Tuesday night, it was the last place (Northern Division) Hickory Crawdads against the first place (Southern Division) Greenville (S.C.) Drive. So of course, the Crawdads won 2-1 at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win was the third straight (23-35) for Hickory and sent the Drive (34-23) to their third loss in a row. However, the loss didn’t harm Greenville in the chase for the first-half Southern Division title. It remains 2 ½ ahead of second-place Rome (Ga.), which lost at Augusta (Ga.). However, Columbia (S.C.) moves to three games out with 12 to play.
Four Crawdads pitchers combined to hold the Drive to seven baserunners and Ti’Quan Forbes drove in both runs, including the go-ahead tally in the eighth.
Michael Matuella retired nine of the first ten hitters he faced before Santiago Espinal hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Espinal stole second and scored when Ryan Scott lined a hard single to center to chance Matuella.
Hickory got even in the bottom of the inning against starter Bryan Mata. Yanio Perez singled with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch before Forbes singled him in.
Mata held the Crawdads in check through the sixth innings as he allowed just the one run on four hits, one walk, and fanned six.
Kaleb Fontenot quelled further damage by Greenville in the fourth and went on to pitch three scoreless. He struck out three and allowed a walk and a hit.
Hickory’s Matt Smoral and Matthew Gorst matched scoreless seventh innings before action for both sides in the eighth determined the final score. Smoral walked Chris Madera to start the eighth and that prompted manager Spike Owen to bring in Reid Anderson. Espinal failed at two sacrifice attempts before Anderson got him looking. Scott then bounced back to the mound and Tyler Hill flew out to right to end the threat.
Gorst retired the first two hitters in the eighth before the Crawdads put together three hits. Miguel Aparicio lined to right, Perez followed with an opposite field liner to right. Forbes then singled to left to score Aparicio.
Roldani Baldwin singled to start the ninth and moved to second with one out on a wild pitch. Anderson then struck out Isaias Lucena and got Mitchell Gunsolus to ground out to second and end the game.
“We haven’t had a lot of those from the standpoint of solid pitching, good defense and timely hitting,” said Owen. “That was a fun game. A 2-1 game, obviously, you want to be on the winning side of it, but that’s all we’re looking for is good baseball. That was a good baseball game.”
Forbes back to April?:
Ti’Quan Forbes was a pleasant surprise when he cranked out a bunch of homers and hits to start the season. Then, what seemed like a hitch showed up in the swing in the latter part of April and was it made him late on fastballs. He also swung through a ton of breaking balls.
During the last homestand, Forbes seemed to have an approach of taking everything up the middle and away and was able to pick up the breaking pitches better, but was still able to stay on the fastball.
Mata chewed him up with breaking pitches (looked like sliders) in the second for a strikeout. In the fourth, Forbes waited back on the curveball and bounced it along the line and past third. In the eighth, he sat dead-red and ambushed a fastball to left.
He now has a six-game hitting streak (8-for-24). Over a longer stretch, he has hits in 15 of the last 18 games, five of those with two hits. More importantly for him, he has just 10 Ks in that stretch over 69 plate appearances (14.4%). Forbes whiffed 27% of the time in April. He still needs to work the occasional walk, but he’s seeing the ball better and making contact.
Matuella no-match for the Drive:
The Rangers pitch trackers had him at 96-98 mph and most of his secondaries were changeups. There seemed to be a few sliders mixed in, but I was told they were changes. He needed only 38 pitches (27 strikes) to get through the third and so having him go to the fourth seemed to be an easy call. The first sign of trouble got him pulled.
“He had a good fastball and threw some changeups,” Crawdads manager Spike Owen said. “He’s still on a pitch limit and once action started happening in the fourth, we went ahead and went to the pen.”
As good as his stuff is, whether Matuella is tiring or hitters are adjusting to him, the few times he faces the lineup the second time through the order, he is getting hit. Both hits tonight came the second time through the order and both were smacked hard. He’s faced the order a second time in four starts and thus far hitters are 6-for-15 (2 Ks) with two doubles, a hit batter and a sac fly. There are adjustments to be made on Matuella’s part as to what he offers the hitters.
Fontenot signaling he is ready to become a DEWD?:
He throws 91-92 with a slider, change and curveball. When he is on, the fastball is spotted well and he can befuddle hitters with the breaking stuff. His 12.54 Ks per 9 innings (52 Ks in 37.1 IP this season) is the fifth best among SAL relievers.
Over the last four outings, he has allowed two hits, hit two, walked three and struck out 14 over 11.2 innings.
“Fotenot’s been outstanding all year,” said Owen. “He can flat out pitch. He throws harder than you think and he can put it where he wants. He’s got a good changeup and slider he can throw at any time in the count, so he’s able to keep them off balance. He’s not afraid to throw an offspeed pitch behind in the count. He’s been really good.”
Smoral and Anderson:
Smoral’s fastball was at 85-87 with iffy command which led to two walks of the five hitters he faced. He was able to get the slider to miss bats and it accounted for the lone K. His delivery out of the stretch is glacially deliberate and it led to his removal Smoral walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth with the game tied.
“He could’ve went more, but his situation was once he walked the leadoff guy, we wanted to be able to control the running game better,” said Owen. “He’s slow to the plate and we didn’t want to ask him to do something he’s not comfortable doing right now.”
The outing for Anderson was a needed one, as tonight was just the fourth scoreless outing in 13 appearances (2 starts). He attacked the strike zone with the fastball, pounding 17 of his 23 pitches for strikes.
“I’m happy for him and I hope he can gain some confidence off that in a tight game, coming in with a go-ahead run at first base and doing what he did,” said Owen. “Then once we took the lead, coming back and attacking the strike zone.”
The Drive entered Tuesday night’s game on the heels of two straight shutouts, the last a 17-0 pasting on Sunday by Charleston. So, when Drive CF Lorenzo Cedrola (Red Sox No. 15 prospect) jogged unenthusiastically to first on a 4-3 grounder to start the game, it was not received well. 1B coach Wilton Veras gave him an earful as he returned to the dugout and manager Darren Fenster took out the lineup card in the third-base coach’s box.
Surprisingly, Cedrola took the field in the bottom of the first, though he did not return for the second.
What’s the Mata?:
The 18-year-old from Maracay, Venezuela has impressed in his first three stateside starts. The Red Sox No. 27 prospect has now 16 Ks in 15 innings with 11 hits and five walks allowed. On Tuesday, he was clocked in the 90-92 mph range with which he was able to paint the corners for punchouts. Add in a curveball that had some bite and found the strike zone, Mata was tough to solve at times. However, the curve could be loopy and Forbes was able to wait on one long enough for an RBI single in the fourth.
From what I saw, there’s a lot for Red Sox fans to be excited about.
Nearly every athlete will repeat the mantra, “control what you can control”. While at Duke, Michael Matuella’s right arm seemed to be in control of a future destiny.
As a sophomore for the Blue Devils in 2014, Matuella allowed just 55 baserunners and struck out 69 over 58.1 innings. Towering at 6-7 on the mound the downward angle of his 97-mph fastball along with a developing change, and an advanced feel for the curve and slider, Matuella was on the track as a possible first-overall pick in the 2015 first-year player draft. This, despite dealing with spondylolysis in the lower back.
Then, a little more than two months ahead of the June draft. the dreaded MRI confirmed a different destiny: “Tommy John” surgery.
Almost two years after his selection by the Texas Rangers in the third round – and in the process getting first-round bonus money, a reported $2 million – Matuella finally has his pro career underway. The innings are limited, the results aren’t always pretty, but Matuella is healthy and ready see his long months of rehab pay off.
I had a chance to interview Matuella a little over two weeks ago in preparation for a feature writeup. Here is that interview:
How did you get started in baseball?
Matuella: I’ve been playing as long as I can remember. I have an older brother; he’s four years older than me. I just remember just going out in the yard and playing with him and my dad. That just grew as I started playing travel ball, at whatever age that was, through middle school.
Obviously, I played in high school and my coach, he really pushed me to be the best that I can be there. He saw the potential in me to go Division I. I had the offer to Duke and I absolutely loved it. I had another offer to Maryland, but from the first visit I had there, I loved the place and the people. Duke is really where I took off, where I had the little velocity jump and where I started to figure some things out. My command really improved and it shifted my mentality to a more aggressive one. That’s how I got here today.
Who was your high school coach?
Matuella: Chris Rodriguez
What were some things that he said or did that helped you along to where you are now?
Matuella: I remember, this was the fall of my sophomore year. I was on JV my freshman year and by the fall of my sophomore year I started doing some workouts and he told me I was just as good as his seniors on the team and I could go Division 1 wherever I wanted if I put in all of the work. I think I hadn’t really thought of it like that until that point, but then I realized like, “Wait, this could be a possibility.” That’s when I really started dedicated myself to becoming the best I could be.
Did you have any inkling that professional sports could be a career for you until that point?
Matuella: I would say that point came even later. I admit, I was just thinking step by step at that point. Then, once I got to Duke, probably my freshman year, that I really decided, “Alright, I want to pursue this and I want to see what I can do.” I didn’t know if it was possible yet. My sophomore year, that’s when I realized that this is going to be a thing for me if I keep putting in the work. It definitely started in high school where I was going from working hard and playing and enjoying the game, obviously competing and wanting to win, to where I said, “I can actually maybe take this a step further” and that’s what carried over again at Duke.
You went to Duke, which is not known as a powerhouse, but the program has turned out some players, Marcus Stroman being at the top of that list. What sort of things have happened to help turn that program around to where they are starting to produce some talent?
Matuella: I would say the coaching staff was a big one. Chris Pollard, he didn’t actually recruit me. There was an entirely new coaching staff when I get there my freshman year. I think he’s done a really good job, not only developing players physically, but also really hammering home the mental side of things. I think that’s been really huge for everyone. I really benefitted from that kind of stuff. A lot of people spend time on the physical side, but not as much on the mental side. I think that that’s a huge reason.
Once you see a couple of guys like Stroman that get drafted, and then there was my class. The class above me had three or four guys drafted, then my class had three guys. Basically, it’s been three to four guys every year the past four or five years or so. It’s good to see some more guys go into pro ball.
That’s (ACC) a tough league, especially that they’ve added Louisville and Notre Dame during your time.
Matuella: It’s a lot of fun playing in it though. You know every weekend there’s going to be a really good opponent and you have to really be ready and locked in. I always looked forward to those ACC weekends.
Does that sort of competition helps, not only the program, but the individuals to have that competition against other potential top prospects? How did that help you looking ahead to getting drafted and prepare you for the pros?
Matuella: I think a lot of the talent you see in the ACC – and you see that in other leagues as well, like the SEC and these other top programs that are turning out pro guys – you’re seeing professional level talent. I think it really prepares you, especially knowing you can do well in that setting, that prepares you for pro ball mentally, to where I was like, “I know I can get guys out like this.” Obviously, it’s a step up to pro ball, but for me, it gives me confidence to know, “Alright, I’ve been there before” and “I’ve done well against guys like that.” It gives me confidence to know that if I can pitch my game, I’ll be fine.
So, when you start hearing potential 1/1, what does that say in your mind during that stretch when you’re looking ahead to 2015 and you think, “My gosh, I could be first overall.”
Matuella: I really tried not to think about that at all. I tried to just focus on the work I had to do in and the preparation I had to put in for the 2015 season. Sure, you hear the rumors, but you try not to get distracted by it. You just try to focus in on and lock in on the daily routine and what you have to do to get better.
So, tell me about the back injury. I tried to pronounce it before I came here and still can’t get it right.
Matuella: It’s called spondylolysis. It sounds a lot worse than it is. It’s basically a lot of people have it. It’s something that I manage. I’ve been asymptomatic for two years. I don’t feel it. It’s something that once you do the rehab and once you develop a stronger core and basically develop strength all around that, you just don’t feel it.
Is it upper or lower back?
Matuella: Lower back. You can have it on any of the vertebrae, but I guess it’s more common to be lower.
Was it something that was spurred by all the pitching motions and the twists and turns?
Matuella: You just never know what contributed to it. There’s probably a number of things. Pitching, probably, contributes to it, but also weightlifting. Really a lot of stuff, the running, jumping. There’s a lot of guys, I think they estimated that probably 20 percent of athletes have that injury, but they don’t know they have it because it’s not causing any issues. So, for me, I’m at that point – and I’ve been at the point for a while now – where it’s not a big deal for me. It’s not that I’m frustrated with people – and I’m not frustrated by the question – but some people are really scared by it. I feel like a normal person and I don’t think it’s a big deal at all.
Then you get the “Tommy John” stuff. How long after the back injury did that start?
Matuella: I was cleared to throw in January 2015, which was basically when our spring practices started. It was March 27 in my last game when I injured it. It was only about two-and-a-half months.
Was it something that suddenly came up? Did you have issues before?
Matuella: It was pretty sudden. After my first start, I took the next weekend off, just because I was feeling some tightness in my forearm. We got the MRI and it showed that it was fine. So, I basically went on with a clear head. We felt that the innings might be too much, after I had gone out there for six innings.
They threw me back out there for one inning and then three innings and then four innings. I basically felt it on one pitch. I didn’t feel any popping sensation or pulling sensation. It just felt like a lot of pain in there, so I didn’t think it was UCL until we got the MRI and saw that it was. That was frustrating.
What was your mindset at that point, which, of course, you couldn’t be happy?
Matuella: I was honestly shocked. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor told me the news and he showed me the MRI. I just couldn’t believe it. It didn’t cross my mind that was going to be what it was. Obviously, after that it was pretty tough for the next couple of days to process it and then reset my focus and acknowledge that “Tommy John” was going to happen. So, I started to focus on what I had to do each day to get better and come back from that.
Did you have any worries that you wouldn’t recover from it?
Matuella: No, I never did. I came out fully confident. It’s interesting at how common it is now. People just do it and it’s not a big deal. A lot of people have done it and a lot of people recover from it.
Did you have any worries as to how that was going to be perceived in the draft and where you might go and would you have to come back to Duke another year?
Matuella: I definitely knew that there were going to be some teams turned off by that. I think for me it wasn’t worry as much as I was annoyed because I know how I worked and I know how good I can be and I know that this isn’t going to be a big deal for me in the long run.
For me, it wasn’t worry like, “Am I going to do this?” or “Am I going to be able to come back and pitch again?” It was more like, teams shouldn’t be thrown by that. I was hoping they would judge me based on what I would do going forward versus the injury.
You dropped to the third round. Obviously, the Rangers saw something in you and were able to sign you above what they would normally pay a third-rounder. Tell me about those conversations with the Rangers.
Matuella: The Rangers, they were probably one of the teams that contacted me the most and they were the most interested from the beginning. So, I was happy that they did a lot of research on me and I really appreciated how much research they did on my back issue and, obviously, everyone knows about “Tommy John”.
I had talked with them prior to actually getting picked by them. They had put together a plan for me moving forward about they wanted to me to do and where they wanted me to go and a timeline for certain things. I was super impressed and super happy that they were so invested and put so much time and thought into what my program would be. It was awesome and I’m really happy to be with the Rangers.
Who helped you through the process? “Tommy John” is common and all that, but there are still some guys who go through this and never really get it back. Who helped you mentally through that process? I met you ten minutes ago and you’ve got such a positive attitude.
Matuella: Definitely my parents are a big one. They’re always there to talk and always there to keep me positive whenever I’m feeling down, or I’m feeling upset by things.They were always at Duke, too, which was awesome. They came for every weekend series. So, I got to see a lot of them and they’re always available to talk whenever I want.
My coaches at Duke at the time were really helpful. They were very positive with me. I had a couple of teammates that had undergone “Tommy John”. One was about a year earlier and one was about six months earlier. I had talked to them about what the process was like, so that was really helpful. There’s really so many people. I talked with my coaches. They were super upset for me because you never want to see an athlete go down with that type of injury. They weren’t upset about me not being able to pitch for the team. They were upset for me as a person not being able to pitch, which I thought was really nice.
The coaches I had for three years there and even afterward, I still stayed in contact with them when I went back there to take classes this fall taking classes. They’ve were super thoughtful and just caring, really overall caring. They asked how I’m doing and wanting me to do well for me, not just for the program. Obviously, I want to do well for the program. I love representing Duke and I loved representing Duke while I was there. A ton of people, as you can gather.
You pitched last year at Spokane and you get the one start in and here you are again. Take me through that process. That had to be more mental than physical.
Matuella: That was a lot tough mentally than the first time around, because the first time around I was like, “Alright, I’m going to get the surgery, not a big deal.” There’s no expectations of re-injury. Then it was like, “Whoa, what just happened?” and “How did that happen again?” So, there was a lot of frustration and a lot of questions of why it happened and how did that happen again. But it doesn’t do a lot of good to ask “what if?” or going back and thinking in the past. It was really tough because I had come off an injury that I’d spent 14 months to that point rehabbing.
To go down and know that you’re done for the season again and you won’t be able to pitch again until opening day – not that I was here opening day – but it wound up being ten months. That was tough and that was definitely a lot tougher to walk in and focus on what I was doing each day. I think, looking back, I’m even stronger for it, mentally and physically, to be able to push through as tough a time like that. Not that I had to go back to square one, because I didn’t have to have surgery again, but to really get knocked on my butt again. It wasn’t fun, but I’m glad I avoided surgery.
Did you pitch at instructionals?
They basically shut you down until spring?
Matuella: Yeah, I didn’t begin my throwing until the beginning of October, so they gave me plenty of time to heal up.
How do you feel now?
Matuella: I feel good. Overall, I feel good.
Results aside, how much more do you appreciate being on the mound than you did in 2015?
Matuella: Coming back from the first injury and the surgery, I definitely appreciated every time I stepped on the mound, whether that was a bullpen or that was pitching in an extended game or at Spokane. But this time around, even more so knowing it’s been a couple of years since I’ve had a chance to go out there and compete the way I’m supposed to compete. It makes you appreciate it. You just never know with certain things and so many guys that go down with injuries and it stinks. But you just deal with it and you appreciate what you have each day.
Do you worry so much with results at this point as opposed to going out there and getting your work in?
Matuella: Obviously, you want to get results, too. This season is a lot about me being to get through it healthy, but I’m not going to happy unless I’m pitching well and doing what I need to do on the mound to pitch well.
If you get through the season with the health as opposed to the results, which are you happier with?
Matuella: Obviously, I need to be healthy and I need to be able to move forward and pitch and have a full season under my belt. But, like I said, it’s not like I’m going to be happy if I’m pitching, but doing crappy every outing. There needs to be both in order for me to be happy.
First outing, you got some pitches up, but got through it and then you had a couple of rough outings. What’s been the fine line for you right now to have success?
Matuella: Making sure that I’m commanding the fastball. I think you’re going to hear that out of anyone on the team that you talk to. That’s a big emphasis the Rangers have. For me, I need to make sure that I am committing to pitch down in the zone as opposed to committing to pitch in the zone. You’re going to get hurt if you stay up too much. You’ve got to mix up the eye level at some time, but I think I do a better job if I stick to a pitch down in the zone. I just need to keep working on that. I had a really good bullpen this past week, so I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.
How was it pitching against Tim Tebow in your first outing?
Matuella: I really don’t pay attention to hitters that I’m facing. I’m just kind of looking at it like, there’s a left-handed hitter up there. After the first swing, you could read that he wasn’t going to time a fastball, so we just kept pounding fastballs. It was nice to see a big crowd there, I’ll say that. It’s really impressive that he brings the crowd everywhere he goes.
Obviously, he was a big story, but that was a big story involving you, too, a convergence of two stories.
Matuella: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. The adrenaline was high. It was a lot of fun being able to look around and soak it all in and like, I’m back in the game. I’m here with an affiliate and a sold-out game. It was just a lot of fun.
Are you getting an idea of how long they will let you throw, maybe 50-60 pitches?
Matuella: I’m not entirely sure. I’m sure it will be a little bit longer. I think the more important thing this year is that I take the ball every six games. You don’t want to get too crazy with the innings, given the back-to-back injures, which is why I’m not too sure when it’s going to expand. I doubt I’ll ever go 100 pitches; I’m not entirely sure of that this season. Obviously, I want to pitch as much as I can, but I understand the plan the Rangers have in place for me.
Are you throwing much of the breaking ball right now?
Matuella: A little bit. I’ll start incorporating it some more, but the Rangers big emphasis is on establishing fastballs and fastball command. So, I’m really trying to stick to that.
When you get a call to major leagues, who is the first person you call?
Matuella: My parents. That will be a great conversation to have and I look forward to that one. Definitely, my parents.
Who is the next non-family member?
Matuella: Does my girlfriend count? She’s been there for me and she’s been super helpful mentally to be able to block stuff out. She’s the one that helps keep me really positive in times when I’m struggling. There’s been, obviously, a lot of those over the past couple of years.
What’s the biggest thing mentally you’ve learned through all this?
Matuella: The biggest thing is to stay consistent. Stay pitch-to-pitch and not focus on the outing-to-outing, but each pitch. You have to be consistent with your approach on every single pitch with a routine, and with how you step on the mound. Basically, doing the same thing every time, no matter what happened the pitch before, whether you struck the dude out on a great pitch, or he just hit a bomb. You step in knowing that this pitch is the only pitch that matters.
Is there an inspirational poster moment or quote that has stuck in your mind?
There’s an article that came out in 2010 in Sports Illustrated that’s called, “What Makes Roy Run?” It’s about Roy Halladay and basically his story about how he was a first-round pick and he made it all the way to the big leagues in his second year. He fell flat on his face and he really struggled and got demoted all the way down to single-A.
He basically emerged as a different pitcher and a different style of pitcher and he emerged as the best pitcher of that generation for a number of years. There’s a lot of details in there about his work ethic and the consistency he had and the mental approach that he had. I actually just read it again the other day. I’ve read it, I don’t know how many times now, but every time it’s super interesting to me. He was my favorite pitcher growing up. I definitely think that article is a cool one.
Following the interview with Matuella, I had a chance to get Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes’s perspective on the progress of Matuella.
How do you see Matuella progressing on the mound in just throwing pitches?
Jaimes: I think so far, we don’t have any concerns results wise. It’s more about him healthy. It’s been almost 16 months basically, since he got hurt last year. He’s going through a little tough time mentally wise. Naturally, he has some concerns about his elbow and his arm, but for the most part he’s getting better. His last bullpen was pretty good, so it’s a process for him just to trust he’s fully healthy. Hopefully, the next start will be better, but we don’t have any concerns about what he can do on the field. It’s more about him staying positive and knowing that all the work he put in the last year and a half is good for him.
Is there any concern about him not wanting to cut it loose and let go?
Jaimes: Yeah, most of the time when guys coming off an injury, it takes them a month just to get through that. They’re afraid to feel something in there. The last bullpen, he actually said, “you know what, I’m going to let it go and whatever happens, happens.” It was a good start for him.
Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday: Bring pet to the game for $1 each. Dog show each Tuesday night. $1 hot dogs, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products.
Wednesday – Business Card Special: Show your business card at the Ticket Office for a $5 ticket.
TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.
WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.
PARKING: All parking is $3.
CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf
Probables (Kannapolis / Hickory):
Monday: LHP Bernando Flores vs. RHP Kyle Cody
Tuesday: TBA vs. RHP Michael Matuella
Wednesday: RHP Jimmy Lambert vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo
Recent Series History:
So far in 2017, the teams have split the 12 previous games played, including a 2-2 series at L.P. Frans in April. Hickory has not lost a home series to the Intimidators since 2014 and are 42-28 there since 2009. The Crawdads won three of five at Kannapolis earlier in May.
About the Crawdads:
Hickory opened the homestand by losing three of four and dropped to 9-16 at Frans this season. The Crawdads enter the series losers of 7 out of 8 and 8 of 10… Hickory is often playing catch-up and often in a big way. The Crawdads have been outscored 139-88 over the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning 24 times, while the Crawdads have 25 total runs in the first inning. In 43 games, opposition has scored at least one run in the first three innings… Pitching continues to make its effects felt on a disappointing first half. Hickory is last in the SAL in ERA (5.45), WHIP (1.54), hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and are next to last in walks allowed. For the season, Hickory has given up seven or more runs 21 times in 50 games, 15 of those during the last 29… The Crawdads continues to slug their way into runs. They are second in the SAL in homers with 42, but are eighth out of 14 teams in runs scored. They are fourth in slugging (.391), but 10th in on-base pct. (.313). They are next to last in walks accepted, but third in total bases.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has missed one game this season, leads SAL in at-bats, 10th in hits. After sitting out a game during the midst of four-straight games without a hit, Taveras has a hit in five of the last six. He’s also starting to get his patience back with a walk in each of the last two games. After ten walks in April, he has just five in May.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Tied for third in Ks (59). Both his K-rate and walk-rate have declined in May compared to April. Went 4-for-13 in his last three games with a run scored in each. Has two strikeouts in three of the last four games.
LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Hitting just .194/.286/.290 since joining the Crawdads on May 10. Has 14 Ks in 70 plate appearances.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Sat out the final two games of the series with Asheville. Has hits in 17 of the last 20 games, which boosted his average from .155 on May 4 to its current .245.
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After a rough start, Matuella is coming off two straight strong outings with just one hit and a walk over his last six innings and 8 Ks. He will be limited to 60 to 70 pitches.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Hit a pair of homers over the weekend, but K’d 8 times in 16 ABs. Now with 42 Ks in 15 plate appearances this season (28%).
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After a hiccup in mid-May, Ferguson has two scoreless outings with three Ks over 3 innings and one hit allowed. Control is his key. He has walked or hit 12 of the 58 batters he has faced, but has fanned 24.
Others to watch – Hickory:
3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High (MS). Played in all 50 games, second in ABs in the SAL. Has posted a .333/.373/.500 slash vs. Kannapolis in 12 games. Hit a three-run homer vs. Asheville on Saturday, his first since mid-April. Has reached base in 12 straight games and is 12-for-41 in that stretch with four walks and two hit batters. Approach of late has been to take pitches up the middle and away.
C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Is 10-for-28 with six RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis in 2017
C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Had three hits on Sunday and is 5-for-13 with two homers in his last three games. He is the leading Crawdads hitter in May, posting a .431/.484/.690 slash in May.
OF Franklin Rollin: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of La Romana, D.R. Is 15-for-36 with two homers and 9 RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis.
RHP Kaleb Fontenot: 21st-round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Currently third in SAL among relievers in Ks per 9 innings (13.50). Has 11 Ks in his last 7 innings over two outings.
About the Intimidators:
Managed by Justin Jirschele in his first season with the Intimidators… Kannapolis split a four-game series at Greensboro and are coming to Hickory after striking out 20 hitters in Sunday’s game. The Intimidators are in fourth place, but sit just 3.5 games behind first-place Hagerstown (Md.). Kannapolis will have a chance over the next 17 games to put itself squarely in the division chase. After the Crawdads series, Kannapolis plays four games vs. third place Greensboro, then travels to second-place Lakewood (NJ) for three and sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The run is capped with a three-game home series vs. Hagerstown… At the plate, Kannapolis is hitting .279 in May, which is second in the SAL. The Intimidators have scored eight or more runs in five of the last ten games. Overall, Kannapolis is third in the league in batting (.264) and OPS (.719)… On the hill, Kannapolis relies on strong starting pitching to eat up innings and get the game to its bullpen. The Intimidators are 18-8 when scoring first and an SAL-best 19-5 when scoring last. When leading after five innings Kannapolis is 20-3… Statistically, both teams should be able to use the running game to generate offense as Hickory and Kannapolis are at the bottom of the SAL in nabbing baserunners trying to steal. However, his is not the Intimidators game. They have just 21 steals in 36 attempts, both SAL lows. Joel Booker has ten of those… Defensively, Kannapolis is third from the bottom in fielding pct.
Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:
LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 16 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Tied for 9th in SAL with 12 doubles. Saw a 12-game hitting streak end on Saturday (19-for-47), he still owns a 14-game on-base streak. Has posted a .338/.422/.606 slash in May.
LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 19 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Allowed one run on four hits over six innings in his last start. Has split his two decisions vs. Hickory, gave up four runs on eight hits over 4 innings vs. Hickory on 5/18.
RF Micker Adolfo (No. 21 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Tied for 3rd in the SAL with 14 doubles. Had a 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) earlier this month. Currently in the midst of a 4-for-22 stretch.
P Victor Diaz (No. 23 mlb.com, No. 26 Baseball America): Traded to the White Sox from Boston in the Chris Sale trade. The Dominican native made his season’s first appearance on May 26. Has retired all nine batters he faced in two outings with six Ks. With an upper-90s fastball, his stay in Kannapolis could be brief.
Others to watch – Kannapolis:
CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Quietly putting together a nice season as the Intimidator leadoff hitter. Currently second in the SAL in hits and runs scored, sixth in batting avg. (.318) and tenth in total bases.
RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Has allowed the fewest baserunners per 9 IP (3.96) among SAL relievers and is second in saves (8). He has yet to allow a run in 25 innings with 34 Ks to just 11 baserunners. He has given up four hits this season; Hickory has three of them.
RHP Jimmy Lambert: Fifth round pick in 2016 out of Fresno St. Is third in the SAL in innings pitched and has a 1.13 walk-per-nine-inning ratio, the best among starters in the SAL. Relies on defense to make plays, has allowed 57 hits in 55.2 innings. He is 2-1 vs. Hickory with a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings.
C Seby Zavala: 12th-round pick in 2015 out of San Diego St. Tied for second in the SAL with 10 homers and eighth in slugging (.520). Once a top-15 prospect with the White Sox, he’s struggled to make contact. Four of his HRs are against Hickory.
RHP Kyle Kybat: Non-drafted free agent out of Nebraska. Allowed 6.18 baserunners per 9 innings, third among SAL relievers, 0.65 BB per 9 innings 5th among relievers. Has a 0.59 ERA over 30.2 innings. Given up two earned runs, one of those surrendered to Hickory.
2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick in 2016 out of Wright St. Tied for seventh in the SAL in hits. Slash line of .242/.279/.293 in May.
Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (18-25, 6th place South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals) (19-24, 5th place Southern)
The Hickory Crawdads play the last three games of an eight-game road trip at Whitaker Bank Ballpark
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Monday-Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., Wednesday at 12:35 p.m.
Promotions: Monday: Kids Eat N’ Play for Free (Kids 12 and under eat and play in the kids play area for free); Mommy/ Son Date Night; Super Hero Night. Tuesday: $1 day (Dollar hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream sandwiches, Pepsi products). Wednesday: Hunt Brothers ½ price pizza
TICKETS: $6 for bleacher seats. $9-$23 in advance, add $2 the day of the game.
Where is it?: I-75 North/I-64 Wast to exit 113. Turn right at the end of the ramp onto North Broadway toward downtown Lexington. Follow North Broadway for approximately one and a half miles, past New Circle Road (Highway 4). Turn right into the stadium located adjacent to the Northland Shopping Center.
PARKING: $3-$5. Parking is available at the ballpark as well as other spaces within a 10-minute walk.
Monday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. RHP Travis Eckert
Tuesday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. LHP Andre Davis
Wednesday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP Jace Vines
Recent Series History: The Crawdads went 10-5 against the Legends in 2016, which included 5-of-7 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The teams played sporadically for several years prior to 2016. In 2015, Hickory all four games, which were all played at Lexington. Before that, the teams played all games for three seasons at Hickory, with the Legends edging the Crawdads 9-7.
About the Crawdads: Hickory dropped the final game of a five-game series at Kannapolis, but won the weekend series 3-2. It is the third series the Crawdads won this season, the first against a team other than Columbia (S.C.). Overall, the Crawdads have won 5 of 7 over the past week and climbed out of the cellar of the Northern Division… The Crawdads are in danger of snapping a streak of 14 straight half-seasons above .500, stretching back to the second half of the 2009 season. Hickory will have to win 17 of the final 27 to avoid a losing record… The Crawdads lineup has been humming in May, but will have to do so for a while without Yanio Perez, who is on the disabled list with an undisclosed injury. Perez (.356/.429/.630) leads the SAL in batting average and is in the top three in on-base pct., slugging pct. OPS, hits, homers and total bases. Still, Hickory’s .284 average is the second highest in the SAL for May and the lineup scored 4+ runs in three of the four games since losing Perez. The Crawdads are third in the SAL in homers, OPS (.715) and slugging (.397), fourth in RBI and total bases. However, they are near the bottom in walks received and on-base pct. (.318)… On the mound, Hickory remains well entrenched at the bottom of the SAL in ERA (5.52), and WHIP (1.55), runs and earned runs allowed, and next to last in hits and walks allowed. However, this past week has arguably been the best for the staff and the Crawdads will run the two hottest starters for the first two games. During the five wins this past week, Hickory allowed just 11 total runs. In the two losses, it gave up 18. Hickory has allowed seven or runs 18 times in 43 games, 12 of those during the last 23.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Went hitless in three straight games for just second time this season during the Kannapolis series and sat out his first game of the season on Sunday. His slash for May is still .300/.324/.457.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. The rate of strikeouts has lessened (40% in April, 29% in May), but so has the rate of walks (14.3% in April, 8.8% in May). Went 4-for-18 during Kannapolis series with 7 Ks, but three of the hits were doubles.
LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Is 8-for-43 (.186) since joining the Crawdads on May 10, but had a three-run double at Kannapolis on Sunday.
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After two rough starts, he gave up just one run on three hits and fanned four at Kannapolis on Thursday. Pitches have tended to catch a lot of the plate far as the SAL is hitting .410 against him over 8.1 innings (16 hits to 45 hitters faced).
RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No.17 Baseball America, No. 18 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic. Pitched one-hit ball over seven innings and fanned six last Monday against Greensboro. Over his last four starts totaling 25.1 innings, Hernandez has allowed five runs on 20 hits with five walks and 26 Ks.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Saw a 10-game hitting streak come to an end on Sunday. A stretch of at least one hit in 13 of 14 games moved his batting average from .155 on May 4 to .250.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Has perhaps begun to heat up after a prolonged slow start with an injury mixed in. Is 6-for-17 over his last five games with two walks on Sunday. His nine walks so far this season equals his entire output for 2016.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After two straight outings which yielded runs, Ferguson allowed just one hit in a scoreless outing on Saturday. Has fanned 22 of the 65 batters he faced, but walked or hit 12.
Others to watch – Hickory:
RHP Kyle Cody: Sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky. Returning to the city where he started for the Wildcats in college. Save for a poor start vs. Charleston (S.C.) on May 10, Cody has had a decent run this season. In his last outing on Tuesday, Cody pitched a four-hitter over seven innings and fanned 10. Held the opposition to fewer than two earned runs in four of seven starts.
1B Carlos Garay: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of La Victoria, Venezuela. Played this season at high-A Down East before he was assigned to Hickory this weekend due to the injury to Perez. Went 4-for-9 with an RBI in his first two games.
C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Enters the series with a five-game hitting streak (7-for-19) and four RBI in that stretch.
LHP C.D. Pelham: 33rd-round pick in 2015 out of Spartanburg Methodist College. Has become a reliable arm out of the pen. Over his last seven outings (13 innings), Pelham has fanned 17 of the 59 hitters he’s faced (29%) and allowed just two earned runs on 17 total baserunners.
About the: Legends
Managed by Scott Thorman in his first season with the Legends after two years as the skipper at the Royals rookie-level club at Burlington (73-63) …Lexington returns home after a 5-3 Georgian-road trip to Augusta and Rome. The Legends are tied for the worst home record in the SAL at 5-12. Lexington has played just three home games this month (1-2)… Despite winning two of three from the Braves, the Legends pitching took it on the chin in surrendering 24 runs and playing an 18-inning affair on Friday. Earlier this season, the Legends gave up a SAL record 30 hits during a 22-4 loss to Hagerstown (Md.). Lexington has given up 46 homers in 43 games, seven more than Greensboro. The Legends are also last in hits allowed, next to last in runs allowed, and 12th out of 14 teams in ERA (4.85), WHIP (1.47) and walks allowed… A free-swinging team at the plate, the Legends can run up some numbers. They are second in runs and homers, RBI, total bases, third in hits, doubles, and OPS. Lexington is also second in Ks… The Legends have done well at shutting down the running game with catchers combining to nab 42.9% of runners trying to steal.
Prospects to watch – Lexington:
RF Khalil Lee: (No. 12 Baseball America, No. 13 MLB.com) Third-round pick in 2016 out of Flint Hill High (Oakton, VA). Was the Gatorade player of the year in Virginia last year. The Legends leadoff hitter takes a lot of pitches as he leads the SAL in Ks and is fourth in walks. Tied for 9th in runs. Posted a .213/.338/295 slash in May. A threat on the bases with 11 steals (5th in the SAL), though he has been caught six times.
C Meibrys Viloria (No. 14 MLB.com, No. 18 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Cartagena, Colombia. Was the MVP in the Pioneer League (rookie) at Idaho Falls in 2016 after posting a .376/.436/.606 slash. After a .186 average in April, Viloria has been hot in May at .339.422/.679 with four homers and 16 RBI in 15 games. Enters the series with an RBI in six straight games and seven of eight. Behind the plate has thrown out 17 of the 40 runners trying to steal.
CF Marten Gasparini: (No. 19 MLB.com, No. 22 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Ruda, Italy. Signed the largest contract given to a European prospect. Hit .196 as the Legends starting shortstop last year and has not been much better (.186) in 2017. Committed 48 errors last year precipitating the move to center. Has just four extra-base hits this year in 35 games.
SS Ricky Arcena (No. 27 MLB.com) Signed as an international free agent in 2014 out of San Francisco de Macoris, D.R. Like Gasparini, the stick has been light and the game a bit fast in the field (60 errors in 115 pro games). Started the last road trip with hits in five of the first six games, before an 0-for-7 with 6 Ks over the final two games.
Others to watch – Lexington:
LF Kort Peterson: 23rd-round pick in 2016 out of UCLA. Tabbed to the Appalachian League post-season All-Star team in 2016, as well as a Royals organizational All-Star by MLB.com. Fifth in the SAL in OBP (.405) and tied for 10th in hits. Enters the series with a seven-game hitting streak and hits in 16 of the last 18 games (26-for-77, .338). Is 8 for his last 17.
RHP Jace Vines: Fourth-round pick in 2016 out of Texas A&M. Expected to make his third straight appearance as a starter on Wednesday (10 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 1 HB, 1 BB, 4 K). Enters the series with a 1.67 ERA as a starter. Relies on defense to make plays (1.81 GO/AO) with just 24 Ks in 40.1 innings overall.
RHP Grant Gavin: 29th-round pick in 2016 out of Central Missouri. Has struck out 23 of 81 batters faced (28%). Has allowed one earned run over 21 innings (0.43 ERA) and the league is hitting .130 against him.
1B Joe Dudek: Non-drafted free agent in 2016 out of Kentucky. Enters series with seven-game hitting streak (10-for-26, .385) with three walks. Has reached base in all ten games since he joined the Legends. Was teammate of Crawdads P Kyle Cody.
Promotions: Thursday: Motorsports Night with a Bank of America 500 ticket giveaway; Thirsty Thursday. Friday: Daddy-Daughter Date night with Pre-game Princess Parade. Saturday: Faith and Family Night with post-game fireworks; Sunday: Team Photo Giveaway, Bark at the Park; Pre-Game Autographs; Picnic in the Park (All-you-can-eat for $10).
TICKETS: $5-$7 for children, $6-8 for adults in advance. $2 more per ticket the day of the game.
Where is it?: Ballpark is off I-85 at exit 63. Exit ramp to Lane Street and head west. Turn right onto Stadium. NOTE: There is heavy construction along I-85, so allow extra time.
PARKING: All parking is $2
CONCESSIONS: Intimidators Stadium has the basic ballpark food at a main concession area behind home plate. Other items include Chicken Tenders, Chicken sandwiches, Pretzel Dogs, Wings, and Turkey Wraps. The Hot Dog Hut has footlongs, brats, burgers, Italian sausages, as well as Dale’s Mater Sandwiches, and Veggie Burgers. BBQ Stand has pulled pork and turkey sandwiches.
Probables (Hickory/ Kannapolis):
Thursday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP Chris Comito
Friday (DH): RHP Edgar Arredondo and RHP Reid Anderson vs. LHP Bernardo Flores/ TBA
Saturday: RHP Demarcus Evans vs. RHP Jimmy Lambert
Sunday: RHP Matt Ball vs. RHP Yosmer Solorzano
Recent Series History:
Kannapolis is 5-3 against Hickory this season, which includes a 3-1 series win at home back in April The Crawdads were 12-4 in 2016 against Kannapolis with a dominant 7-1 record at Intimidators Stadium. Since the Crawdads began the affiliation with the Rangers in 2009 they are 87-58 overall, 45-30 at Intimidators Stadium.
About the Crawdads: After a horrendous start to a just-concluded home stand, the Crawdads won the final two games vs. Greensboro to split that series and salvaged a 3-4 record. Hickory is 7-10 in road games… For the most part, the team’s pitching has posted some ugly numbers. Their 5.52 ERA is nearly .60 higher than the next lowest team (Hagerstown) and the 1.56 WHIP is .12 higher than Lexington. Hickory is second in the SAL in hits allowed and walks issued. The Crawdads team ERA would be worse if not for No. 1 starter Jonathan Hernandez (2.80) and No. 2 starter Kyle Cody (3.41). Neither are scheduled to pitch during the series. Ball and Anderson will each make their first start in the series. Hickory has allowed seven or runs 16 times in 38 games, ten of those during the last 18… The lineup continues to hum along, hitting .281/.331/.394 in May after a .235/.306/.394 slash in April. After hitting 25 dingers in April, Hickory has just eight so far this month. Overall, the Crawdads are tied for third in homers, and fourth in slugging and OPS (.709)… Hickory stole a single-game record of 8 in a game at Kannapolis in April and may again wish to take advantage of catcher Seby Zavala, who has thrown out just 7 of 37 base stealers.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Hitting .345/.362/.545 in May with seven extra-base hits. Prior to an 0-for-4 on Wednesday, he had at least one hit in 15 of 16 games, seven of those with 2+ hits. Along with 3B Ti’Quan Forbes, has played in all 38 of the Crawdads games and leads the SAL in at bats. He is also 6th in total bases.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Still among the leaders in the SAL in strikeouts, but the rate of his strikeouts is shrinking. Tejeda fanned in 40% of his plate appearances during April, but is down to 26.5% in May.
LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Is 5-for-23 since joining the Crawdads on May 10.
OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Leads the SAL in OBP (.430), and is tied for first with 46 hits. Other top-ten rankings: 2nd in batting avg. (.354), OPS (1.030), third in homers (8), slugging pct. (.600) and total bases, tied for third in RBI (26).
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. In many ways, he is still on the mend from injuries (back and Tommy John surgery) suffered in 2015, but would like to see results. Has given up 9 runs over 5.1 innings with SAL hitters pasting him for a .481 batting avg. Is limited to 60-70 pitches per outing.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) to start the season, he is more than making up for lost time with a .425/.452/.475 slash in May. Was at .155 for the season on May 4, but with hits in 9 of the last 10 games (17-for-33) – including two four-hit tilts in that stretch – he is up to .246.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Enters the series 4-for-8 in the last two games, which included a walk-off homer vs. Greensboro.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After five straight scoreless outings, he has given up three runs over 2.1 innings during his last two outings. He has hit or walked 12 of the 61 hitters he has faced.
Others to watch – Hickory:
RHP Edgar Arredondo: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Had his best outing of the season last Friday when he allowed one run on five hits and fanned three over five innings for the win. The Intimidators has touched him up for 16 hits over nine innings in two starts.
RHP Matt Ball: Acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a trade in 2016. Expected to make his first start of the season against his old team. Has allowed two runs over five relief appearances (8.1 innings) since joining the Crawdads on 4/27/17. Fanned 12 and walked just one during that stretch.
C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Returned to the team after a disabled list stint with an injured hamstring. Will split time with Alex Kowalczyk.
About the Intimidators:
Managed by Justin Jirschele, who played in 15 games for the Intimidators in 2013. He was the team’s hitting coach last year… A Shermanesque march through Georgia has placed Kannapolis in the thick of the Northern Division chase. The Intimidators won three of four at Rome after taking two at Augusta… Pitching has been a strong suit with the I’s allowing just 8 total runs during their five wins on the trip. Their 3.32 ERA in May is fourth in the SAL… At the plate, Kannapolis’ .282 average for May is just behind Charleston for the league lead… Speed is not their game. The Intimidators have just 17 steals in 27 attempts, both SAL lows.
Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:
LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 15 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Has hits in each of his last three games, but is at .226/.333/.419 for May. Hickory struck him out ten times in 33 plate appearances in April.
LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 18 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Pitched four-hit ball over six innings in his last start with six Ks.
RF Micker Adolfo (No. 20 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Saw his 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) end with an 0-for-5, four-strikeout game at Rome.
Others to watch – Kannapolis:
CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Is tied for 7th in hits, tied for 8th in runs scored. He tortured the Crawdads pitching staff in April with 9 hits in 26 ABs and scored seven runs.
RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Currently tied for second in the SAL with seven saves. Over his 14 appearances spanning 17.1 innings, he has allowed eight baserunners and struck out 26 with no runs allowed.
The Charleston RiverDogs entered Thursday night’s game with a South Atlantic League high .319 batting avg. in May. The Hickory Crawdads have the league’s worst pitching statistically. That’s proved to be a bad combination over the last two nights and on Thursday, the result was a 14-4 thrashing by Charleston in front of 2,525 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
For the second straight night, Charleston (17-17) scored the first nine runs of the game and cruised to victory. The Crawdads (12-21) have been outscored 25-6 over the first two games of the three-game series.
Charleston put the first five runners aboard and eventually sent ten to the plate in the first inning to open a 6-0 lead. Poor defense and poor pitch execution by starter Michael Matuella went hand-in-hand. (More on the defense later.)
Matuella had little command of the fastball in his lone inning, which started with a four-pitch walk to Estevan Florial. After a dubious bloop single to center by Isaiah Gilliam, Hoy Jun Park tripled in both runners. Blake Rutherford singled in Park. Oswaldo Cabrera’s sac fly got a run and Diego Castillo’s two-run single capped the scoring and ended Matuella’s night.
The RiverDogs treated lefty Sal Mendez no better in the second as they sent eight more to the plate and scored three. Gilliam reached on an error and after Park replaced him on a fielder’s choice, Donny Sands singled him in. Cabrera added two more with a single.
Brian Keller kept the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fourth before Miguel Aparicio’s grounder went through the infield. Hickory finally got on the board one inning later as Isaiah Quiroz singled in two.
Alex Kowalczyk (2-for-4) hit a two-run homer in the sixth to cut the Crawdads deficit to 9-4.
However, RiverDogs tacked on three in the eighth and two in the ninth, all against Jake Lemoine, to account for the final margin.
“They have a good hitting ballclub, no doubt,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “We just have to find a way pitching wise to limit the damage and make better pitches. That’s the bottom line. We’re not doing it. We’re not getting it done. The last two nights, we’ve not given our offense a chance to do anything.”
Crawdads pitching beginning to look historic… and not in a good way.
As a team, the Crawdads 5.72 ERA and 1.59 WHIP are the worst in the Sally League. They also have allowed the most hits, runs, and earned runs. With the quarter of the season two games away, one begins to look at how they stack up to Crawdads club records. They’re chasing a few.
Hickory has had just two seasons with an ERA over five, which came in back-to-back seasons in 2007 (5.13) and 2008 (5.02). The club record for the worst WHIP in a season is 1.54 in 2007. The Crawdads are also on pace to set club records for the most hits, runs and earned runs allowed.
Defense was offensive:
While Matuella didn’t have his best stuff, some of the first inning struggles could be laid at the feet of the defense.
After Florial walked, Gilliam hit a short fly to center that appeared to be an easy can of corn for Leody Taveras. Meanwhile, shortstop Anderson Tejeda and second baseman Yeyson Yrizarri were pulling a double-play decoy on Florial running hard to second. The decoy worked beautifully except… Taveras couldn’t pick up the ball and with no fielders pointing out the ball, eventually it fell harmless to the turf. So what could’ve been a double play with Florial totally fooled at second turned into a 1st & 2nd situation with no outs.
Later in the inning, a routine double play turned into one out when Tejeda’s throw to first went wide of Yanio Perez’s stretch at first.
And still later in the inning, 3B Ti’Quan Forbes took his time on a grounder by Ben Ruta. Forbes circled around to make the play, but as he appeared in no particular hurry to complete the play, Forbes throw to first was beaten by the hustling Ruta.
A frustrated Owen spread the blame around equally between hurlers and defenders.
“It accumulates and everything when you don’t make plays,” said Owen. “But, we talk to (the pitchers) all the time that sometimes you’re going to have to get four outs and sometimes five outs in an inning. You’re even going to do that in the big leagues. Obviously, not nearly as much, because they are big league infielders, but they have to overcome those things. They sooner they learn that and figure it out rather than say, ‘I should’ve been out of the inning’ or whatever. It is what it is out there….”
Owen later added, “We’ve got to clean it up all the way around, especially the pitching and defense. We’ve been working really hard during the last four defensively and cutting b.p. time saying ‘Let’s have a clean game.’ We haven’t been able to do that.”
Better Call Sal:
Once Mendez got settled, he went on to retire the last 14 batters he faced and fanned 6 over 5.1 innings. His work allowed the Crawdads offense to chip away at the lead and take some momentum into the late innings.
The two parts of his outing show just how careful he has to be with his stuff. His changeup is a formidable pitch, at least at this level, and had 7 or 8 missed bats. That with his fastball at 90-91, if he keeps his pitches down, he’s tough.
“I thought Mendez did a really nice job,” Owen said. “His first inning of work he left some balls up and he paid for it. Then he comes out and puts up zeroes from that point on. That’s a good adjustment by him.”
The way that Charleston starter Brian Keller mowed through the first three innings, it looked like history was in the making. He fanned six of the first ten hitters, which included a 10-pitch, three-strikeout third inning. The second time through the order, Keller started missing his location and the Crawdads hitters adjusted to the breaking ball.
Owen: “The guy that started was impressive and did exactly what you’d want to see with a guy that’s got a nine-run lead in popping and pounding the zone. We made some adjustments. It’s good to see that you’re down nine runs and still have competitive at bats from our side.”
Smoral on the Fire:
Lefty Matt Smoral made his Crawdads and Rangers affiliate debut on Thursday. A tall presence at 6-8, a SLOW delivery seemed to make his fastball even faster as it whipped from his left hand to the plate. However, the delivery never seemed in control as he flailed about the mound. There’s a lot of moving parts to the motion.
Smoral walked two and threw quite the wild pitch to the back stop. Control has been the issue for the former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick as he has walked or hit 122 batters in 107.2 innings as a pro
Who was that Lemoine’s jersey?
There seemed to be a body language on the mound that said, “here ya go, hit it if you can.” And Charleston did: Five runs on six hits – all hit hard – over two innings of relief. Fastball straight as an arrow and it went to the wall harder. Throw in a walk and two wild pitches and you have a RiverDogs lineup fattening their stats.
Meanwhile, It’s the second poor outing in a row for the right-hander, who allowed two in a walkoff loss at Hagerstown (Md.) last Saturday.
TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.
WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.
PARKING: All parking is $3.
CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Cheese Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf
Probables (Charleston / Hickory):
Wednesday: RHP Jio Orozco vs. RHP Kyle Cody
Thursday: RHP Nick Nelson vs. RHP Michael Matuella
Friday: RHP Nick Green vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo
Recent Series History:
The Crawdads held a 4-3 edge in the 2016 season series, but lost two of three at home to the R-Dogs in late August. The two teams have been nearly even since the 2005 season, with Hickory scraping a 59-58 edge, which includes a 29-28 mark at L.P. Frans and 30-30 at Charleston. Since the Rangers-Crawdads affiliation began in 2009, the Crawdads are 49-40 overall, 26-19 at home.
About the Crawdads:
After the bullpen blew their second 8-1 lead of the season during game two of the four-game series at Hagerstown (Md.), the Crawdads won the final two games to earn a split against the Northern Division’s current pacesetter… After a sputtered start at the plate, Hickory’s lineup has been at full throttle lately. The Crawdads have scored six or more runs during eight of the last 11 games with 8+ in six of those. Their .311 batting avg. in May (they hit .235 in April) is second in the SAL behind Charleston’s .318. Hickory scored 34 runs during the four games at Hagerstown… Despite the Crawdads strong performance at the plate, the pitching has had much to do with just a 6-5 mark over the last 11 games. Hickory remains last in the SAL in ERA (5.32), hits allowed and WHIP (1.55)… The Crawdads have had to play catch-up much of the season, scoring first in just 11 of 31 games. Even more troubling has been the ability to hold early leads as the Crawdads are 4-7 when scoring first… The series will feature two of the worst teams from the SAL in terms of fielding. The Crawdads have committed 41 errors with Charleston holding up the bottom with 46. Hickory’s errors have led to 29 unearned runs, trailing just Augusta (Ga.) in that category.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. The 18-year-old has seen the ball incredible well over the past two weeks. Over his last 14 games, Taveras has 238 pitches and he has more hits (19) than swinging strikes (15). In his last 18 games, he is 25-for-69 (.362) with three doubles, a triple, a homer, 12 runs scored, 15 RBI, 6 walks, and 12 Ks.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Has been error prone lately with five miscues over his last six games and 6 in his last 9. Has begun to percolate at the plate, however. Tejeda went 4-for-11 in the last 3 games with five runs scored and a three-run homer. Shows some struggles not uncommon for an 18-year-old in a full-season league – 36 Ks in 108 PAs (36%) – but his 15 walks (14%) is quite uncommon for this level.
OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Has asserted himself as THE big bat in the lineup over the last couple of weeks. Has at least one hit in 13 of the last 14 games (24-for-53) with a slash line of .453/.492/.830. Has just 10 Ks during this stretch.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) to start the season, Yrizarri is nearly back to the .200 mark (.196/.222/.304). Had a four-hit game during a 7-inning contest on Sunday and went 7-for-15 at Hagerstown.
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. Was on the path of becoming a first-overall pick in 2015 before back troubles and then Tommy John surgery derailed that promise. He pitched in only three innings last summer at short-season Spokane before further elbow tenderness caused the Rangers to shut him down. Threw 46 pitches in his first start vs. Columbia, then pushed up to 56 last week at West Virginia. Had 5 Ks vs. Columbia, none vs. the Power.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Missed a week with a leg injury and then returned during the road trip and went 5-for-23 with two walks. Has seven free passes in 23 games after just 9 all last year.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Working on a string of five straight scoreless outings covering 7.1 innings with 14 Ks. Went 5-for-12 in the series at Hagerstown with a homer and 7 RBI.
Others to watch – Hickory:
C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Getting the bulk of playing time at catcher due to an injury to starter Ricky Valencia.
OF Franklin Rollin: 2013 international free agent out of La Romana, D.R. Continues to press for playing time with strong performances at the plate. Had a four-hit game Saturday at Hagerstown and has hits in 6-of-7.
RHP Kyle Cody: 6th-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky. Along with Jonathan Hernandez, Cody has held steady in the rotation. Has lost three straight starts, but has allowed just four earned runs (three homers) and fanned 11 over 15.2 innings in that stretch.
About the RiverDogs:
Managed by Pat Osborn in his first season at Charleston. Obsorn managed high-A Tampa to the Florida State League finals in 2016… The R-Dogs lead the SAL with a .318 average in May, but are 2-5 so far, all during a just-concluded homestand. Four of the losses were by one run, which bumped the R-Dogs to 4-8 in such games this season… Playing at a home ballpark that is not conducive to power, as a team, the R-Dogs single opponents to death. Charleston is second in the SAL in hits, but in the middle of the league in homers and dead last with just ten homers. The R-Dogs are third in the league at .266 and they put the ball in play. Charleston has the second fewest K… On the mound, the staff has fanned the most in the SAL, something that bears watching in facing a team with the second most Ks at the plate.
Prospects to watch –Charleston:
CF Blake Rutherford: (No. 3 MLB.com, No. 3 Baseball America) First-round pick in 2016 out of Chaminade Prep (Canoga Park, CA). Played for 18-and-under USA National Team. After a satisfactory first month (.277/.388/.361) of the season, the 20-year-old is perhaps feeling the grind as the calendar turned to May (.182/.240/.318). Will work a walk (17 in 123 PAs), but is learning to watch breaking balls as is 29 Ks might indicate. Despite hitting left-handed, he has handled left-handed pitching quite well (.326 to .210 vs. righties). Currently fourth in the SAL with 10 doubles and sixth in walks. Has fanned 7 times over his last five games. Signed a Yankees-record $3.2 million contact, the most for a hitter draftee.
CF Estavan Florial: (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 16 MLB.com) International free agent in 2015 from Port au Prince, Haiti. Saw a 10-game hitting streak end in the finale of the R-Dogs homestand. Is fourth in the SAL in runs scored. Has 35 Ks in 125 PAs, 7th in the league.
C Donny Sands (No. 26 MLB.com) 8th-round pick in 2015 out of Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, AZ). Is 10-for-40 over his last ten games. A project at the plate, the former 3B is currently at the bottom of the SAL in catching base stealers, nabbing just 9 of 46 trying to steal.
Others to watch –Charleston:
SS Hoy Jun Park: International free agent in 2014 out of Seoul, South Korea. Leads SAL with a .362 average and is 9th in slugging (.532). Went 9-for-16 over the last four games. Currently in his second season at Charleston.
RHP Nick Green: Acquired by the Yankees in a trade with the Rangers last summer. Went to the Yanks along with former Crawdads Dillon Tate and Erik Swanson. Threw a one-hitter over eight innings and fanned nine in his last start on Saturday. Has allowed just four hits over his last 14.2 innings (two starts) with 16 Ks. Relies on a sinker to get grounders, has a 2.60 GO/AO and has yet to allowed a run in four road starts.
Note: The Crawdads sent OF Eric Jenkins and Argenis Rodriguez to the Rangers extended spring and received OF Miguel Aparicio and RHP Matt Smoral.
Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (9-15, 7th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh) (11-14, 6th SAL Northern Division)
The Hickory Crawdads start a seven-game road trip against two Northern Division foes with a three-game series at West Virginia’s Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, WV.
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Tuesday-Thursday at 7:05 p.m. (Games are streamed through the Power’s website or milb.com
Tuesday – Two-for-One Concession Specials,
Thursday – “Thirsty Thursday”, Power-Comic Con
TICKETS: $8 for box seats, $6 for general admission
Where is it?: I-77North / I-64West to Capital St./Leon Sullivan Way Exit #100
PARKING: Ample parking garages near the stadium.
CONCESSIONS: Appalachian Power Park has generic ballpark food, as well as chicken options. Other stands including Italian food (Chicken parm sandwich), portable grill with brats, philly cheese steaks, ruebens, as well as a BBQ stand.
Probables (Hickory / West Virginia):
Tuesday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. LHP Cam Vieaux
Wednesday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. RHP Matt Anderson
Thursday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP James Marvel
Recent Series History:
West Virginia swept a three-game series at Hickory two weeks ago and was 1-3 at home against the Crawdads in 2016. Since 2009, Hickory holds a 41-36 edge in the series, but are 19-23 at Appalachian Power Park. The Crawdads have not won a series vs. the Power since 2014.
About the Crawdads:
The Crawdads took the Columbia Fireflies to the woodshed over the weekend and scored 30 runs in winning three-of-four to salvage a 3-4 homestand. The Crawdads entered that series with only 22 runs in their first 10 home games… Near the bottom of the SAL in many offensive categories, the recent barrage has evened that out somewhat. Next to last in the SAL at .217 as recent as 10 days ago, they are now 9th in batting average at .235.,. Hickory continues to have the all-or-nothing approach. They are second in the league in homers with 25 and second in strikeouts. However, the whiffs have come at a fewer pace in recent days, as they are no longer on a pace for the SAL record in a season… On the mound, Hickory took a hit over the last few days as the Fireflies put up 33 runs on the team and pushed the ERA to a league-worst 5.40. The Crawdads have also allowed the most hits, runs, earned runs and are last in WHIP (1.60)… Defensively. Hickory has at least one error in its last six games, with two or more in five of them… Hickory is 4-6 away from home.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has reached base in nine of his last ten games with five hits in his last three. Has an uncanny eye at the plate for an 18-year-old. Saw 112 pitches during the seven games of the homestand, he swung and missed just six of them.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Has 31 Ks in 77 plate appearances (40.2%), but that has curtailed some in recent days and he finally went without a strikeout in a game for the first time this season on Sunday. Has struggled against lefties (1-for-14, 7 Ks).
OF Eric Jenkins (No. 14 MLB.com, No.26 Baseball America). Second-round pick in 2015 out of West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.). In many ways, still catching up from missing most of spring training with a hamstring injury. Goal no. 1 for Jenkins is to cut the strikeouts. A speed demon on the bases – he led the SAL with 51 steals last year – he has to make contact to take advantage of that speed. Whiffed 154 times last year, has eight in 25 plate appearances so far this year, capped by a four-strikeout game on Sunday.
OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. In the midst of an eight-game hitting streak (16-for-28), he is the hottest hitter in the SAL and took home the league’s hitter-of-the-week award after popping five homers, a double, scoring eight runs and knocking in 15. The last 22 times he made contact with a pitch, ten went for hits and only two for outs.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) Yrizarri has begun to even his season out a bit with 12 hits in his last 11 games.
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. Was on the path of becoming a first-overall pick in 2015 before back troubles and then Tommy John surgery derailed that promise. In his first start of the season last Thursday, Matuella stayed in the 94-96 mph range with good movement, as he K’d 5 of the 9 hitters he faced. Left some pitches up that were hit hard, two of them for doubles and a hard-hit, RBI single.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Of his five relief outings so far, four of those were scoreless for the 6-4 right hander. His one blowup outing (5 ER over 1.2 IP) which is responsible for much of the 6.14 ERA. In his last three outings covering 4.2 innings, Ferguson has fanned 9 of 15 batters. However, control will be the make-or-break issue. This season, he has walked or hit seven of 35 hitters.
Others to watch – Hickory:
Catching crew: Two of the three catchers on the Crawdads team are possibly out for at least part of the series. Ricky Valencia injured a hamstring on Sunday and Alex Kowalczyk is away for a personal issue. Potentially, that leaves Shaq Matta as the lone catcher. Expect the Rangers to bring back Isaias Quiroz from the extended spring training roster in case Valencia can’t go.
1B Preston Scott: 34th-round pick in 2016 out of Fresno Pacific Univ. Reached base in nine straight games, is 6-for-16 in his last four games, which included a homer and a walk-off double on Saturday. Playing 1B for the first time as a pro and has committed a league-high six errors.
RHP Jake Lemoine: Fourth-round pick in 2015 out of Houston. Good reviews in his pro debut after dealing with shoulder issues the past two seasons, Lemoine is scoreless in six of his seven outings and has a 1.59 ERA.Has struck out 14 of the 39 batters he’s faced and the SAL is batting .154 against him.
RHP Kyle Cody: Sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky, allowed two unearned runs on five hits over 5.2 innings his last time out. A heavy groundball pitcher (1.81 GO/AO), reliable defense is a must for him.
About the Power:
Managed by Wyatt Toregas in his first season. He managed the Pirates short-season affiliate West Virginia Black Bears the past two seasons (80-72), with whom he won the New York-Penn League championship in 2015… A streaky team, the Power lost their first six of the season, then won 7-of-8, then lost 7-of-11, though they split four games at Rome (Ga.)… West Virginia is only 3-11 at home, despite posting a 3.10 ERA… As a team, they are hitting .226/.310/.321 at home, but .310/.389/.506 on the road. Only six of the team’s 21 homers have come at Appalachian Power Park… It’s a patient team that has good plate discipline, as they are next to last in strikeout, but fourth in walks.
Prospects to watch – West Virginia:
SS Stephen Alemais: (No. 18 MLB.com, 29 Baseball America). Third-round pick 2016 out of Tulane. Has been a glove-first shortstop, the bat has started to come around. Has hits in five of the last six games (7-for-26), but is battling strikeouts 20 in his last 12 games. Hitting .306/.325/.611 on the road, but just .206/.289/.294 at home. Was 3-for-10 against Hickory with two homers.
Others to watch – Kannapolis:
RHP James Marvel: 36th round pick in 2015 out of Duke. Missed much of 2014 and all of 2015 with an elbow injury. Allowed one run on four hits over five innings in his start at Hickory.
IF Logan Ratledge: 13th round pick in 2015 out of NC State. Played high school ball at Ardrey Kell in Charlotte. Went 6-for-15 vs. Hickory with a homer and three RBI. Is ninth in the SAL in runs scored. Currently used in a utility role, making appearances at three infield positions, all three outfield slots and on the mound for an inning.
LF Ty Moore: 12th round pick in 2015 out of UCLA. Went 7-for-14 against Hickory with two doubles and four RBI. Currently leads the SAL with a .377 batting average, is fifth in OBP (.377) and seventh in slugging (.532). Is also tied for second with 9 doubles, tied for fifth in hits.
2B Trae Arbet: 5th round pick in 2013 out of Great Oak High (CA). Went 5-for-14 against Hickory.
1B. Carlos Munoz: Signed as an international free agent in 2010 out of Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico. Went 6-for-13 against Hickory with a homer and 6 RBI. Is tied for 6th in the SAL with 16 RBI.
RHP Matt Anderson: 10th-round pick in 2016 out of Morehead St (KY). Over his last two starts, has allowed one run on six hits and fanned 13 over 11 innings. Control can be an issue as he has walked four in two separate starts.
RHP Geoff Hartlieb: 29th-round pick in 2016 out of Lindenwood U. (MO). Has given up one earned run on seven hits in 11.2 innings covering seven outings this season. A groundball pitcher (3.17 GO/AO), the league is hitting .179 against him.
Note: Hickory OF Jose Almonte is on the DL with a leg injury. He is expected to be back within the week.
The Hickory Crawdads played just nine innings, but picked up two wins over the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies on Friday. The first was awarded Friday morning when the South Atlantic League office declared Hickory the winner of a suspended game Thursday night. The umpires suspended the game in the bottom of the eighth due to fog with the Crawdads leading 8-7.
The second win came when Hickory picked up six runs in the first and used that to again defeat the Fireflies 11-7.
Hickory (8-14) improved to 2-3 during the current homestand, which continues Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. Columbia (12-11) has lost three of four and five of its last seven games.
What happened on Thursday?:
Two expected stories converged at L.P. Frans Stadium on Thursday, but Mother Nature decided to make her presence felt and she played the ultimate role in the game’s outcome.
Former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow came to L.P. Frans Stadium and many of the 4,225 in attendance were there to see the football-turned-baseball player.
The Crawdads had their own story in the form of Duke University product and Rangers third-round pick Michael Matuella. A potential first-overall pick in the 2015 draft before suffering problems and then undergoing Tommy John surgery, the 6-6 right-hander made only his second pro appearance on Thursday. And he didn’t disappoint.
A persistent rainstorm delayed the start 97 minutes before the teams finally took the field.
After play resumed, Matuella used a fastball staying in the 94-96 mph range to work around a one-out double and fan the side. He struck out two more in the second – including a 94 mph pitch on the outside corner to catch Tebow looking – but Columbia touched him for a run. Reed Gamache led off the inning with a double to the wall. Two outs later, Desmond Lindsay’s broken-bat blooper went far enough to clear the infield and bring in Gamache.
Matuella threw 46 pitches, thirty for strikes before he was pulled after two innings.
The Crawdads took the lead for good in the third with six runs. Kevin Scott double to left and advanced to third on Yeyson Yrizarri’s single to left. Anderson Tejeda lofted a fly ball to center that Gene Cone tracked down and then lost. Scott scored and Tejeda reached on the error. Eric Jenkins walked to load the bases and they remained loaded after Franklin Rollin bounced to third, which turned into a force play at home. Ti’Quan Forbes saved the rally when he steered a bouncer past the bag at first for a two-run double. One out later, Yanio Perez lined a two-run single to center to complete the scoring.
Two Fireflies errors allowed Hickory to add two runs in the fifth. Rollin reached on an error and Forbes doubled him to third. With two outs in the inning, Perez bounced a single to short. Taveras scored on the play and Forbes rumbled home after Michael Paez’s throw got away at first.
Down 8-1, Columbia took a chunk out of its deficit in the sixth. Dash Winningham and Milton Ramos singled to lead off the inning. After Tebow popped to third, Jose Medina topped a bouncer to Anderson Tejeda at short. Tejeda fielded the ball and threw to third, but Forbes dropped the ball, allowing the runners to advance.
Sal Mendez walked Lindsay before Ali Sanchez singled in two more.
Mendez, who replaced Matuella in the third, pitched into the eighth before running out of gas. With fog drifted onto the field, Mendez hit Tebow with a pitch and Medina lined a single to center. After Matt Ball replaced Mendez, Lindsay clubbed a three-run homer to center that Leody Taveras never saw, nor responded to.
At that point, Crawdads manager Spike Owen got the umpires to stop play until the fog cleared 21 minutes later. When play again resumed, Jake Lemoine replaced Ball and Sanchez greeted him with a single. Sanchez moved to second on a wild pitch, but Lemoine stemmed the rally, the final out on a strikeout of Michael Paez.
Preston Scott reached on an infield hit before the umpires again halted play. After 20 more minutes, the umpires suspended play.
The next morning, the South Atlantic League office awarded the Crawdads the win. In an email sent to the teams, league president Eric Krupa stated:
“Last night’s game in Hickory was suspended in the bottom of the 8th inning due to fog with Hickory leading 8-7.
“Fog is a weather event, not a darkness event.
“Therefore, according to the Official Baseball Rule 7.02 (b)(4)(A), this game is an official/ regulation game with Hickory being declared the winner.”
“That was crazy,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “That fog rolled in and the umpires thought we could suspend it because of darkness, because fog is not in the rule book… It’s a win and obviously we’ll take it.”
What Happened Friday?:
The Crawdads bats picked up where they left off Thursday with a six-run first inning, aided by a key defensive miscue.
With one out, Rollin got a broken-bat single to leftfield, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Leody Taveras’ single to right. The key play of the inning came when a potential inning-ending double play blew up as the throw by Ramos at third short-hopped the bag at second and allowed both runners to advance. Ricky Valencia and Perez each had RBI singles before Yrizarri cleared the bases with a homer to left-center.
Tebow singled ahead of Lindsay’s second homer in two days to cut the Fireflies deficit to 6-2. They got another run back in the third on Winningham’s RBI single.
Perez’s two-run blast in the third pushed Hickory ahead 8-3.
An errant pickoff by Hickory’s Kaleb Fontenot led to Ramos’ RBI single in the fourth. However, Columbia repaid the favor in the bottom of the inning when pitcher Blake Taylor’s throw to third on a sacrifice attempt sailed into left field and allowed two runs to score.
The Crawdads eventually made it 11-4 before Paez’s two run homer in the seventh and Ramos’ RBI triple accounted for the final runs.
Crawdads bats dry out and charge up:
As a group Hickory scored 22 runs over 10 home games entering the season. The Crawdads have scored 19 the last two nights.
“It’s good to see the bats come alive and scoring some runs.” said Owen after Friday’s game. “We needed every one of them last night and tonight. It got a little closer than we wanted it to.”
In talking around the cage with hitting coach Kenny Hook, he mentioned the long layoff, due to the past week’s rainstorms, set some of the hitters back because of the inability to get onto the field. Owen agreed with that assessment.
“We went five consecutive days without doing anything on the field,” said Owen. “We did get some ground balls a couple of days ago, but with all the rain and the weather, it’s been tough at home. That’s really where you get your extra work in, not only hitting wise, but on the field, as well, with fundamental stuff. We just haven’t been able to do it because of the weather.”
One of the frustrations of the team has been the inability of hitters to take advantage of counts and situations when the hitters have the advantage. That has improved in recent days.
“We’ve had a lot better at bats the last couple of nights,” said Owen. “That’s all we’re looking for is quality at bats. They’re young and they’re chasing hits, which you can’t do in this game. You’ve just got to put a good at bat together and hit a ball hard somewhere. It’s young and they’re looking at averages and things, which is human nature and part of the game. But, they’ll get it.”
The Texas Rangers announced several moves today regarding the roster of the Hickory Crawdads. They are as follows.
Added to the Hickory roster:
RHP Michael Matuella, RHP Ismel Lopez, LHP Sal Mendez, C Alex Kowalczyk
Matuella was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Duke University. The 22-year-old was a potential first-round pick before suffering spondylosis, an issue involving vertebrae in the lower back, and then undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015. He had one appearance with Spokane in 2015, which lasted three innings before he was pulled due elbow tenderness.
Lopez signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013 from Carupano, Venezuela. The 22-year-old is making his stateside debut after pitching the last three seasons in the Dominican Summer League. There, he struck out 114 in 111.1 innings over 52 appearances out of the bullpen. He has been a heavy groundball pitcher with a GO/AO ration of 2.38 in his career. Opposing batters hit .262 against him.
Kowalczyk was drafted in the 12th round by the Rangers in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. The 23-year-old native of Landsdale, PA put up a .288/.331/.432 slash in 31 games for short-season Spokane. Defensively last year, he threw out 8 of 38 baserunners attempting to steal. He will likely split catching duties with Ricky Valencia.
Mendez’s addition is a paper move.
Going to extended spring:
LHP Christian Torres, C Isaias Quiroz, RHP Luke Lanphere, RHP Jonathan Hernandez
Torres posted a 3.86 ERA in six games over 9.1 innings. He struck out ten and walked three with 8 hits allowed. Had a couple of rough outings in the past week vs. West Virginia and at Kannapolis. Otherwise, he had four other scoreless outings, but for now, it was not enough. I’m guessing he’ll show up on the Spokane roster in June unless the need arises again for bullpen help at Hickory. The move leaves just CD Pelham as the lone lefty in the pen, as Sal Mendez appears to be the piggy-back option for Matuella.
Quiroz was 3-for-23 (.043) in seven games with the Crawdads. Had served as the backup to Valencia behind the plate, but with Kowalczyk on the roster that playing time has evaporated. I would think he’ll play in Arizona this summer.
Lanphere posted a 12.60 ERA and South Atlantic hit a robust .429 against the righty. A third trip to Spokane this summer appears to be in the cards for the 21-year-old.
Hernandez’s move is on paper and he is expected to make his next start on Tuesday.