Results tagged ‘ Rock Shoulders ’

Game Story: Greenville at Hickory July 1

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.

What Happened:?

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.

The Good:

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.

The Not-So-Good:

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.

The opposition:

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.

Game Story: Lakewood at Hickory June 27

The Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws scored four runs over the final two innings to claim a 6-3 win over the Hickory Crawdads Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the BlueClaws (35-36 overall, 1-2 second half) was the second straight in the five-game series and dealt the first lost of the season to the Crawdads (45-26, 1-2) when they led or were tied after seven innings. Hickory was 40-0 when leading after seven.

What Happened?:
The Crawdads scored all of their runs during two-out rallies. In the first, Eduard Pinto singled and Jose Trevino doubled before Jonathan Meyer singled in both.

After Emmanuel Marrero cut it to 2-1 in the third with his first pro homer, Hickory added a run in the fourth when Jairo Beras walked with two outs and scored on Carlos Arroyo’s triple.

Lakewood made it 3-2 in the fifth. Cord Sandberg reached on a bloop single to left, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a deep fly to right, and then scored when Joel Fisher lined a single to center.

The decisive rally came in the eighth against Crawdads reliever Joe Filomeno. With one out, Gustavo Martinez legged out an infield hit to short. Marrero sneaked a grounder just inside the bag at third for a double. Filomeno held runners at second and third when he struck out Drew Stankiewicz, but both scored as Scott Kingery ripped a double between third baseman Josh Morgan and the bag. Kingery then scored on Herlis Rodriguez’s double off the wall in right-center.

Lakewood’s final run in the ninth came when Kyle Martin homered to right against reliever Erik Swanson.

The Good:

Brett Martin: Arguably his best start of the season. The homer he served up was a curveball down that Marrero went down to get. Threw 40 strikes out of 54 pitches, using mostly a fastball (89-92) –slider mix. He fanned two in the first – both on sliders – and two more in the second, one swinging on a slider, the other a fastball looking. Was definitely an outing to build upon.

Chris Dula: After giving runs in five straight outings and six out of seven, Dula kept the sinker (93-96) down for three groundballs – two for outs, the third an infield hit.

Jose Cardona: Went 2-for-4 with a double, lining a pair of fastballs for hits, including a 95 mph heater for a double.

Rock Shoulders: Went 0-4, but crushed the ball three times, only to see them die at the wall. Just not his night.

Josh Morgan: Had one hit – a dribbler up the middle in the fifth – but had two other hard hit liners that left fielder Cord Sandberg snagged. Like Rock Shoulders…

The Not-So-Good:

Joe Filomeno: Given the first chance to close out a tight game after the bullpen rearrangement, he had a tough night. Fastball was lively sitting around 93, but breaking balls were not close enough to the plate to entice swings, or sharp enough to miss bats when swung at. Kingery and Rodriguez both sat on first-pitch fastballs for back-to-back doubles that accounted for three runs. He struck out two in the inning, but needed eight pitches each to do so.

Late innings slump: Put only three runners aboard over the final four innings. Had only one runner in the same span in the previous game.

The Opposition:

Kyle Martin: The Phillies fourth-round 2015 pick out of South Carolina hit his first pro homer in the ninth.

Manny Martinez: After Cardona slammed a fastball off the wall in the seventh, Martinez went predominantly to his curve to retire Michael De Leon on a grounder to first and Morgan on a popup to first.

Austin Smith: The left-handed reliever threw an explosive mid-90s fastball to strike out two, the second against Jairo Beras, who froze on a 91 mph heater on the inside corner.

Hitting the Midway Point: An Interview with Josue Perez

Greetings from vacation-land! I’m using the road trip/  all-star break to recharge some batteries and get ready for the second half.

I put together an interview with Texas Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Josue Perez while he was in Hickory during the last homestand. Perez was the Crawdads hitting coach in 2012 and was scheduled to come back to Hickory this season before he took the coordinator’s job.

Perez talked about several of the Crawdads hitters (or at least the ones I thought to ask him about) and their progression in the first half.

Overall, it’s a good group of hitters. They had a good start; they’ve had some down time. Overall, what have you seen with the group of guys?

Perez: Very pleased, I’m very pleased with the group of guys we have here, mostly. Out of the gate, they started out really good. They kind went through a bump in the road there and now we’re trying to get them back together again. I mean, that’s baseball. Overall, I like what I see.

We’ll continue to work on staying with a plan and having a plan for the at bats, especially with guys on situational hitting More often than not, they’re able to do it. Early in the year they were doing a great job with situational hitting, where we’d score a lot of runs without getting a big hit. We’d score in a lot of different ways. It’s teaching these kids how to win ball games without necessarily hitting three, four, five home runs in a game. They’re learning from it and they’re getting it, so I’m very pleased.

I know Frankie (Crawdads hitting coach Francisco Matos) is very proud of how these guys have gone about their business.

Let me ask you first about Luke Tendler. He got off to a good start and had a little bump. What do you see from him?

Perez: I think it’s all about going back to basics. Early in the season, he had a plan. He had an approach and he was executing it. Being able to stay on the fastball and be up on everything else. Lately, it’s been the lack of being able to be ready on time. So, he’s missing a lot of fastballs and he’s late getting into position and that’s the reason he’s been struggling a little bit. He’s going back to basics and making sure that he’s still on the fastball when he goes up to bat.

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

You’ve had guys like him and Trevino this year. When you were here in 2012 it was Chris Grayson, who got off to a great start. It seems to be a pattern where a college guy will get off to a good start when no one has really seen them yet, and maybe they’re a bit more advanced because of their age. Then they hit that little lull. Is that a problem that you see when you work with them?

Perez: No, I wouldn’t say that; I would say it’s about adjustments. Obviously when facing opposing pitchers, we don’t know a lot about them, just like they don’t know a lot about us. So, at that particular time, the hitters have the advantage. Once the opposing pitchers see the tendencies, they’re going to make an adjustment. And now, you’ve got to make an adjustment back to them. The good ones do make an adjustment and the other ones struggle to get back into it. So it’s still about making adjustments.

Are these kids, because for one reason or another they were so successful in college for the most part, or they wouldn’t be here, have they really had to learn how to make adjustments before they got to this level?

Perez: I’m pretty sure that a lot of the guys did it, or else they wouldn’t be here. That’s just the nature of competing. If you want to win the at bat, or you want to win the game, you have to make an adjustment from game to game. But here it’s a little bit different, because it’s not game by game, it’s at bat to at bat. Sometimes, it’s pitch to pitch. The ones that are able to do that are the better ones.

I think somewhere along the way, they have to make that adjustment. Here it’s more magnified because the pitchers are better. They have better stuff and they’re able to express it a little bit better.

Let me ask you about (Jose) Trevino, who is another one that got off to a good start and seems to be finding his way again.

Perez: You have to take into consideration with Trevino that he is behind the dish for the first time in a full season. He’s been catching a lot of games. He’s a kid that plays with a lot of energy and a lot of life. He’s really into every pitch behind the dish and he’s the same way as a hitter. So, a lot of times we ask those guys to be a catcher first and then a hitter. We’re trying to combine both of them and I think he’s one of the good ones that’s going to be able to do it – both catch and hit.

Again he’s hitting the ball on the rope, like you said, and he had a big three-run bomb a couple of days ago. He’s starting to feel that early feeling back again. Again, it’s just a matter of – and we talk about this all the time – it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Along the way you’re going to find some ways to fight. If you fight the right way, you’re going to stay above water. So, he’s doing a good job of it.

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI  (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan is in a nice stretch over about a 35-game stretch. He was one that started slow and come on as the season progressed. What do you see with Josh?

Perez: The word with Josh is he’s basically rolling right along. He was a little bit off when we first started the season. To his credit, and Frankie’s credit, he’s worked hard every day on trying to get him back to the way we saw him in spring training. Getting him into position to hit, making sure he’s staying on the fastball, making sure he stays on his front, not trying to do too much, stay away from the air, backspin the ball. So, little by little, he’s started to not only believe it, but execute it. And now he’s executing it more often than not.

He’s starting to back spin the ball, taking good pitches and getting into good counts, driving the ball. So, he’s been able to maintain it for a long period of time, which is pretty remarkable at his age, to see it. I hope he’s able to keep it the right way, now.

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Jairo Beras, I know has had a disappointing start – especially given where he ended up last year – with injuries and other things that have happened. What’s the plan for him at this point?

Perez: It’s about now. It’s about being where his feet are. It’s about winning the moment. It’s about the rest of the year. We’re not talking about the past. That’s over. Can we win every day from now on? That’s basically the message to him. Forget about it and let’s start over. This is a new beginning. Every day, come to the ballpark ready to play. Help this team win, which is in a really good place right now. They’re playing for something. Not only are they playing because they want to be big leaguers and reach the majors, but they’re playing to win it. It’s always fun when you’re in that kind of environment. We want him to be a part of it and he wants to be a part of it. This is about the moment. Be a good teammate everyday and do whatever you can now to win this moment. That’s the plan.

It’s been pretty good since being back, both offensively and defensively. The motivation’s been good and he wants to play. Deep inside, he wants to reach his dream and that’s always going to be the biggest motivation. Now, he’s got the baby, so that’s a big motivation that he’s playing for. Again, it’s about how he can win the moment from now on.

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders is a guy who came here with some experience. He’s got here and basically hit into some bad luck. He’ll hit the ball on the screws and it’s finding people. What do you expect to see from him?

Perez: I saw him in Round Rock. He was there for about a week or so, because we needed some bodies there. He did a really good job there. We actually won a game 1-0 in Round Rock and he hit a solo home run. Then he took a couple of other good swings and had another really good game there. So, I came down here saw that he was struggling without struggling kind of deal, where he’d hit a few balls well, he had no luck. The next thing you know, he went a few days without a hit. That’s just baseball.

A lot of times, you do a lot of good things and things don’t go your way. Again, he’s in a position right now where he’s going to be able to help this team. Right now, some of the luck is starting to go his way and he’s starting to put some good at bats together. He’s starting to swing the bat and I know he had some good power numbers with the Cubs. So hopefully we can see that some of that in this organization and try to help his career.

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

(Eduard) Pinto had a good winter and starting well and like most everybody else tailed off. He just looks like a hit machine. When he’s in a groove, you’re not going to get it by him. He’s also starting to show a little patience lately.

Perez: He’s a professional hitter. And now like you said, now he’s adding that patience at the plate and is able to stay with his plan and stay with his pitch and not go away from what he wants to do at the plate. He’s going to going to become a little bit more of a professional hitter. He has a really good feel for hitting and a really good barrel awareness. He knows how to use the whole field. He’s fun to watch and he brings a lot of energy and he’s only 20.

Eduard put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Eduard Pinto put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He reminds me – and I don’t know why and whether or not this is an accurate comparison – he reminds me of Tomas Telis for whatever reason. He has that stocky body at the plate and quick hands and a good eye.

Perez: Yes, especially from the left side, it’s a little bit of Telis. Telis probably swings a little bit harder than Pinto does, but it’s pretty much the same guy. He’s scrappy, knows how to barrel the ball, goes the other way, and pulls it when he has to. He goes up there to hit. He’s a good hitter and hopefully we can get him up in the system so we can do something good for him.

Who else do you need to talk about?

Perez: (Michael) De Leon and the heart and soul he brings to the team. Obviously, we know that the hitting is always going to be light right now until he grows into his body a little bit more. A lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score, he does it. That’s why I bring him up.

I think he’s the heart and soul of this team. I love some other guys, obviously, but what he brings to the game – the energy, he’s always happy the plays that he makes, he quarterbacks the whole field from the shortstop position, and how much this team trusts him – is pretty remarkable at his age.

I had the pleasure to watch him last year in the playoffs at the end of the year at Myrtle (Beach). He came up in clutch situations and got big hits in the playoff, including a three-run bomb in the championship series. So I know what type of player he is in big moments.

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He’s not afraid of big moments.

Perez: He’s not, and actually he looks for them. That’s what you want.

The Celebration in Hickory

In the same manner as the 2011 team did, the Crawdads milled about in left field, waiting to find out if they had indeed clinched a first-half division title and a playoff spot in September.

The Crawdads in LF listening to the West Virginia broadcast (photo Mark Parker)

The Crawdads in LF listening to the West Virginia broadcast (photo Mark Parker)

When the final out in Charleston, WV sealed the Power’s elimination, the celebratory water coolers were spilled and the raucous, rowdy party was on.

The Crawdads begin their celebration as the final out is recorded at West Virginia. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

The Crawdads begin their celebration as the final out is recorded at West Virginia. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

It was cool to see these toughened, young men melt into excited boys again, delirious at what they had accomplished as a group… and oh, how they celebrated as a group. From the two-year vets, such as Wiles and Beras and Mendez and Pinto – who couldn’t believe he finally homered with Hickory – to the “young pups” Ortiz, and Jurado, and Morgan, to the steady Trevino and Tendler and Martin, to Buckel – who did this same celebration in 2011 – to the newcomers, Arroyo, Shoulders, Filomeno… they all reveled in the spoils of victory.

The Crawdads celebrate on the field. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

The Crawdads celebrate on the field. (Photo courtesy Tracy Proffitt)

Whether in English or Spanish, on this field, their words shared a common meaning: champions.

They proudly smiled for the cameras, arms extended with index fingers pointed to the sky to have their baseball moment frozen in time and recorded for a lifetime.

The 2015 SAL first-half Northern Division champions

The 2015 SAL first-half Northern Division champions

They patiently tried to answer my questions, but mostly they spit out words of their happiness… and doused the interviewee.

Caught in the line off fire

Caught in the line of fire (Photo by Mark Parker)

Many congratulations to the 2015 Crawdads on a brilliant first half. Here is some of what they had to say.

Corey Ragsdale:

About the division-clinching game:

It’s a credit to these guys. They just find ways to win. It’s not necessarily the two guys that we would expect to hit home runs right now. Jairo, a single with two outs and Shoulders gets a home run. J-Mo gets a double with two outs; Pinto got him with a home run. Give credit to the guys, they find ways to win.

Favorite memory of the first half:

Just watching the way that the guys played and the way they cheer for each other. You look into the other dugout and you see guys sitting down. You look at ours and guys are cheering for each other and staying on the rail. Just seeing guys who want to win and pull for each other.

Luis Ortiz:

About his start:

My mentality today was to basically go out and compete like I always do and give it my all. I’ve got eight, nine guys behind me protecting me. Attack the zone and they’ll make a play for you. That’s the way it was tonight. I threw the ball over the zone and I felt like everything was working for me.

About his comfort level in the first two innings:

The first and second innings were the hardest ones to get through. It was hot and humid, but I had to go out there and pitch. To become a good pitcher, you’ve got to go through everything. You go through the hot. You go through the cold. You have bad outings. On days you have bad, it’s how you handle it. It’s just pitching, basically putting it altogether and going out there and competing and giving it all you have. If they hit you, it happens. it’s a part of baseball.

Jairo Beras:

About winning the first-half division title:

I’m happy today. I play good. I’m part of the playoffs. We’ll get back at it tomorrow and *&^@-ing win it (Ironically, he did with a homer in the 10th Tuesday night.).

Eduard Pinto:

About his third-inning homer:

I’d never hit a home run with Hickory. My team kept saying to me, “you need a La Bamba; you need a home run. You don’t have one.” I said, “ok, take it easy, take it easy, my brothers.”  Today, home run, I’m happy.

Austin Pettibone:

About the ability for a different player to make a play to win a game each night:

It’s awesome We did this in Spokane last year when we won the first half and it’s cool to do it again and experience it again.

About the team’s success compared to winning last year in Spokane:

We all have another year under our belt of pro ball, so we’ve all improved and gotten better each day. It’s just a lot of fun to do it with these guys.

Jose Trevino:

About the celebration:

This is awesome, but we’re not done yet, though. We’re not even close. We’ve got a whole other half and then we’ve got the whole post season. This is a really good team with a group of really good guys. The pitching staff and hitters, we’re all coming back together.

Josh Morgan:

About his double in the third inning prior to Pinto’s homer

I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. Luckily he gave me one and I was able to square it up, luckily. I’m just happy that we clinched, but we’re not done yet. We’ve got a full half to go, but we’re excited about where we’re at right now.

About the second half:

Hopefully, we can keep going on and keep staying positive we’ll be successful. I’m happy to be here and hopefully we can finish it off.

Rock Shoulders:

About his fourth-inning homer:

At my first at bat, he gave me a first-pitch fastball, so I went up there ready for it. I might’ve been a little bit late, but I still got good wood on it. I did what I wanted to do; I was trying to go the other way with the fastball and hit it into the gap. Luckily I got it up over the fence and got it out.

About coming to the Rangers organization from the Cubs:

At the beginning, I was a little worried, being that it was my first time going to this organization. But this is a great group of guys. When I walked into spring training, they all welcomed me with open hands and open mouths; they were all talking to me and helping me get used to everything. So, when I came here, I knew a bunch of guys already, so it was easy for me to get acclimated.

Game Story: Savannah at Hickory June 15

The Hickory Crawdads popped two two-run homers and got strong pitching throughout to defeat the Savannah Sand Gnats 4-1 and close out the first-half Northern Division title in the South Atlantic League.

The win by Hickory (41-22) coupled with West Virginia’s 5-2 loss at home to Augusta sent the players into a celebration frenzy in left field as the final out in Charleston, W.Va. was recorded.

The Crawdads took the final three games in the four-game series to close out a 5-2 home stand. Hickory finished the first half 24-10 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Savannah (34-30) dropped into second place, a game behind Greenville (S.C.) with six games to play in the Southern Division chase.

The Crawdads close out the first half with a six-game road trip starting Tuesday with three games at Rome (Ga.), followed by three at West Virginia.

What happened?:
The Crawdads put up only six hits but four of those came after two outs and led to all four runs.

After the Sand Gnats put up a run in the second, Hickory took a 2-1 lead in the third when Josh Morgan doubled with two outs and scored as Eduard Pinto crushed a 3-1 fastball off the billboards in right.

A similar script with different actors happened one inning later. With two outs, Jairo Beras sent an off-speed pitch through the hole at second. Rock Shoulders followed with a two-run, opposite-field shot to make it 4-1.

Luis Ortiz (4-1) allowed one run on three hits and struck out nine over five innings. Joe Filomeno pitched a scoreless sixth before running into trouble in the seventh. With two outs and a runner at first, Thomas Nido doubled off the wall and Patrick Biondi was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hickory then brought in Austin Pettibone to face SAL all-star second baseman Jonathan Johnson, who pulled a 2-2 slider to first for the 3-1 putout.

Pettibone worked around a single in the eighth before turning it over to John Fasola in the ninth. Fasola struck out the final two batters of the game to complete a 1-2-3 inning and pick up his SAL-high 13th save of the season.

The Good:

Eduardo Pinto: His recent patience at the plate set up the heroics in the third. He ran the count to 3-1, then sat dead red and got an 89 heater from Bruce Meisner that Pinto turned on and sent it well out to right.

Rock Shoulders: Showed a bit of his strength when he put an inside-out swing on Meisner’s first-pitch fastball and sent it high over the fence in left. Made a big play to dig out a throw in the ninth (see below).

Jairo Beras: Seems poised to have a good stretch as he is staying back on secondary pitches, and yet is ready to hit the fastball. Had his second straight two-hit game with one hit coming on a fastball, the other on an off-speed pitch.

Luis Ortiz: Velocity 94-97 throughout, a good cutting slider, but he admitted after the game he didn’t have his best stuff. Said after the game the heat bothered him in the first two innings. But still, nine Ks in five innings (!), mostly coming on sliders and changups. Gassed a 96 mph past Johnson in the third and painted the corner at 97 for a called-strike three to John Mora. Finished the game with 81 pitches (53 strikes).

Austin Pettibone: Got a huge out with the bases loaded in the seventh when he got Johnson to pull a slider to first. K’d two in the eighth, both on sliders low and away to right handers.

John Fasola: Dodged a bullet to start the ninth when Mora lined a pitch hard off Fasola’s glove. Carlos Arroyo charged the ball toward the bag at second and then made an off-balanced throw that Rock Shoulders dug out to the RF side of first and held the bag with his foot. Fasola then gassed up his fastball to 95 and struck out the last two hitters.

The Not-So-Good:

Michael De Leon: Seemed to expand the strike zone in the game. Hitting left handed throughout, he K’d on a fastball away in the third, pulled a fastball in off the plate for a 3-1 grounder in the fifth, and a slider in at the knees for a grounder to first in the seventh.

The Opposition:

Luis Guillorme: Had a brilliant defensive effort both series the Sand Gnats played at L.P. Frans this season. In the sixth, Trevino hit a sharp roller to the hole at short. Guillorme made the backhand play and then the quick transfer for the long jump throw to first and the out.

Jon Leroux: Not sure if he got a slow start at first, or if he himself is slow (I watched the play in the field), but a double off the wall with two outs in the seventh should almost always lead to a run. Was shocked to look up and see him at third.

Game Story: Charleston at Hickory May 11

What Happened:

Not known for their power the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs hit homers in back-to-back innings Thursday and sank the Hickory Crawdads 4-3 in South Atlantic League play Thursday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

Despite the loss, Hickory (38-21) caught a break in its first-half Northern Division title chase when second place West Virginia blew a two-run lead in the ninth and fell to Savannah 4-3. The Crawdads lead the second place Power by 4 ½ games with ten to go. The magic number to clinch the first-half title is six.

For its part, Charleston (29-31) stayed in the race in the Southern Division. The win moved the RiverDogs into third place and put them four games behind both Savannah and Greenville.

The RiverDogs literally came out of the gate fast as speedy shortstop lined the second pitch of the game to right center for a triple. Dustin Fowler singled him in for the first run. One out later, Juan Graterol lined a double to the wall in left center to make it 2-0.

The Crawdads struck back in the first with a run. Josh Morgan walked, moved to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on Jose Trevino’s double to the left field corner.

Hickory took the lead in the second against R-Dogs starter Rony Bautista. Rock Shoulders walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. Carlos Arroyo singled him to third and also moved to second on a wild pitch. Jose Cardona then followed with a sharp single off the glove of the diving third baseman Ryan Lindemuth to give Hickory a 3-2 lead.

Collin Wiles then gave up his first home run of the season in the fourth when Austin Aune took him deep to right – his third of the season.

The home run surrendered by Wiles was the first given up by a starting pitcher since May 11, a span of 28 games covering 147.2 innings.

As rain began in the fifth, Fowler golfed a curveball out of the park in right for his third of the season to put the R-Dogs in front 4-3.

Entering the game 13th out of 14 teams in the SAL in home runs, Charleston has hit five of its 19 homers against Hickory pitching. The two homers allowed by Wiles was only the third time in 2015 that a starter has given up two in a game.

After a 29-minute rain delay, the RiverDogs replaced Bautista with reliever Matt Marsh. He shut down the Crawdads on two hits over the last five innings to pick up the win (1-0). The lone threat against Marsh came when Hickory put two runners on with two outs in the seventh, but was unable to score.

Austin Pettibone threw three perfect innings of relief for Hickory, striking out two. Scott Williams worked around a walk and a hit batter in the ninth to keep the Crawdads within a run. But Marsh struck out two in the bottom of the ninth, the last against Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to end the game.

The Good:

**Jose Trevino had a complete game at the plate and behind it. He turned a 94 mph heater into the leftfield corner and stole a base to set the Crawdads up for a potential second run in the first. He reached six times in 12 plate appearances in the series and has a five-game hitting streak.

But it was his efforts as a catcher that was impressive. With a runner on first in the second, Trevino snagged a low glove-side curveball and made a strong throw to second to cut down Aune trying to steal. In the ninth, Williams struck out Aune with a slider that trickled behind Trevino. He found the ball quickly and put a throw on the money to Kiner-Falefa at third to cut down the slow-footed Juan Graterol at third.

He also had a hand in keeping the demeanor of a couple of pitchers in check. When Wiles had walked the first batter in the second and started the next hitter with a fastball off the plate, Trevino trotted out to the mound, said a couple of words, and then issued a backside slap before returning to the plate. Wiles then ended the inning with two pop ups before Trevino rang up the caught stealing. In the ninth, when Williams got into trouble due to control issues, again it was Trevino to the mound to go face-to-face with the hurler. A few words said, a two-handed love tap to the shoulders, then back to the plate. A 2-0 count to Aune turned into an infield fly before the strike-‘em-out-throw-‘em out.

**Eduard Pinto had walked six times total in his first 39 games entering the series. He walked twice on Thursday and finished with six walks the past three games. He also singled in the third and reached base 7 of 12 times in the series

**Isaiah Kiner-Falefa with a couple of nice play at third. In the second, he made a quick run to the fence past the dugout, then made a leaning catch for the out. In the eighth, Kiner-Falefa showed quick hands to snatch a sharp grounder from Fowler. The force of the hit spun Kiner-Falefa briefly before he recovered to make the throw to third.

**Jairo Beras appears to be on track to make a run at the plate. He took a fastball up and out to right for a lined single. In the sixth, he rapped the first pitch he saw from Marsh into the gap in left center for a giraffe-like gaited, legged-out double. In the eighth, Beras ripped a hanging curve that went straight to Aune in right.

** Austin Pettibone showed a good biting slider that played a big part in his perfect three innings. He missed four bats with the pitch and used it to set up a called-strike three on a fastball to Devyn Bolasky.

The Not-So-Good:

**Collin Wiles did not have his usual control much of the night. Fastballs and changes both stayed up and were spanked often. His breaking stuff didn’t have its usual bite. Wiles left an 0-2 change up that Fowler used for his RBI single in the first. He ahead of Graterol 0-2 in the first, but missed the plate with a fastball and slider before leaving a fastball over the plate for the RBI double. He did miss bats with his slider in the fifth and made a good pitch to Fowler – a curveball that Fowler went down to get and golfed out to right.

**Luke Tendler was eaten up with breaking stuff much of the night. After K-ing twice vs. Bautista – both on sliders down and in, the curveball of Marsh got him in the sixth. Of the ten breaking pitches he saw, Tendler whiffed on seven of them. The one fastball he struck, was late and turned into a routine 6-3.

The Opposition:

**Matt Marsh held the Crawdads pretty well in check and had several hitters flailing at his curve (6 missed bats and a called 3rd strike). He did leave some pitches up that Hickory hitters were unable to get to fall. In the eighth, an 0-2 hanger to Beras was lined to RF for an out. The next batter Rock Shoulders saw a fat 0-2 fastball that was lined near the track in center.

**Fowler finished the series 7-for-12 with 3 RBI and 3 runs.

**Aune had a big hand in the outcome in right. He made a sliding catch of a slicing liner by Kiner-Falefa in the first, which minimized the damage for Charleston early. Two innings later, his strong throw to the plate was in time to catch Trevino trying to score from second on a single by Beras.

Game Story: Charleston at Hickory June 9, 2015

Rock Shoulders hit a solo homer and Jose Trevino added a three-run bomb in support of Luis Ortiz and two relievers as the Hickory Crawdads defeated the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs 5-2 in the opening game of a three-game series Tuesday night.

The Crawdads (37-20) increased their lead in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League to 3 ½ games over second place West Virginia, which lost a 9-1 beatdown to Savannah. The RiverDogs (28-30) dropped into fourth place in the Southern Division and now trail first place teams Greenville and Savannah by three games in the Southern Division chase. The 70-game, first-half season ends on June 21.

After Crawdads starter Luis Ortiz got out of a first-inning jam with a double play, Hickory got on the board in the bottom of the inning with a sacrifice fly by Eduard Pinto.

It turned out to be all that Ortiz needed as he retired 15 of the last 17 hitters he faced on the night. Ortiz (3-1) allowed four hits and struck out four over six shutout innings.

Hickory loaded the bases with one out against RiverDogs starter Luis Cedeno (3-6) in the third. However on back-to-back, first pitches, Cedeno got Trevino to hit into an infield fly and Luke Tendler to ground out to short.

Shoulders turned on a Cedeno fastball and sent it well out of the park to right field in the fourth. It was Shoulders first homer of the season.

In the fifth, Josh Morgan singled and Pinto walked ahead of Trevino’s seventh homer of the season – his first since April 26.

Charleston scored its only runs in the seventh when Chris Breen sent a Chris Dula curveball over the fence in left. The homer was the fourth of the season for Breen, which leads the team. The blast was the first allowed by the Crawdads in 11 games, spanning 89.1 innings. (Delmarva’s Logan Uxa on 5/27 vs. Kelvin Vasquez.) The RiverDogs have hit 17 home runs this season- three of those against Hickory pitching.

Yohander Mendez closed out the game for this third save with two scoreless innings, during which he allowed just one walk.

The Good:

**Ortiz. Here’s his night here. He also continues a streak of 27 games (139 innings) in which a starter has not allowed a home run.

**Eduard Pinto had a perfect night at the plate, even though he did not officially have an at-bat. To go with his sacrifice fly, Pinto walked three straight times. He had walked only three times entering the game. In the eight games he has batted third this season, Pinto has a slash line of .333/.406/.519 with a double, two triples and four walks.

** Yohander Mendez took a little time to find the feel to his curveball in the eighth, but then ended that inning with back-to-back Ks – four missed bats on curves. He ended the game by getting Breen looking on a curve.

**Rock Shoulders finally found a bit of luck. After crushing a pitch to center in the second, he hit the third-straight 93 mph pitch thrown to him in the fourth for the no-doubter.

**After missing a curve in the third (see below) Jose Trevino didn’t miss the hanger in the fifth for what turned out to be the difference.

**Josh Morgan made a nice play at short on a sinking, low liner by Graterol to the cut of the grass.

The Not-So-Good

** Carlos Arroyo hit into some bad luck during an 0-for-4 night. With Jairo Beras on the move in the second, Arroyo hit a sharp liner up the middle that found 2B Angel Aguilar’s glove as he moved to cover second. Beras was doubled up easily. In the sixth, his liner into the gap in right-center field was run down by CF Dustin Fowler.

**Chris Dula gave up a cheapie single to Juan Granatol (a dribbler to third) to start the sixth, then had problems finding the strike zone with his sinker. He then left a curveball up to Breen, who spanked it for a HR. To his credit, Dula settled down and ended the inning by getting Austin Aune to ground a hard sinker to short.

**Sporting the worst offensive numbers in the SAL, Charleston appeared to be on the ropes in the third and had played the infield in with a runner at third and one out, trailing 1-0. After Cedeno walked Pinto on five pitches to load the bases, Cedeno got Trevino to chase a first-pitch curve that was popped up for an infield fly. Luke Tendler then sent a first-pitch sinker to short to end the inning.

** Jairo Beras seemed to have trouble seeing the ball in right. He froze on Fowler’s double to right in the first before chasing down the ball that one-hopped the wall. On Fowler’s fly out in the sixth, Beras came in briefly before retreating backwards to make the catch.

Series Preview: Hickory at Lakewood June 4-7

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.