Results tagged ‘ Josh Morgan ’

Crawdads Mid-Season Assessment: An Interview with Rangers VP Mike Daly

The Hickory Crawdads currently has the best record in the South Atlantic League at 50-29 (through July 5). While the Crawdads cruised to the first-half Northern Division title – clinching a playoff berth in September – the name of the game is first and foremost player development. In that aspect, the Texas Rangers have much to celebrate with the Crawdads roster, especially where the pitching staff is concerned.

Mike Daly, the Senior Vice President for Scouting and Player Development of the Texas Rangers, was in town during the recent weeklong homestand to get an extended look at the Crawdads in action.

The following is an interview I did with Daly during which he talked about some of the top pitchers on the staff – and assigning them to High Desert – a few of the top hitters, as well as the on-going struggles with Jairo Beras.

In the first half of the season the Crawdads were the best team in the South Atlantic League by record, and a lot of days, the best team on the field. The Rangers brass had to be excited with how the team played in the first half.

Mike Daly: Yeah, we’re certainly proud of the players and the staff. I think it starts with Corey Ragsdale, an outstanding manager who’s closing in on the all-time record for number of wins here – not only for the number of wins in Hickory – but with what he’s done taking on a really young group of players and bringing them together.

Each of the players get better individually but also as a collective group. They’re playing for each other, pulling for each other and ultimately winning a bunch of games. We’re very pleased and very proud of the group here in Hickory.

You mentioned the staff and Rags is here for the third year and seems a lot more comfortable with himself. You see the growth from him over the three years. It’s obvious that he’s in charge and the guys like playing for him, to a man.

Daly: Absolutely. Corey does a number of things very well. First, he has outstanding baseball knowledge. He knows the ins and outs of a baseball game. He has a very keen eye for what players need to do and how they need to develop on the field.

But then off the field, he has presence and he knows how to handle the clubhouse and the players. They respect him and enjoy playing for him, but otherwise they know who is in charge. We’re thrilled to have Corey in the organization and we’re very, very happy with what he’s done with the club so far in 2015.

As far as the first half the pitching staff, almost night in and night out, is getting five, six, seven innings in every night and then turns it over to a what’s been a pretty good bullpen for the most part.

Daly: I think that was reflected there in the all-star game with how many selections we had off our pitching staff. I think what’s really good is these guys push one another. So, when Ariel Jurado goes out and has a good outing, now Brett Martin wants to go out there and top him. Then Luis Ortiz, he wants to go out there and do better and Yohander Mendez wants to show where he’s at. Nick Gardewine wants to do that and Collin Wiles wants to do it better.

So it’s a real good internal competition amongst these guys each and every night. It certainly gives our ballclub an opportunity to win and it always starts with the starting pitching. These guys have really stepped up. It’s really, really fun to watch these guys compete against one another.

Jurado was not somebody that people read a lot about before this season. He took the ball the first night and for the most part at every start he toes the rubber and goes seven innings.

Daly: He’s been outstanding. He was one of the six starters that we wanted to send out here. That’s a big credit to Brian Shouse, who is our pitching coach in the Arizona League and pitched a number of years in the major leagues. He dropped down Jurado’s slot from a high slot to more of a low three-quarters slot, which he throws now and really helps his fastball move. He gets a ton of ground balls with his sinker. He throws a lot of strikes and mixes in his breaking balls and his changeups very well.

He’s throwing a curveball now, which is another nice toy for him?

Daly: Absolutely, and he has a real good feel. When guys have power – nd he has a fastball that he can run up there over 90 miles an hour – and then he’s able to break out his offspeed pitches, it really puts hitters on their heels. His sinker is obviously his money pitch and when he’s able to throw the other offspeed pitches for strikes, it puts hitters on their heels. We’ve seen that with the performance of Jurado.

Luis Ortiz has had a couple of wrinkles, but numbers wise he has a low ERA, good WHIP, a ton of strikeouts. I know you’re kind of pacing him along, especially with the arm fatigue. What is your evaluation of him at this point?

Daly: We’re really happy with Luis. I think our goal was for him to get out here on opening day and to get through the whole season. A player learns a ton, especially a player coming out of high school, going out for the first time and getting through a full season at a full-season club. We’re really happy with what he’s done throughout the year.

Obviously there’s a little bit of a setback here with the arm fatigue. We’re looking to get him back here probably in about a month or so. But we’re really happy with where Luis is. He’s working on all his pitches. His changeup continues to develop as does the power fastball and a good breaking ball.

Collin Wiles is another guy that has been good night in and night out. I’m honestly a little surprised he’s still here. Let me ask you about his development and where he goes from here.

Daly: We give Collin a ton of credit. He had a very good offseason. I think he really took ownership in his offseason program and really invested in where he was at in his career and it’s paying dividends on the field. He’s able to throw all of his pitches for strikes at anytime in the count. He has an extreme amount of confidence on the mound and that come through.  I think that’s due in large part to the work that he did in the offseason. He came into spring training very, very focused and that’s carried through here in the season.

We have had some conversations about challenging him at the next level, but we’re really happy with where he’s at, how he’s pitching and how he’s performing. With his age, as a high-school player coming out of Kansas City, we still feel that there’s some challenges for him here at the low-A level. But we’re really happy where he’s at.

This is not necessarily about Collin, but just in general. How much does the High Desert situation play into you advancing guys and not wanting to tax them at that spot versus maybe they need that challenge?

Daly: I don’t think it’s so much about High Desert. I think it’s more about the individual player and where he needs to be challenged or where he’s at in his career.

If you look back when Arizona was at High Desert, they sent John Patterson and Brandon Webb and Brad Penny. So there have been pitchers that have been very successful major league pitchers that have gone through High Desert.

But I think our decisions are based more on the individual player and what they need and where we see they’re at in their careers in terms of promoting them or having them go through High Desert or not.

We’ve had some success. Frank Lopez is a guy who pitched here and had some success early on at High Desert and he earned a promotion up to Frisco. There are pitchers that can go out there and have had some success. I think it’s a very good learning experience if you’re able to pitch in High Desert in those type of conditions.

Is there a mental component that plays into that at times, where you might be hesitant to send somebody there because if they get lit up with the easy home run, you worry about the psyche?

Daly: I think that’s part of like each individual guy. I think our coaches have a very good feel for each individual player. We do talk about it amongst our staff, amongst our coaches about what’s best for each individual player. Some guys have gone out there and taken on that challenge and were able to overcome High Desert. That usually bodes pretty well for success at the next level.

Let me ask you about one other guy and that’s Yohander Mendez. He was here and there last year because of the shoulder and other injuries health wise. He had a good year out of the bullpen, but I know the object has always been to get him back into the rotation. You’ve got to be pleased with where he is at this point.

Daly: We’re very happy with Yohander. We had a couple of setbacks with some injuries in his career. I think the goal was to start him out in the pen this year with some short stints to try to keep him healthy. He’s done that and has been able to post every time that we’ve asked him to pitch.

Now, I think, his goal has changed in terms of, can we build strength. He’s done a nice job with Wade Lamont, our strength and conditioning coach, in terms of putting more weight on his body. I know it doesn’t really show, but he’s up to over 200 pounds. That’s a huge credit to Yohander and the tireless efforts of Lamont. Obviously Oscar Marin (Crawdads pitching coach) has done a real nice job with him last year and this year. We’re really happy with where Yohander is at and obviously it’s showing on the field.

Let me go to the hitting side of the team and start with Josh Morgan, who had a rough start getting his feet wet, but the last two months has done well.

Daly: Definitely, he’s certainly found it. He’s one of the guys going through his first full-season year. I think in April the hits weren’t falling, but he continued to have an outstanding makeup. He’s a very, very hard worker. He believes in the talent and we believe in the talent as well. I think that we’ve seen that over the past couple of months with the consistent approach and the consistent work ethic and those hits are falling. Obviously, he’s been a huge part of the 2015 Crawdads.

A guy that has been the glue or spark plug, or whatever cliché you want to use, has been Jose Trevino. I know it’s been his first full year of catching and I know that’s gone well. But all around he’s a guy that keeps the clubhouse together.

Daly: We’re very, very, very happy with Jose Trevino, not only defensively, but offensively. There’s a lot of stuff as a catcher that you need to work on in terms of your own defensive, knowing the pitching staff , being able to help your pitchers get through each count. But then he’s able to step into the box with his bat and be very productive in the middle of the lineup. So, we’re really happy with the things that Jose has accomplished so far both offensively and defensively. You see the makeup and you see how he’s able to keep his focus together.

I’m going to go to Jairo Beras, who had the rough start not running out a batted ball the first night. He had a good couple of weeks here where it seemed like he was seeing everything, but then he gets into another thing last night where he doesn’t run it out. Let me ask you about him and what is a tough situation.

Daly: Jairo is somebody there have been some ups and been some downs. I know last year he had a very good second half here in Hickory. It looked like he was going on that path again here and have another strong second half in 2015.

Part of the process is not about numbers, but part of the process is about playing the game the right way. I think Corey’s done a really good job of handling the situation with Jairo.

We’re still very excited about Jairo and I think he’s still going to be a big part of this Crawdads team over the last couple of months. I think his at bats are getting more consistent. He’s seeing balls batter and he’s using the whole field. He had a nice double down the right field line. He’s walking a little more. I think that there’s some stuff, just with player in development, there’s some ups and some downs, but we’re still very bullish on where Jairo is and his status in the organization.

You mentioned that you’re excited about Jairo and the Rangers are excited about Jairo. Is there a point where Jairo is excited about Jairo and there are not the mental lapses?

Daly: You hope so, yes. I would fully expect that to happen. When that happens, I’m not sure that anybody knows. It’s really up to the player to decide that they’re going to do the things each and every day that’s part of being a professional player. I think it’s really up to Jairo. Our job as an organization is to support him and when he doesn’t do the things that he’s supposed to do to correct them and teach him and to make sure he learns from him. Ultimately, it’s up to Jairo to make those changes.

Michael De Leon. The hitting is still not quite there. He’s still only 18 and the strength is getting there, but defensively, what a wizard.

Daly: With Michael last year, it was really the year of opportunity. When we signed him in 2013, nobody thought that in 2014 that he would play the majority of his games in Hickory. None of our guys that we had signed in their first year – Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor – none of those guys spent any time in Hickory. There was an opportunity last year with the number of injuries. To his credit, he took advantage.

I think there are still challenges for Michael here at this level, but he’s done an outstanding job. When he can play defense like he can play defense at shortstop, he’s always going to have the opportunity to play. The manager is going to want to get you in the lineup based on the defense that he provides.

He hits at the top of the lineup and makes a ton of contact. He’s going to get bigger and stronger. I know that Wade Lamont is working with him relentless to try to get him faster and try to get him bigger and stronger. But, when you have a shortstop that can play that type of defense, the pitchers really appreciate you, and the manager’s always going to find a way to get you into the lineup. That’s his calling card is his defense right now.

Let me ask you about one more guy and that’s Tendler. He had a hot start and then went into the slump, but you get the feeling that he’s coming out of some things.

Daly: I give Luke a ton of credit. Luke came into the organization last year and right away has been all about baseball. After Spokane – he had a real nice year there – he spent the winter in Columbia. He went down there on his own and went to the Columbian Winter League. The first time we’ve ever had a player right out of the draft make the decision on his own to go down to Colombia. So, he really invested in his career. He really wants to be as good as he can.

I know that he came into Hickory this year and was on fire in April and in May. He was producing maybe better than he thought that he was. Right now in the slump, he’s better than he’s showing now.

We’re really happy with Luke. Once again, a guy going through his first full season and it’s hard. A hundred-and-forty games is a long season; it’s a grind. He’s done a real nice job. He’s a big part of the Crawdads team. I know that Corey has a lot of confidence in him and we’re going to continue to run him out there and he’s going to figure it out and be a big part of the team here.

Who has surprised you that maybe you didn’t expect to put together the season they have?

I think like the back end of the bullpen was really good. Parks and Fasola, both of those guys, especially Fasola, coming in and closing the door and saving a lot of games. I know that Corey had a ton of confidence looking down there in the eighth or ninth inning and bring in big John to close out the game.

Obviously, John pitched very well and earned himself a promotion up to High Desert. So, I think John Fasola coming in and taking the reins of the closer role and earning a promotion was the biggest surprise here so far.

(Eduard) Pinto?:

Daly: Been good. He can always hit. He hit close to .400 in the Dominican Summer League his first summer out. I think his big key is staying healthy. That’s something he continues to manage each and every day. He can hit, but his ability to on the field is the key.

Game Story: Greenville at Hickory July 1

In one of the weirder games of the season, the Hickory Crawdads rallied twice late to steal a 4-3 win over the Greenville (SC) Drive at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Stymied in the first seven innings, the Crawdads scored single runs in the eighth and ninth to tie it. After falling behind again in the tenth, Greenville contributed to its own demise in the game with a “non-error” botched double play and a passed ball that factored into the outcome. Rock Shoulders force play tied it in the ninth and his blooper scored the tying and winning runs in the tenth.

The game had two pitchers pinch-running and a third in the on-deck circle during the final two innings.

What Happened:?

It looked like a ho-hum night for the Crawdads offense as Drive starter Reed Reilley (seventh round, 2014 out of Cal-Poly San Louis Obispo) shut down the offense. He allowed four hits and walked one over 6.2 scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the Drive scored twice in the fourth on back-to-back RBI doubles by Javier Guerra and Joseph Monge against starter Nick Gardewine.

The Crawdads got a run back in the eighth when Josh Morgan singled in Jose Cardona.

In the ninth, Luke Tendler tripled to start the inning. After Jonathan Meyer was hit by a pitch – and pinch-ran for by Chris Dula – Rock Shoulders hit a grounder deep into the hole a second for a force play that allowed Tendler to score. Juremi Profar’s single put runners on the corners, but Kuehl McEachern got Jose Cardona to fly out.

Rafael Devers put the Drive ahead in the tenth with a solo homer to right off Scott Williams.

Then, things got strange in the bottom of the inning. Josh Morgan greeted reliever Ryan Harris with an opposite field single to right. Jairo Beras struck out and Jose Trevino hit into what should have been a game-ending double play. However, shortstop Javier Guerra botched the grounder and had to settle for a lone out at first. A passed ball by David Sopilka put Morgan at third. With pitcher Scott Williams on deck (the DH was killed when Meyer left the game and Trevino was inserted behind the plate), Greenville chose to walk Tendler intentionally to get to Williams.

However, Michael De Leon – who did not start because of a sore quad – pinch-hit and took a four-pitch walk. Shoulders then worked an 0-2 even before hitting a blooper into shallow left. A trio of Drive players chased it down before Devers got to the ball for what looked like a game-ending, over-the-shoulder catch. However, the ball hit off of Devers glove for a single that scored two runs to give Hickory the win.

The Good:

Rock Shoulders: Both the game-tying and game-winning at-bats came out of 0-2 counts. In the ninth, he caught enough of an 0-2 fastball to steer it well to the left of second baseman Yoan Moncada, who fielded cleanly and threw to second for an out. In the tenth, he ignored a fastball and a change just off the outside corner and then looped a fastball opposite field to left.

Kelvin Vasquez: Threw his second-straight solid outing of the homestand Wednesday. Needed only 45 pitches to complete 3.2 solid innings (2 hits, 1 BB, 4 K). Fastball ran 96-98, but it was the ability to throw offspeed pitches for strikes that set him apart for the second straight outing. Entered the game in the fifth with the bases loaded and one out. Stuck out Mike Meyers on a 96 heater up, then got Nick Longhi to pop up a curveball. He came back in the sixth and got back-to-back Ks on sliders. Missed four bats (by my count) on either curves or sliders, six on fastballs.

Scott Williams: Homer aside in the tenth (on a slider), he’s pitching with more confidence in attacking the strike zone. He is able to throw the slider for called strikes, or just off the plate enough to get hitters to chase. His fastball is ranging 94-96 with good movement.

Josh Morgan: Appeared to make a mid-game adjustment that paid off in the later innings. In the first, he pulled an outside fastball for a 6-3 grounder. In the third, he missed a fastball away for a strikeout and in the sixth it was a breaking ball away that did him in. But in the eighth, he slapped a McEachern fastball away into right for an RBI single. In the 10th, another fastball away that was taken up the middle to start the final rally.

Corey Ragsdale: While low-A games are seemingly devoid of strategy much of the time, he took a chance get the winning run across in the ninth. With his only two bench players (Michael De Leon and Eduard Pinto) nursing leg injuries, Ragsdale sent in pitcher Chris Dula (who was a batting champion in college) to pinch-run for the slow-footed Jonathan Meyer at first. This happened despite the fact that the other catcher, Jose Trevino, was the DH. Hickory tied the game in the ninth, but stranded the go-ahead runner at third. When Tendler came up in the tenth with two outs and a runner on third, Ragsdale sent Williams – the pitcher  – to the on-deck circle. Greenville called the bluff and intentionally walked Tendler. De Leon came in to hit and never saw a strike in loading the bases with a walk. Accentuating that perhaps De Leon could not run well, Ragsdale sent in Joe Filomeno to pinch-run for De Leon. Shoulders followed with the single.

The Not-So-Good:

Jairo Beras: A tough night at the plate after sitting out a game for not running out a fly ball in Monday’s game. Sliders away were the culprit for his three strikeouts. However, on the two comebackers he hit, Beras noticeably busted tail down the line and made both plays close.

Two-strike counts: The inability for both sides to close out hitters was costly. McEachern allowed Shoulders to get enough on an 0-2 fastball to pull it deep in the hole at second and allow the run to score. Shoulders also battled out of an 0-2 hole to get the game-winning bloop hit.

Crawdads starter Nick Gardewine had an especially hard time closing out hitters. Guerra saw ten pitches after starting 1-2 on his AB in the second. On a six-pitch AB in the fourth Guerra finally got a fastball he could handle and sent it into the RCF gap for an RBI double to score Meyers, who had started the inning with a single on an 0-2 fastball. Devers chased Gardewine with a sharp single on a 1-2 change. Gardewine had a 93-95 fastball much of the night that was mixed in with sliders and changes. But many of the pitches were on the outside corner to RH hitters, who eventually were able sit on the pitches and hit them opposite field. All four hits by RH hitters were liners to RCF or RF. Gardewine needed 85 pitches (65 strikes) to get 11 outs.

Devers homer against Williams was on a 1-2 slider that caught a lot of the plate.

The opposition:

Reed Reilly: Not a high-velocity pitcher (sat 89 much of the night) but located the fastball around the plate and mixed in his breaking balls well enough to throw off the Crawdads timing. Mainly stayed away from hitters, but threw enough inside to keep them honest. Only Profar and Meyer really squared anything solid against him.

Javier Guerra: Had a good night at the plate with the long ABs against Gardewine. Drilled a first-pitch 98 mph heater from Vasquez for a single in the eighth and another sharp grounder to first in the 10th. However, a botched double play in the tenth kept the inning alive.

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 27

The Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws scored four runs over the final two innings to claim a 6-3 win over the Hickory Crawdads Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the BlueClaws (35-36 overall, 1-2 second half) was the second straight in the five-game series and dealt the first lost of the season to the Crawdads (45-26, 1-2) when they led or were tied after seven innings. Hickory was 40-0 when leading after seven.

What Happened?:
The Crawdads scored all of their runs during two-out rallies. In the first, Eduard Pinto singled and Jose Trevino doubled before Jonathan Meyer singled in both.

After Emmanuel Marrero cut it to 2-1 in the third with his first pro homer, Hickory added a run in the fourth when Jairo Beras walked with two outs and scored on Carlos Arroyo’s triple.

Lakewood made it 3-2 in the fifth. Cord Sandberg reached on a bloop single to left, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a deep fly to right, and then scored when Joel Fisher lined a single to center.

The decisive rally came in the eighth against Crawdads reliever Joe Filomeno. With one out, Gustavo Martinez legged out an infield hit to short. Marrero sneaked a grounder just inside the bag at third for a double. Filomeno held runners at second and third when he struck out Drew Stankiewicz, but both scored as Scott Kingery ripped a double between third baseman Josh Morgan and the bag. Kingery then scored on Herlis Rodriguez’s double off the wall in right-center.

Lakewood’s final run in the ninth came when Kyle Martin homered to right against reliever Erik Swanson.

The Good:

Brett Martin: Arguably his best start of the season. The homer he served up was a curveball down that Marrero went down to get. Threw 40 strikes out of 54 pitches, using mostly a fastball (89-92) –slider mix. He fanned two in the first – both on sliders – and two more in the second, one swinging on a slider, the other a fastball looking. Was definitely an outing to build upon.

Chris Dula: After giving runs in five straight outings and six out of seven, Dula kept the sinker (93-96) down for three groundballs – two for outs, the third an infield hit.

Jose Cardona: Went 2-for-4 with a double, lining a pair of fastballs for hits, including a 95 mph heater for a double.

Rock Shoulders: Went 0-4, but crushed the ball three times, only to see them die at the wall. Just not his night.

Josh Morgan: Had one hit – a dribbler up the middle in the fifth – but had two other hard hit liners that left fielder Cord Sandberg snagged. Like Rock Shoulders…

The Not-So-Good:

Joe Filomeno: Given the first chance to close out a tight game after the bullpen rearrangement, he had a tough night. Fastball was lively sitting around 93, but breaking balls were not close enough to the plate to entice swings, or sharp enough to miss bats when swung at. Kingery and Rodriguez both sat on first-pitch fastballs for back-to-back doubles that accounted for three runs. He struck out two in the inning, but needed eight pitches each to do so.

Late innings slump: Put only three runners aboard over the final four innings. Had only one runner in the same span in the previous game.

The Opposition:

Kyle Martin: The Phillies fourth-round 2015 pick out of South Carolina hit his first pro homer in the ninth.

Manny Martinez: After Cardona slammed a fastball off the wall in the seventh, Martinez went predominantly to his curve to retire Michael De Leon on a grounder to first and Morgan on a popup to first.

Austin Smith: The left-handed reliever threw an explosive mid-90s fastball to strike out two, the second against Jairo Beras, who froze on a 91 mph heater on the inside corner.

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 26

Lakewood at Hickory June 26

The Lakewood BlueClaws took advantage of poor control by Hickory Crawdads starter Cody Buckel to build an early lead and take a 6-3 win Friday night.

The win by the Blue Claws (34-36 overall, 1-1 second half) evened the five-game series at a game apiece. Hickory (45-25, 1-1) snapped a mini two-game win streak.

The teams will resume the series Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at L.P. Frans Stadium.

What happened?:

After the Crawdads dodged a bullet in the first, Lakewood put up a run in the second. Cord Sandberg (3-for-4) singled to right and moved to second on an error by Jairo Beras. A wild pitch by Buckel placed Sandberg at third and he scored when Kyle Martin collected his first pro hit, a double to right.

The decisive point of the game came in the third. With one out, Buckel hit Scott Kingery with a pitch and then walked Herlis Rodriguez. After Damek Tomscha was drilled by a pitch, Sandberg lined a first-pitch changeup over the fence in right for a grand slam to make it 5-0.

The Crawdads got a run back in the bottom of the third. Ricardo Valencia walked to start the inning. The next batter Jose Cardona hit into a potential 5-4-3 double, but the throw from Derek Campbell at third sailed into right field and put Valencia at third. Michael De Leon’s sacrifice fly scored Valencia to make it 5-1.

Save for the unearned run in the third, starter Ranfi Casimiro (3-5) held the Crawdads in check until the fifth. He walked Cardona and served up a single to De Leon. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. One out later, Beras steered a seeing-eye single into center to make it 5-3.

However, that turned out to be final threat by the Crawdads offense in the game. Scott Harris pitched two perfect innings before turning the game over to all-star closer Alexis Rivero. Eduard Pinto was the only Crawdad to reach over the final four innings, as he doubled to start the ninth. He eventually reached third, but was stranded as Rivero struck out Jonathan Meyer to end the game.

Lakewood’s final run came when Gustavo Martinez scored on a passed ball in the ninth.

The Good:

The Defense – Michael De Leon: With a runner at third and one out in the second, the Crawdads brought the infield in. Campbell hit a popup about 25 feet past the cut of the grass. De Leon raced back into the outfield and avoided the on-charging Beras from right to catch the football-like post pattern.

The Defense – Jose Cardona: In the sixth made a long run before making an over-the -shoulder catch on the track in straight-away centerfield. Also tracked down a liner in the RCF gap in the seventh.

The Defense – Luke Tendler: Kept the BlueClaws off the board in the first with a strong, on-the-money throw to Valencia at home to cut down Drew Stankiewicz on a sac fly attempt by Tomascha.

Kelvin Vasquez: Other than an E-5 that allowed Martinez to reach in the fourth, Vasquez held court on the mound. Needed only 11 pitches to complete the final two innings of his 4.1 inning tenure (43 pitches, 30 strikes). Had a little extra giddy-up on the fastball (95-98) than he’d shown in the recent past. Fanned his only two hitters of the night on back-to-back at bats in the fifth. Struck out Tomascha, who whiffed through a 97 mph heater, then got Sandberg to waive at a slider.

Jairo Beras: Swung through five breaking balls by Casimiro, but laid off an 0-2 slider in the fifth before getting enough on a changeup to get it through the infield for a two-run single.

Josh Morgan: Had the only two-hit game for Hickory, both coming on fastballs by Casimiro.

The Not-So-Good:

Cody Buckel: Color me concerned. Friday’s outing was painful to watch, as I know how much Buckel has put into getting back to the type of pitcher he was in 2011-2012. There was no fastball command. Of the 41 fastballs (out of 68 total pitches- 27 strikes) he threw (by my count), only16 went for strikes. Six of those were put into play, 3 went for hits, two of those doubles. Usually able to rely on his curveball to get strikes, the smattering of those Buckel threw stayed well up and to the catcher’s glove side. The only missed bats I had were from sliders, which did have some bite. But with the fastball control what it was, there was not much sense chasing.

Field staff: With Buckel struggling from the beginning, it seemed that a mound visit would’ve been in order, if for no other reason than to give Buckel a chance to collect himself. Valencia made a few visits, but nothing from the bench. With pitching coach Oscar Marin away for his mid-season sabbatical, his fill-in finally trotted to the mound with the bases loaded in the third. On the next pitch – a flat change – Sandberg took Buckel deep for the decisive slam. Through all this, no one was warming until after the slam. Two batters later, and after his third HBP of the inning, Vasquez was brought in. Buckel threw 31 pitches to get two outs and surrender four runs on five base runners.

Ninth-inning defense: The BlueClaws insurance run in the ninth was a matter of “non-error” misplays. Herlis Rodriguez reached on a bunt when pitcher Shane McCain was slow to cover first. McCain later picked off Rodriguez, but first baseman Rock Shoulders’ throw to second went wide of the bag allowing Rodriguez to steal the bag. Jonathan Meyer’s passed ball (in fairness, he was pressed into service after Valencia’s injury) brought in Rodriguez.

The umpires: I’m not usually one to rag on the boys in blue. They are developing and learning just as the players are. Working as a two-man crew brings difficult challenges in making calls, such as making a call at first on the check swing by a left-handed hitter. A horrible call on a checked swing cost Tendler a strikeout in the sixth and the remainder of the game on the subsequent ejection. Perhaps placing the base umpire in the middle of the infield for left-handed hitters will allow them to make better calls.

The Opposition:

RP Scott Harris: Though the command of it was spotty, he threw a good, hard sinker to record three ground ball outs and K’d Tendler with one in the sixth. Left a trail of tears as three of the six hitters he faced broke their bats.

LF Cole Sandberg: Feasted on a couple of fastballs for hits, but picked off a get-me-over changeup for a homer after the Crawdads bench paid a mound visit in the third.

Hitting the Midway Point: An Interview with Josue Perez

Greetings from vacation-land! I’m using the road trip/  all-star break to recharge some batteries and get ready for the second half.

I put together an interview with Texas Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Josue Perez while he was in Hickory during the last homestand. Perez was the Crawdads hitting coach in 2012 and was scheduled to come back to Hickory this season before he took the coordinator’s job.

Perez talked about several of the Crawdads hitters (or at least the ones I thought to ask him about) and their progression in the first half.

Overall, it’s a good group of hitters. They had a good start; they’ve had some down time. Overall, what have you seen with the group of guys?

Perez: Very pleased, I’m very pleased with the group of guys we have here, mostly. Out of the gate, they started out really good. They kind went through a bump in the road there and now we’re trying to get them back together again. I mean, that’s baseball. Overall, I like what I see.

We’ll continue to work on staying with a plan and having a plan for the at bats, especially with guys on situational hitting More often than not, they’re able to do it. Early in the year they were doing a great job with situational hitting, where we’d score a lot of runs without getting a big hit. We’d score in a lot of different ways. It’s teaching these kids how to win ball games without necessarily hitting three, four, five home runs in a game. They’re learning from it and they’re getting it, so I’m very pleased.

I know Frankie (Crawdads hitting coach Francisco Matos) is very proud of how these guys have gone about their business.

Let me ask you first about Luke Tendler. He got off to a good start and had a little bump. What do you see from him?

Perez: I think it’s all about going back to basics. Early in the season, he had a plan. He had an approach and he was executing it. Being able to stay on the fastball and be up on everything else. Lately, it’s been the lack of being able to be ready on time. So, he’s missing a lot of fastballs and he’s late getting into position and that’s the reason he’s been struggling a little bit. He’s going back to basics and making sure that he’s still on the fastball when he goes up to bat.

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

You’ve had guys like him and Trevino this year. When you were here in 2012 it was Chris Grayson, who got off to a great start. It seems to be a pattern where a college guy will get off to a good start when no one has really seen them yet, and maybe they’re a bit more advanced because of their age. Then they hit that little lull. Is that a problem that you see when you work with them?

Perez: No, I wouldn’t say that; I would say it’s about adjustments. Obviously when facing opposing pitchers, we don’t know a lot about them, just like they don’t know a lot about us. So, at that particular time, the hitters have the advantage. Once the opposing pitchers see the tendencies, they’re going to make an adjustment. And now, you’ve got to make an adjustment back to them. The good ones do make an adjustment and the other ones struggle to get back into it. So it’s still about making adjustments.

Are these kids, because for one reason or another they were so successful in college for the most part, or they wouldn’t be here, have they really had to learn how to make adjustments before they got to this level?

Perez: I’m pretty sure that a lot of the guys did it, or else they wouldn’t be here. That’s just the nature of competing. If you want to win the at bat, or you want to win the game, you have to make an adjustment from game to game. But here it’s a little bit different, because it’s not game by game, it’s at bat to at bat. Sometimes, it’s pitch to pitch. The ones that are able to do that are the better ones.

I think somewhere along the way, they have to make that adjustment. Here it’s more magnified because the pitchers are better. They have better stuff and they’re able to express it a little bit better.

Let me ask you about (Jose) Trevino, who is another one that got off to a good start and seems to be finding his way again.

Perez: You have to take into consideration with Trevino that he is behind the dish for the first time in a full season. He’s been catching a lot of games. He’s a kid that plays with a lot of energy and a lot of life. He’s really into every pitch behind the dish and he’s the same way as a hitter. So, a lot of times we ask those guys to be a catcher first and then a hitter. We’re trying to combine both of them and I think he’s one of the good ones that’s going to be able to do it – both catch and hit.

Again he’s hitting the ball on the rope, like you said, and he had a big three-run bomb a couple of days ago. He’s starting to feel that early feeling back again. Again, it’s just a matter of – and we talk about this all the time – it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Along the way you’re going to find some ways to fight. If you fight the right way, you’re going to stay above water. So, he’s doing a good job of it.

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI  (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan is in a nice stretch over about a 35-game stretch. He was one that started slow and come on as the season progressed. What do you see with Josh?

Perez: The word with Josh is he’s basically rolling right along. He was a little bit off when we first started the season. To his credit, and Frankie’s credit, he’s worked hard every day on trying to get him back to the way we saw him in spring training. Getting him into position to hit, making sure he’s staying on the fastball, making sure he stays on his front, not trying to do too much, stay away from the air, backspin the ball. So, little by little, he’s started to not only believe it, but execute it. And now he’s executing it more often than not.

He’s starting to back spin the ball, taking good pitches and getting into good counts, driving the ball. So, he’s been able to maintain it for a long period of time, which is pretty remarkable at his age, to see it. I hope he’s able to keep it the right way, now.

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Jairo Beras, I know has had a disappointing start – especially given where he ended up last year – with injuries and other things that have happened. What’s the plan for him at this point?

Perez: It’s about now. It’s about being where his feet are. It’s about winning the moment. It’s about the rest of the year. We’re not talking about the past. That’s over. Can we win every day from now on? That’s basically the message to him. Forget about it and let’s start over. This is a new beginning. Every day, come to the ballpark ready to play. Help this team win, which is in a really good place right now. They’re playing for something. Not only are they playing because they want to be big leaguers and reach the majors, but they’re playing to win it. It’s always fun when you’re in that kind of environment. We want him to be a part of it and he wants to be a part of it. This is about the moment. Be a good teammate everyday and do whatever you can now to win this moment. That’s the plan.

It’s been pretty good since being back, both offensively and defensively. The motivation’s been good and he wants to play. Deep inside, he wants to reach his dream and that’s always going to be the biggest motivation. Now, he’s got the baby, so that’s a big motivation that he’s playing for. Again, it’s about how he can win the moment from now on.

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders is a guy who came here with some experience. He’s got here and basically hit into some bad luck. He’ll hit the ball on the screws and it’s finding people. What do you expect to see from him?

Perez: I saw him in Round Rock. He was there for about a week or so, because we needed some bodies there. He did a really good job there. We actually won a game 1-0 in Round Rock and he hit a solo home run. Then he took a couple of other good swings and had another really good game there. So, I came down here saw that he was struggling without struggling kind of deal, where he’d hit a few balls well, he had no luck. The next thing you know, he went a few days without a hit. That’s just baseball.

A lot of times, you do a lot of good things and things don’t go your way. Again, he’s in a position right now where he’s going to be able to help this team. Right now, some of the luck is starting to go his way and he’s starting to put some good at bats together. He’s starting to swing the bat and I know he had some good power numbers with the Cubs. So hopefully we can see that some of that in this organization and try to help his career.

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

(Eduard) Pinto had a good winter and starting well and like most everybody else tailed off. He just looks like a hit machine. When he’s in a groove, you’re not going to get it by him. He’s also starting to show a little patience lately.

Perez: He’s a professional hitter. And now like you said, now he’s adding that patience at the plate and is able to stay with his plan and stay with his pitch and not go away from what he wants to do at the plate. He’s going to going to become a little bit more of a professional hitter. He has a really good feel for hitting and a really good barrel awareness. He knows how to use the whole field. He’s fun to watch and he brings a lot of energy and he’s only 20.

Eduard put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Eduard Pinto put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He reminds me – and I don’t know why and whether or not this is an accurate comparison – he reminds me of Tomas Telis for whatever reason. He has that stocky body at the plate and quick hands and a good eye.

Perez: Yes, especially from the left side, it’s a little bit of Telis. Telis probably swings a little bit harder than Pinto does, but it’s pretty much the same guy. He’s scrappy, knows how to barrel the ball, goes the other way, and pulls it when he has to. He goes up there to hit. He’s a good hitter and hopefully we can get him up in the system so we can do something good for him.

Who else do you need to talk about?

Perez: (Michael) De Leon and the heart and soul he brings to the team. Obviously, we know that the hitting is always going to be light right now until he grows into his body a little bit more. A lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score, he does it. That’s why I bring him up.

I think he’s the heart and soul of this team. I love some other guys, obviously, but what he brings to the game – the energy, he’s always happy the plays that he makes, he quarterbacks the whole field from the shortstop position, and how much this team trusts him – is pretty remarkable at his age.

I had the pleasure to watch him last year in the playoffs at the end of the year at Myrtle (Beach). He came up in clutch situations and got big hits in the playoff, including a three-run bomb in the championship series. So I know what type of player he is in big moments.

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He’s not afraid of big moments.

Perez: He’s not, and actually he looks for them. That’s what you want.

The Celebration in Hickory

In the same manner as the 2011 team did, the Crawdads milled about in left field, waiting to find out if they had indeed clinched a first-half division title and a playoff spot in September.

The Crawdads in LF listening to the West Virginia broadcast (photo Mark Parker)

The Crawdads in LF listening to the West Virginia broadcast (photo Mark Parker)

When the final out in Charleston, WV sealed the Power’s elimination, the celebratory water coolers were spilled and the raucous, rowdy party was on.

The Crawdads begin their celebration as the final out is recorded at West Virginia. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

The Crawdads begin their celebration as the final out is recorded at West Virginia. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

It was cool to see these toughened, young men melt into excited boys again, delirious at what they had accomplished as a group… and oh, how they celebrated as a group. From the two-year vets, such as Wiles and Beras and Mendez and Pinto – who couldn’t believe he finally homered with Hickory – to the “young pups” Ortiz, and Jurado, and Morgan, to the steady Trevino and Tendler and Martin, to Buckel – who did this same celebration in 2011 – to the newcomers, Arroyo, Shoulders, Filomeno… they all reveled in the spoils of victory.

The Crawdads celebrate on the field. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

The Crawdads celebrate on the field. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

Whether in English or Spanish, on this field, their words shared a common meaning: champions.

They proudly smiled for the cameras, arms extended with index fingers pointed to the sky to have their baseball moment frozen in time and recorded for a lifetime.

The 2015 SAL first-half Northern Division champions

The 2015 SAL first-half Northern Division champions

They patiently tried to answer my questions, but mostly they spit out words of their happiness… and doused the interviewee.

Caught in the line off fire

Caught in the line of fire (Photo by Mark Parker)

Many congratulations to the 2015 Crawdads on a brilliant first half. Here is some of what they had to say.

Corey Ragsdale:

About the division-clinching game:

It’s a credit to these guys. They just find ways to win. It’s not necessarily the two guys that we would expect to hit home runs right now. Jairo, a single with two outs and Shoulders gets a home run. J-Mo gets a double with two outs; Pinto got him with a home run. Give credit to the guys, they find ways to win.

Favorite memory of the first half:

Just watching the way that the guys played and the way they cheer for each other. You look into the other dugout and you see guys sitting down. You look at ours and guys are cheering for each other and staying on the rail. Just seeing guys who want to win and pull for each other.

Luis Ortiz:

About his start:

My mentality today was to basically go out and compete like I always do and give it my all. I’ve got eight, nine guys behind me protecting me. Attack the zone and they’ll make a play for you. That’s the way it was tonight. I threw the ball over the zone and I felt like everything was working for me.

About his comfort level in the first two innings:

The first and second innings were the hardest ones to get through. It was hot and humid, but I had to go out there and pitch. To become a good pitcher, you’ve got to go through everything. You go through the hot. You go through the cold. You have bad outings. On days you have bad, it’s how you handle it. It’s just pitching, basically putting it altogether and going out there and competing and giving it all you have. If they hit you, it happens. it’s a part of baseball.

Jairo Beras:

About winning the first-half division title:

I’m happy today. I play good. I’m part of the playoffs. We’ll get back at it tomorrow and *&^@-ing win it (Ironically, he did with a homer in the 10th Tuesday night.).

Eduard Pinto:

About his third-inning homer:

I’d never hit a home run with Hickory. My team kept saying to me, “you need a La Bamba; you need a home run. You don’t have one.” I said, “ok, take it easy, take it easy, my brothers.”  Today, home run, I’m happy.

Austin Pettibone:

About the ability for a different player to make a play to win a game each night:

It’s awesome We did this in Spokane last year when we won the first half and it’s cool to do it again and experience it again.

About the team’s success compared to winning last year in Spokane:

We all have another year under our belt of pro ball, so we’ve all improved and gotten better each day. It’s just a lot of fun to do it with these guys.

Jose Trevino:

About the celebration:

This is awesome, but we’re not done yet, though. We’re not even close. We’ve got a whole other half and then we’ve got the whole post season. This is a really good team with a group of really good guys. The pitching staff and hitters, we’re all coming back together.

Josh Morgan:

About his double in the third inning prior to Pinto’s homer

I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. Luckily he gave me one and I was able to square it up, luckily. I’m just happy that we clinched, but we’re not done yet. We’ve got a full half to go, but we’re excited about where we’re at right now.

About the second half:

Hopefully, we can keep going on and keep staying positive we’ll be successful. I’m happy to be here and hopefully we can finish it off.

Rock Shoulders:

About his fourth-inning homer:

At my first at bat, he gave me a first-pitch fastball, so I went up there ready for it. I might’ve been a little bit late, but I still got good wood on it. I did what I wanted to do; I was trying to go the other way with the fastball and hit it into the gap. Luckily I got it up over the fence and got it out.

About coming to the Rangers organization from the Cubs:

At the beginning, I was a little worried, being that it was my first time going to this organization. But this is a great group of guys. When I walked into spring training, they all welcomed me with open hands and open mouths; they were all talking to me and helping me get used to everything. So, when I came here, I knew a bunch of guys already, so it was easy for me to get acclimated.

Game Story: Savannah at Hickory June 14

The Hickory Crawdads opened up a close game up and battered the Savannah Sand Gnats 8-1. With the win, coupled with a doubleheader sweep, the Crawdads are now 5 ½ games ahead of the Power in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division with seven games to play. Hickory (40-22) would clinch the first-half title on Monday with a win over Savannah and a loss by West Virginia to Augusta.

Savannah (34-29) remained tied with Greenville for first place in the Southern Division chase, both 3 ½ games ahead of Augusta. The Drive hosts Rome Monday night.

What happened?:

The teams battled through five shutout innings on a hot Sunday afternoon. Yohander Mendez threw the first three innings for Hickory (2 H, 4 K) before giving way to Ariel Jurado in the fourth. Ricky Knapp matched the Crawdads with five shutout innings (3 H, 4 K) of his own and then turned the game over to reliever Darwin Frias.

Josh Morgan led off the inning with a walk and scored one out later on Jose Trevino’s team-high ninth homer of the season for a 2-0 lead.

The Sand Gnats answered with a two-out rally in the seventh against Jurado. Vicente Lupo and Joe Tuschak each singled before Adrian Abreu followed with a run-scoring hit to score Lupo. Jurado then got Patrick Biondi to ground out to second for the third out.

The Crawdads loaded the bases to start the seventh. After Michael De Leon struck out, it appeared the inning would end on a double play ball by Morgan. However, Carlos Arroyo’s slide into second forced the throw of Jonathan Johnson’s to first to bounce wide and bring in two runs.

Hickory batted around in the eighth and broke open the game in the eighth. Jairo Beras singled in a run, Arroyo punched in two with a bloop double before De Leon’s RBI single finished the rally.

Jurado lasted five innings for the win (9-0) with just the one run allowed on four hits to go with five strikeouts.

The Good:

Carlos Arroyo: His slide in the second led to two runs, but one could argue it led to six total. The play had a noticeable effect on the team, which had a bit more fire after the play.

Jose Trevino: With three homers and 10 RBI and a take-charge attitude behind the plate, he’s put the team on his back during the homestand.

Yohander Mendez: Fastball (89-92) command was spotty at first, but his curveball was more than enough to baffle the Sand Gnat hitters. Had three swing-and-misses for three of his strikeouts and set up a fourth, which was a 91 mph heater on the outside corner to the right-handed Lupo.

Ariel Jurado: Coming out of the bullpen seemed to have no effect on Jurado as he set the tone early. He began throwing a curveball for the first time during the outing and rang up a couple of Ks with it. Began to leave it up in the seventh – the final two hits were 1-2 curveballs – before going back to his sinker and getting out of the jam.

Josh Morgan: Reached base four of five times, but it was his two defensive plays at third late in the game that stuck out. Both plays involved making back-handed stops on short hops behind the bag before making long throws to first.

Jairo Beras: Two hits on the afternoon, one on a fastball, the other a pulled slider that found a hole.

The Not-So-Good:

David Perez: Threw the ninth for Hickory and struggled with fastball command (16 pitches, seven strikes).

The Opposition:

Darwin Frias/ Jose Leger: For a team that seems more geared to try and win games than to play development baseball (they all try to win, I suppose, but some focus more to the development side) the use of Frias was odd. After a shaky sixth, Frias was left on the mound by the manager Leger for two more innings and had nothing. Breaking pitches were up, sliders had little bite and fastballs were B.P. quality. For a team shooting to make a playoff spot (they made a mid-inning pitching change in the 15th inning here in May), it was an odd choice.

Ricky Knapp: Showed a good three-pitch mix that kept Crawdads off balance during much of his five innings. Struck out Trevino on three straight sliders in the first, each one further off the plate.

Game Story: Charleston at Hickory June 9, 2015

Rock Shoulders hit a solo homer and Jose Trevino added a three-run bomb in support of Luis Ortiz and two relievers as the Hickory Crawdads defeated the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs 5-2 in the opening game of a three-game series Tuesday night.

The Crawdads (37-20) increased their lead in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League to 3 ½ games over second place West Virginia, which lost a 9-1 beatdown to Savannah. The RiverDogs (28-30) dropped into fourth place in the Southern Division and now trail first place teams Greenville and Savannah by three games in the Southern Division chase. The 70-game, first-half season ends on June 21.

After Crawdads starter Luis Ortiz got out of a first-inning jam with a double play, Hickory got on the board in the bottom of the inning with a sacrifice fly by Eduard Pinto.

It turned out to be all that Ortiz needed as he retired 15 of the last 17 hitters he faced on the night. Ortiz (3-1) allowed four hits and struck out four over six shutout innings.

Hickory loaded the bases with one out against RiverDogs starter Luis Cedeno (3-6) in the third. However on back-to-back, first pitches, Cedeno got Trevino to hit into an infield fly and Luke Tendler to ground out to short.

Shoulders turned on a Cedeno fastball and sent it well out of the park to right field in the fourth. It was Shoulders first homer of the season.

In the fifth, Josh Morgan singled and Pinto walked ahead of Trevino’s seventh homer of the season – his first since April 26.

Charleston scored its only runs in the seventh when Chris Breen sent a Chris Dula curveball over the fence in left. The homer was the fourth of the season for Breen, which leads the team. The blast was the first allowed by the Crawdads in 11 games, spanning 89.1 innings. (Delmarva’s Logan Uxa on 5/27 vs. Kelvin Vasquez.) The RiverDogs have hit 17 home runs this season- three of those against Hickory pitching.

Yohander Mendez closed out the game for this third save with two scoreless innings, during which he allowed just one walk.

The Good:

**Ortiz. Here’s his night here. He also continues a streak of 27 games (139 innings) in which a starter has not allowed a home run.

**Eduard Pinto had a perfect night at the plate, even though he did not officially have an at-bat. To go with his sacrifice fly, Pinto walked three straight times. He had walked only three times entering the game. In the eight games he has batted third this season, Pinto has a slash line of .333/.406/.519 with a double, two triples and four walks.

** Yohander Mendez took a little time to find the feel to his curveball in the eighth, but then ended that inning with back-to-back Ks – four missed bats on curves. He ended the game by getting Breen looking on a curve.

**Rock Shoulders finally found a bit of luck. After crushing a pitch to center in the second, he hit the third-straight 93 mph pitch thrown to him in the fourth for the no-doubter.

**After missing a curve in the third (see below) Jose Trevino didn’t miss the hanger in the fifth for what turned out to be the difference.

**Josh Morgan made a nice play at short on a sinking, low liner by Graterol to the cut of the grass.

The Not-So-Good

** Carlos Arroyo hit into some bad luck during an 0-for-4 night. With Jairo Beras on the move in the second, Arroyo hit a sharp liner up the middle that found 2B Angel Aguilar’s glove as he moved to cover second. Beras was doubled up easily. In the sixth, his liner into the gap in right-center field was run down by CF Dustin Fowler.

**Chris Dula gave up a cheapie single to Juan Granatol (a dribbler to third) to start the sixth, then had problems finding the strike zone with his sinker. He then left a curveball up to Breen, who spanked it for a HR. To his credit, Dula settled down and ended the inning by getting Austin Aune to ground a hard sinker to short.

**Sporting the worst offensive numbers in the SAL, Charleston appeared to be on the ropes in the third and had played the infield in with a runner at third and one out, trailing 1-0. After Cedeno walked Pinto on five pitches to load the bases, Cedeno got Trevino to chase a first-pitch curve that was popped up for an infield fly. Luke Tendler then sent a first-pitch sinker to short to end the inning.

** Jairo Beras seemed to have trouble seeing the ball in right. He froze on Fowler’s double to right in the first before chasing down the ball that one-hopped the wall. On Fowler’s fly out in the sixth, Beras came in briefly before retreating backwards to make the catch.

Series Preview: Hickory at Hagerstown June 1-3

The Hickory Crawdads start a week-long road trip to the Northern tier of the South Atlantic League as they visit the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns for three games and then travel to Lakewood, N.J. for four to face the BlueClaws.

 

Probables:

Monday: Luis Ortiz (RH, 2-0, 1.76 ERA) and Luis Reyes (RH, 1-3, 5.44)

Tuesday: Cody Buckel (RH, 0-0, 0.00 in two starts) and Matt Purke (LH, 0-1, 4.50)

Wednesday: Brett Martin (LH, 3-1, 2.50) and TBA

Entering the series:

Hickory (34-16) scored only six runs on 12 hits the past three games, but took two of three from Rome to salvage a split in the four-game series with the Braves and complete a 5-2 homestand. The Crawdads now lead the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division by four games over West Virginia and by nine over third place Hagerstown… The team waited until the night of May 31 to make their first overnight road trip, leaving after Sunday night’s extra-inning game against Rome…Hickory went 3-1 against the Suns to open its 2015 season at L.P. Frans Stadium and is now 35-34 since the current affiliation with the Rangers began in 2009.  However, the Crawdads are 24-16 at Municipal Stadium… Despite having the second overall youngest pitching staff in the SAL, Hickory leads the league with a 2.52 ERA, trails only Lakewood in WHIP (1.19) and is third in strikeouts. Their 18 saves is second to Charleston, S.C.…The starters have not given up a home run since May 11.

Since a 1-4 start, the Suns (25-25) have hovered around the .500 mark much of the opening two months of the season. Hagerstown lost three of four to visiting Kannapolis during the weekend…The Suns roster is usually loaded up with college products and this year is no different. Hagerstown has the second oldest group of position players (22.7 age) in the South Atlantic League and the third oldest pitching staff (22.4)… The Suns trail only Hickory in errors allowed (47) and fielding pct. (.975), and has the second-best caught stealing ratio in the SAL (34.7%)…The Suns .260 team batting average is second in the league and they have struck out the fewest times.

Players to watch – Hickory:

RF Luke Tendler: After hitting .229 during a homerless May, Tendler looks to get healthy against a team he had success with to start the year. Tendler went 6-for-15 with two homers, four RBI and five runs scored during the four-game series vs. the Suns in early April. He is tied for third in the SAL in doubles (14) and total bases (85). A day off during the series may not be out of the question, as he has played in all but one game this season.

3B Josh Morgan: Though he ended May with his first back-to-back hitless games since May 1-2, Morgan still finished May with a .323/.411/.419 slash. He also showed good patience at the plate with ten walks in 109 plate appearances.

SS Michael De Leon: Hit .206/.241/.290 in May, but began to see pitches batter over the past week. He was 5-for-14 vs. Hagerstown in April.

Closer John Fasola: Only a game-tying, broken-bat RBI single with two outs in the ninth on May 31 kept Fasola from having a near perfect month. Fasola closed out seven of eight save opportunities in the month with just the one earned run allowed. He also posted 16 strikeouts to just two walks over 13.1 innings. Fasola leads the SAL with ten saves overall.

SP Luis Ortiz: Struck out 17 and walked three in 19.1 innings in May. After giving up a lone run in three starts, Ortiz was hit up for four runs allowed in 3.1 innings against Delmarva last Tuesday. With the uncertainty of the two starters to follow, Ortiz will be looked at to complete at least his normal five innings, if not longer, as his pitch count allows.

SP Cody Buckel: In his two starts since coming to Hickory, Buckel has been unscored upon in seven innings with three walks and five hits allowed.

SP Brett Martin: He hopes to return to the mound after a stiff back cancelled his previous start last Thursday.

Relief Corps: With Buckel still getting stretched out and the uncertain of Martin’s back – and his longevity on the mound will likely be limited at best – the relief corps will likely see a lot of innings in the series. Yohander Mendez has thrown 16.2 scoreless innings (eight appearances) since joining Hickory. David Perez gave up one unearned run during six games in May and struck out 16 to go with ten walks in 11.2 innings.

 

Players to watch – Rome:

SP Matt Purke: The former unsigned first-round pick (2009) of the Texas Rangers is making his second start (4 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 K vs. Kannapolis on May 28) for the Suns since returning from “Tommy John” surgery. He also had shoulder surgery in 2012 and has made only 30 starts in the five seasons since the Washington Nationals took him in the third round in 2011. Ranked the 11th best Nationals prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2014 season, he has dropped of its top-30 list. Purke is still No. 28 on mlb.com’s rankings.

SP Luis Reyes: He held Hickory to just three hits and struck out over five innings in a start during the season-opening series at L.P. Frans Stadium. He’s been hit hard over his last five starts, allowing 17 earned runs on 28 hits over 25.2 innings. Opponents are batting .342 against Reyes at Municipal Stadium.

C Raudy Read: The lone top-30 prospect (mlb.com) on the Suns roster has struggled the past three weeks, as he is 7-for-39 (.179) since May 10. Read belted his first homer of the season on April 10 against Hickory as part of a 2-for-4 game with four runs scored.

LF Jeff Gardner: Hit .298/.319/.423 in May and finished the month with at least one hit in 17 of the last 18 games (27-for-69, .391), eight of those multi-hit games. Gardner (8th round, 2014, Louisville) went 2-for-10 against Hickory in April, with both of the hits coming on April 10 to go with two walks and four runs scored in that game.

3B Grant Debruin: Snapped at 10-game hitting streak on Sunday vs. Kannapolis (16-for-39, .410). Overall, his .319 average is sixth in the South Atlantic League. He signed with the Nationals as a free agent after playing two seasons with Joliet of the Frontier League.

1B Carlos Lopez: Played college ball at Wake Forest (12th round, 2012), he joined the Suns last week for his third straight season with the Suns.

UT Cody Dent: The son of former major leaguer Bucky Dent. The 22nd round pick of the Nationals in 2013 out of the University of Florida.