(I apologize in advance for grammatical/ spelling errors. Been up since 2:45 a.m.)
The Hickory Crawdads put together a big first inning and made it stand up for a 3-1 victory over the Rome (Ga.) Braves in game two of a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win by the host Crawdads evens the series at 1-1 after the Braves took the first game on Monday. Hickory (28-17) remains one-half game behind the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division chase. The Suns stayed in first by virtue of a 3-0 win at Lakewood (N.J.). Rome drops to 17-28, which is last in the Southern Division.
Hickory scored all three runs in the first inning against Braves starter Max Fried. With one out, Dylan Moore and Andy Ibanez both singled and then pulled off a double steal that set up RBI singles by Tyler Sanchez and Eduard Pinto. After LeDarious Clark struck out, Ti’Quan Forbes singled in Sanchez to complete the scoring.
That turned out to be enough for a trio of Crawdads pitchers, led by starter Jonathan Hernandez (5-3). The 19-year-old right-hander allowed one run over six innings on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts. Matt Ball then pitched two scoreless innings and struck out two before John Werner closed out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Braves put just one runner past second and it turned into their only run in the fifth. Leudys Baez singled and moved to third on Yeudi Grullon’s double. Ray-Partrick Didder’s grounder scored Baez.
Max Fried (2-3) settled down and did not allow a hit after the second inning and struck out four with three walks.
Hernandez hurling heat:
Pretty much the bulk of the work for Hernandez came on the fastball, which hung in the 92-95 range and touched 97 as he overthrew a pair of fastballs to Lucas Herbert in walking him with two outs in the sixth. He settled down and Alejandro Salazar to bounce to third to complete his outing.
For my untrained eyes, it seems that when Hernandez is in control of his delivery, he is able to spot the fastball nearly at will at the knees. When he begins to fall to the first base side, the pitch travels to the glove side.
By my count he had eight missed bats with the fastball with most of that coming at the expense of Braves 3B prospect Austin Riley. Hernandez carved up his fellow 19-year-old as the right-handed Riley swung through a pair of fastballs and then took a 92-mph pitch on the outside corner at the knees. In the third, Riley lost on a five-pitch at-bat by swinging past a 95-mph heater. Hernandez completed the hat trick, with a slider off the plate that Riley missed and then blew two fastballs by him.
The majority of his secondaries appeared to be his slider, which didn’t have much of a bit, but was enough to work the timing of the Rome hitters. He missed badly on an 0-2 pitch that Herbert lined hard to right. Other than Juan Grullon’s double in the fifth, the Braves were unable to make solid contract against Hernandez.
Crawdads offense shines, then goes into a funk:
Manager Steve Mintz moved Dylan Moore into the second slot behind Chris Garia, who was inserted into the leadoff spot in place of Eric Jenkins. It appeared the Crawdads found the magic elixir as they pounded out five hits against Rome starter Max Fried in the first. After Moore and Ibanez picked off fastballs, Sanchez and Pinto picked off hanging curves to do damage.
Yrizarri served a curve into left to start the second and after Chris Garia fanned, Dylan Moore walked. A double steal attempt by Yrizarri and Moore blew up as Yrizarri stopped on his way to third and went back to second. However, Moore didn’t see the play ahead of him and Yrizarri was tagged out during a rundown.
As what seems to happen when the Crawdads have a blunder, the team went into a funk as the Crawdads managed only two more walks against Fried through six innings. The Crawdads finished with nine hits, but just four after the first.
Pinto showing strong arm:
The Crawdads left fielder made his second strong throw in as many nights and Alejandro Salazar was the victim both times. On Monday, Pinto threw out Salazar at the plate trying to score on a hit down the line in left. Pinto got him again on Tuesday when he tried to go first-and-third.
Relievers slam the door:
Matt Ball flamed a 94 mph fastball mixed in with a tight slider that goes for strikes. He gave up just one baserunner when Baez reached on an error in the eighth. Ball recovered to get the next two outs and shut the door. He completed Riley’s golden sombrero in the eighth with a slider in the dirt.
John Werner needed only eight pitches to close out the save. Fastball 94-95 with a slider. Works quickly and pounds strikes. Josh Altmann assisted the save with a diving catch of a sinking liner by Salazar.
Speed played role in big inning:
One key in defeating Fried was to figure out how to beat the lefty’s tough pickoff move. After Fried picked off two in his last start vs. Hickory – and in the process got Crawdads manager Steve Mintz tossed for arguing the legality of the move.
On Tuesday, the Crawdads were more careful with Fried’s move and were not picked off. The Crawdads were able to be patient and pick out pitches to run on. The key to the first was Ibanez’s single that put runners and first and second. As good as Fried’s pickoff move is, his deliver to the plate is slow. Ibanez/ Moore picked on a curve ball to move easily up a base on the double steal. Sanchez and Pinto collected on the RBI opportunities.
Hickory went on to steal five against Rome in the game; four of those came against Fried.