Results tagged ‘ Eric Jenkins ’

Progress Report: An Interview with Crawdads Hitting Coach Kenny Hook

 

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

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

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

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

Perez Taveras - Lin

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Leody Taveras - Lin vs Columbia

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Yanio Perez Spike Owen - Lin

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Ti'Quan Forbes at 3B - Lin

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Anderson Tejeda leg kick - Proffitt

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

 

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

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

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

Yeyson Yrizarri at 2B - Proffitt

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

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

 

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

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

Eric Jenkins - Lin

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

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

 

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

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

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

Ricky Valencia 2 - Lin

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

 

Kowalczyk is taking advantage of his opportunity.

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

 

 

What do we look for in Aparicio?

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

Roster Moves May 10: Aparicio & Smoral in; Jenkins & Rodriguez out

 

The Texas Rangers announced player moves for the Hickory Crawdads as they begin a three-game series vs. the Charleston (SC) RiverDogs tonight.

Added to the roster:

OF Miguel Aparicio, LHP Matt Smoral

Aparicio signed with the Rangers in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Last year in the Dominican Summer League, he posted a .274/.337/.397 slash in 58 games. Showed good patience at the plate with 18 walks to just 36 Ks. Can pop the ball out of the park (3 homers), for now is likely to be a line-drive, gap-to-gap type of hitter. In skipping two levels, Aparicio is making his stateside debut. Aparicio is the Rangers No. 14 prospect, according to Baseball America; MLB.com has him at No. 29.

Smoral was a Rule-5 pickup (Triple-A phase) by the Rangers last winter from the Toronto Blue Jays. A former first-round pick of Toronto in 2012, the Solon, Ohio, now 22, has made just five appearances above short-season ball, that coming in 2015 with High-A Dunedin (FL). A combination of injuries (foot, line drive) and ineffectiveness (95 BBs, 25 HBPs in 106.2 pro innings) has derailed, to this point, a promising career. He has yet to throw more than 53.2 innings in any pro season (2014), and has just 27.1 over the last 2 years combined. Smoral does have 136 Ks. Is likely to pitch out of the bullpen, as he has not started since 2014.

 

Deleted from the roster:

OF Eric Jenkins, RHP Argenis Rodriguez

Jenkins started well in his encore season with the Crawdads, working the counts deep and making contact. However, the uppercut swing soon returned and so did the Ks (16 in 49 PAs). Had a .163/.250/.186 slash over 12 games. Still just 20, the Rangers will be patient with their 2015 2nd round pick, but with Leody Taveras slashing away, the CFs prospect clock in the system is ticking. Guessing he gets an assignment to short-season Spokane to figure things out.

Rodriguez just never got his groove going in his first full-season opportunity. South Atlantic League hitters walloped a healthy .429 average against him to go with six walks in 15 innings. He gave up nine runs in his last outing against Hagerstown on Sunday and had yet to last more than 4.1 innings. At 21, my guess is Spokane will get a look at him.

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

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

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

 

If you plan to go:

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

 

Promotions:

Friday – Post-game fireworks

Saturday – Disney Night & Vacation Giveaway

Sunday – Superhero Day

Monday – Education Day

 

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

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

PARKING: Free parking available at the stadium.

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

 

Probables (Hickory / Hagerstown):

Friday: RHP: Edgar Arredondo vs. RHP Carlos Pena

Saturday: RHP: Argenis Rodriguez vs. LHP Tyler Watson

Sunday: RHP: Tyler Phillips vs. RHP Sterling Sharp

Monday: RHP: Jonathan Hernandez vs. LHP McKenzie Mills

 

Recent Series History:

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

 

About the Crawdads:

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

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Suns:

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

 

Prospects to watch – Hagerstown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Others to watch – Hagerstown:

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

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

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

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

Series Preview: Hickory at West Virginia May 2-4

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (9-15, 7th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh) (11-14, 6th SAL Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads start a seven-game road trip against two Northern Division foes with a three-game series at West Virginia’s Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, WV.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Tuesday-Thursday at 7:05 p.m. (Games are streamed through the Power’s website or milb.com

 

Promotions:

Tuesday – Two-for-One Concession Specials,

Thursday – “Thirsty Thursday”, Power-Comic Con

 

TICKETS: $8 for box seats, $6 for general admission 

Where is it?: I-77North / I-64West to Capital St./Leon Sullivan Way Exit #100

PARKING: Ample parking garages near the stadium.

CONCESSIONS: Appalachian Power Park has generic ballpark food, as well as chicken options. Other stands including Italian food (Chicken parm sandwich), portable grill with brats, philly cheese steaks, ruebens, as well as a BBQ stand.

 

Probables (Hickory / West Virginia):

Tuesday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. LHP Cam Vieaux

Wednesday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. RHP Matt Anderson

Thursday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP James Marvel

 

Recent Series History:

West Virginia swept a three-game series at Hickory two weeks ago and was 1-3 at home against the Crawdads in 2016. Since 2009, Hickory holds a 41-36 edge in the series, but are 19-23 at Appalachian Power Park. The Crawdads have not won a series vs. the Power since 2014.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads took the Columbia Fireflies to the woodshed over the weekend and scored 30 runs in winning three-of-four to salvage a 3-4 homestand. The Crawdads entered that series with only 22 runs in their first 10 home games… Near the bottom of the SAL in many offensive categories, the recent barrage has evened that out somewhat. Next to last in the SAL at .217 as recent as 10 days ago, they are now 9th in batting average at .235.,. Hickory continues to have the all-or-nothing approach. They are second in the league in homers with 25 and second in strikeouts. However, the whiffs have come at a fewer pace in recent days, as they are no longer on a pace for the SAL record in a season… On the mound, Hickory took a hit over the last few days as the Fireflies put up 33 runs on the team and pushed the ERA to a league-worst 5.40. The Crawdads have also allowed the most hits, runs, earned runs and are last in WHIP (1.60)… Defensively. Hickory has at least one error in its last six games, with two or more in five of them… Hickory is 4-6 away from home.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has reached base in nine of his last ten games with five hits in his last three. Has an uncanny eye at the plate for an 18-year-old. Saw 112 pitches during the seven games of the homestand, he swung and missed just six of them.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Has 31 Ks in 77 plate appearances (40.2%), but that has curtailed some in recent days and he finally went without a strikeout in a game for the first time this season on Sunday. Has struggled against lefties (1-for-14, 7 Ks).

OF Eric Jenkins (No. 14 MLB.com, No.26 Baseball America). Second-round pick in 2015 out of West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.). In many ways, still catching up from missing most of spring training with a hamstring injury. Goal no. 1 for Jenkins is to cut the strikeouts. A speed demon on the bases – he led the SAL with 51 steals last year – he has to make contact to take advantage of that speed. Whiffed 154 times last year, has eight in 25 plate appearances so far this year, capped by a four-strikeout game on Sunday.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. In the midst of an eight-game hitting streak (16-for-28), he is the hottest hitter in the SAL and took home the league’s hitter-of-the-week award after popping five homers, a double, scoring eight runs and knocking in 15. The last 22 times he made contact with a pitch, ten went for hits and only two for outs.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) Yrizarri has begun to even his season out a bit with 12 hits in his last 11 games.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. Was on the path of becoming a first-overall pick in 2015 before back troubles and then Tommy John surgery derailed that promise. In his first start of the season last Thursday, Matuella stayed in the 94-96 mph range with good movement, as he K’d 5 of the 9 hitters he faced. Left some pitches up that were hit hard, two of them for doubles and a hard-hit, RBI single.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Of his five relief outings so far, four of those were scoreless for the 6-4 right hander. His one blowup outing (5 ER over 1.2 IP) which is responsible for much of the 6.14 ERA. In his last three outings covering 4.2 innings, Ferguson has fanned 9 of 15 batters. However, control will be the make-or-break issue. This season, he has walked or hit seven of 35 hitters.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

Catching crew: Two of the three catchers on the Crawdads team are possibly out for at least part of the series. Ricky Valencia injured a hamstring on Sunday and Alex Kowalczyk is away for a personal issue. Potentially, that leaves Shaq Matta as the lone catcher. Expect the Rangers to bring back Isaias Quiroz from the extended spring training roster in case Valencia can’t go.

1B Preston Scott: 34th-round pick in 2016 out of Fresno Pacific Univ. Reached base in nine straight games, is 6-for-16 in his last four games, which included a homer and a walk-off double on Saturday. Playing 1B for the first time as a pro and has committed a league-high six errors.

RHP Jake Lemoine: Fourth-round pick in 2015 out of Houston. Good reviews in his pro debut after dealing with shoulder issues the past two seasons, Lemoine is scoreless in six of his seven outings and has a 1.59 ERA.Has struck out 14 of the 39 batters he’s faced and the SAL is batting .154 against him.

RHP Kyle Cody: Sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky, allowed two unearned runs on five hits over 5.2 innings his last time out. A heavy groundball pitcher (1.81 GO/AO), reliable defense is a must for him.

 

About the Power:

Managed by Wyatt Toregas in his first season. He managed the Pirates short-season affiliate West Virginia Black Bears the past two seasons (80-72), with whom he won the New York-Penn League championship in 2015… A streaky team, the Power lost their first six of the season, then won 7-of-8, then lost 7-of-11, though they split four games at Rome (Ga.)… West Virginia is only 3-11 at home, despite posting a 3.10 ERA… As a team, they are hitting .226/.310/.321 at home, but .310/.389/.506 on the road. Only six of the team’s 21 homers have come at Appalachian Power Park… It’s a patient team that has good plate discipline, as they are next to last in strikeout, but fourth in walks.

 

Prospects to watch – West Virginia:

SS Stephen Alemais: (No. 18 MLB.com, 29 Baseball America). Third-round pick 2016 out of Tulane. Has been a glove-first shortstop, the bat has started to come around. Has hits in five of the last six games (7-for-26), but is battling strikeouts 20 in his last 12 games. Hitting .306/.325/.611 on the road, but just .206/.289/.294 at home. Was 3-for-10 against Hickory with two homers.

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

RHP James Marvel: 36th round pick in 2015 out of Duke. Missed much of 2014 and all of 2015 with an elbow injury. Allowed one run on four hits over five innings in his start at Hickory.

IF Logan Ratledge: 13th round pick in 2015 out of NC State. Played high school ball at Ardrey Kell in Charlotte. Went 6-for-15 vs. Hickory with a homer and three RBI. Is ninth in the SAL in runs scored. Currently used in a utility role, making appearances at three infield positions, all three outfield slots and on the mound for an inning.

LF Ty Moore: 12th round pick in 2015 out of UCLA. Went 7-for-14 against Hickory with two doubles and four RBI. Currently leads the SAL with a .377 batting average, is fifth in OBP (.377) and seventh in slugging (.532). Is also tied for second with 9 doubles, tied for fifth in hits.

2B Trae Arbet: 5th round pick in 2013 out of Great Oak High (CA). Went 5-for-14 against Hickory.

1B. Carlos Munoz: Signed as an international free agent in 2010 out of Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico. Went 6-for-13 against Hickory with a homer and 6 RBI. Is tied for 6th in the SAL with 16 RBI.

RHP Matt Anderson: 10th-round pick in 2016 out of Morehead St (KY). Over his last two starts, has allowed one run on six hits and fanned 13 over 11 innings. Control can be an issue as he has walked four in two separate starts.

RHP Geoff Hartlieb: 29th-round pick in 2016 out of Lindenwood U. (MO). Has given up one earned run on seven hits in 11.2 innings covering seven outings this season. A groundball pitcher (3.17 GO/AO), the league is hitting .179 against him.

 

Note: Hickory OF Jose Almonte is on the DL with a leg injury. He is expected to be back within the week.

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

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

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

 

What happened?:

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

 

What really happened?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tejeda base savvy:

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

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

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

 

A near disaster in the OF Part 1:

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

 

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

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

 

Jenkins part 2:

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

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

 

Taveras mastery at the plate:

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

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

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

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

 

Perez zeroed in:

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

 

Baserunning rally killers:

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

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

 

Walk-off remembered:

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

Series Preview: Columbia (S.C.) at Hickory April 27-30

Columbia Fireflies (New York Mets) (12-9, 3rd SAL Southern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (6-14, 7th SAL Northern)

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

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Thursday-Friday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 6:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

 

Promotions: Thursday – “Thirsty Thursday”, NFL Draft Party

Friday – Post-game fireworks, Dynamic Duo Night

Saturday – Ladies Night, featuring Luke Pell from The Bachelorette, Replica Jersey giveaway to first 1,000 through the gate.

Sunday – Church Bulletin Sunday (Bring church bulletin for $6 ticket. The Crawdads will donate $4 back to respective church.)

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section. Games Thursday through Saturday are sold out.

 

Where is it?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

 

PARKING: All parking is $3.

 

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Columbia / Hickory):

Thursday: RHP Colin Holderman vs. RHP Michael Matuella

Friday: LHP Blake Taylor vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

Saturday: RHP Jordan Humphries vs. RHP Argenis Rodriguez

Sunday: RHP Gabriel Llanes vs Demarcus Evans

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads took two of three at Columbia during the opening week of the season. In the only series played last year, the Fireflies held a 2-1 advantage.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads are struggling to find any sort of groove to kickstart their season and they hope the Fireflies will provide that start. Hickory’s only series win in 2017 was at Columbia April 10-12. Since then, the Crawdads are 3-10. Overall, the Crawdads have lost four straight after a three-game sweep by Rome (Ga.) this week. At home, the Crawdads are 2-8 and have scored a total of 22 runs … At the plate, the Crawdads lineup continues to be all-or-nothing. They are tied for the SAL-lead with 19 homers and have the most Ks in the league. They are third in slugging (.385), but 11th in batting (.230) … A good series vs. Rome brought the Crawdads team ERA below five, but the 4.91 ERA is still last in the league. The team has surrendered the most hits, runs, earned runs, the second most walks and the team WHIP of 1.61 is easily the worst in the SAL. However, the Crawdads allowed just nine runs in three games against the first-place Braves and have shown signs of progress in the starting rotation as of late.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Went 0-5 for to close out the Rome series, but did have a pair of walks in Wednesday’s game. Continues to show a discerning eye at the plate for his age (18) with nine walks. Has struck out 22.4 percent of the time (20 Ks in 89 plate appearances), which is not out of the norm at this level for a player so young. Shows good speed out of the box and covering ground in center, but has been timid to use it on the bases. Has only two steals (both on 4/22) in five attempts.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Has a higher walk ratio than Taveras (14.3% to 10.1), but is striking out a ton. His 27 Ks is one behind a trio of leaders in the stat and is at an unsustainable ratio of 43%. Thus far, Tejeda has struck out at least once in all 15 games in which he has played. Defensively, Tejeda has rebounded from a slow start. Committed two errors in the first game of the season and just two more since.

OF Eric Jenkins (No. 14 MLB.com, No.26 Baseball America). Second-round pick in 2015 out of West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.).  Made his first appearance after coming to Hickory this week from extended-spring training. Has a double and two walks over seven plate appearances. Jenkins will have to cut down on the Ks after piling up 154 in 2016. An elite base stealer, Jenkins was third in all the minors with 51 last year. Took in several deep counts during the Rome series, reaching twice after being down 0-2.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. In the midst of a mini four-game hitting streak (6-for-14, with 2 walks), Perez collected his second homer of the season on Tuesday when he drove a ball in on the hands out to right field. Tends to collect strikeouts in bunches. Of the 19 games he has played, Perez has six multi-strikeout games and 10 other games with none.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) Yrizarri has begun to show signs of life at the plate. He has reached base in five of the last seven games and is 8-for-28 in those games. Is battling to lay off breaking balls low and away. Went three straight games without a whiff, but K’d twice in Wednesday’s game.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. Was on the path of becoming a first-overall pick in 2015 before back troubles and then Tommy John surgery derailed that promise. He pitched in only three injuries last summer at short-season Spokane before further elbow tenderness caused the Rangers to shut him down. Will be extremely limited in order for him to gain his stamina and to simply get him through low-A ball healthy.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. After just nine walks all last season, Almonte has five already in 15 games. Was 1-for-13 before sitting out of Wednesday’s contest.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Of his four relief outings so far, three of those were scoreless for the 6-4 right hander. His one blowup outing (5 ER over 1.2 IP) has his 2017 ERA at 7.50 with his OBA at .304. Control will be his make or break. Has walked just three of 31 hitters, but has hit four more. Conversely, he has fanned 10 to date over six innings.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick 2014 out of Columbia (MS) High. Might be due for a day off after he went 0-for-10 during the Rome series with six Ks. Has started to chase breaking balls of the plate. He is still tied for first with five homers, but has not gone deep since April 17.

SP Matt Ball: Obtained in a trade with the White Sox in 2016. Posted a 1.60 ERA in 50.2 IP with Hickory after the trade by the Rangers. Throws a heavy sinker that gets ground balls and thus, relies on his defense to make plays. Had nearly two-and-a-half groundball outs for every fly out with Hickory.

 

 

About the Fireflies:

Managed by Jose Leger in his third season (163-135) with the Mets Low-A affiliate. (The Fireflies were based at Savannah, Ga. prior to 2016… Columbia took two of three against Asheville, but were 3-4 overall during the just concluded homestand… Offense has been the struggle for the Fireflies as they were shut out three times during the last homestand and scored a total of 15 runs. Columbia’s .221 batting average is 13th in the 14-team league. The Fireflies provide little power with just six homers as a team and are tied for the fewest extra-base hits in the SAL. However, it is a patient team. Their 86 walks are the most in the SAL and they often use those to manufacture runs. Columbia is third in steals and sixth in runs scored… The Fireflies do bring an impressive group of arms to Hickory. Six of the 12 wins are by shutouts and overall, the 2.56 ERA is third in the SAL. They have surrendered the fewest walks and lead the SAL with a 1.03 WHIP. Only five homers have been hit vs. Fireflies pitching. The pitching staff is backed by a league-best defensive unit that has given up just 15 errors and has thrown out 45.8 percent of base stealers, second in the SAL.

 

Prospects to watch –Columbia:

CF Desmond Lindsey (No. 4 Baseball America, No. 5 MLB.com). Second-round pick 2015 out of Out-of-Door Academy, Sarasota, FL. Struggled with hamstring issues, missing much of his high school senior season. He again suffered the same injury and was limited to 37 games during the 2016 season at two short-season stops. Currently at .143/.286/.186. Seeing a lot of pitches, but it could be perhaps that he’s not seeing the ball with discernment. Has 23 Ks – at least one in 16 of the 17 games he’s played in – and 11 BBs in 70 plate appearances.

2B/SS Luis Carpio (No. 15 MLB.com, 20 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Caracas, Venezuela. Missed much of 2016 after surgery for a torn labrum. Came back late in the 2016 season, but was exclusively a DH. Has played mostly 2B this season. In the midst of a 2-for-25 skid with six Ks, he was 5-for-9 against the Crawdads in early April with two steals.

C Ali Sanchez (No. 20 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Carora, Venezuela. At this point, Sanchez is defensively ahead of the offensive side of his game. Is currently third in the SAL in nabbing base stealers. Entered this season with 24 passed balls in just 111 games, but has just one so far this year and has yet to commit an error. At the plate, however, he is 6-for-47 with just two walks.

3B/ SS Milton Ramos (No. 22 MLB.com) Third-round pick in 2014 out of Heritage High School (Plantation, FL). In his second season with the Fireflies, he has found full-season leagues tough to solve. After posting a .220/.292/.273 slash in 2016, it’s even worse this season as he is at .179/.233/.179 at the start of this season (10-for-56). Ramos did have a four-game hitting streak from April 18-21, but that has fizzled to an 0-for-10 his last three games. He does put the ball in play (12 Ks in 60 PAs), but with little authority. Defensively, he’s yet to commit an error.

3B Blake Tiberi (No. 29 MLB.com) Third-round pick in 2016 out of Louisville. Missed two weeks with an undisclosed injury, returning 4/24/ Currently 3-for-18 with a double.

 

 

Others to watch – Columbia:

LF Tim Tebow: Signed as a free agent in 2016 out of the SEC Network. Went 9-for-20 during the recent homestand with three doubles and a triple – his total for the season. Had two homers in his first three games, but has not homered since. Hickory held him to 1-for-10 with four Ks and a double play at Columbia

2B/SS Michael Paez: 4th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Played for the Chanticleers during the team’s run to the 2016 College World Series title. Has two of the team’s six homers this season, including a solo shot during Wednesday’s win.

RHP Colin Holderman: 9th round pick out of Heartland CC (IL). Threw six shutout innings with 11 Ks against Hickory on April 10. Has lasted just seven total innings over his last two starts with four total whiffs.

RHP Jordan Humphries: 18th round pick out of Crystal River High (FL). Currently 2nd in the SAL with 34 Ks, 4th in WHIP (0.71), and 10th in the SAL with a 1.42 ERA. Fanned 12 over 6.2 innings in his last start on Monday.

 

Notes: The Crawdads are assured its worst April since before 2002. As a Rangers affiliate, the worst April start was a 11-12 mark in 2014. They went 10-11 in 2009. As a Pirates affiliate, the worst mark was a 10-13 record in 2006… Hickory is also on pace to break its own SAL record for strikeouts in a season, which was set by the 2013 squad with 1,403.  The current pace would take them to 1,421… RHP Emerson Martinez was promoted to High-A Down East. OF Travis Bollin and IF Brallan Perez were both sent to Rangers extended spring… Top-30 prospect RHP Harol Gonzalez was placed on the disabled list by the Fireflies.

Game Story 4/26/17: Third verse, same as the first – Rome completes sweep

Another day, same story. The Rome (Ga.) Braves took advantage of sloppy defensive early and never trailed during a 3-1 defeat of the Hickory Crawdads Wednesday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win completed a 6-1 road trip for the defending South Atlantic League champion Braves (14-6), who now return home to open a weekend series against West Virginia. Rome is now 11-2 away from home this season and has won 9 of the last 11 played at Hickory over the last two seasons.

Hickory (6-14) has lost four in a row and is now 2-8 at home, scoring a total of 22 runs.

 

What happened?:

The game turned out to be decided by the fifth batter of the game when the Braves scored two runs with the help of sloppy Crawdads defense. Anfernee Seymour singled to right to start the game. Derian Cruz then laid down a bunt in front of home plate. Catcher Ricky Valencia pounced to the ball, then overthrew first baseman Preston Scott, which allowed the runners to advance to second and third.

Kyle Cody (0-2) then got Tanner Murphy to fly out to shallow centerfield before inducing Juan Yepez to hit a dribbler up the first base line. Scott fielded the play, but misconnected on a soft toss to Cody covering first on the play, as Seymour scored the first run. Anthony Concepcion’s sacrifice fly to center made it 2-0.

Hickory got its only run of the game in the second inning. With one out, Valencia was hit by a pitch and Yanio Perez dropped a bloop single into short left. Scott’s fielder’s choice moved to Valencia to third, from where he scored when Yeyson Yrizarri chopped a grounder to shallow third. However, the Crawdads ran themselves out of the innings when Scott overran the bag at second and was caught in a rundown between second and third.

Ian Anderson (2-1) kept the Crawdads in check for the most part over his five innings on the mound. The right-hander allowed the lone run on three hits, two walks and struck out six.

Cody pitched into the sixth for Hickory and allowed just the two unearned runs on five hits, two walks and fanned two.

Rome added an insurance run against reliever Reid Anderson in the seventh when Randy Ventura doubled and scored one out later on Cruz’s single through a drawn-in infield.

A trio of Ian Anderson, Tucker Davidson and Brandon White combined for 13 strikeouts of Crawdads hitters, who put together just three runs on 16 hits over the three-game series.

 

Cody deserved better:

Firing at 95-96 early and dropping to 93 by the end of the outing, Cody kept the Braves shut down for the most part. The Seymour hit was a roller that found a hole and a Brett Cumberland dribbler was unable to be scooped up by Yanio Perez at third. He finished the game with 2 outs in the sixth (He should’ve finished the sixth but for a poor call by the umps on a checked-swing that turned into a single and then a four-pitch walk. Threw mostly changeups (it appeared, no speed gun) for secondaries, as well as a few sliders that missed bats. Finished with 88 pitches, of which 60 were strikes).

 

Doing too much:

Hickory ran out of a couple of innings early. In the first, Eric Jenkins walked then tried to advance to second when Franklin Rollin sliced a pop fly that Ventura caught just on the foul side of the line in right. Ventura made the catch and recorded the out when Jenkins slid past the bag at second.

On the Yrizarri dribbler in the second, Scott saw that third base was uncovered on the play. However, 20 feet from his trek at second, he realized a defender was nearer than believed and was eventually run down. It turned out to be the last time Hickory had two runners reach in an inning.

 

Prospect vs. Prospect

Ian Anderson (81) and Leody Taveras offered a top-100 prospect (MLB.com) matchup, of which Anderson won both. In the first, Anderson broke off a 1-2 curveball down that Taveras swung through. In the third, Anderson missed with a fastball low and away to the left-handed hitter. Then he proceeded to get Tavares to swing through a change and a fastball, before missing with a fastball in that Taveras grounded sharply to first.

Game Stories 4/25/17: Rome builds two in a day; Sweeps DH

The Rome (Ga.) Braves took the lead early in both games went on to sweep the Hickory Crawdads 2-1 and 4-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The wins pushed the Braves (13-6) to a 5-1 record during their current road trip and improved the road record to 10-2 for the season. Rome has won 8 of their last 10 games at L.P. Frans over the last two seasons. The Crawdads (6-13) have lost three straight and are now 2-7 at home, where they’ve scored 21 total runs.

The teams conclude the series on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

 

What happened?:

Game 1:

Rome took advantage of a rough start by Crawdads starter Jonathan Hernandez to get on the board in the first. Randy Ventura lined a single to center, moved to second on Derian Cruz’s sacrifice and then to third by Cristian Pasche’s single. Juan Yepez’s fly ball to left was deep enough to score Ventura, but Pasche was out on the play as he failed to retouch second on his way back to first.

The Braves added a run in the third. Lucas Herbert and Kurt Hoekstra singled back-to-back to start the inning. Ventura bunted into a strikeout (I still don’t get that one) and then one out later, Pache squeezed a grounder past the dive of Ti’Quan Forbes at third to score Herbert.

The Crawdads put five runners on over the first three innings, but Rome’s starter Jeremy Wilson (Gardner Webb Univ. product) faced only two over the minimum in that stretch. Eric Jenkins led off the first with a double, but was doubled off second on a sharp liner by Leody Taveras to short. Hickory loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Jose Almonte hit into a double play. Anderson Tejeda opened the third with a single, but was then caught stealing.

Hernandez (0-3) settled down and had his longest start of the season, going into the sixth. The Crawdads right-hander allowed just the two runs on eight hits – five of those in the first three innings – over 5.2 innings with six Ks and – more importantly – no walks.

Hickory finally scratched a run across in the seventh against Rome reliever Jon Kennedy. Ricky Valencia doubled and went to third on Yanio Perez’s single. Preston Scott whistled a sharp grounder up the middle through Kennedy’s legs, but the Braves were able to get an out at second while Valencia scored. Scott eventually stole second and third, but Almonte and Tejeda both struck out to end the game.

 

Game 2:

Hickory took its only lead of the doubleheader in the second inning when Yanio Perez hit his second homer of the season, a high fly ball to right after it appeared he was jammed.

However, Rome quickly and swiftly took the lead back in the third. Kevin Josephina lined a Tyler Phillips (1-1) 0-2 pitch to center and stole second. Ventura singled Josephina to third and then himself stole second. Anfernee Seymour singled in Josephina and advanced moved up to second. Ventura and Seymour scored on back-to-back grounders to make it 3-0.

The Braves added an unearned run in the sixth as a botched pickoff at first set up Seymour’s second RBI single of the game.

Hickory managed only three hits against starter Oriel Caicedo (4-0) over his five innings of work. Matt Custred gave up two hits and fanned two over his two-shutout innings for his first save of the season.

 

Jenkins returns:

Last year’s starting centerfielder Eric Jenkins played in his first game of the season with Hickory. In his first AB, he fell behind 0-2, the proceeded to spoil a couple of fastballs and spit on breaking balls off the plate to get the count full. The 8-pitch plate appearance ended when he turned on a fastball and shot it into the rightfield corner.

The second time up, he waved through a low breaking ball, but then recovered to work the count full before again turning on a fastball. Only this time, it was a liner to first. After 157 Ks last year, job one is to make contact to take advantage of his speed.

One thing of note to me was not that Jenkins played left in game one, but when Leody Taveras went into the DH role in game two, Jenkins did not play in center. It’s probably nothing, but it grabbed my curiosity.

 

Taking advantage of the advantage:

I’ll admit it. It’s frustrating to watch the lineup miss opportunities to cash in runs. It’s a young lineup, I know, but it feels like this team never feels like it has the advantage. When it has the opposing team against the wall, it feels like Hickory is standing by the wall with them.

In game one, Hickory had the starter Walker on the ropes in the second inning. Struggling with control, Walker loaded the bases after back-to-back, five-pitch walks with one out. A mound visit ensued after which Jose Almonte tried to pull a fastball away, which turned into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

From there, Hickory had just three more baserunners until the seventh. In that inning, Valencia doubled and Scott worked a walk out of an 0-2 count. Almonte fanned and then with Anderson Tejeda at the plate, Scott – the tying run – stole second and third. However, Tejeda went fence chasing and turned a 2-0 count into a full-count K and ended the ballgame.

It was more of the same in game two. Hickory was gifted an error and a hit batter in the fourth. However, a 2-0 count with runners at second and third turned into an Almonte K. Hickory had just one other baserunner the remainder of the night.

 

Hernandez night

Hernandez has struggled with fastball command so far this season and it was more of the same at the onset on Tuesday.

An 0-2 fastball was lined to center by Ventura to start the night. One out later, Hernandez went 3-1 to Pache before losing the battle on a fastball. He also struggled to get his change over the plate. But suddenly in the fourth, he found a groove with both pitches and with a slider mixed in, Hernandez began to take command. The most impressive AB was the fourth-inning sequence to Brett Cumberland. Facing last year’s Pac-12 home run champ, Hernandez got the left-handed hitter to chase a pair of changeups off the plate, then ran a fastball (93-96 mph on the night) in on the hands for the Ks.

His fate though was sealed in the third when .140 hitter Lucas Herbert lined a 2-0 fastball for a single and .182 Kurt Hoekstra fought back from 0-2 to also single. Later, Hernandez made a good pitch (low-and-in fastball) to Pache that needed 75 hops to find a hole through the left side of the infield.

 

That was… different:

Hickory got out of further damage in the first when on Yepez’s sacrifice fly to left, Pache went well past second and then on the return trip, cut through the inside cut of the grass near the second base bag. This wasn’t an attempt to cut a corner. He took the most direct route back to first.

After Herbert and Hoekstra singled in the third, Ventura (.368) was asked to bunt… not once… not twice… but on every pitch, including for strike three.

 

Phillips looking for the out-pitch:

Tyler Phillips used sinker/ change to get the Braves hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Four straight outs and a ground single stretched from the first through all the second inning. But in the third, Phillips couldn’t find a put-away pitch and eventually that put Phillips away. Josephine’s single was on 0-2. Ventura’s single was on 1-2. Seymour’s on 0-2… All on what looked to be off-speed pitches away to the left-handed hitters… All of whom used shortened swings to politely serve them into center and left. Phillips threw 39 pitches in the third before manager Spike Owen took him out.

 

Evans hurls the spheroid:

Listed at 6-4, 270, Demarcus Evans gassing it at 95 can be intimidating. He fanned five of the 14 hitters he faced Tuesday and for the season K’d 16 of 48. But, with two walks this evening he now has walked 11 to go with 2 HBPs.

His offspeed I thought was a slider, but the Rangers pitch trackers say it’s more of a curve at 80. Whatever it is, it stays up and was quite hittable. Also, to my untrained eye, Evans seems to slow everything down when he throws anything offspeed. I could tell it was coming.

Game story July 13: Lakewood survives heat, Crawdads rally

After the Hickory Crawdads tied the game in the ninth, the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws struck for three runs in the 11th to take a 6-3 win on a hot, muggy Wednesday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the second straight by Lakewood (39-50 overall, 11-9 second half) at Hickory and overall their sixth out of the last seven games.

Hickory (47-43, 9-11) dropped to 19-23 at home this season and lost its fourth straight at home. The Crawdads are assured of continuing a drought in which they have not won a home series since taking three of four vs. Lexington (Ky.) from April 29 to May 2. Since that time, the Crawdads have lost six series and tied two others (9-19 overall).

As they did in game one of the series on Monday, the Crawdads took the early lead in the second. Ti’Quan Forbes tripled just past the dive of Jose Pujols in right to score Josh Altmann, who had singled and stole second earlier.

Lakewood rebounded with a two-out rally in the fourth as Damek Tomscha singled and Pujols followed with a two-run blast to right, his South Atlantic League leading 17th of the season.

Both starting pitchers held the opposing lineups from wreaking further damage through five innings. Lakewood’s Franklyn Kilome allowed three hits and two walks, and struck out seven. His counterpart Wes Benjamin gave up five hits to go with his two runs allowed and struck out five.

BlueClaws reliever Skylar Hunter contributed to his downfall in the sixth as an errant pickoff attempt of Frandy De La Rosa at first skipped into foul territory in right field. De La Rosa moved to third and scored when Tyler Sanchez singled to left.

A controversial play led directly to a run for Lakewood in the seventh inning. With runners at first and second and two outs, Zack Coppola singled on what looked to be a routine grounder to second. Frandy De La Rosa charged the ball and as he entered the baseline between first and second, the runner, Edgar Cabral, ran into De La Rosa, knocking De La Rosa flat and sending the glove high into the air. Cabral was ruled safe at second with Wilson Garcia scoring on the play from second. De La Rosa remained in the game, but Cabral was taken out after struggling to run to third.

Crawdads manager Steve Mintz argued the call and was eventually ejected from the game.

The score remained 3-2 until two outs in the ninth. Forbes singled and scored all the way from first when Pujols mishandled a bloop single into right by Yeyson Yrizarri.

Emerson Martinez (0-2) entered the game for Hickory in the 11th and immediately walked Pujols. A sacrifice moved him to second before Martinez got Duran to bounce to short. After a wild pitch, Grenny Cumana singled in Pujols and then scored on Deivi Grullon’s second homer in as many games.

Jeff Springer struck out two of the three batters he faced to close out his three-inning relief outing and pick up the win (1-0).

Crawdads leave ducks on the pond:

As has been the case much of the year, the Crawdads missed several opportunities to add runs to their ledger and finished the game 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

A couple of stout defensive plays contributed to Hickory’s woes. Though Altmann eventually scored from third in the second, Ricky Valencia missed an RBI when second baseman Josh Tobias, who was playing in to cut off the runner at third from scoring, made a diving stab of a sharp grounder to hold Altmann and retire Valencia.

With Forbes at third, the Crawdads had a chance to take the lead in the seventh, Eric Jenkins chopped a ball to the left of the mound. Third baseman Damek Tomscha made a hard-charging play to the ball and short armed a quick throw to first to barely catch the speedy Jenkins and end the inning.

Otherwise, the Crawdads flailed away at the plate and that cost them a scoring chance in the fourth. Dylan Moore and Altmann walked to start the inning and moved up to second and third on Kilome’s wild pitch. With his fastball command perilous at times, Kilome turned to the slider to get Tyler Sanchez, Valencia and Forbes on strikeouts.

Altmann again whiffed in the sixth with a runner at third in the sixth, though De La Rosa did eventually score in the inning.

For the season with runners in scoring position, the Crawdads collectively have a slash of .239/.316/.343. With the bases loaded, it is .183/.243/.267.

Forbes fortunes continue at third:

What is becoming routine this season, Forbes showed off the leather with a couple more quick grabs of short hops in the game, including perhaps his best of the season in the tenth. On a sharp grounder by Tomscha, Forbes made a sprawling backhand pick of a short hop. Then seated with his right leg bent behind him, Forbes got enough on a throw across the diamond to get Tomscha by a step.

Benjamin money:

Wes Benjamin continued a steady progression through the 2016 season on Wednesday night. Coming off Tommy John surgery, the goal was to steer the lefty through good health and thus far it is working. Of his 12 starts, Benjamin has completed five or more innings in ten of them. In those ten starts, he has given up more than three runs just once and has walked more than one batter in just two of his 15 overall appearances (13 walks overall in 71 innings)

Benjamin is a guy that spots his fastball (90-91) well around the strike zone. He’ll mix in a change and a curve for show and used both to good effect today. Benjamin was especially tough in a couple of long battles with Phillies No. 5 (mlb.com) prospect Cornelius Randolph, who fouled off several pitches in both appearances against Benjamin. After Benjamin spun a high-and-tight fastball to the lefty in the first, he spotted a 92 mph pitch on the corner at the knees to get the out. In the third, it was a change on the inside corner that got the job done for a caught looking K.

Benjamin has 26 Ks over his last 20.1 innings of work.

Martinez a one-trick pony:

Emerson Martinez had his second tough outing in a row in a win/lose situation and has been tagged for the loss in both.

On Saturday at Rome (Ga.), it was two walks and two wild pitches that led to two runs scored in the ninth for a Braves walkoff win. On Wednesday afternoon, it was the inability to throw the curve for strikes that did him in. By my count, all five of them were well out of the strike zone, staying up and well to the 3B corner side of the plate. With that info in hand, the BlueClaws hitters were able to pick out a fastball to their liking and went to the attack. Cumana’s RBI single and Grullon’s homer were both on fastballs down the middle.

Moore joins the club:

Dylan Moore stole his 30th base of the season when he swiped second in the fourth inning. He joins teammate Eric Jenkins in the 30-steal club, as the outfielder already has 39. The two become the sixth duo in club history to steal 30 or more in a season, the first since Odubel Herrera (34) and Christian Villanueva (32) turned the trick in 2011.

Yrizarri stays hot:

Yeyson Yrizarri had two more hits on Wednesday and he now has multi-hit games in six straight (11-for-22). Currently in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak, the 19-year-old has 11 RBI and 0 strikeouts in that span.

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.).