no-hitter for Hickory came on May 19, 2013 in the first game of a doubleheader. It also began with a pitcher making his first Low-A start, as Luis Parra shutout Delmarva (Md.) over the first three innings with one walk and three strikeouts. Keone Kela threw a scoreless fourth and struck out one. Ryan Bores walked one and struck out one over the fifth and sixth innings before Alex Claudio pitched a perfect seventh with one strikeout to close it out.

Recent complete game shutouts:

2000: Future major league pitcher Dave Williams and Jose Luis Lopez each threw a shutout that season.

2001: Brady Borner tossed one for the Crawdads

2003: Zach Duke had a one-hitter in a seven-inning whitewash during game one of a doubleheader at Rome, Ga. The lefty hit one batter and struck out four Braves in the June 12, 2004 contest.

2006: Luis Valdez, later to be known in the big leagues as Jairo Asencio, threw a five-hit, nine-inning shutout against Delmarva on July 17. The right hander allowed one walk and struck out seven in the game, which ended on Zach Dillon’s game-ending double play. While still atop the mound, Asencio pounded his glove and gave a point to the sky in celebration at the end of the one-hour, 56-minute contest. Asencio’s outing was also the last home complete-game shutout until Payano’s feat. Overall, it was the last such feat under the Pirates affiliation.

2010: Right-hander Joe Wieland tossed a five-hitter at the Hagerstown Suns on June 25th of that season, ending the game with one walk and five strikeouts. Wieland was perfect through four innings and carried a no-hitter into the sixth before Sandy Leon singled to right with two outs. It turned out to be his last start in a Crawdads uniform as Wieland was promoted to class High-A Bakersfield soon after. Wieland eventually got his no-hitter while pitching for AA Frisco against San Antonio. Similar to the events following his shutout with Hickory, Wieland was traded to the Padres in a July trade-deadline deal and finished that series with San Antonio.

Jake Brigham had the last nine-inning, complete game shutout prior to Payano’s gem on August 10 at Greensboro. The game started ominously for Brigham as Wes Long singled to left and Chase Austin reached on a bunt. Brigham got a break with Jeff Corsaletti lined into a double play. He then retired the next 25 batters he faced in the game and struck out 12.

2012: Lefty Victor Payano had the last shutout of any kind as he put up a rain-shortened whitewash at Savannah against the Sand Gnats. He allowed one hit, two walks and struck out three over five innings before inclement weather washed out the final four innings. Hickory scored an unearned run in the third against now major leaguer Michael Fulmer. The win was an important one for Hickory manager Bill Richardson, as it made him at the time the winningest manager in Crawdads history.

 

Game Story: Kannapolis at Hickory April 14

Dillon Tate was masterful and the lineup backed him with five runs early, which sent the Hickory Crawdads onto a 6-1 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators Thursday night in the home-opener at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Crawdads moved to 7-1 on the season with four of the wins coming against their in-state rivals. Kannapolis dropped to 3-5.

Hickory got on the board in the first as Eric Jenkins and Yeyson Yrizarri both doubled in the inning. In the second, Darius Day slapped a single into center to score Ti’Quan Forbes and Chuck Moorman. Later, Jenkins singled, moved to second on a balk and scored on Andy Ibanez’s single.

Frandy De La Rosa hit his second pro homer as he lifted a Zach Thompson fastball into the wind and out to left field to make it 5-0.

That was more than enough for Tate (1-0), who shutout the Intimidators over six innings. He allowed four hits and struck out ten batters.

Joe Palumbo relieved Tate in the seventh and added five strikeouts over the final three innings for his first career save.

Kannapolis scored its only run against Palumbo in the eighth as Corey Zangari singled in Landon Lassiter, who with three hits passed Andy Ibanez in the South Atlantic League’s early batting title chase.

Hickory accounted for its final margin with a run in the eighth as Forbes fly ball to center scored LaDarious Clark.

Thompson took the loss for the Intimidators, as he allowed five runs on eight hits and walked two over 3.1 innings.

 

The sticks:

Piling up 13 hits as a team, all nine Crawdads hitters had at least one hit with Jenkins, Ibanez, De La Rosa and Moorman all had two hits.

“When they can all stick their finger in the Kool Aid, that’s good every night,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “ I’m just happy with the way that we played tonight.“

Tate said that while the early runs didn’t necessarily help him relax on the mound, as much as it gave him a mentality to battle along with his teammates.

“It’s just the way the hitters are going about their business at the plate,” said Tate. “I see them grinding away. Our hitters are attacking their pitchers. When I see that, it makes me want to attack the hitters a little bit more, because I see my guys really going after them. They’re fighting for me and I fight for them. It’s just a cycle and a lot of pushing each other in a good way.”

Got a chance to really watch Yeyson Yrizarri hit for the first time without distraction. The first thing I notice is just how quick his hands are in turning on inside fastballs. He got out quickly on an inside fastball in the first and ripped it down in the line and into the LF corner. He almost repeated the same in the third.

Eric Jenkins looks more comfortable at the plate. He sent a first-pitch fastball over the head of CF Louis Silverio in the first. One inning later, he pulled a fastball into right.

De La Rosa put together an inside-out swing on a fastball that was enough to get it into the jet-stream wind and over the fence in left-center.

Good situational hitting by Day to get two runs in the second. He put enough on a Thompson fastball away to squirt it past the drawn-in infield and into center.

 

The mound:

It was thought that Tate would use and develop his changeup more this season, but honestly, once Tate established firm command of his fastball, the secondary pitches weren’t needed. Tate was in the mid-90s much of the night, topping out at 97. After Landon Lassiter singled to end an eight-pitch at bat to start the game, Tate retired the next 12 hitters.

“After he got through that first inning, he kind of settled in and he really understood that his fastball was the pitch that he needed right there,” said Mintz. “He was going to it glove side pretty much all night and was able to get some changeups and some breaking balls going there in the middle innings that helped him. You could tell there at the end that they were starting to get it timed up a little better. That’s why we get the guys to use all their pitches. We want them to be aggressive and establish the fastball early. That’s what he did and then he used his secondaries as he moved through the game.”

Tate struck out ten, but it was the manner in which he did it that was impressive. Five of the ten strikeouts were on four pitches or less. He nearly had a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning in the second as the ninth pitch of the inning went for a grounder to short. By my count, Tate finished with 77 pitches, 58 of those strikes. Of the 21 batters he faced, only five batters saw more than 5 pitches in an at bat.

“That’s Jose’s (Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jamies) thing,” said Tate. “He’s a big advocate of four pitches or less with your batters. So, we go up there and all the pitchers have that mentality of just execute in four pitches or less and get an out.”

Palumbo

Honestly, because GameDay (what we use for entering the official play-by-play on line) was having issues, I missed much of Palumbo’s outing. What I did see, Palumbo showed good life on a 93-94 mph heater, but it was the curveball that gave the Intimidators fits, especially after following the fastball wizardry of Tate.

The gloves:

A pretty routine night defensively. Moorman came up with a strong throw to cut down Lassiter stealing second in the sixth. It was the first caught stealing attempt for Kannapolis this season. He did commit an error in the eighth trying to cut down Corey Zangari moving to second after he had singled in a run.

Dylan Moore made a pick of a hot grounder behind the bag at first to retire Antonio Rodriguez in the fourth.

 

The bases:

Moorman arguably had the key play of the game in the second by taking an extra base. After Forbes had doubled, Moorman lined a single to left, which was too shallow to score Forbes. Mintz had held up Forbes at third, but Lassiter airmailed a throw to home from left. Moorman saw the play develop and easily moved up to second. That sent the Kannapolis into a situation in which it brought the infield in to try to keep the runner at third on a grounder. Day capitalized on the defensive strategy and shot what would’ve likely been a double-play ball into centerfield, past Danny Mendick at second.

Ibanez was picked at first and later caught at home on a double-steal attempt in the fifth. On the steal attempt of home, Ibanez got a late jump, as Dylan Moore was caught in a rundown between first and second. As the throw came home, Ibanez pulled up near the plate and was thrown out. Ibanez has been thrown out stealing five times with three pickoffs.

“We had a couple of baserunning blunders there, but we’re going to do it and forcing them to go. I’m telling them to go and we’re going to see stuff like that. We’ll take it tomorrow and we’ll correct it and learn from and we’re going to keep moving forward.”