I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.
The Augusta GreenJackets behind a strong start from pitcher Sam Coonrad shut down the Hickory Crawdads 3-1 Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The two teams split the four-game series with Hickory (56-37 overall, 12-13 second half) taking the first two games before the GreenJackets (46-48, 13-12) won the final two games.
The right-handed Coonrad (6-3) – currently the 27th-ranked prospect of the San Francisco Giants by mlb.com – struck out six and allowed just one unearned run over eight innings. He retired the first 14 batters before Jairo Beras legged out a chopper behind the mound. Coonrod needed only 92 pitches before turning the game over to Carlos Diaz, who needed only eight pitches to retire the side for his second save.
The GreenJackets scored all they needed in the fourth against Nick Gardewine (5-7). Aramis Garcia crushed his 14th homer of the season, a solo blast over the fence in left.
Jonah Arenado then singled to center and scored on Skyler Ewing’s double to the wall in center.
An odd series of sequences led to the GreenJackets final run of the game in the fifth. With one out, Richardo Rodriguez hit an 0-2 fastball from Kelvin Vasquez to right. Johneshwy Fargas squibbed a slow roller behind the mound. Second baseman Brallan Perez fielded the play and made the quick throw to first for the out with Rodriguez going to second. The next batter, Travious Relaford, hit a sharp comebacker to Vasquez, who deflected the ball to shortstop Juremi Profar. Relaford beat the play at first with Rodriguez coming all the way home to score.
Hickory’s lone run came after two were out in the eighth. Profar bounced a single just over the glove of Jonah Arenado at third and then scored when first baseman Chase Compton misplayed Rock Shoulders’ roller for an error.
Luke Tendler: Was the lone Crawdads hitter to square up Coonrad when he turned on a fastball and sent it to the rightfield corner. Had the best battle of the night with a 9-pitch AB in the second that ended in a flyout to center.
Scott Williams: Struck out three in the ninth, missing four bats – three on fastballs – in the inning. Pounded the strike zone at 94-96, struck out Compton on a slider.
Erik Swanson: Pitched a scoreless eighth inning, with a seeing-eye single to Jonah Arenado. Fastball 91-92 with a slider that Skyler Ewing tried to pull, which ended in a 5-3 grounder.
Juremi Profar: The second-straight, strong defense game. Showed a quick glove-to-hand transfer when he fielded a quick short-hop of the bat of Johneshhy Fargas and turned it into a 6-4-3 double play.
Lineup: A tough night for the lineup against Coonrad. Only three balls went to the outfield before Tendler’s rope in the eighth.
Nick Gardewine: The Crawdads right-hander actually had a groove at times. Lost command of the fastball briefly in the first, then settled in to a comfort level in the second and third. Garcia attacked a get-me-over fastball from Gardewine for the homer. Gardewine then left back-to-back sliders up that Arenado and Ewing punished.
Kelvin Vasquez: Threw 95-97 during his three innings of work. Let an 0-2 fastball catch the plate that Rodriguez dunked into right to set up the final insurance run.
Sam Coonrod: Methodically kept the Crawdads off balance throughout the night. Threw mostly 4-seamers in the opening innings that were 94-96, touching 98. The second time through the order was reserved for a two-seamer (91-93), or what Coonrod called a short-slider. Both pitches were kept down, which the Crawdads hitters – unable to time either pitch selection – beat into the ground. Coonrad offered a couple of sliders, but he didn’t really need to pull out much in the way of secondaries. Tendler saw a good many of the sliders in his second AB – a 9-pitch appearance that ended when he sent a 95 mph to center.
Coonrod finished with 92 pitches (65 strikes), but started to tire in the eighth as he started leaving pitches up.
Aramis Garcia: Crushed a fastball middle-in for the solo homer. Showed a willingness to take pitches the other way, as the Crawdads pitchers kept the ball away from him throughout the night.
Jonah Arenado: Made a couple of tough short-hop plays to keep Coonrod’s fledgling perfect-game bid alive. Spanked a slider up from Gardewine for a single and showed good speed coming around to score from first on Ewing’s double to right-center. Didn’t have the best luck at the plate this weekend, especially on Sunday when he lined hard to third and to the mound in back-to-back ABs. Showed quick hands throughout the series.
Coonrod when asked about using the two-seamer the second time through the order:
“I started thinking they might have been cheating a little bit with the fastball, so I threw a few more sliders.”
Coonrod when asked about whether he could’ve pitched the ninth.
“I was definitely hoping to get through the ninth, but whatever they say is best.”
Coonrod on Beras’ infield single in the fifth that ended a possible perfect-game bid.
“It aggravated me a little bit but it’s like you’ve got to move on.”
Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale on Coonrod:
“He was pretty good, but we didn’t really help ourselves or come out. It didn’t seem like we came out ready to play, to be honest. Not a lot of energy tonight. It didn’t look like we had a lot of fight, to be honest. We kind of challenged them there after the game moving forward. Obviously, he did have good stuff going on and that made it for easy work when we didn’t put up much of a fight.”
Sunday’s game (July 19 vs. Augusta) marked the two-thirds point of the South Atlantic League season for the Hickory Crawdads and the story of 2015 has been the pitching staff. Five starting pitchers and a reliever claimed spots on the South Atlantic League’s all-star team and the group has a chance to rewrite the Crawdads record book.
With the final 46 games of the season still left to be played – plus the playoffs – the Crawdads have the potential to set single-season records in fewest hits, runs, earned runs, and homers allowed, as well as in ERA and WHIP.
Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark was in Hickory this week to fill in for Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale during his vacation. Clark had an extended, first-hand look at most of the pitching staff during his visit and he sat down with me to give an assessment of several individual pitchers.
First I just want to get just an overview. We are almost two-thirds of the way through the season and this has been one of the better pitching staffs we’ve had here. Let me first get your overall impression from what you’ve seen.
Clark: I think from the experience level that these guys have right now, coming into pro ball, most of them are one to two-year starters, to be able to do what they’ve done to this point, I think the biggest accomplishment to me is to make every start. That’s been a goal of ours to see from start to finish them being healthy. We’ve got two or three guys in the rotation who haven’t been able to do that in the past. So I think first and foremost, that’s our main goal.
Let me ask first about the guy that wasn’t talked about a lot coming in – seeing him pitch, I don’t know why – and that’s Ariel Jurado. Pretty much from day one he’s six, seven innings when he’s started. He kept down the opposition and has developed some pitches along the way.
Clark: I think in Jurado’s case, obviously, I’ve got to admit I didn’t see the high ceiling leaving instructs last year. Some of our pitching coaches were talking about changing a little bit on his arm slot and trying to get more of a run or a sink to his fastball. I think he took that in the winter and came back to spring training and was very impressive.
He had a very good spring training, so he earned his right to get here. Then from that point on I think just the confidence level that he’s had. Oscar Marin has done a good job of trying to keep him continue to go forward. A lot of times guys, especially young pitchers that jump out record wise, they look at their stats. We throw out new competitions for him and his mind to keep that cultivating. That has been a big plus for him.
Yohander Mendez and Jurado are in the tandem right now. Mendez started the season in the bullpen and I know the plan was to get him back into the rotation at some point. I know a lot of the focus with him has been to keep him healthy.
Clark: Last year we only had him for 31 innings and we had to shut him down. Our goal for this year was to get him to around the 90-inning mark. We see Mendez as a high-ceiling starter. He has a good feel for all three of his pitches. Sometimes a pitcher like that can become bored on the mound. So, just keeping those small, short-term challenges for Mendy has been the thing for him mindset wise, versus just looking at the results all the time.
The two of them have gone in tandem the last four or five starts. Is there a a point where they will break back out as individual spots? I know with Mendez you want to build up the innings and do you see that with Jurado as well?
Clark: Both of them, we’ve got to control their innings. You won’t see them be by themselves, other than the tandem, until the playoffs. We’ll keep them that way. We’re committed to keeping this rotation together.
We’ve tried to build this rotation how we have in the past with a couple of different rotations that’s been here to kind of keep five or six guys together, as they go through the system, I think competing against each other. But to answer the question of those two, I think they’ll have to stay on those things just from the innings standpoint.
Let me get an update on Luis Ortiz’s progress after being out the past month.
Clark: He went to Dr. (Keith) Meistner, our team doctor today. He should be back. We got good reports from him. We didn’t think it was nothing severe in anyway. We’re going to start seeing him do his throwing program next week and he’s going to start doing bullpens. So, we’re probably looking to see him realistically sometime in mid-August.
Stuff wise, for the most part, he looked really good.
Clark: Obviously, he’s got stuff. He was drafted in the first round for a reason. Our job is to not worry about stuff, but to cultivate all the maturity things that goes in to being a starting pitcher at a high level. So that’s the process that he’s going through. He’s doing a lot better in his workouts.
He’s doing a lot better, really, just paying attention to detail that goes into it. Obviously, we have a high ceiling for Luis. We think a lot of Luis. It’s just the process that he and a lot of guys have to go through.
Collin Wiles. Everyone I’ve talked to raved about his off-season work and how he put it into practice this year. What sort of challenges does he have left at this level before he moves up? Or has he shown you that he’s about ready?
Clark: In some ways, yes he has. I go back to Collin finally committed to having ownership of his career. I think it started there. I don’t think there was no one that was involved other than Collin.
Going forward, I do see sometimes, do we challenge Collin and send him to High Desert? I think it goes back to the philosophy of what we build the pitching rotations around, competing against each other more than the opposition. So we’ve decided to keep those same six guys together. Could he go? Yes, he probably could, but I think long term it allows him to compete against this team.
Let me ask you about a couple of guys of interest to me. Scott Williams was a guy that didn’t pitch a lot in college. He had trouble hitting the strike zone last year and a little bit at the start this year. Since early June, he’s found a groove and found the plate. He seems more comfortable with the off-speed pitches. Your view on him.
He’s a converted guy, who was a position player in college. So, anytime you convert someone it’s usually a year process before you start seeing more fluidity as a pitcher. Last year, he kind of threw like a position player.
I think Oscar’s done a good job as far as getting his hands more relaxed on the mound and getting his body in a better position, and then obviously confidence and results. When you have good results, confidence builds it, and it continues to go for him.
Yesterday, I was very impressed with him. More than anything, yes I saw the velocity, but I saw the easiness of the delivery. It wasn’t compared to last year, where I thought he forced a lot of things on the mound and tried to muscle the ball there, versus allowing his arm to carry the ball.
Let me ask you about Cody Buckel and his ups and downs. I know it’s been a long process. He’ll have some good days and he’ll have some not good days. Where do you see him in that process?
We all know Cody and he had a lot of success at an early age. Sometimes, that’s a fault, because we push him and he goes to big league camp as a 19-year-old and flies through A ball and AA.
Cody’s in a situation right now where I’m more concerned with how Cody is as a person. I focus on those things with Cody. We don’t try to focus on what he’s doing on the mound. Cody’s an outstanding person, a young man that’s got a lot of upside in whatever he does after baseball. So, I think we focus more on that with him right now and try to get some of the attention off of him, as far as being a pitcher, but just being an everyday person.
You’ve got a couple of guys sent here in Erik Swanson and Shane McClain. McClain seems to be a guy that can be used in various roles. Swanson at the back end can throw some heat. What are they here to work on?
Swanson, we held him back coming out of spring training. I see him as a starter eventually, so you’ll probably see him the next six weeks start building into more of a starter role, as we do some different things with some of the starters, maybe giving some guys some breaks. I do like his fastball. He does have to do some things to keep himself in top shape.
I think McClain is a guy who had a very good spring. He signed as a free agent last year after the draft. We felt like maybe we could push him a little bit to High Desert. Probably looking back, and I have told Shane this, we should have started him at Hickory and let him get his feet wet before we sent him going forward. So I take the blame for that more than anything. We can use Shane in a lot of different roles. He started for us in High Desert for a couple of spot starts. He can give his length and multiple innings, back-to-back days. So, he’s a very versatile pitcher.
Austin Pettibone has been interesting coming into the rotation. I know he started for you before. He can throw low to mid-90s and he’s talked about developing his changeup. What can you say about his development?
Austin was a starter in college. Coming out of spring training, you can only send six starters to a full-season club, so we had him starting in extended knowing that at some point that we were going to send him here. We just had to find the right time.
I see him as a sinkerballer, groundball type guy, He’s a mature guy. He’s a mature college pitcher. So, we kind of expect some of these things to happen here. We’re just now getting him stretched out. Really, in my mind, it’s a little early to make a decision on Austin whether he is going to the bullpen or if he is going to be a starter.
Let me ask you of one other guy and that’s Nick Gardewine. Another guy, like Pettibone, who started in the bullpen before coming to the rotation. He’s had some ups-and-downs, but had a nice last outing.
Nicky was a guy coming out of spring training who got hampered with a foot issue. So, we brought him here out of the bullpen. He was building up as a starter, so I felt like he got behind the eight ball there for about the first month. Nicky, for me, if his slider is on, he’s going to go deep in the game. He’s got to be able to have a better feel for his change. Until he can do that, I feel like that he, right now, is a two-pitch pitcher from what I saw a couple of days ago. He knows that and that’s things that he’s got to work on.
I still think Nicky’s a young guy – he’s a little older than most of the starters here – but when we get some innings on him, I foresee him down the road. Could he be a starter? Yes. Could he go into the bullpen? There’s a lot of options there because he does have a good fastball.
This year has been the first year, I can recall, of having a six-man rotation, with the idea that you’re not going to skip starts in the middle of the year like what has happened in the past. Has that gotten the results that you were looking for, as far as keeping guys healthy for the year?
We hope so. I don’t want to speak too quick on it because we’re doing it here and High Desert and Spokane. We’re doing it at all our lower levels. I’ve seen, as far as our velocity goes, more consistent velocity going across the board.
Typically in a five-man rotation at the lower levels, you hit June and August, you start seeing velocity drop. So, I haven’t seen the drastic drop as I have in the past. So, that’s one thing. Obviously being healthy, we’re seeing good signs of that. There’s a lot of positives to it. I think if you ask me the same question when the season’s complete and we start getting more concrete data, I might have a different opinion about it. As of right now, I like the flow of it. I like what I’m hearing from the pitchers and from the pitching coaches.
I’ve got to ask you about Brett Martin. He had a rough time in his last outing, but was obviously very sharp tonight (July 16 vs. Greensboro). He talked about having to stay within himself to make things work for him.
I thought he showed stuff early. Then after his stuff early, around the fifth inning he had to work himself out of some jams. I thought Martin’s fastball obviously was probably 93-95 tonight. His breaking ball for me was probably the least pitch of the secondaries. He tended to pitch to his changeup.
Brett’s got a very high ceiling. What I don’t think a lot of people understand with Brett is that you don’t teach the things that Brett has and he’s got a lot of God-given talent.
To me, I was more pleased to see him finish the seventh. I went out there to basically talk to him and see where he was at. He said he wanted to finish the seventh, and so I thought it was a huge development for him.
Seemingly, baseball is a simple game to understand and follow. He who has the ability to perform in a superior manner on the field will succeed in the game. Yet, how a player gains that superiority is done in a vastly different manner in baseball than it is in other sports.
Generally in football, if you are physically strong and tough, and/or can run quickly, you are more likely to succeed. In basketball, athletic ability – the running and jumping and agility – is essential. Soccer, hockey, track and field, you name it, superiority in the physical realm is necessary for success.
While it helps to have the physical tools – and scouts make a nice living finding players with athletic tools to play the game at a high level – there is the mental side of the game that cannot be ignored. In many ways, the success of a baseball player’s career is tied to the ability to develop the mental tools to enable the physical tools to play out. That development is first cultivated in places like Hickory.
It was in my first 140-game season with a minor league front office in 2005 that I learned the phrase, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Physically that’s true – tarp pulls will teach that to you quickly – but I learned mentally that’s true when you close out the final day of nine-straight, 17-hour days, and customers are unhappy and don’t really care at 10:30 p.m. that you arrived at 8 that morning for a tarp pull and your only food was a hot dog from concessions.
But the effects of the mental side of the game on player performance never really crossed my mind until I began covering the Hickory Crawdads in 2010.
It’s not just the physical effects played out on weary-eyed athletes, who pull into the clubhouse just a few hours after coming home at 6 a.m. from an overnight bus trip… after losing a game… during which some poor soul probably had a coach, manager, rover, teammate chew on them for some sin committed on the field… in a game that expects success despite the overwhelming odds of failure… And they do it up to 30 straight days without a day off.
With the physically-draining weariness, there comes the stresses of life: making ends meet at home… wondering about families and girlfriends miles away… facing sudden upheaval and uprooting after a promotion, demotion or trade – or a release…worrying about doing enough to stay on the team… earning the respect of teammates.
Many of the players who come to Hickory deal with the extended baseball season for the first time. With all of the stresses that are listed above, still they play 140 games in 152 days and they are expected to perform well.
My epiphany moment in this came when I interviewed pitcher Neil Ramirez – now with the Chicago Cubs – back in the summer of 2010. Ramirez, the first round pick of the Rangers in 2007, came to the Crawdads in 2009. The former high school player of the year in Virginia came to Hickory with worlds of ability. But with control issues, much of that time he was a hittable pitcher that searched in vain for the magic he once had over hitters. Ramirez returned in 2010 and it was more of the same until he found a groove over the second half of the season and things clicked.
As I asked and walked through his struggles, it suddenly dawned on me to ask this question:
“Is this game more mental than you thought it would be when you were drafted?”
Ramirez’s answer was interesting to me:
“Yeah! Unbelievably more mental than I thought it would be. Everybody talks about it before you get drafted; it’s the 90% mental, 10% physical sort of thing.
You think that, oh, my ability will speak for itself. It doesn’t matter whether you throw 95, or 87, like Greg Maddux did, and he was successful. That’s because they was so headstrong mentally. They knew what they wanted to do with the pitch and they knew they were going to execute it.
That takes a mentally strong person to go about your business the right way. Mentally, it’s tough, but I think that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes baseball such a great game.”
I thought of Neil as I glanced through a series of interviews I did with this crop of players over the past week – two pitchers and two hitters. The key word that popped up over and over again was confidence.
Eight games ago, Jose Cardona was struggling as a number-nine hitter. One week later, he’s at the top of the order due to an injury to Michael De Leon and suddenly he’s on a 16-for-30 streak. He talked of his mindset and how confident he felt at the plate. His tools and routine hasn’t changed, just the results.
A week ago, the collective lineup looked limp during a 1-5 stretch. Suddenly, they have 38 runs in four games and double-digit hit totals in five straight. Cardona talked about how much confidence that team has right now at the plate.
A month ago, Luke Tendler struggled to hit a fastball. A homer in the all-star game last month seemingly set him afire and now pitchers can’t get a fastball by him. In several interviews I’ve done with Luke, he’s harped on trusting his abilities and staying the course and it will succeed. It’s easy to do that when you are hitting .320, harder to do so at .220. To his credit, he has seen the process through.
Brett Martin talked about having the confidence to throw a changeup at any point in the count. Last year, he was afraid to throw it.
Nick Gardewine talked of the confidence to challenge the same lineup that battered him around six days prior.
The players that come to Hickory (or any A-ball team) have the ability to do their assigned tasks on the field: hit a fastball, learn and throw a new pitch, etc. They wouldn’t be here without those pure baseball abilities. But like Ramirez said, it’s the ability to have confidence in what they can do, even in the face of adversity that will set them apart down the road.
If you want to figure out the players that will go on to bigger and better things, look at how they fail, in a game of failure. It’s easy to stand tall in baseball when things are going well. But those who stand tall while getting shelled – which happens in baseball often – and shake it off prior to the next outing or at bat, those are likely the players to look for in the multi-tiered stadiums at a later time.
The Hickory Crawdads pecked away at the Greensboro Grasshoppers for 14 hits in picking up an 11-4 win Tuesday night to start a three-game series.
The 11 runs tied a season high with all nine hitters picking up one hit, five of them with two. All but Luke Tendler scored a run, with Tendler chipping in an RBI.
Hickory improves to 53-34 overall (9-10 second half) and 29-15 at home, both the best marks in the SAL. Greensboro is now 34-54 overall, 5-14 in the second half, and 13-32 on the road- all three the worst in the circuit.
The Crawdads took advantage of a Grasshopper misplay in the field to score three in the first. After starter Ernesto Franco sandwiched walks to Jose Cardona and Josh Morgan around an out, Jose Cardona lofted a high popup to shallow left-center. Two outfielders and the ‘Hoppers shortstop converged, but the ball fell amongst the trio. SS Justin Twine eventually picked up the ball, but missed an opportunity to record a force play and left the bases loaded. Tendler’s sacrifice fly into the RF corner moved up all three runners before Jairo Beras got enough on a low fastball to get it through the infield for a two-run single.
Greensboro cut it to 3-2 in the third as Arturo Rodriguez singled with two outs and came around on K.J. Woods’ homer to right.
The game blew up on the Grasshoppers in the fourth when Hickory scored six times. Beras lead off the inning with a first-pitch homer to left. Hickory then put together a series of bloopers and soft liners for the remaining runs. Juremi Profar floated an opposite-field, soft liner to right followed by a bloop to left by Rock Shoulders. Brallan Perez then loaded the bases as he beat out a bunt up the third base line.
Cardona’s sacrifice fly sent in Profar before Carlos Arroyo’s blooper along the left field line fell in and scored Shoulders. A balk by Franco places runners at second and third from where both scored when Morgan steered a single through the drawn-in infield. A error in left by Austen Smith moved Morgan to second and he scored when Twine’s wild throw on a Trevino grounder skipped away from first to make it 9-2.
A passed ball brought in Mason Davis in the fifth, but the Crawdads responded with two more in bottom of the inning on run-scoring singles by Arroyo and Morgan.
Davis doubled and scored in the seventh to account for the final margin.
Nick Gardewine (5-6) was the recipient of the Crawdads offensive output in the win. He allowed three runs on six hits over a season-high of six innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. Ricardo Rodriguez allowed the remaining run before settling down over the final three scoreless innings.
The lineup: 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position, 4-for-4 plus two sac flies with runners at third. Hitting coach Francisco Matos credited the day off Monday with clearing everyone’s heads. He said the recent nine-day trip that ended Sunday felt like a month-long trip.
Carlos Arroyo: Went 2-for-5 in the game and also made a couple of key plays in the field. With two on in the second, Mason Davis hit a soft, sinking liner that Arroyo charged and caught just before the ball hit the dirt to close the innings.
With a runner on first in the fourth, Taylor Munden lofted a blooper into shallow right-center. Arroyo, who had moved to cover the bag on a steal attempt, reversed course. He was unable to make the catch, but Arroyo turned and fired a strike to Josh Morgan at second for the force play. The next batter Brian Schales also popped a blooper to short right. Arroyo cut back to his left, then after making the catch in front of right fielder Jairo Beras, he threw out Munden retreating to first for a double play.
Finally, the sixth, Twine sent a slow roller to second that Arroyo charged quickly, fielded at the cut of the grass and fired a quick throw to first.
Jairo Beras: Hit a tough 1-2 fastball (95 mph) down in the zone up the middle just past Twine’s glove. In the fourth, Beras smacked a first-pitch, get-it-over fastball out to left.
Josh Morgan: Two hits, a walk, two runs and three RBI. Saw 17 pitches in first three plate appearances, 25 for the game. In the fifth, he fought through a 7-pitch AB before getting enough on a change of the two-run single.
Luke Tendler: 1-4, 2B, RBI- He just missed a grand slam on a change in the first, then roped a slider into the RF corner for a double in the sixth
Jose Cardona: Sitting at the top of the order, he went 2-for-3, with a sac fly, scored twice and knocked in two. The lone out came on a liner to center in the seventh.
Nick Gardewine: Struggled at time to put away hitters on two-strike counts and at two outs in the inning, Gardewine still pushed through 98 pitches (63 strikes). He started with first-pitch strikes to 18 of 26 hitters. Pounded the strike zone low and away to right-handed hitters to good effect, first with fastballs (92-94), then brought in his slider on the second time through the lineup. Control of his change was iffy at times, and it cost him with Woods crushed a high offering to right for the homer.
Jose Trevino: Bloop single aside – and arguably could’ve had a second hit credited on the error charged to Twine in the fifth – he’s pulling a good many outside pitches and appeared to miss a couple of fastballs middle-in during a plate appearance in the sixth.
Greensboro: Arguably the poorest effort displayed by a visiting team this season. Team had little life in the field. Mason Davis appeared to give up on Morgan’s line single in the fifth, and then after fielding it sent a throw home that went well up the line at third.
The failure to get an out on a catch or a force in the first cost them three runs. No one appeared to communicate with Twine, who had his back turned to the play.
A sloppy play by Austen Smith in left allowed Morgan to move to second before he scored in the fourth.
Arturo Rodriguez: The SAL all-star punished a couple of mistakes by Crawdads pitching. He kept the third alive by slapping an 0-2 high slider to right, which lead to Woods homer. In the seventh, it was an 0-2 hanging curve by Ricardo Rodriguez that was drilled to right for an RBI.
The Hickory Crawdads (52-34 overall, 8-10 second half) entertain the Greensboro Grasshoppers (34-53, 5-13) for the second time and final time this season at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Probables (Greensboro/ Hickory):
Tuesday: Enderson Franco (RH, 0-0, 1.50 ERA) and Nick Gardewine (RH, 4-6, 4.50)
Wednesday: Tyler Kolek (RH, 4-6, 4.69) and Cody Buckel (RH, 0-3, 2.65)
Thursday: Luis Castillo (RH, 4-3, 2.93) and Brett Martin (LH, 3-4, 3.39)
Recent Series History:
Hickory is 8-2 against the Grasshoppers in 2015, which includes a 3-0 series sweep at home back in May. Since the Texas Rangers- Crawdads affiliation began in 2009, the Greensboro holds a 50-48 lead in the series with the Crawdads having a 25-22 advantage at home.
Entering the Series – Hickory:
The Crawdads limp home after losing five of six to cap a season-high, nine-game road trip. Four of the losses came in a five-game series at Lakewood, N.J. During the 1-5 stretch, the opposition banged out 50 hits and scored 32 runs.
Hickory owns the South Atlantic League’s best record and the best home record (28-15).
The Crawdads lead the SAL with a 2.90 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and have given up the fewest hits, runs and earned runs in the league.
At the plate, Hickory holds the top spot in the SAL with 63 home runs. They are third in slugging pct. (.383) and total bases.
In the field, the Crawdads remain at the top of the SAL in fielding pct, having committed the fewest errors and turning the most double plays.
Entering the Series – Greensboro:
After losing three of four to Hickory last weekend, the Grasshoppers dropped three of five to West Virginia to close out a nine-game home stand. Greensboro has the worst overall record in the SAL, as well as the worst road record (13-31). The Grasshoppers have won back-to-back road games just three times this season and won just two series on the road
On the mound, the Grasshoppers are last in the SAL in ERA (4.22) and WHIP 1.42.
At the plate, Greensboro is last in the SAL in batting avg. (224), OBP (.304), OPS (.651), runs scored, hits, triples and RBI. The Grasshoppers are next to last in walks and 12th out of 14 teams in total bases.
Players to watch- Hickory:
SP Nick Gardewine: Has been roughed up in his three starts since the all-star break (7.04 ERA). The Grasshoppers touched him for three homers in his last start a week ago. SAL hitters are batting .310 against him as a starter and he has lasted past five innings just once.
SP Cody Buckel: The roller-coaster ride continues for the hurler this season. After a three-hitter over six shutout innings against Greenville, he walked four and allowed four hits in five innings at Lakewood. The strikeouts, though, have begun to pile up with 12 over his last 11 innings.
SP Brett Martin: Had his shortest outing of the season in his last start at Lakewood (1.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB).
RP Scott Williams: Has become more viable in the late innings in recent weeks. Since June 6, Williams has give up two runs (both solo homers) on nine base runners and struck out 18 over 13.1 innings. After six walks over his first four outings, he has given up just two in ten games since.
OF Luke Tendler: Continues to rake in the 17 games since the all-star break. Posting a slash line of 328/.373/.590, Tendler has three 3-hit games in that stretch. In SAL top-ten rankings, he is fifth in total bases, tied for seventh in RBI and doubles, and tied for eighth with 8 homers.
OF Jose Cardona: Has hits in four straight games and multi-hit games in three straight. Is currently the lone player in the lineup with double-digits in steals with 16 of the team’s 57 for the season.
2B Carlos Arroyo: Arguably the most-consistent hitter in the lineup at the moment, Arroyo has reached base in eight straight and 12 of the last 13 games. He has not put up back-to-back hitless games since his first two games upon joining the Crawdads. Arroyo has 13 multi-hit games in his last 27 outings.
Players to watch- Greensboro:
SP Enderson Franco: Acquired by the Marlins in June as part of a bonus-slot deal with Tampa Bay. He was 5-6 with a 3.89 ERA at the Rays’ low-A affiliate at Bowling Green, Ky. Franco allowed a run on three hits over six innings against West Virginia.
SP Tyler Kolek: The Marlins first-round pick (second overall) in 2014 is currently the club’s top prospect and the 8th best right-handed pitching prospect in the minors. He has struggled in his first full season (4.69 ERA/ 1.48 WHIP), especially with control. Kolek has 32 walk and hit seven batters in 71 innings with only 45 Ks. Hickory roughed him up for four earned runs on seven hits over four innings on July 4.
LF Austen Smith: One of three players to start for the Northern Division in the SAL All-Star Game, he has been tough on Hickory pitching (.280/.419/.640) this season. Against the league, he is second in homers (13), eighth in walks and 10th in slugging (.460). Smith is also susceptible to the strikeouts with 90 in 301 plate appearances.
1B KJ Woods: The starting DH in the All-Star game has also been a thorn in the side of the Crawdads, hitting .324 with five extra base hits. The Ft. Mill, S.C. native is batting .241 in July, but has homered twice against the Crawdads. He is sixth in the SAL in slugging (.469)
C Arturo Rodriguez: The starting catcher for the Northern Division has three homers in ten games against the Crawdads.
In one of the weirder games of the season, the Hickory Crawdads rallied twice late to steal a 4-3 win over the Greenville (SC) Drive at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Stymied in the first seven innings, the Crawdads scored single runs in the eighth and ninth to tie it. After falling behind again in the tenth, Greenville contributed to its own demise in the game with a “non-error” botched double play and a passed ball that factored into the outcome. Rock Shoulders force play tied it in the ninth and his blooper scored the tying and winning runs in the tenth.
The game had two pitchers pinch-running and a third in the on-deck circle during the final two innings.
It looked like a ho-hum night for the Crawdads offense as Drive starter Reed Reilley (seventh round, 2014 out of Cal-Poly San Louis Obispo) shut down the offense. He allowed four hits and walked one over 6.2 scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Drive scored twice in the fourth on back-to-back RBI doubles by Javier Guerra and Joseph Monge against starter Nick Gardewine.
The Crawdads got a run back in the eighth when Josh Morgan singled in Jose Cardona.
In the ninth, Luke Tendler tripled to start the inning. After Jonathan Meyer was hit by a pitch – and pinch-ran for by Chris Dula – Rock Shoulders hit a grounder deep into the hole a second for a force play that allowed Tendler to score. Juremi Profar’s single put runners on the corners, but Kuehl McEachern got Jose Cardona to fly out.
Rafael Devers put the Drive ahead in the tenth with a solo homer to right off Scott Williams.
Then, things got strange in the bottom of the inning. Josh Morgan greeted reliever Ryan Harris with an opposite field single to right. Jairo Beras struck out and Jose Trevino hit into what should have been a game-ending double play. However, shortstop Javier Guerra botched the grounder and had to settle for a lone out at first. A passed ball by David Sopilka put Morgan at third. With pitcher Scott Williams on deck (the DH was killed when Meyer left the game and Trevino was inserted behind the plate), Greenville chose to walk Tendler intentionally to get to Williams.
However, Michael De Leon – who did not start because of a sore quad – pinch-hit and took a four-pitch walk. Shoulders then worked an 0-2 even before hitting a blooper into shallow left. A trio of Drive players chased it down before Devers got to the ball for what looked like a game-ending, over-the-shoulder catch. However, the ball hit off of Devers glove for a single that scored two runs to give Hickory the win.
Rock Shoulders: Both the game-tying and game-winning at-bats came out of 0-2 counts. In the ninth, he caught enough of an 0-2 fastball to steer it well to the left of second baseman Yoan Moncada, who fielded cleanly and threw to second for an out. In the tenth, he ignored a fastball and a change just off the outside corner and then looped a fastball opposite field to left.
Kelvin Vasquez: Threw his second-straight solid outing of the homestand Wednesday. Needed only 45 pitches to complete 3.2 solid innings (2 hits, 1 BB, 4 K). Fastball ran 96-98, but it was the ability to throw offspeed pitches for strikes that set him apart for the second straight outing. Entered the game in the fifth with the bases loaded and one out. Stuck out Mike Meyers on a 96 heater up, then got Nick Longhi to pop up a curveball. He came back in the sixth and got back-to-back Ks on sliders. Missed four bats (by my count) on either curves or sliders, six on fastballs.
Scott Williams: Homer aside in the tenth (on a slider), he’s pitching with more confidence in attacking the strike zone. He is able to throw the slider for called strikes, or just off the plate enough to get hitters to chase. His fastball is ranging 94-96 with good movement.
Josh Morgan: Appeared to make a mid-game adjustment that paid off in the later innings. In the first, he pulled an outside fastball for a 6-3 grounder. In the third, he missed a fastball away for a strikeout and in the sixth it was a breaking ball away that did him in. But in the eighth, he slapped a McEachern fastball away into right for an RBI single. In the 10th, another fastball away that was taken up the middle to start the final rally.
Corey Ragsdale: While low-A games are seemingly devoid of strategy much of the time, he took a chance get the winning run across in the ninth. With his only two bench players (Michael De Leon and Eduard Pinto) nursing leg injuries, Ragsdale sent in pitcher Chris Dula (who was a batting champion in college) to pinch-run for the slow-footed Jonathan Meyer at first. This happened despite the fact that the other catcher, Jose Trevino, was the DH. Hickory tied the game in the ninth, but stranded the go-ahead runner at third. When Tendler came up in the tenth with two outs and a runner on third, Ragsdale sent Williams – the pitcher – to the on-deck circle. Greenville called the bluff and intentionally walked Tendler. De Leon came in to hit and never saw a strike in loading the bases with a walk. Accentuating that perhaps De Leon could not run well, Ragsdale sent in Joe Filomeno to pinch-run for De Leon. Shoulders followed with the single.
Jairo Beras: A tough night at the plate after sitting out a game for not running out a fly ball in Monday’s game. Sliders away were the culprit for his three strikeouts. However, on the two comebackers he hit, Beras noticeably busted tail down the line and made both plays close.
Two-strike counts: The inability for both sides to close out hitters was costly. McEachern allowed Shoulders to get enough on an 0-2 fastball to pull it deep in the hole at second and allow the run to score. Shoulders also battled out of an 0-2 hole to get the game-winning bloop hit.
Crawdads starter Nick Gardewine had an especially hard time closing out hitters. Guerra saw ten pitches after starting 1-2 on his AB in the second. On a six-pitch AB in the fourth Guerra finally got a fastball he could handle and sent it into the RCF gap for an RBI double to score Meyers, who had started the inning with a single on an 0-2 fastball. Devers chased Gardewine with a sharp single on a 1-2 change. Gardewine had a 93-95 fastball much of the night that was mixed in with sliders and changes. But many of the pitches were on the outside corner to RH hitters, who eventually were able sit on the pitches and hit them opposite field. All four hits by RH hitters were liners to RCF or RF. Gardewine needed 85 pitches (65 strikes) to get 11 outs.
Devers homer against Williams was on a 1-2 slider that caught a lot of the plate.
Reed Reilly: Not a high-velocity pitcher (sat 89 much of the night) but located the fastball around the plate and mixed in his breaking balls well enough to throw off the Crawdads timing. Mainly stayed away from hitters, but threw enough inside to keep them honest. Only Profar and Meyer really squared anything solid against him.
Javier Guerra: Had a good night at the plate with the long ABs against Gardewine. Drilled a first-pitch 98 mph heater from Vasquez for a single in the eighth and another sharp grounder to first in the 10th. However, a botched double play in the tenth kept the inning alive.
In a see-saw affair, the Savannah Sand Gnats continually answered the Crawdads throughout the night and took an 8-6 win at L.P. Frans on Friday night.
Savannah (34-27) won its tenth in a row and stayed tied with Greenville (S.C.) atop the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division chase. The Drive defeated Rome 10-8.
Despite the loss, the Crawdads (38-22) held onto a 4 ½ game lead over West Virginia, as the Power dropped a 5-4 decision at home to Augusta.
The Crawdads scored twice in the first to take the early lead against starter Scarlyn Reyes. Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Morgan both walked. After Eduard Pinto’s bounce out moved them up 90 feet, Jose Trevino hit a dribbler up the first base line that Reyes ran past as he attempted to cover first. Kiner-Falefa scored on the play with Morgan going to third. A walk to Marcus Greene reloaded the bases with one out before Jairo Beras’ grounder to third scored Morgan.
However, in what turned out to be the theme for the night, Savannah answered in the next half inning. In the second, against starter Nick Gardewine John Leroux singled and scored on John Mora’s triple. One out later, Thomas Nido slapped a liner to left to score Mora.
The Sand Gnats retook the lead in the third as Jonathan Johnson (3-5) tripled just under the glove of Tripp Martin at first and scored on a single by Luis Guillorme (2-4).
Trevino’s homer (8) in the third tied it at three, but an error on a pickoff attempt at second by Gardewine lead to a run as J.C. Rodriguez scored from third on a ball in the dirt when Thomas Nido struck out.
Hickory again tied it in the fourth when Tripp Martin (2-4) doubled and was joined on the bases after Jose Cardona was hit by a pitch. A wild pitch advanced both the runners and Martin scored on Kiner-Falefa’s fielder’s choice However, the promising inning ended with Cardona was thrown out at third on the play.
With Kelvin Vasquez replacing Gardewine in the fifth, a passed ball by Greene led to a run in the fifth for Savannah as, Wuilmer Becerra scored on Leroux’s single to make it 5-4.
The Crawdads took what turned out to be their last lead of the night in the sixth when Martin crushed a hanging curveball for a two-run homer (8).
The Sand Gnats answered for the last time in the seventh. Johnson crushed a Vasquez (3-2) fastball over the fence in right for his second homer of the season. After Guillorme singled hard to left, Becerra smacked a two-run shot (8) to right for what turned out to be the final margin.
Paul Paez gave up one hit over two relief innings and Jimmy Duff retired the side on ten pitches in the ninth for his fifth save.
*Jose Trevino continued a solid homestand with an RBI single and a homer. He’s now hit in six straight (8-for-22) with three extra-base hits, three runs scored and seven RBI. Trevino’s locked in on the fastball at the moment, and for the most part seeing breaking balls well by either letting them go, or spoiling them.
**Tripp Martin took out the first curveball of the game from Reyes in the sixth – a hanger that gave the Crawdads their last lead of the game at 6-5. He also drove a fastball up and away to the wall in right-center field and was robbed of a hit earlier in the second.
**Joe Filomeno retired all nine batters he faced over the final three innings. Showed a good sinking fastball (91-93) with a slider that had some bite and a change that stayed down. Recorded five groundouts and K’d two.
** Eduard Pinto did his job and it saved a run in the first. Johnson stole third with relative ease. When the throw from catcher Marcus Greene went into left, Pinto had already charged in from left to back up the play. The throw went straight the Pinto in shallow left and Johnson had to hold at third.
**One of the uglier games the Crawdads have played in awhile. Had Reyes on the ropes early, but let him off the hook. Played a bit loose on the bases and got burned. Gave away bases. Unable to hold leads, etc. etc. The post-game locker room was not a happy place following.
**Base running miscues took the Crawdads out of a potential big inning in the fourth With one out and a runner on second and third. Kiner-Falefa hit a roller into the hole at short. Martin easily scored from third, but with no play at first, Guillorme was able to catch Cardona – who had the play in front of him – trying to advance to third. Kiner-Falefa was then caught trying to advance to second on a pitch in the dirt that stayed within a couple of feet of the catcher Thomas Nido, who collected the easy out at second. Pinto singled with two outs in the seventh, but was easily picked off by lefty reliever Paul Paez. It turned out to be the last hope for the ‘Dads in the game.
**Jairo Beras, who was solidly on the ball all night Thursday, was anything but on Friday. Of his three Ks, two came on sliders and the final one was looking at an 89 mph fastball down the middle.
**Nick Gardewine had little consistency with his breaking pitches and paid the price as the Sand Gnats hitters waited for a fastball they could handle and slapped it around the field. Gardewine gave up nine hits, seven on fastballs.
** Kelvin Vasquez had a good slider at times and gassed his fastball 95-97 during his two-plus innings. But the fastball had little movement and so the two homers in the decisive seventh came on 97 and 96 mph pitches down the pike.
**The Crawdads made Reyes throw 30 pitches in the first and loaded the bases twice. They picked up two in the inning, but it seemed like more should’ve been scored. It turned out to be an ancillary theme to the anti-shutdown thread from the pitching staff this evening. It felt like the Crawdads had a chance to blow the game open early, yet didn’t.
**He’s old (26) for this league, but to his credit, Jonathan Johnson is doing what he should do against younger, more inexperienced pitchers, and that’s smack the ball around the field (.333/.430/.474). Has a short stroke that can irritate a pitcher as he did in the first when the lefty slapped a up-and -away fastball to left. He barreled up a couple of fastballs for XBHs, including Vasquez’s 97 offering that went well into the night.
**Patrick Biondi made one of the better catches in center at LP. Frans by a player not named Brinson or McCutchen that I’ve seen in 11 seasons. Tracking a sharp, slicing liner from Martin in the second, he made a sprint to his left and then pulled off a full extension dive with the glove making the catch just above the grass.
** Savannah didn’t exactly play textbook baseball either. Reyes ran over (literally over) Trevino’s dribbler to cover first. Meanwhile, the first baseman Leroux was already at first awaiting a play. On another play, Guillorme got caught off first on a routine fly to center in the third.
The Hickory Crawdads are on the second half of a two-city swing through the Northern tier of the South Atlantic League, as they visit the Jersey Shore to face the Lakewood BlueClaws.
Probables (Hickory listed first):
Thursday: Collin Wiles (RH, 5-2, 2.01) vs. Ranfi Casimiro (RH, 2-3, 2.96)
Friday: Nick Gardewine (RH, 4-3, 2.89) vs. Chris Oliver (RH, 3-4, 2.93)
Saturday: Brett Martin (LH, 3-1, 2.50) vs. Elniery Garcia (LH, 2-5, 3.65)
Sunday: Ariel Jurado (RH, 7-0, 2.29) vs. Ricardo Pinto (RH, 5-1, 2.68)
Series History: Since 2009 during the current Rangers-Crawdads affiliation Hickory is 28-25, 16-16 at Lakewood. The Crawdads were 5-2 at FirstEnergy Park in 2014, 6-4 overall.
Entering the series:
After coasting in the standings much of the first 50 games of the season, Hickory (34-18) suddenly finds itself in a tight race for the first-half Northern Division title race. Once leading by six games, the Crawdads now lead West Virginia by 2 ½ games with 18 to go. After finishing up with Lakewood, Hickory will face only one other Northern Division squad in the first half—it closes the season with three games at West Virginia… The Crawdads were swept by Hagerstown in a doubleheader on Wednesday in what was an abbreviated series with the Suns… The Jekyll-and-Hyde offense has suddenly returned into the Hyde mode. After a four-game stretch when the Crawdads scoring 37 runs, they have put up just ten on 26 hits in losing four out of six… The power has also evaporated as the team has not homered since Travis Demeritte and Marcus Greene went deep in the seventh inning against Delmarva on May 25 (8 games). Hickory has only eight extra-base hits in six games – all doubles. Only Travis Martin has more than one in that stretch… The pitching continues to remain strong overall, giving up only 12 runs in five games. As a group, the starter’s ERA is 2.59 for the season with a 1.14 WHIP. Also, the starters have not allowed a home run in 22 games (111 2/3 innings)… Scoring first has been crucial. The Crawdads are 27-3 when they do so…Once Hickory has a lead in the middle innings, it is tough to beat. The Crawdads are 28-2 when they lead after five innings, 30-0 when they lead after six.
Lakewood (25-25) won the only game it played during what was to have been at three-game series at Delmarva on Monday. The BluesClaws have won 8-of-13 and are in fourth place, eight games behind Hickory…Lakewood is 12-12 at home, 13-13 on the road…Facing a struggling Hickory lineup, the BlueClaws have given up 24 earned runs in the last ten games and trailing only Hickory (2.76) and West Virginia (3.06) in team ERA (3.09). They are second in WHIP (1.19)…At the plate Lakewood has hit only 16 homers in 50 games, but has shown good gap power with 95 doubles…Despite having the fourth highest batting avg. (.257) in the SAL, they have scored the third fewest runs… The team will put the ball in play. Lakewood has the fewest walks in the SAL and the second fewest strikeouts.
Players to watch- Hickory:
SP: Collin Wiles: He is looking to rebound after a rough seventh inning when he allowed a season-high of three runs. It was only the second multi-run inning given up by Wiles this season. He has not surrendered a homer this season.
SP Ariel Jurado: Named the SAL pitcher of the week (May 25-31). In four of his last starts, Jurado has thrown at least five innings and allowed no earned runs with four or fewer hits. He has struck out 12 and allowed nine base runners in his last 17 innings pitched.
SP Nick Gardewine: Threw four shutout innings in his last start on Saturday before the Rome Braves scratched one against him in the fifth. Has been tough on the road with SAL hitters batting .189 against him (.322 at home). SAL has touched him up the second time through the order. His OBA in the first and second innings are .158 and .063 respectively. From then on it blows up to .316 in the third, .280 in the fourth and .364 in the fifth.
SP Brett Martin: Hopes to return after last pitching on May 22 due to a stiff back and rainouts. SAL hitters are batting .182 against him on the road.
RP: While John Fasola (10 saves) is inactive, who will the Crawdads turn to in a closing situation? Likely candidates could be RH David Perez (30 Ks/ 22.1 IP) or LH Yohander Mendez (0.00 ERA, 0.66 WHIP in 16.2 IP).
1B Rock Shoulders: Has struck the ball well as of late. The team could look to the big first baseman for a veteran presence in the midst of its funk. Shoulders has a mini four-game hitting streak and has put the ball in play in recent days (1 K in four games).
LF Eduard Pinto: Had two hits on Sunday and one during the doubleheader, he is another player that has put good contact on the ball, only to come up short (3-for-15). He has only six strikeouts this season to go with six walks. Pinto is the leading hitter on the road at .333.
RF: Luke Tendler: Has only four XBH since ending April with 21.
Players to watch- Lakewood:
SP Ricardo Pinto: The No. 11 Phillies prospect (MLB.com, No. 14 in BA). Has struck out 54 to only 13 walks in 57 innings. Been especially tough at home, where batters are hitting just .229 against him with a 2.08 ERA.
SP Chris Oliver: The Phillies fourth-round pick in 2014 out of Arkansas is the Phillies 21st-best prospect on MLB.com’s listings. He has proven to be a pitch-to-contact hitter with 24 K/ 18 BBs in 46 innings. He has given up two runs in each of his previous two starts, but has walked three or more (13) in his last four covering 22 innings. Oliver has yet to give up a homer this season, but hitters are batting .273 against him – .281 at home.
CF Carlos Tocci: Though just 19, he is in his third full season with the BlueClaws. The Venezuelan native is second in the SAL in hits, batting avg. (.330), and sixth in OBP (.393). Tocci is the Phillies 5th best prospect according to Baseball America, 18th according to MLB.com.
C Deivi Grullon: The 19-year-old is currently the No. 12 Phillies prospect (MLB.com, No. 13 BA). Has thrown out only 26.7% (12-45) of base stealing attempts. Had a .193/.228/.273 slash in May.
LF Cord Sandberg: Signed away from a commitment to Mississippi St. to play quarterback, the No. 14 prospect (MLB.com, No. 21 BA) has yet to homer after putting up six at SS-A Williamsport in 2014. Currently sporting a .207/.268/.251 slash.
1B Rhys Hoskins: The Phillies fifth-round pick in 2014 out of Cal-State Sacramento is raking. He leads the SAL in OPS (.921), slugging (.513) total bases, and OBP (.407). Hoskins is third in batting at .328.