I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.
Jose Trevino cracked a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth and then Jairo Beras threw out the game-tying run at the plate to end the game as the Hickory Crawdads held on to defeat the Charleston RiverDogs 5-4 in front of 3,423 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium
Charleston got off to a quick start against Crawdads starter Brett Martin when Devyn Bolasky started the game with a single and Angel Aguilar homered (3) to left to give the RiverDogs a 2-0 lead.
Hickory took the lead after scoring three in the second against RiverDogs hurler David Palladino. Beras started it with his ninth home run of the season. After the Crawdads loaded the bases, Michael De Leon’s single scored Juremi Profar and Eduard Pinto.
An error helped the RiverDogs get even in the fifth. Ryan Lindemuth doubled, stole third and scored when catcher Jose Trevino’s throw went into left. Martin left the game in the inning with a hip injury and his replacement Shane McCain retired nine of the first ten hitters he faced going into the eighth.
But in the eighth, the RiverDogs pieced together three hits after two outs with Isisas Tejeda’s run-scoring single bringing in Austin Aune to put Charleston ahead 4-3.
Hickory retook the lead when Edwin Garcia lined a single to right and Trevino delivered a towering homer (14) to left on a fastball by Brady Koerner.
Facing closer Scott Williams, the RiverDogs threatened to retake the lead in the ninth. Collin Slaybaugh singled and went to second on a passed ball. Ryan Lindemuth walked and Bolasky’s sacrifice moved the runners to second and third before Aguilar was walked to intentionally walked to load the bases. Billy Fleming hit a fly ball to Jairo Beras in medium-shallow right. Beras backed up and made the catch before firing a strike to Trevino at the plate to nail Slaybaugh and end the game.
Jurickson Profar had a single in four trips to the plate with the lone single coming on a change up and away in the first. He was hit by a pitch in the second, bounced to second in the fifth and struck out in the eighth.
Jairo Beras jumped a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball by Palladino and lasered a rope off the batter’s eye. The only question was would the liner be high enough to clear the fence. In looking to make the play, centerfielder Bolasky jogged three steps back before the ball found its target. His throw to end the game was directly on target to Trevino, who had plenty of time to tag Slaybaugh.
Shane McCain used a low-70s change, curveball and an upper 80s fastball to keep the RiverDogs off-balance, as he struck out four of the first six batters he faced. He found a little bad luck with two outs in the eighth when Austin Aune’s soft liner found open grass in center. McCain got away with a fastball up to Vicente Conde that was singled in front of Pinto in left. Tejeda’s seeing-eye single past McCain and second baseman Arroyo scored Aune for the brief lead.
Michael De Leon started a brilliant double play in the third that allowed Martin to complete a shutdown inning and hold the lead for the moment. With runners on the corners and one out, Joey Falcone hit a sharp grounder to De Leon’s right. De Leon made the backhanded grab, quickly fed the ball to Carlos Arroyo at second, who then made the fast turn and throw to nab the speedy Falcone. (Falcone left the game following the game with an undisclosed injury.)
Juremi Profar had a couple of singles and scored a run in the second. However, a key defensive play in the eighth kept the RiverDogs from extending their lead. After Tejada’s single scored the go-ahead run, Profar cut off the throw from Jose Cardona in center and caught Conde in a rundown trying to go to third.
Brett Martin gave up seven hits in 4.2 innings, but many of those were of the bad-luck variety. Bolasky’s leadoff hit in the first was a high chopper to third. The homer by Aguilar and his double in the third appeared to be pitches down and away that Aguilar went after and golfed to left. Tejeda added a broken-bat bloop single in the fourth. Martin retired seven in a row at one point (four grounders and a K) and finished with 63 pitches (45 strikes).
Jose Trevino had a rough night behind the plate committing two throwing errors on steal attempts and a passed ball. Both off-target throws appeared rushed in order to catch runners that took big jump against Martin. His passed ball in the ninth may have been on a pitch from Williams in which he was crossed up, as the two had a meeting following the play.
Carlos Arroyo stuck out three times on Friday after a two-K game on Thursday. He appears to be expanding the strike zone and unable to catch up to fastballs in the zone.
Scott Williams gave up a ground single to Slaybaugh on a fastball down and in. However, he compounded the inning with a four-pitch walk to number-nine hitter Lindemuth. His slider didn’t have the usual bite and was ignored by hitters.
Angel Aguilar, as stated earlier, went down to get a couple of pitches and hit both hard for extra bases. He had four straight hits over a two-game span and his hot streak clearly played into Charleston’s decision in the ninth to have Bolansky sacrifice with no outs after a four-pitch walk and Hickory’s decision to intentionally walk Aguilar.
David Palladino struck out three and gave up eight hits (four in the eighth), but showed good stuff throughout. His fastball hovered around 94-95 much of the game, but it was a tight slider that missed bats and often kept the Crawdads off stride with walk contact.
Philip Walby had the best stuff of any pitcher on both sides when he threw a 1-2-3 seventh. His fastball stayed 98-99 with a high 80s, biting slider. As dominant as he threw (10 pitches, 8 strikes, 4 missed bats), I was surprised that he didn’t come back out for the eighth.
Brody Koerner, the native of nearby Concord, changed speeds well with a leadoff strikeout of Jurickson Profar in the eighth. However, two straight fastballs up to Edward Garcia (single) and Trevino (homer) turned out to be the decisive point of the game.
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.
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.
The Hickory Crawdads posted five runs in the first inning and made them stand up in a 5-4 win over the Lakewood (NJ) BlueClaws Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Crawdads (46-27 overall, 2-3 second half) snapped a three-game losing streak, all coming at the hands of Lakewood (36-37, 3-2).
Hickory will host a four-game series against the Greenville (S.C.) Drive beginning Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.
Hickory put seven of the first eight hitters of the game on base against BlueClaws starter Yoel Mecias. Michael De Leon opened the first by doubling into the gap in left-center. Carlos Arroyo then sent a first-pitch fastball well over the fence in right to make it 2-0. The homer was his first stateside shot, having hit two in the Dominican in 2013. After Eduard Pinto and Jose Trevino walked, Luke Tendler blasted his sixth home run of the season to right, his first since April 30.
It turned out that the Crawdads would need all the first-inning runs as Lakewood’s bullpen held Hickory to just two base runners over the final 8.2 innings while its lineup continued to peck away at the lead.
“I knew if we didn’t score that it’d be a close one for sure, the way they’ve been playing and swinging the bats and battling,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “I knew we couldn’t take our foot off the gas or it was going to be a game. Unfortunately, the ABs got worse as the game went on and, like we saw, the game turned out to be a tight one.”
After starter Collin Wiles kept the BlueClaws scoreless through two, his own error cost him a run in the third. Gustavo Martinez got Lakewood’s first hit – a soft liner to right – to start the third. An errant pickoff throw by Wiles moved Martinez to second and a pair of grounders to first brought Martinez in to score.
In the fourth, Kyle Martin and Damek Tomscha each singled and then one out later moved up a base on a wild pitch. Martin scored on Jiandido Tromp’s grounder to short to make it 5-2.
Lakewood chased Wiles with two runs in the sixth. Tomscha and Cord Sandberg each singled with Tromp bringing in Tomscha with a sacrifice fly. Wiles’ second errant pickoff of the game advanced Sandberg to second. Shane McCain entered and then threw a wild pitch to move Sandberg to third before he scored on a groundout by Martinez. Gustavo Marrero followed with a single, but McCain struck out Drew Stankiewicz to quell the threat.
McCain worked around a walk in the seventh and turned it over to Erik Swanson to close out the final two innings.
The lineup in the first inning: The hitters saw quickly that Mecias had a limited arsenal on the mound. The lefty offered a straight 88-91 mph fastball with an occasional change that missed the plate. The Crawdads were content to stay back for something they could handle and they did picking up four hits and taking three walks. The lone out was a lineout by Beras to the track in center.
Michael De Leon: Has begun to crush fastball over the last couple of days. After his double in the first, he laced an Austin Davis heater to straight-away center for a hard out.
Luke Tendler: Recently said he has had to re-learn to hit the fastball again. His homer to right came on a fastball by Mecias. Now has hits in seven of his last nine games with nine RBI in that stretch.
Erik Swanson: Solid two innings to close out the game. Manhandled Tromp with a 95 mph laser to start the 8th and then one out later froze the right-hander Martinez with a 94 on the outside corner. He needed only five pitches to retire the top of the order in the ninth. The final pitch of the night was a change that Kyle Martin dribbled to first. Martin had homered off Swanson two nights before.
“He’s up to 95 with an 88-89 mile-an-hour slider,” Ragsdale said. “Was able to throw his changeup over there to the kid that hit the homerun against him the other night and got a rollover to second base. Obviously, the bullpen is why we won the ballgame.
Shane McCain: A bit of an Alex Claudio clone, though McCain brings a harder fastball that registered 87-88 and touched 90. Threw a mid-70s, sweeping slider and an upper 60s-low 70s change. Worked out of the inherited jam in the sixth and around a two-out walk in the seventh.
Collin Wiles: The righty mixed and matched four pitches and pretty much controlled the strike zone much of the night. Much of the hits against him were grounders that found holes. Slider was especially heavy (broke three bats with it). Wiles was his own worst enemy with the two errors and a wild pitch.
Jairo Beras: Benched for the second time this season for not running out a batted ball. This time, it was a fly out that fell just to the foul side of the right field line. With Texas Rangers director of player development Mike Daly in town, as well as field coordinator Casey Ragsdale, it probably was not the best timing for Beras to do this.
The offense after the first: Only two hitters reached after the first – Trevino’s single and a bunt single by Arroyo. The Crawdads lineup was anemic against the BlueClaws bullpen, putting only seven hitters on base in 18.1 innings.
Said Ragsdale, “I’m not going to take away anything from those guys. They have some really good arms in the bullpen. The first guy they brought (Austin Davis) was pretty impressive, to be honest. But, we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to have better ABs. We’ve got to be more competitive. We’ve got to show a little bit more energy and fire. We can’t rely on what we did the last half.”
Austin Davis: Kept Lakewood in the game with 4.1 strong innings. At 6-4, the long-armed lefty threw a tough, lively 92-94 mph crossfire fastball that got to the hitters quickly.
Damek Tomscha: Finished the series 8-for-18 with five RBI.
Cord Sandberg: Had ten hits in five games with five RBI and five runs scored in the five-game series.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
He’s not afraid of big moments.
Perez: He’s not, and actually he looks for them. That’s what you want.
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.
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.
One of the best plays made on the infield in recent seasons came this past Friday night to close out the Hickory Crawdads 3-2 over the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
With a speedy runner Mason Davis on second and two outs, Greensboro’s Arturo Rodriguez hit a sharp roller in the 5-6 hole. Shortstop Michael De Leon ranged far to his right and made a full-extension dive to stop the grounder, which kept the ball on the infield and forced Davis to stop at third.
“I knew the ground ball was hit hard,” said De Leon when asked if he was surprised to even get to the ball. “So I tried to knock it down because of the situation: runner at second and two outs.”
Not content with simply keeping the run from scoring, De Leon leapt to his feet and from about 120 feet away fired a one-hopper to first where Tripp Martin scooped the short-hop to secure the out and the win.
For his part, the 18-year-old De Leon – the second-youngest player in the South Atlantic League – knew that with the slow-footed Rodriguez at the plate, he would likely have time to make a play at first on any ground ball.
“I just knew the situation of the game,” said De Leon. “The game was close in the ninth inning. I knew who was hitting and running. For me, it was a critical play and because I knew who was running I took the ball and threw it to first.”
At the other end of the play, Martin showed sure hands on the short-hop pick.
“He made a huge dive into the hole, got up and saw that the runner wasn’t quick down the line,” said Martin. “He made a good throw and it was right to me and I was able to pick him up at the end with a quick pick at first.”
Said De Leon of the pick, “I say thank you, because me and him had to work together to make the play.”
Martin’s part of the play was even more incredible considering it was only his third game at the position… ever.
“(Thursday) was my first time there after Guzie (Ronald Guzman) was sent to High Desert. I played first a little bit in spring training and at instructs last year, but I’m still new to the position.”
New, or not, the Samford University product has already learned to expect De Leon to make plays and to be ready with a bullet from second.
“I was always ready for it,” said Martin when asked if he even expected a throw. “I knew we had a chance with the runner that we had at the plate, so it was a great play by De Leon to come up firing.”