For the second straight game, the Hickory Crawdads took an early lead. They then used five pitchers to shut down the Asheville Tourists 3-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. The Crawdads now lead the best-of-five series 2-0. After a day off Wednesday. the remaining games shift to Asheville’s McCormick Field starting on Thursday with a game time at 7:05 p.m.
The Crawdads are seeking the club’s third SAL title, the first since 2004. Hickory also claimed the 2002 championship.
Hickory put together four hits to score two in the second against Tourists starter Ryan Castellani. Edwin Garcia and Eduard Pinto sandwiched singles around a fly out. After Juremi Profar struck out, Carlos Arroyo slapped a soft liner into left to score Garcia. Castellani walked Jose Cardona to load the bases and then took a liner from Dylan Moore off the foot that scored Pinto.
In the fourth, Profar reached when Josh Fuentes’ throw short hopped Roberto Ramos at first. A sac bunt from Arroyo and Cardona’s single pushed Profar to third before he scored on Moore’s grounder to third.
Nineteen days after injuring his hip, Brett Martin returned to the hill and threw a brilliant start. He allowed just two hits and struck out four while pitching to just one over the minimum.
Facing Adam Dian, the Tourists put the first two on before a sac bunt put the runners at second and third. Cesar Galvez ripped a run-scoring single to score Roberto Ramos scoring on the play. After a mound visit by Oscar Marin, Dian got Yonathan Daza to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
The similar script played out in the sixth for the Tourists against reliever Shane McCain. A walk and hit batter put runners and first and second with one out. Again after a mound visit by Marin, McCain got Dom Nunez to roll into a 6-4-3 double play.
That set up Luis Ortiz to enter the game in the seventh and throw two scoreless innings of relief. He struck out three and allowed one hit to earn the scorer’s decision win.
Scott Williams hurled a perfect ninth to get his third save of the playoffs.
After a 19-day layoff, the unknown of what Brett Martin would provide on the mound was the story line prior to the game. It is fair to say that all is well with the 20-year-old as he retired the first seven hitters of the game and 11 of the 13 he faced.
“After the first throw I had in warmups, I knew I was going to be fine,” Martin said. “Everything felt right and was going well. The hip fell great and then I got up there on the mound and just relaxed and stayed calm and did what I know to do.”
His most dominant inning came in the second when he struck out the side – the last two on six pitches. By my count, Martin finished with 52 pitches, throwing 37 strikes. He missed 11 bats with the changeup especially effective, garnering six of the swing-and-misses (4 on fastballs at 91-93, 1 curve).
“I threw it a lot more playing catch the past three weeks that probably I have all season,” said Martin. “I’m just trying to get comfortable with that pitch again. I knew I was going to need it against them to keep them off balance.”
His dominance didn’t go unnoticed by manager Corey Ragsdale, who had said prior to the game Martin would be limited to four innings.
Said Ragsdale of Martin’s outing, “Wow! Coming back and throwing like that, that’s obviously huge setting the tone.”
Unused in the playoffs prior to Tuesday night, Adam Dian and Shane McCain were put into a tight ball game following Martin’s brilliant work. Their job was simply to bridge the gap to Luis Ortiz in the seventh. The two relievers shook off the rust and made big pitches to get out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings.
Dian – eight days removed from his last appearance – was shaky at the start and it seemed the Tourists line was glad to see someone other than Martin. Roberto Ramos lined an 0-1 slider to right before Dian walked Josh Fuentes on four pitches.
“It didn’t start out the way that I wanted it to,” said Dian. “But I was pretty happy the way that I was able to work out of it and at least limit the damage. It’s pretty tough to pitch when you haven’t thrown in a while, but it’s not an excuse. I thought I made some good pitches off the bat, but I was up a little bit and they took advantage of that. “
After Galvez’s RBI single, Oscar Marin made a mound visit to help Dian gather himself.
“He just told me to take a deep breath and trust my stuff,” Dian said. “He was thinking that I was kind of letting the game get to me a little bit. It was speeding up; you get two runners on right off the bat and it’s a little tough for you to calm down and stay focused on what you need to do. He just wanted to give me a breather and make sure I had my mind straight before I faced that next hitter.”
Dian served up a 2-1 fastball away to Yonathan Daza to get the 4-6-3 double play and keep the Tourists at bay 3-1.
After 11 days off, lefty Shane McCain came in and also struggled at first with fastball command and then the slider in putting two men on.
“I was a little tight,” McCain said. “It did feel a little weird to be out there. I hadn’t been out there in a week or so, or maybe more. I really just had to trust my stuff. I was having trouble keeping my slider in the zone. That’s been my best pitch. I wasn’t able to start it where I wanted to, where I needed to.”
Another mound visit by Marin brought on an adjustment by McCain with the slider.
“I knew I had to start my slider more behind the lefthanders,” said McCain. “Once I did that, I got the two ground balls that I needed and luckily I got out of it.”
Facing LH hitter Dom Nunez with one out after the mound visit, McCain’s slider away was rolled to Edwin Garcia at short for the easy twin-killing.
“Those two guys right there, they went through the heart of the lineup,” said Ragsdale. “So, those two guys were huge for us tonight.”
Dian said that although he and McCain were both out of sorts after not pitching in a regular routine, they were still expected to do their jobs in the ball game.
Dian said, “That’s what Ragsdale asks of us, to come and to our job. It’s nice when you don’t have to have somebody come bail you out and you’re able to finish your inning. Obviously, it could’ve gone a number of different ways for both of us. I thought we both did a good job. We just gutted it out. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but we were able to minimize the damage. Shane did a hell of a job getting out of that situation.”
Ortiz Breaking Down Wall:
Luis Ortiz didn’t have the sharp command of his fastball, but he didn’t need to either. Omar Carrizales was able to expose that in the seventh when he worked the count full and then drilled a high slider for a single. Ortiz got out of the inning with no further damage.
Ortiz then cranked up the slider in the eighth, using three straight to fan Daza. He got away with a poorly placed fastball that Rogers lined hard to second to bring up Forrest Wall, the number 4 second base prospect in the minors (mlb.com). Ortiz struck out Wall on three pitches, swinging through a changeup, fastball and slider.
After getting Shane Hoelscher to fly to right, Williams worked through a nine-pitch battle with Dom Nunez, finally getting him to undercut a high fastball that went lazily to right. A first-pitch slider to Ramos was rolled easily to second.
Moore and Moore:
Dylan Moore continues a strong playoff run with a couple of hits and an RBI. He stayed on Castellani’s slider in the first for a single, then was able to gear up for the fastball that was lined off Castellani’s foot for the RBI hit. Moore pulled off an away fastball in the fourth, but got enough on it to score the runner from third.
Castellani’s Early Struggles:
The 19-year-old threw a fastball that ranged 93-95 mph that at times had a slider look. However, he is a pitcher that relies on keeping the ball down (1.30 GO/AO) and the inability to do that early cost him. Six of the nine hits against him were hard liners with seven of his outs coming on liners or fly outs. He dodged a bullet in the fifth when Juremi Profar ripped a line drive that went straight to Fuentes at third. The catch likely saved two runs.
Defensive Woes Continue:
A lazy throw by Fuentes to first allowed Profar to reach and score in the fourth to make it a three-run lead. In the fifth with Beras at first, Pinto lifted a bloop single to left center. Beras running on contact made it easily to third, the left fielder Carrizales threw to third anyway, which allowed Pinto to move up to second.
Small Ball, Small Expectations:
Down two runs in the fourth, the Tourists got a base hit from Wes Rogers to start the inning. Rather than taking a chance with leading base stealer (46 steals) to try and get to second on his own, Asheville chose to use Wall – the number one draft pick and No. 4 second base prospect, who had a .288/.355/.438 slash as a 19-year-old – as a bunter. The sacrifice worked, but Rogers advanced no further.
In the fifth after the Tourists put the first two runners on, they chose to use their SAL all-star leftfielder – who as a 20-year-old posted a .286/.333/.410 slash and hit into one double play all year – as a bunter. The sacrifice was successful and a run was scored, but it also proved crucial when a double play ended the inning.
It seems to me those were opportunities for the Tourists to try and siphon some momentum by letting a player make a play. But managers manage to a fault at times and this appeared to be a case of overmanaging.
Shutting down the running game:
Not enough can be said as to how well the Crawdads during the series have shut down the running game of the Tourists, who stole 258 bases this season. The pitchers have been relentless at keeping the runners close and allowing the catcher Trevino to make plays. He’s thrown out both runners trying to steal in the series, including the lone attempt on Wednesday.