Results tagged ‘ Jose Trevino ’

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.

Novoa Huff.jpg

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)

SAL Championship celebration photos

I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

Welcome to McCormick (Photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Game three lineup (photo by Mark Parker)

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Pedro Payano (center) and Kelvin Vasquez (R) celebrating the SAL title (photo by Mark Parker

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Scott Williams (L) and Luke Tendler (photo by Mark Parker)

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

Hitting coach Francisco Matos (L) and Eduard Pinto (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

(L to R) Eduard Pinto, Juremi Profar, Edwin Garcia, Michael DeLeon (photo by Mark Parker

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Jose Trevino (L) and Mark Parker (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

Clubhouse celebration (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

MGR Corey Ragsdale addressing the players (L to R) Jairo Beras, Austin Pettibone, Nick Gardewine, Pedro Payano, Luke Tendler Edwin Garcia (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

(L to R) Collin Wiles, Brett Martin, Shane McCain (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

Players back to front: Carlos Arroyo, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Kelvin Vasquez, Eduard Pinto, Josh Morgan, Jose Cardona, (unknown), Luis Ortiz (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

A pic with the SAL trophy (photo by Mark Parker)

SAL Championship Game 2 Story: Asheville at Hickory

For the second straight game, the Hickory Crawdads took an early lead. They then used five pitchers to shut down the Asheville Tourists 3-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. The Crawdads now lead the best-of-five series 2-0. After a day off Wednesday. the remaining games shift to Asheville’s McCormick Field starting on Thursday with a game time at 7:05 p.m.

The Crawdads are seeking the club’s third SAL title, the first since 2004. Hickory also claimed the 2002 championship.

What Happened?:

Hickory put together four hits to score two in the second against Tourists starter Ryan Castellani. Edwin Garcia and Eduard Pinto sandwiched singles around a fly out. After Juremi Profar struck out, Carlos Arroyo slapped a soft liner into left to score Garcia. Castellani walked Jose Cardona to load the bases and then took a liner from Dylan Moore off the foot that scored Pinto.

In the fourth, Profar reached when Josh Fuentes’ throw short hopped Roberto Ramos at first. A sac bunt from Arroyo and Cardona’s single pushed Profar to third before he scored on Moore’s grounder to third.

Nineteen days after injuring his hip, Brett Martin returned to the hill and threw a brilliant start. He allowed just two hits and struck out four while pitching to just one over the minimum.

Facing Adam Dian, the Tourists put the first two on before a sac bunt put the runners at second and third. Cesar Galvez ripped a run-scoring single to score Roberto Ramos scoring on the play. After a mound visit by Oscar Marin, Dian got Yonathan Daza to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

The similar script played out in the sixth for the Tourists against reliever Shane McCain. A walk and hit batter put runners and first and second with one out. Again after a mound visit by Marin, McCain got Dom Nunez to roll into a 6-4-3 double play.

That set up Luis Ortiz to enter the game in the seventh and throw two scoreless innings of relief. He struck out three and allowed one hit to earn the scorer’s decision win.

Scott Williams hurled a perfect ninth to get his third save of the playoffs.

Martinized:

After a 19-day layoff, the unknown of what Brett Martin would provide on the mound was the story line prior to the game. It is fair to say that all is well with the 20-year-old as he retired the first seven hitters of the game and 11 of the 13 he faced.

“After the first throw I had in warmups, I knew I was going to be fine,” Martin said. “Everything felt right and was going well. The hip fell great and then I got up there on the mound and just relaxed and stayed calm and did what I know to do.”

His most dominant inning came in the second when he struck out the side – the last two on six pitches. By my count, Martin finished with 52 pitches, throwing 37 strikes. He missed 11 bats with the changeup especially effective, garnering six of the swing-and-misses (4 on fastballs at 91-93, 1 curve).

“I threw it a lot more playing catch the past three weeks that probably I have all season,” said Martin. “I’m just trying to get comfortable with that pitch again. I knew I was going to need it against them to keep them off balance.”

His dominance didn’t go unnoticed by manager Corey Ragsdale, who had said prior to the game Martin would be limited to four innings.

Said Ragsdale of Martin’s outing, “Wow! Coming back and throwing like that, that’s obviously huge setting the tone.”

Middle Management:

Unused in the playoffs prior to Tuesday night, Adam Dian and Shane McCain were put into a tight ball game following Martin’s brilliant work. Their job was simply to bridge the gap to Luis Ortiz in the seventh. The two relievers shook off the rust and made big pitches to get out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings.

Dian – eight days removed from his last appearance – was shaky at the start and it seemed the Tourists line was glad to see someone other than Martin. Roberto Ramos lined an 0-1 slider to right before Dian walked Josh Fuentes on four pitches.

“It didn’t start out the way that I wanted it to,” said Dian. “But I was pretty happy the way that I was able to work out of it and at least limit the damage. It’s pretty tough to pitch when you haven’t thrown in a while, but it’s not an excuse. I thought I made some good pitches off the bat, but I was up a little bit and they took advantage of that. “

After Galvez’s RBI single, Oscar Marin made a mound visit to help Dian gather himself.

“He just told me to take a deep breath and trust my stuff,” Dian said. “He was thinking that I was kind of letting the game get to me a little bit. It was speeding up; you get two runners on right off the bat and it’s a little tough for you to calm down and stay focused on what you need to do. He just wanted to give me a breather and make sure I had my mind straight before I faced that next hitter.”

Dian served up a 2-1 fastball away to Yonathan Daza to get the 4-6-3 double play and keep the Tourists at bay 3-1.

After 11 days off, lefty Shane McCain came in and also struggled at first with fastball command and then the slider in putting two men on.

“I was a little tight,” McCain said. “It did feel a little weird to be out there. I hadn’t been out there in a week or so, or maybe more. I really just had to trust my stuff. I was having trouble keeping my slider in the zone. That’s been my best pitch. I wasn’t able to start it where I wanted to, where I needed to.”

Another mound visit by Marin brought on an adjustment by McCain with the slider.

“I knew I had to start my slider more behind the lefthanders,” said McCain. “Once I did that, I got the two ground balls that I needed and luckily I got out of it.”

Facing LH hitter Dom Nunez with one out after the mound visit, McCain’s slider away was rolled to Edwin Garcia at short for the easy twin-killing.

“Those two guys right there, they went through the heart of the lineup,” said Ragsdale. “So, those two guys were huge for us tonight.”

Dian said that although he and McCain were both out of sorts after not pitching in a regular routine, they were still expected to do their jobs in the ball game.

Dian said, “That’s what Ragsdale asks of us, to come and to our job. It’s nice when you don’t have to have somebody come bail you out and you’re able to finish your inning. Obviously, it could’ve gone a number of different ways for both of us. I thought we both did a good job. We just gutted it out. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but we were able to minimize the damage. Shane did a hell of a job getting out of that situation.”

Ortiz Breaking Down Wall:

Luis Ortiz didn’t have the sharp command of his fastball, but he didn’t need to either. Omar Carrizales was able to expose that in the seventh when he worked the count full and then drilled a high slider for a single. Ortiz got out of the inning with no further damage.

Ortiz then cranked up the slider in the eighth, using three straight to fan Daza. He got away with a poorly placed fastball that Rogers lined hard to second to bring up Forrest Wall, the number 4 second base prospect in the minors (mlb.com). Ortiz struck out Wall on three pitches, swinging through a changeup, fastball and slider.

Domineering Williams:

After getting Shane Hoelscher to fly to right, Williams worked through a nine-pitch battle with Dom Nunez, finally getting him to undercut a high fastball that went lazily to right. A first-pitch slider to Ramos was rolled easily to second.

Moore and Moore:

Dylan Moore continues a strong playoff run with a couple of hits and an RBI. He stayed on Castellani’s slider in the first for a single, then was able to gear up for the fastball that was lined off Castellani’s foot for the RBI hit. Moore pulled off an away fastball in the fourth, but got enough on it to score the runner from third.

Castellani’s Early Struggles:

The 19-year-old threw a fastball that ranged 93-95 mph that at times had a slider look. However, he is a pitcher that relies on keeping the ball down (1.30 GO/AO) and the inability to do that early cost him. Six of the nine hits against him were hard liners with seven of his outs coming on liners or fly outs. He dodged a bullet in the fifth when Juremi Profar ripped a line drive that went straight to Fuentes at third. The catch likely saved two runs.

Defensive Woes Continue:

A lazy throw by Fuentes to first allowed Profar to reach and score in the fourth to make it a three-run lead. In the fifth with Beras at first, Pinto lifted a bloop single to left center. Beras running on contact made it easily to third, the left fielder Carrizales threw to third anyway, which allowed Pinto to move up to second.

Small Ball, Small Expectations:

Down two runs in the fourth, the Tourists got a base hit from Wes Rogers to start the inning. Rather than taking a chance with leading base stealer (46 steals) to try and get to second on his own, Asheville chose to use Wall – the number one draft pick and No. 4 second base prospect, who had a .288/.355/.438 slash as a 19-year-old – as a bunter. The sacrifice worked, but Rogers advanced no further.

In the fifth after the Tourists put the first two runners on, they chose to use their SAL all-star leftfielder – who as a 20-year-old posted a .286/.333/.410 slash and hit into one double play all year – as a bunter. The sacrifice was successful and a run was scored, but it also proved crucial when a double play ended the inning.

It seems to me those were opportunities for the Tourists to try and siphon some momentum by letting a player make a play. But managers manage to a fault at times and this appeared to be a case of overmanaging.

Shutting down the running game:

Not enough can be said as to how well the Crawdads during the series have shut down the running game of the Tourists, who stole 258 bases this season. The pitchers have been relentless at keeping the runners close and allowing the catcher Trevino to make plays. He’s thrown out both runners trying to steal in the series, including the lone attempt on Wednesday.

SAL Championship Game 1 Story: Asheville at Hickory

Game Story: Asheville Tourists at Hickory Crawdads (Game 1, SAL Championship)

The Hickory Crawdads never trailed in taking the first game of the best-of-five series by a score of 7-2 over the visiting Asheville Tourists Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. Game two of the SAL Championship will take place at Frans with the first pitch at 7 p.m. After a day of Wednesday, the series picks back up Thursday at McCormick Field in Asheville.

The Crawdads are two wins away for their third SAL title in club history, the first since 2004.

What Happened?:

The Crawdads took the lead in the second inning against Helmis Rodriguez when Edwin Garcia and Jairo Beras led off the inning with back-to-back doubles to the left field corner.

Luke Tendler made it 2-0 when he cranked his first homer of the playoffs, a towering shot to right over the billboards.

That was more than enough for Crawdads starter Pedro Payano, who threw a six-hitter over six innings and struck out eight. The right-hander struck out six straight at one point.

Hickory added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth with the key play coming on a defensive miscue. With one out and runners on first and second, Jairo Beras lifted a fly ball to Wes Rogers in deep center. As Tendler tagged and moved to third, the throw to the infield from Rogers was a high-arching throw. Seeing the throw, manager Corey Ragsdale coaching at third waved Tendler around and he scored without a throw home. Eduard Pinto then ripped a double to center to score Edwin Garcia from first and put the Crawdads up 4-0.

In the eighth, Dylan Moore reached on a three-base error when Max White dropped a routine fly ball in left. Jose Trevino singled up the middle through the drawn-in infield to score Moore and then scored on Tendler’s double to center. After Garcia struck out, Jairo Beras drove a triple to center to bring in Tendler for the final run.

Asheville broke through in the ninth when Shane Hoelscher homered to left-center against Dillon Tate. The homer broke a 21-inning shutout streak by Crawdads pitching.

Four-Pitch Pedro:

Payano, the 20-year-old from San Francisco de Macoris, D.R., continued a strong end-of-the season run for the Crawdads and is making a bid for a top-30 prospect spot. Along with catcher Trevino’s pitch selection, the two did a masterful job of mixing speeds and keeping the Tourists hitters off stride much of the night. Payano offered a fastball sitting 91-93 mph to go with a change, his most effective secondary pitch. He also threw a 12-to-6 curve and an occasional slider.

Payano needed 79 pitches to get through six innings, tossing 55 strikes. Of the 55 strikes, 17 missed bats on four different pitches, 15 of those on secondaries (8 CHs, 4 curves, 3 sliders). Both looking Ks came in the second with fastballs on the corner.

“He’s been a special kid ever since he got here,” said Ragsdale. “To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about him when he got here.  He’s exceeded my expectations and has been a real pickup. He’s fit right in with the rest of the starters that have been really good helped us out. He was very good tonight.”

Hustling Pays off:

I’m sure the players hear the same manager-speak about busting tail and I’m sure it gets old as routine play after routine play is made. On Monday, it paid off twice and was and the two plays were the turning points of the game.

On Jairo Beras’ fly ball in the sixth, Tendler sprinted from second to third in such a manner that when Ragsdale from the third-base coaches’ box saw Rogers make the lollipop throw back to the infield, he decided to take a chance to send Tendler.

“Very surprised, it kind of shocked me a little bit,” said Tendler when asked of his reaction at the time. “That was a big run to give us a three-run lead. It was game-changer for us.”

Ragsdale said that with two outs, it was worth taking a shot to get a third run against Helmis Rodriguez and give an additional cushion to the pen. It also seemed to increase the momentum for his team.

“It seemed maybe they got down a little bit and it seemed to pick our spirits up a little bit,” Ragsdale said. “We were able to go on from there and put another good inning together.”

In the eighth, Moore sprinted from the start as his fly ball sailed into medium left field. When White dropped the ball, Moore was already well past second base and easily slid into third. Trevino then worked a 3-1 count before bouncing a Jerad McCrummen fastball into center.

 

Heart of the Order at the Heart of Success:

The number 3-6 hitters reached base eight times with six hits – five for extra bases – with five runs scored and six RBI.

Trevino’s leadoff walk started the sixth inning rally and he singled and scored in the eighth.

Tendler homered in the fourth, walked and scored in the sixth, doubled and scored in the eighth.

Garcia doubled and scored in the second, reached on a fielder’s choice and scored in the sixth.

Beras put up an RBI double to left in the second, an RBI triple to center in the eighth and had the key sacrifice fly in the sixth.

Filomeno Performs Well:

Joe Filomeno’s fastball-slider mix overpowered the Tourists during his two innings. He struck out two in the seventh, missing bats for strike three on a slider and a fastball. The lone hit was a leadoff single in the eighth, a grounder up the middle by Josh Fuentes. A double play followed by Yonathan Daza to end the threat.

Tate mixed reviews:

It was a little surprising to see Dillon Tate pitch with a seven-run lead in the ninth. However, because he had warmed up in the eighth, rather than wasting him on Monday – and likely not have him available for Tuesday – the decision was made to use him.

Forrest Wall started the minor rally for the Tourists in the ninth with a broken bat, bloop single to shallow center. From there, Tate seemed to struggle with fastball command. Hoelscher blasted 96 mph middle and slightly up for a homer just to the left of straight-away center.

An error by Juremi Profar at third extended the inning. After striking out Roberto Ramos, LH hitter Max White turned on a fastball in for a single to right.

Tate’s slider ended the night when Josh Fuentes flied out to center.

 

Defense Saves Tourists Early:

While their defense would let them down late, the Tourists kept the Crawdads at bay early with a couple of nice plays in the field.

With a runner at second with two outs in the first, Tendler smoked a sharp grounder up the middle. SS Luis Jean, playing near the bag to hold the runner Dylan Moore, made a quick pick of a short-hop at the cut of the outfield grass before a strong throw to first completed the out.

In the second with runners at the corner and one out, Ramos handled a one-hopper on the grass from Carlos Arroyo to start a 3-6-3 double play and save a run.

Base running Blunders Costly:

Rogers broke up Payano’s strikeout streak with two outs in the third when he fisted a changeup into shallow left for a hit. He then tried to stretch the play into a double, but was out easily as Eduard Pinto threw a bullet to Moore at second for the tag.

One inning later, Wall and Hoelscher each singled to start the fourth inning. With cleanup hitter Dom Nunez at the plate, Wall took off for third and was cut down easily on Trevino’s throw. The bigger blunder happened when Hoelscher stayed at first on the play. After Nunez struck out, the mistake was magnified when Ramos steered a slow bouncing single through the hole at second – a hit that with two outs would’ve likely scored Hoelscher.

SAL Championship Preview: Game 1 Asheville at Hickory

(My apologies for grammatical or spelling errors, I was in a hurry– Mark)

Game 1: Asheville Tourists (72-67, Southern Division Champions) at Hickory Crawdads (81-57, Northern Division Champions)

Site/ Time: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, N.C.

Affiliations: Asheville (Colorado Rockies)/ Hickory (Texas Rangers)

How Asheville Got Here: With the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats winning both half-season titles, the Tourists needed to claim the second overall best record in the Southern Division. They did so on the final day of the season last Monday when the Greenville (S.C.) Drive fell to Savannah. The Tourists defeated the Sand Gnats at home in game one, then after dropping game two at Savannah they rebounded to capture the series with a 2-1 win on Luis Jean’s two-run homer in the eighth.

Asheville playoff history: The Tourists are the defending South Atlantic League (SAL) and are looking for their third title four seasons. Since rejoining the SAL in 1980, Asheville has three league championships altogether (1984, 2012, 2014). The Tourists have made eight trips to the SAL playoffs and have lost in the champion series twice (1986, 1987).

How Hickory Got Here: The Crawdads won the first-half Northern Division title to clinch a playoff spot. In the Northern Division series, Hickory dropped game one on the road to West Virginia, then returned home take two straight from the Power to claim the series.

Hickory playoff history: The Crawdads are making their third appearance in the SAL Championship Series, having claimed titles in 2002 and 2004. This is the 10th playoff run in the team’s 23rd season.

Season series: Hickory went 7-2 this season vs. the Tourists, with a 1-1 mark at L.P. Frans in early April.

Probables: ASH: Helmis Rodriguez (LH, 9-8, 3.36) vs. HKY: Pedro Payano (RH, 3-1, 1.10)

Lineup: ASH: Wes Rogers-8, Forrest Wall-4, Shane Hoelscher-D, Dom Nunez-2, Roberto Ramos-3, Max White-7, Josh Fuentes-5, Yonathan Daza-7, Luis Jean-6.

HKY: Jose Cardona-8, Dylan Moore-4, Jose Trevino-2, Luke Tendler-D, Edwin Garcia-6, Jairo Beras-9, Eduard Pinto-7, Juremi Profar-5, Carlos Arroyo-3.

Rodriguez vs. Hickory: Rodriguez faced the Crawdads just one time in a home start on July 23. In that game, the Crawdads took advantage of Rodriguez’s wildness as they received five walks to go with three hits and a hit batsman in 1.2 innings. Hickory scored six runs against Rodriguez and went onto an 8-6 win. Jose Trevino tagged him for a two-run single in the first inning of that game and Jairo Beras followed with a singled. Eduard Pinto ripped a three-run double in the second to chase Rodriguez.

The No. 27 prospect (mlb.com) in the Rockies has walked as many as five in four of his 27 starts this season, including seven twice. However, he walked just two overall in his last two starts covering 14 innings, though he did hit three batters. Rodriguez has issued 63 walks this season in 147.1 innings, third in the SAL. He relies on getting groundball outs (1.61 GO/AO) and has done a remarkable job keeping the ball in the yard given the hitters-paradise of his home ballpark at McCormick Field. All nine home runs allowed by Rodriguez have occurred at home.

Rodriguez, 21, has posted a 2.42 ERA on the road (4.52 at home), but has given up 32 walks and hit 11 batters in 81.2 innings. He has gotten stronger over the last month of the season, posting a 1.98 ERA since August 4, which included a no-hit bid that lasted into the eighth inning at Rome on August 20. Rodriguez has the ability to go deep into games as he has pitched seven or more innings seven times, six or more 15 times.  He is a pitcher that opponents have to get early as his ERA in the first is 5.67 with19 walks in 27 innings. After the third, his ERA drops under 2.00 with 22 walks in 69 innings.

The native of Coloncito, Venezuela offers a high-80s fastball, but his change is his best pitch according to several scouting reports. Rodriguez also throws a curve and has added a slider.

Payano vs. Asheville: The native of San Francisco de Macoris, D.R. has made only six starts since joining the Crawdads on August 4, none of those against Asheville. His last start came against Rome at home on September 6 when he allowed one run on five hits and struck out a season high of nine. In 32.2 innings, Payano, 20, has struck out 31 and walked ten.

In his two home starts, Payano has allowed two runs on 11 hits and struck out 15.

He’s had some minor trouble facing hitters the second time through the order as his ERA is 3.60 in the third inning.

Payano features a mid-90s fastball that has some run into right-handed hitters. He also throws a change and a sweeping curve that he uses for strikeouts.

Tourists hitters vs. Hickory: Despite playing seven of the nine games at hitter-friendly McCormick Field this season, the Tourists batted only .244 against the Crawdads this season with five homers among 24 extra-base hits.

Yonathan Daza led the team at .346 (9-for-26) vs. Hickory. SAL All-star Omar Carrizales hit .333 (4-for-12) and his all-star teammate Shane Hoelscher was 3-for-10. SAL No. 4 second base prospect Forrest Wall was 5-for-15, which included a grand slam at L.P. Frans. Daza also had four RBI to lead the team.

Crawdads hitters vs. Asheville: Jose Trevino has five home runs and 12 RBI in eight games to go with a .313 (10-for-32) average in eight games this season. Eduard Pinto had 17 hits (.532) and eight RBI. Luke Tendler struggled against the Asheville staff with 11Ks in 37 plate appearances.

What to watch for: With 246 steals the Tourists run and run often and do so throughout the lineup with six players totally double-digit steal totals. The ability of Payano to keep runners off the base as much as possible, and then to maintain composure as an untried pitcher in a big-game atmosphere could be a key. Four of the five baserunners attempting to steal against Payano have done so successfully. Catcher Jose Trevino has thrown out 33.7% of the runners trying to steal.

Conversely, though Hickory has run very little – only Jose Cardona has 10+ steals (30) – they may take shots against catcher Dom Nunez, who has caught a league worst 21.2% of runners trying to steal.

The opposites on the defensive sheet could not be more different as Hickory led the league in defense (121 errors) with Asheville committing the most (206).

The Crawdads will not likely have Scott Williams available after closing out back-to-back wins on Friday and Saturday. Hickory will probably turn to Adam Dian to close out a late-game situation. Dillon Tate and Luis Ortiz will likely not pitch and so with Payano probably going 5-6 innings, middle relievers Joe Filomeno and Shane McCain will probably get looks to bridge the game to Dian.

The Crawdads have done well in tight games, posting a SAL-best 27-16 mark in one-run games. Asheville was last at 14-22. They’ve also done poorly in the middle innings of tight games. When tied after the fifth, the Tourists are 10-14 (Hickory 14-7). Tied after the sixth, they are 9-12 (Hickory 6-7) and after the seventh they are 7-9 (Hickory 8-0).

The Tourists look to SAL all-star close Josh Michalec, who led the league with 30 saves.

Game Story: SAL Playoff Game 3 West Virginia at Hickory September 12

Game Story: West Virginia Power at Hickory Crawdads (Game 3, SAL Playoffs)

The Hickory Crawdads scored a run in the fourth and made it stand up among a strong pitching and defensive effort to claim a 1-0 win over the West Virginia Power in the decisive game of the South Atlantic League series.

The Crawdads will move onto a best-of-five SAL Championship Series against the Asheville Tourists starting Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. Hickory will host games one and two on Monday and Tuesday. After a day off, the series will shift to Asheville’s McCormick Park from games three through five starting Thursday.

What Happened?:

The lone run of the game came in the fourth inning when Dylan Moore led off with a double, moved to third on a Jose Trevino groundout and scored on Luke Tendler’s sacrifice fly.

The Crawdads used three pitchers to shut down the SAL’s top-hitting team on six hits and three walks. Collin Wiles pitched the first six innings. He issued all three walks and four of the six hits and struck out four. Luis Ortiz struck out four of the six batters he faced. Scott Williams struck out the first two hitters before Elvis Escobar and Connor Joe singled. The game ended when Taylor Gushue lined to Moore at second.

Defensive Brilliance:

With Wiles struggling early, the defense held the Power off the scoreboard. Kevin Newman led off the game with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Kevin Kramer then lined a single to right. Power manager Brian Esposito made an aggressive move to send Newman to the plate. Jairo Beras fielded the ball and fired a throw directly to catcher Jose Trevino, who slapped a quick tag onto Newman sliding into the plate.

In the second, Jerrick Suiter singled and also moved to second on another sac bunt. A grounder to short by Joe kept Suiter at second.  Shortstop Edwin Garcia’s diving stop robbed Gushue of a hit on a sharp grounder and ended the inning.

The next inning Newman again walked before Pablo Reyes sent a long fly ball to left center. Jose Cardona raced over from center and then made a running, lunging catch on the track, moving Newman, who was on the way to third at the time of the catch, back to first.

“I told the guys before the game, ‘if we pick it up and throw it like we need to, we have a chance to win the game,’ said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “They went above and beyond and they made some unbelievable plays and that won us the ballgame.”

Wiles said the defensive plays were a reflection of what the team has done this season.

“The confidence coming into the game was high on our defense,” said Wiles. “You’ve seen it all year. Our defense has made spectacular plays all year. There was no let down. If anything, they took it to the next level and that’s a credit to them.”

The final defensive gem of the game came when Moore snared Gushue’s hard liner at second.

 

Wiles Pitches Around Trouble:

Wiles had problems finding a feel for his secondary pitches the first few innings. However, he had good fastball placement around the strike zone and kept the Power hitters from squaring them up.

Kramer’s single in the first appeared to be on a slider that caught a lot of the plate. Gushue’s hard grounder to Garcia was a high change. The worst pitch of the night was a hanging curve that turned into Reyes’ liner that was run down by Cardona.

“My style is to put the ball in play and let the defense work,” Wiles said. “I tested them quite a few times and they answered every single time. To bounce back down a game to winning like that throwing a shutout, a team shutout in the third, unbelievable, I couldn’t be prouder of my team right now.”

Wiles found the ability to use all his pitches in the fourth in his lone perfect inning of the night. A cut-fastball struck out Reyes to end a minor jam in the fifth and the final out of for Wiles was a strikeout of Escobar on a fastball.

Battling 0-2 counts the difference:

SAL pitcher of the year Yeudy Garcia was the equal of anyone on the mound Saturday as he struck out seven, walked one, and allowed four hits. The inability to finish off Moore and Tendler after getting ahead 0-2 was a difference in the game.

In his at bat, Moore laid off back-to-back sliders just off the outside corner, then got a belt-high, 95 mph pitched that he ripped to the wall. Likewise, Tendler laid off an 0-2 change, spoiled another before sending a third-straight change that was up out to deep left for the sac fly.

“We knew that we were going to have to fight and claw for everything we got,” said Ragsdale. “They battled their tails off. We didn’t get a ton of hits, but they were up their fighting. That kid’s the SAL pitcher of the year for a reason. I’m super proud of the way the guys game out and battled. You knew it was going to be tough to get anymore. We were going to get their best stuff just like they were going to get our best stuff. We were able to make it stick.”

Ortiz Unhittable:

West Virginia was out of sync the entire two innings that Luis Ortiz was on the mound and it started on the first pitch. Sitting on a first-pitch fastball, Joe swung badly at a slider that was off the plate away. Gushue flew out to right and then after swinging through a slider, the right-handed Tyler Filliben watched a 98 mph fastball catch the outside corner at the knees.

Ortiz went on to strike out the side in the eighth two swinging on sliders and the final one another called third strike on a fastball at the knees.

The two innings that Ortiz threw was arguably the most-dominant two innings of the season, including five missed bats on sliders in the two innings.

“Wiles set the tone right away,” Ortiz said.  Him getting deep into the game and messing with the hitters and having them on hold. He made it easier for me just to let it go and do what I have to do.

Williams Pitches Rare Back-to-Back Outing:

Scott Williams worked around two two-out hits and got a break on the liner hit to Moore for the final out of the game. He worked mostly off his 95-97 mph fastballs in getting two strikeouts in the inning.

Having pitched two innings in Friday night’s win, it was thought that he would not be available on back-to-back nights. However, the wheels were put in motion on Saturday and Williams was brought in to seal the series.

“Oscar and Rags told me that I might have a possibility of doing it,” said Williams. “So, we had to convince the pitching coordinator (Danny Clark) to let me do it. He gave me the heads up and I was pumped to get an opportunity to come back out.”

Kudos to Trevino:

Wiles was effusive in his praise of catcher Jose Trevino’s work in the series and felt he had as much to do with the shutout as anyone.

Wiles said, “The consensus between me, Ortiz and Williams is Jose Trevino behind the plate. He told me before the series that he’s got a plan, just stick with him. It worked in game one; we just didn’t get the win. You see a man battle his butt off the last two games and basically willing us to win, willing us to make the right pitch at the right time, all the credit goes to him.”

SAL Playoffs Game 3 Preview: West Virginia at Hickory

South Atlantic League Playoff Series

Game 3: West Virginia Power (87-52, 1-1 series lead) at Hickory Crawdads (81-57, 1-1)

Site/ Time: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, N.C.

Game 2 Recap: The Crawdads finally took control of a see-saw affair in the middle innings and went on to even the series with a 6-3 home win at L.P. Frans. After an Edwin Garcia, RBI single put the Crawdads ahead in the first, the Power jumped back ahead 2-1 with a two-run blast in the second by Connor Joe. Hickory tied it in the third when Dylan Moore doubled and scored when Garcia picked up his second RBI of the game on a groundout. An unearned run put the Crawdads ahead in the fourth, but again the Power tied the game 3-3 when Pablo Reyes singled with two outs and later scored Kramer’s run-scoring single. The Crawdads inched ahead for good in the sixth when after Stephen Tarpley issued back-to-back walks, Jose Cardona lofted a soft liner to left that scored Juremi Profar. Luke Tendler provided the final margin by tripling in two more in the eight. Dillon Tate picked up the win in relief with Scott Williams throwing two scoreless innings and striking out three for the save.

Game 1 Recap: The Power struck for three runs in the fifth inning and went on the capture a 4-2 home win. After Crawdads pitcher Yohander Mendez allowed two baserunners over 4.1 innings, a double by Chase Simpson and Taylor Gushue tied the game at 2. West Virginia added an unearned run in the inning, which scored on a wild pitch by Joe Filomeno on a dropped third-strike after fanning Michael Suchy with two outs. The Power tacked on the fourth run in the seventh on an error by 1B Carlos Arroyo. The Crawdads put seven baserunners on over the first five innings, but managed only a solo homer by Jairo Beras and an RBI groundout by Arroyo. The trio of Austin Coley Sam Street and Nick Neumann retied the final 13 Crawdads of the game.

Probables: WV: Yeudy Garcia (RH, 12-5, 2.10) vs. HKY: Collin Wiles (RH, 11-3, 2.96)

Lineup: WV: Kevin Newman-6, Pablo Reyes-4, Kevin Kramer-D, Michael Suchy-9, Jerrick Suiter-7, Elvis Escobar-8, Connor Joe-3, Taylor Gushue-2, Tyler Filliben-5.

HKY: Eric Jenkins-7, Dylan Moore-4, Jose Trevino-2, Luke Tendler-D, Edwin Garcia-6, Jairo Beras-9, Juremi Profar-5, Carlos Arroyo-3, Jose Cardona-8.

Garcia vs. Hickory: The righthander from Sabana Yegua, D.R. was named the SAL pitcher of the year after leading the league in ERA, was second in OBA (.204) and third in WHIP (1.07). He went 1-1 against Hickory, though he did not allow an earned run. In the loss on May 19 at L.P. Frans, the Crawdads scored two unearned runs in the first and made them stand up for a 3-1 win. Garcia allowed three hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 4.2 innings. Chase Simpson’s error at first was key in the opening inning with Josh Morgan scoring on the play with outs before Luke Tendler followed on Travis Demeritte’s single.

In the August 16 contest, only Eduard Pinto’s walk in the third and Luke Tendler’s single in the fifth smudged Garcia’s outing over five innings in a 2-1 win. Garcia struck out three in the contest, but needed 68 pitches (40 strikes) to complete the five innings.

Wildness has been a problem for Garcia coming down the stretch as he walked five over five innings in a start at Lexington and then two over four innings at Kannapolis. Garcia has gone past five innings just twice this season.

Wiles vs. West Virginia: The right-hander Overland Park, Kansas has not faced the Power this season. He was second in the SAL in WHIP (1.05), fifth in OBA (.239 and fifth in ERA. He has thrown at least six innings in 13 of 22 starts this season going into the eighth twice.

In the final outing of the season, Wiles took a no-decision after allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits over 7.1 innings. He did allow a season high of five earned runs in the previous start on August 27 against Charleston. Wiles has walked more than one batter just five times this season.

Control is the key for his success. He offers a high-80s, low-90s fastball that he will cut on occasion. Wiles also throws a mid-80s slider, a change and a curve that he generally brings out the second time through the order.

Power hitters vs. Hickory: Kevin Kramer is 4-for-7 in the two games so far with Pablo Reyes cranking out three hits. Taylor Gushue and Connor Joe each have homered and have two RBI each. Kramer has the other RBI for the Power. West Virginia has struck out 20 times in 65 at bats.

Among active players, Elvis Escobar has the highest batting avg. vs. Hickory during the regular season at .355 (11-for-31). Jerrick Suiter went 6-for-18 (.333) and Kevin Newman went .286 (4-for-14).  Connor Joe hit only .200, but picked up eight walks in six games. All-star OF Michael Suchy had a team-high five RBI on four extra-base hits.

Crawdads hitters vs. West Virginia: In the two games of the series, Jose Trevino have four hits to lead the Crawdads attack. Six other players have two hits. Edwin Garcia and Luke Tendler have two RBI each. Newcomers Eric Jenkins and Dylan Moore have had trouble with contact as Jenkins has struck out four times and Moore has three.

Among active players during the regular season, Carlos Arroyo is the lone player hitting above .250 against West Virginia. Arroyo is 6-for-15 (.400) with a triple, a homer and two RBI. Beras and Garcia are at the .250 mark with Beras cranking a pair of homers to go with the one in game one. He leads the team with five RBI and Jose Trevino has four.

What to watch for: How deep the two starts can go and how well the bullpens bridge the gap to their closers will be a key. Wiles has shown the ability to minimize damage in early innings, then get into a groove over several innings. The goal for Garcia is to get through five innings and let the pen take over… After pitching two innings on Friday, Crawdads closer Scott Williams is likely not available. Look for Luis Ortiz to get an inning or two if the game is close or the Crawdads have the lead late with Adam Dian pitching the ninth… The Crawdads should see Sam Street at some point in the middle innings with Nick Neumann available for the ninth.

Game Story Game 2 SAL Playoffs: West Virginia at Hickory September 11

The Hickory Crawdads forced a decisive game three in the Northern Division playoffs of the South Atlantic League by taking a 6-3 win over the West Virginia Power Friday night at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory.

The Crawdads and Power return to Frans Saturday night at 7 p.m. to decide the series with the winner to play the winner of the Southern Division series between Asheville and Savannah, also to be decided on Sunday.

The win was the first playoff win since 2010 and the first home playoff win since the team captured the SAL title in 2004.

What Happened:

An intense game throughout saw the Crawdads take a 1-0 lead in the first on Edwin Garcia’s single to right after two outs.

West Virginia bounced back quickly by hitting its second homer of the series when Connor Joe took Ariel Jurado deep after a walk to Taylor Gushue.

The Crawdads evened the score in the third against Stephen Tarpley when Dylan Moore doubled and later scored on Edwin Garcia’s grounder to second.

The Power again got even in the fifth as Pablo Reyes singled with two outs, stole second and scored on Kevin Kramer’s single to chase Jurado.

After stranding eight over the first five innings, the Crawdads finally took the lead for good in the sixth. Tarpley walked Juremi Profar and Carlos Arroyo back-to-back before Jose Cardona lofted a soft liner into left to score Profar.

Hickory stranded two more in the sixth and the bases loaded in the seventh before finally getting a big hit in the eighth to pad the lead. Cardona and Jose Trevino sandwiched walks around two straight outs before Luke Tendler tripled in both.

Dillon Tate threw two scoreless innings to get the win in relief. Scott Williams pitched two scoreless innings to earn the save.

All-Star Matchup Anything But:

West Virginia’s Stephen Tarpley and Hickory’s Ariel Jurado was named to Baseball America’s Low-A All-Star Team earlier in the day, but neither pitcher was sharp on Friday.

Tarpley looked early as if he would be the same dominant pitcher he was when he three-hit the Crawdads back in August. Left-handed hitter Eric Jenkins waved past a biting slider to start the first and Dylan Moore was jammed on a 5-3 grounder. But then Jose Trevino got enough on a fastball in to reach on a short pop-up that landed between the mound and third. Tarpley shattered Luke Tendler’s bat with a change, but the ball cleared the infield for a hit. Edwin Garcia lined a fastball over the plate for a solid single. From that point, Tarpley seemed to lose control of the fastball and the slider never really had the same bite as it did early. The change he showed in his previous start didn’t have the same effect, which left his fastball for the picking. Of the nine hits Hickory had against Tarpley, eight came on fastballs.

Jurado missed with the slider earlier, getting away with a hanger on a fly out by Kevin Newman to open the game and a single from Kevin Kramer in the third. He brought out the curve in the second and that seemed to be his best secondary pitch of the night. However, when he was unable to throw his slider or change consistently for strikes, the Power hitters were able to ignore or spoil the curve and sit on the fastball. Connor Joe tagged one for the homer in the second. Michael Suchy fought out of an 0-2 count in the third before winning a nine-pitch battle on a change that stayed up. The same scenario played out in the fifth when Kramer battled for eight pitches until he ripped a fastball for an RBI single to chase Jurado. The inability to find a put-away pitch cut his outing to 4.2 innings with Jurado throwing 86 pitches (59 strikes). Six of the seven batters to reach against Jurado did so after two outs.

 

Umpires with a Tough Night: Home plate umpire Ben Sonntag caught the ire of both sides with what seemed to be inconsistent strike-zone corner to his left. The most egregious was a 3-2 curveball by Jurado in the second that Sonntag appeared to give up on early. The entire Crawdads defense had begun the trot to the dugout – Jose Trevino getting past the home-plate circle – before being called back as Tyler Gushue was awarded the walk. Connor Joe hit the next pitch, a flat fastball, over the fence to left.

Tarpley appeared to balk with runners on the corners in the third. Both Chad Comer at first and Corey Ragsdale at third gave the base umpires an earful.

To their credit,  ejections likely would have occured were the game a regular season contest. However, the umpires held their collective thumbs and probably let both sides have a longer leash.

Jurado Settles Down: With Jurado visibly upset after Joe’s homer, the catcher Trevino and the entire infield converged on the mound to console Jurado.

“I just had to talk to him,” said Trevino. “He’s a young kid. He’s got to learn how to hold his emotions in. All season he’s done a good job of doing that. I guess that happening. You saw it in his eyes, he was like, ‘Dang it, that could’ve been a strikeout… it happens.”

Crawdads Show Emotion: After the Power scored three in the fifth to take the lead in game one Wednesday, Hickory went into a funk and saw the final 13 hitters be retired. When the Crawdads lost the lead in the second on a two-run homer under dubious circumstances, the team found some fire.

They rebounded to tie the game in the third, a rally which started when Dylan Moore legged out a double with the slide kicking the ball away from 2B Pablo Reyes. From then on, the Crawdads were the aggressors in the game and never trailed again. The normally stoic Dillon Tate slapped his glove and sprinted to the dugout after Carlos Arroyo picked a sharp grounder to first to strand a runner at third in the sixth.

“I think the first game we saw a little bit of, ‘oh, here we go.’ I think today, we talked a little bit about it before the game. No matter what happens, continue to play. I think you saw that tonight. The guys stayed up. They didn’t get their heads down and they continued to battle and they answered a couple of times.”

Arroyo’s defense: Arroyo played his fourth pro game at first base – all in the past four games – but he made several defensive plays that proved to be crucial. In the second, Arroyo picked a short-hop on a sharp grounder by Chase Simpson to start a 3-6-1 double play. After Arroyo made the play behind the bag in the sixth to save a run, Kevin Newman lofted a soft liner down the first-base foul line in the seventh. Arroyo beat right fielder Jairo Beras to the ball, then turned and fired a strike to second with shortstop Edwin Garcia applying the tag.

 

Tate dominates: After serving up a single on a first-pitch, 98-mph fastball to Jerrick Suiter in the sixth, Tate settled down to get out of inning. In the seventh, he sat down both Joe and Reyes as 97-98 mph fastballs caught the outside corner at the knees for called third strikes. Joe’s K was set up by sliders at the corner.

“We knew going in that Tate had two innings that we could go to to get him into that position and perform. The first kid jumped on a fastball and (Tate) settled down and got out of it. He had some electric stuff that he was throwing up there.”

The Crawdads Open the Door:  After putting up single runs through the first game and seven innings, Luke Tendler’s two-run triple finally gave the Crawdads their first multi-run frame of the series. “We’ve had a ton of games where we just couldn’t get that big hit,” said Ragsdale. “There in the bottom of the eighth, Luke got a big hit for us and drove in two runs and kind of gave us a little breathing room and get the ballgame taken care of.”

Williams Shuts the Door:  Scott Williams continued a strong second-half with three strikeouts over the final two innings. Like Tate, he kept a 95-97 mph low and away to righties with an occasional slider mixed in.

SAL Playoffs Game 2 Preview: West Virginia at Hickory

South Atlantic League Playoff Series

Game 2: West Virginia Power (87-52, 1-0 series lead) at Hickory Crawdads (81-57, 0-1)

Site/ Time: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, N.C.

Game 1 Recap: The Power struck for three runs in the fifth inning and went on the capture a 4-2 home win. After Crawdads pitcher Yohander Mendez allowed two baserunners over 4.1 innings, a double by Chase Simpson and Taylor Gushue tied the game at 2. West Virginia added an unearned run in the inning, which scored on a wild pitch by Joe Filomeno on a dropped third-strike after fanning Michael Suchy with two outs. The Power tacked on the fourth run in the seventh on an error by 1B Carlos Arroyo. The Crawdads put seven baserunners on over the first five innings, but managed only a solo homer by Jairo Beras and an RBI groundout by Arroyo. The trio of Austin Coley Sam Street and Nick Neumann retied the final 13 Crawdads of the game.

Probables: WV: Stephen Tarpley (LH, 11-4, 2.48) vs. HKY: Ariel Jurado (RH, 12-1 2.48)

Lineup: WV: Kevin Newman-6, Pablo Reyes-4, Kevin Kramer-D, Michael Suchy-9, Jerrick Suiter-7, Elvis Escobar-8, Chase Simpson-5, Taylor Gushue-2, Connor Joe-3.

HKY: Eric Jenkins-7, Dylan Moore-4, Jose Trevino-2, Luke Tendler-D, Edwin Garcia-6, Jairo Beras-6, Juremi Profar-5, Carlos Arroyo-3, Jose Cardona-8.

Tarpley vs. Hickory: The lefty from Los Angeles made two starts against Hickory this season with mixed results. Back on June 21 in West Virginia, Tarpley allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits with one walk and six strikeouts. Jose Trevino singled in a run in the first, a run that was unearned due to a passed ball. The Power took a 4-1 lead in that game before the Crawdads picked up a run in the fourth on Jose Cardona’s single. Tripp Martin’s double chased him in the sixth and the Crawdads eventually rallied later in the game for a 10-5 win.

Tarpley dominated the Crawdads in a start at L.P. Frans on August 15 when he shut down the Crawdads on three hits over eight shutout innings. The Crawdads lineup had difficulty solving a three-pitch mix as Tarpley recorded 16 groundball outs and threw 93 pitches (63 strikes).

In his last start at Kannapolis, Tarpley allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits and struck out three. He was named to Baseball America’s Low-A All-Star Team.

He features a low-90s fastball with some run into right-handed hitters. He can keep hitters off-stride with a slider and change.

 

Jurado vs. West Virginia: The right-hander from Aguadulce, Panama outdueled SAL pitcher of the year Yeudys Garcia in a 3-1 win back on May 19. In that start, Jurado allowed one unearned run on four hits and struck out three. The Power stranded runners in scoring position both in the first and second before tallying their only run of the game when Tyler Filliben singled and went to third on a throwing error. He scored on a sacrifice fly.

Jurado is coming off his worst performance of the season after giving up five runs (two unearned) on seven hits over three innings for his only loss of the season. Like Tarpley, he was named to Baseball America’s Low-A All-Star Team.

He features a hard sinker at 94 that runs to the back foot of right-handed hitters and also changes speeds well. Jurado can run a slider glove side and has had some success with a developing curveball.

Power hitters vs. Hickory: In game one, Pablo Reyes and Kevin Kramer (one walk) each doubled and were the lone Power hitters with two hits as the Crawdads held them to only six hits. Chase Simpson and Tyler Gushue homered.

Among active players, Elvis Escobar has the highest batting avg. vs. Hickory during the regular season at .355 (11-for-31). Jerrick Suiter went 6-for-18 (.333) and Kevin Newman went .286 (4-for-14).  Connor Joe hit only .200, but picked up eight walks in six games. All-star OF Michael Suchy had a team-high five RBI on four extra-base hits.

Crawdads hitters vs. West Virginia: In game one, Hickory piled up seven hits with Jairo Beras getting two. Eric Jenkins and Jose Trevino both doubled with Dylan Moore, Edwin Garcia and Juremi Profar singling.

Among active players during the regular season, Carlos Arroyo is the lone player hitting above .250 against West Virginia. Arroyo is 6-for-15 (.400) with a triple, a homer and two RBI. Beras and Garcia are at the .250 mark with Beras cranking a pair of homers to go with the one in game one. He leads the team with five RBI and Jose Trevino has four.

What to watch for: The Crawdads will have to figure out a way to solve Tarpley’s ability to change speeds and make him get pitches up… On the mound, if Jurado can put up his usual five innings-plus the Crawdads will have Tate and Ortiz available to bridge the gap to close Scott Williams (10 saves)… The Power like to play small ball (90 sac bunts) which could put pressure on an infield that has not played much together. 1B Carlos Arroyo had never played first as a pro until last weekend – a three-game career at the position – and Dylan Moore has six games with Hickory at second… Eric Jenkins at the top of the order and Jose Cardona at the bottom could give the Crawdads the chance to put some speed to use. Hickory was next to last in steals this season (Cardona had 30 of the 95), so the new toy of Jenkins speed could be a wrinkle that the Power has to contend with. As Hickory searches for offense against Tarpley, Jenkins ability to bunt to get on base – and get to second – could be key. Power catcher Tyler Gushue is next to last in the SAL in caught stealing (26.6%). Gushue led the SAL with 24 passed balls.

Hickory / West Virginia SAL Playoff & Game 1 Preview

South Atlantic League Playoff Series

Game 1: Hickory Crawdads (81-57) at West Virginia Power (87-52)

Site/ Time: Appalachian Power Park, Charleston, West Virginia

Crawdads Playoff History:  The Crawdads will make their tenth playoff appearance in 23 seasons since joining the South Atlantic League in 1993. It is the first appearance since 2011. This will be the third trip to the playoffs during the seven seasons the Crawdads have been affiliated with the Texas Rangers.

Hickory has won two SAL championships, both coming during the affiliation of the club with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002 and 2004.  The Crawdads have not won a series since claiming the title in 2004, nor have they won a playoff home game since the clincher of that series.

Power Playoff History: West Virginia has made seven playoffs appearances since staring South Atlantic League play in 1987. The lone SAL title came in 1990 as the Charleston Wheelers – a Reds affiliate – swept the Savannah Cardinals in three straight. This is the fourth playoff appearance under the name of the West Virginia Power (beginning in 2005), the second as a Pirates affiliate (2013), which began in 2009.

Hickory/ West Virginia Playoff History: The Crawdads defeated the Charleston Alley Cats (Blue Jays) in two straight in the first round of the 2004 playoffs. The clincher of the 2004 sweep was the final game played at Watt Powell Park in Charleston.  West Virginia (Brewers) took a 2-1 first-round series win in 2007.

How Hickory Got Here: The Crawdads led the first-half Northern Division chase wire-to-wire, eventually finishing with a 44-24 mark, 7 ½ games ahead of second-place West Virginia.

How West Virginia Got Here: The Power bullied the SAL in the second half and finished 50-20. It was the first time a SAL club had 50 half-season wins since Augusta turned the trick in 2007. West Virginia finished ten games ahead of second-place Delmarva in the second half and 13 games ahead of fourth-place Hickory.

Game 1 Pitching matchup: Hickory-Yohander Mendez (LH, 3-3, 2.44) vs. West Virginia- Austin Coley (RH, 16-6, 3.66)

Hickory Pitching:

Mendez: After pitching in a piggyback arrangement with Ariel Jurado much of the season, Mendez split off on his own late in the season. After allowing more than two runs just once in his first 19 outings, the lefty gave up four in five innings to Greensboro on August 23 and five to Delmarva in 3.1 innings on September 1 to close out the regular season. He gave up one homer in each of those outings, the only long balls he allowed this season. Mendez finished the season with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. SAL hitters batted .230 against Mendez in 2015. His struck out 74 and walked 15 in 66.1 innings. Against West Virginia in 2015, Mendez allowed one unearned run on three hits, two walks and struck out seven in eight innings (two appearances, one start).

Relievers: Scott Williams likely will get the first look for a save situation. The right-hander picked up ten saves in the second half and built a 40-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31.1 innings in the second half. In three outings vs. the Power in 2015, Williams allowed one run – a homer to Michael Suchy on June 19, on three hits and struck out two over four innings… Joe Filomeno gave up two runs to the Power late in a game on August 16… Shane McCain was roughed up in an outing vs. West Virginia on August 15 (2.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K…Having not pitched since September 2, it would not be unusual to see 2015 first-rounder Dillon Tate get an inning in the middle of the game.  Manager Corey Ragsdale indicated that Tate and Luis Ortiz would be available for action in the series… Adam Dian (5 saves) threw an inning on Monday’s win. He has pitched out of the pen on one day’s rest just once.

West Virginia pitching:

Coley: The 23-year-old right-hander made all 27 starts this season and seemed to finish strong as he allowed one earned run in each of his last four starts (26 innings). Coley has showed good command with 111 Ks to just 25 walks in 147.2 innings. A fly ball pitcher, – He holds a 0.88 GO/AO ratio – Coley is susceptible to the long ball, having allowed a SAL-high 18 this season. The Crawdads touched him up for three in a loss back on August 14. Hickory has had perhaps the best luck against the 16-game winner tagging him for 20 hits over 11 innings in two starts. Among Crawdads hitters, Carlos Arroyo is 4-for-6 this season with a homer and Luke Tendler has doubled and homered in four plate appearances. Jairo Beras went 2-for-2 with a double.

Relievers: Nick Neumann is the Power close with 17 saves in 19 chances. He threw two perfect innings against Hickory this season, both coming in the first half… Other key relievers will likely include Sam Street, Jared Lakind and Julio Vivas. Of the trio, only Lakind (1 IP) has faced Hickory this year.

Hickory lineup:

Late season injuries to Josh Morgan and Michael De Leon put the Crawdads into a mix-and-match mode on the infield. Catcher Jose Trevino and third baseman Juremi Profar are the two likely certainties around the diamond. Ragsdale indicated that Edwin Garcia will likely play short and newcomer Dylan Moore will place second. Carlos Arroyo, who played second most of the season, was stationed at first the final two games of the season and handled the position without a problem. With his output against Coley (4-for-6) this season, and his success against the Power this season Arroyo may get the first look with Chuck Moorman and Jonathan Meyer available off the bench. Arroyo is the lone active Crawdads player to hit over .300 (6-for-15) against the Power in 2015.

In the outfield, the arrival of 2015 second-round Eric Jenkins gives Ragsdale a different wrinkle in the lineup with his speed. He went 7-for-18 during his five-game audition last week and he may well have earned some at bats in the series. The likely lineup will be Luke Tendler in left, Jose Cardona in center and Jairo Beras in right. Tendler ended his season fourth in the SAL in RBI and total bases. Beras had a pair of homers and five RBI during a mid-June series in Charleston. However, he went 0-for-7 against the Power in August. Eduard Pinto may get a look at first on in the DH slot.

Power lineup:

The Power had only 18 position players on their roster this season with eight players taking the field for 99 or more games (Hickory has three in the expected lineup, though Pinto has 98 games). The team finished the season at the top of the SAL with a .269 batting average and a .347 on-base percentage. It’s a team that will play classic National League small-ball (90 sacrifices) to scratch out runs for what has been a shutdown pitching staff. They are very patient at the plate. West Virginia leads the SAL in walks and has the second fewest strikeouts this season.

Behind the plate will likely be Taylor Gushue with Connor Joe – the Pirates No. 29 prospect (mlb.com) at first. Pablo Reyes and 2015 first-round pick Kevin Newman will play second and short respectively. Rounding out the infield at third will likely be Tyler Filliben, who has filled in for the injured Jordan Luplow.

A talented group is stationed in the outfield with SAL all-star Michael Suchy starting in right. Suchy, the fifth-round pick of the Pirates in 2014, finished the season second in the SAL in runs scored and in RBI.

A combination of Tito Polo, Elvis Escobar and Jerrick Suiter split up left and center, with Suiter getting many of the DH starts.  Suiter and Esocbar finished fifth and eighth in the SAL in batting avg. with Escobar third in hits.

Against the Crawdads, Escobar hit .355 (11-for-31) to lead the team among active players. The injured Luplow had two of the five homers struck against Hickory and he is tied with Suchy with five RBI.

Other things to know: This is likely to be a pitching-and-defense series. Hickory and West Virginia finished tied with the fewest errors committed in the SAL and went 1-2 in WHIP. The Crawdads finished second in ERA (3.19) with the Power fourth at 3.38…  Defending bunts had been a downfall for the Crawdads prior to their injuries and against a team that likes small ball, the revamped defensive alignment – especially with the likelihood of inexperience at first – could be a point worth watching… Both teams expect to win when they score first. The Crawdads went 54-14 when scoring first – tops in the SAL – and West Virginia was 59-16, which was second… Hickory has held up well under pressure as it was 71-4 when leading or tied after seven innings. In one-run games, the Crawdads are 27-16 with the Power at 19-22.