Dillon Tate was masterful and the lineup backed him with five runs early, which sent the Hickory Crawdads onto a 6-1 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators Thursday night in the home-opener at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Crawdads moved to 7-1 on the season with four of the wins coming against their in-state rivals. Kannapolis dropped to 3-5.
Hickory got on the board in the first as Eric Jenkins and Yeyson Yrizarri both doubled in the inning. In the second, Darius Day slapped a single into center to score Ti’Quan Forbes and Chuck Moorman. Later, Jenkins singled, moved to second on a balk and scored on Andy Ibanez’s single.
Frandy De La Rosa hit his second pro homer as he lifted a Zach Thompson fastball into the wind and out to left field to make it 5-0.
That was more than enough for Tate (1-0), who shutout the Intimidators over six innings. He allowed four hits and struck out ten batters.
Joe Palumbo relieved Tate in the seventh and added five strikeouts over the final three innings for his first career save.
Kannapolis scored its only run against Palumbo in the eighth as Corey Zangari singled in Landon Lassiter, who with three hits passed Andy Ibanez in the South Atlantic League’s early batting title chase.
Hickory accounted for its final margin with a run in the eighth as Forbes fly ball to center scored LaDarious Clark.
Thompson took the loss for the Intimidators, as he allowed five runs on eight hits and walked two over 3.1 innings.
Piling up 13 hits as a team, all nine Crawdads hitters had at least one hit with Jenkins, Ibanez, De La Rosa and Moorman all had two hits.
“When they can all stick their finger in the Kool Aid, that’s good every night,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “ I’m just happy with the way that we played tonight.“
Tate said that while the early runs didn’t necessarily help him relax on the mound, as much as it gave him a mentality to battle along with his teammates.
“It’s just the way the hitters are going about their business at the plate,” said Tate. “I see them grinding away. Our hitters are attacking their pitchers. When I see that, it makes me want to attack the hitters a little bit more, because I see my guys really going after them. They’re fighting for me and I fight for them. It’s just a cycle and a lot of pushing each other in a good way.”
Got a chance to really watch Yeyson Yrizarri hit for the first time without distraction. The first thing I notice is just how quick his hands are in turning on inside fastballs. He got out quickly on an inside fastball in the first and ripped it down in the line and into the LF corner. He almost repeated the same in the third.
Eric Jenkins looks more comfortable at the plate. He sent a first-pitch fastball over the head of CF Louis Silverio in the first. One inning later, he pulled a fastball into right.
De La Rosa put together an inside-out swing on a fastball that was enough to get it into the jet-stream wind and over the fence in left-center.
Good situational hitting by Day to get two runs in the second. He put enough on a Thompson fastball away to squirt it past the drawn-in infield and into center.
It was thought that Tate would use and develop his changeup more this season, but honestly, once Tate established firm command of his fastball, the secondary pitches weren’t needed. Tate was in the mid-90s much of the night, topping out at 97. After Landon Lassiter singled to end an eight-pitch at bat to start the game, Tate retired the next 12 hitters.
“After he got through that first inning, he kind of settled in and he really understood that his fastball was the pitch that he needed right there,” said Mintz. “He was going to it glove side pretty much all night and was able to get some changeups and some breaking balls going there in the middle innings that helped him. You could tell there at the end that they were starting to get it timed up a little better. That’s why we get the guys to use all their pitches. We want them to be aggressive and establish the fastball early. That’s what he did and then he used his secondaries as he moved through the game.”
Tate struck out ten, but it was the manner in which he did it that was impressive. Five of the ten strikeouts were on four pitches or less. He nearly had a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning in the second as the ninth pitch of the inning went for a grounder to short. By my count, Tate finished with 77 pitches, 58 of those strikes. Of the 21 batters he faced, only five batters saw more than 5 pitches in an at bat.
“That’s Jose’s (Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jamies) thing,” said Tate. “He’s a big advocate of four pitches or less with your batters. So, we go up there and all the pitchers have that mentality of just execute in four pitches or less and get an out.”
Honestly, because GameDay (what we use for entering the official play-by-play on line) was having issues, I missed much of Palumbo’s outing. What I did see, Palumbo showed good life on a 93-94 mph heater, but it was the curveball that gave the Intimidators fits, especially after following the fastball wizardry of Tate.
A pretty routine night defensively. Moorman came up with a strong throw to cut down Lassiter stealing second in the sixth. It was the first caught stealing attempt for Kannapolis this season. He did commit an error in the eighth trying to cut down Corey Zangari moving to second after he had singled in a run.
Dylan Moore made a pick of a hot grounder behind the bag at first to retire Antonio Rodriguez in the fourth.
Moorman arguably had the key play of the game in the second by taking an extra base. After Forbes had doubled, Moorman lined a single to left, which was too shallow to score Forbes. Mintz had held up Forbes at third, but Lassiter airmailed a throw to home from left. Moorman saw the play develop and easily moved up to second. That sent the Kannapolis into a situation in which it brought the infield in to try to keep the runner at third on a grounder. Day capitalized on the defensive strategy and shot what would’ve likely been a double-play ball into centerfield, past Danny Mendick at second.
Ibanez was picked at first and later caught at home on a double-steal attempt in the fifth. On the steal attempt of home, Ibanez got a late jump, as Dylan Moore was caught in a rundown between first and second. As the throw came home, Ibanez pulled up near the plate and was thrown out. Ibanez has been thrown out stealing five times with three pickoffs.
“We had a couple of baserunning blunders there, but we’re going to do it and forcing them to go. I’m telling them to go and we’re going to see stuff like that. We’ll take it tomorrow and we’ll correct it and learn from and we’re going to keep moving forward.”