Results tagged ‘ Sal Mendez ’

Crawdads Bats Heat up: Have a Legendary Night

Winter-like weather here on the east coast has held some plants at a dormant stage in this area. The Hickory Crawdads bats could be included on that list much of the early season.

With more seasonal temperatures last night, the Crawdads bats stirred and had their biggest scoring output in eight seasons at L.P. Frans Stadium as they overwhelmed the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 18-6.

The 18 runs were the most scored by the Crawdads at home since putting up 18 against Lexington on June 6, 2010. Overall, it was the most runs since scoring 19 in a road win at Lexington on August 4, 2016.

Eight of the nine players scored, seven coming across the plate at least twice. Hickory collected 14 hits – eight for extra bases – walked six times and were hit by four pitches.

Melvin Novoa led the way with three extra-base hits (a homer and two doubles), four runs scored and three RBI. Along with Novoa, Eric Jenkins and Yohel Pozo each hit their first homers of the season.

After the Crawdads put up four in the first, they put the game away with nine in the third. Miguel Aparicio’s three-run triple and Novoa’s two-run blast were among the highlights.

The Legends cut their deficit to 13-6 after bringing in four in the sixth. However, the Crawdads answered with four of their own to squelch any hopes of a comeback. Jenkins’s three-run triple was the big hit of that inning.

Tyree Thompson (1-1) was the beneficiary on the mound for Hickory. The right-hander gave up five runs (two earned) on five hits over 5.2 innings with two strikeouts. Jean Casanova threw two scoreless innings of relief and Sal Mendez struck out two during a scoreless ninth.

Thoughts:

***I wanted to write a little bit about Eric Jenkins on Saturday, but time constraints worked against me there. I’m certain the Rangers would like to see the youngster finally put together the natural tools he has and take a step forward in 2018. Contact can still be an issue (15 Ks in 47 PAs), but, at least to me, it seems on this home stand that he is willing to battle more rather than give up ABs. The 21-year-old is in the midst of a mini five-game hit streak and has multi-hit games the last three.

The game that got my attention was Saturday’s contest at West Virginia. After taking off Friday following a three-K effort the night before, Jenkins had one of those games were his natural ability stood out. He just missed reaching on a bunt in the first. One inning later, he turned on a 0-2 offering and ripped it into the corner for a two-run triple. In the third, a bunt single plus a steal of second. In the fifth, a walk and a steal of second. Defensively, he made arguably his best catch of the three seasons with Hickory, a leaping catch in left to rob Dylan Busby of a homer.

Eric Jenkins HR rob

With a plethora of center fielders in the Texas Rangers system, Jenkins, who was the Crawdads starter at that position in 2016, has been taken out of the conversation for now. But if he puts together those natural tools of speed and occasional power, the mentions of him by others could return.

Power Cruzing: West Virginia takes early lead, evens series

In similar circumstances to game one of the series, the West Virginia Power took advantage of an error in the first to score three times and never trailed during a 6-4 win over the Hickory Crawdads in front of 2,925 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium Friday night.

The Power (4-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with the win and evened the series with the Crawdads (1-7).

In game one of the series Thursday, the Crawdads used a first-inning error to score four unearned runs on the way to a 6-2 win. On Friday, the roles were reversed.

After Crawdads starter Jean Casanova (0-1) retired the first two batters in the first, Dylan Busby hit a high pop-up near home plate. Catcher Sam Huff settled under the ball, which carried to the fair side of home plate and ticked off the glove for the error. The Power made Hickory pay with a double by Mason Martin and a three-run homer by Oneil Cruz.

Miguel Aparicio cut the deficit to 3-1 with his first homer of the season, a high drive off the top row of billboards in right. Ryan Dorow added his first blast of the season in the second.

The Power regained their initial three-run lead in the third. Cruz walked and Kyle Watson reached on an infield hit that chased Casanova. Sal Mendez entered and recorded two straight grounders, the second by Ryan Peurifoy scored Cruz. Chris Sharpe blooped a single into short right to bring in Watson and the Power led 5-2.

From there, the Crawdads threatened several times with runners scoring position in five of the last seven innings. Melvin Nova singled and scored on Tyler Ratliff’s double to get Hickory back within 5-3. However, Yohel Pozo grounded to third and Gavin Wallace fanned Huff to strand the runner.

Dorow doubled with one out in the fourth, but never advanced. Pozo double to start the sixth, but he, too, never moved.

Cruz’s second homer of the night in the seventh pushed the Power ahead 6-3 before Pedro Gonzalez tripled and scored to create what turned out to be the final margin.

The Crawdads loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but reliever Evan Piechota struck out Gonzalez to end the attempted rally.

Piechota then worked around a two-out single in the ninth to record the three-inning save (1).

Wallace got the win (1-0) with six innings of work during which he gave up three runs on eight hits.

 

Thoughts:

***This felt like a game that Hickory would win. The Power stranded seven over the first four innings and the Crawdads responded each time West Virginia scored. However, the inability by Hickory to capitalize on presented opportunities ultimately doomed the team. The Crawdads went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position for the game and left 10. Through 7 games with RISP, the team is at .190/.239/.206. It feels like the pitcher has the advantage rather than the other way around.

***First home appearance for Alex Speas and it looked sharp. Cruz touched him for the second homer, but the pitch appeared to be a fastball that was down and away. Cruz lined it opposite field, down the line in left. Otherwise, Speas brought a live fastball (sorry, no speed gun readings) with a change and breaking ball (looked like a slider) that kept hitters honest. He fanned four of the last five swinging.

***Wallace didn’t appear to have his best stuff. Was told by the Power radio guy that keeping his sinker down was the key to his success. Wallace left a good bit up that Hickory hit hard. But Wallace mixed in the secondaries well until he could find the touch on the sinker and he went on to record nine groundball outs. While fastball command wasn’t there, the control was as he issued no walks. He seemed poised when in troubled and never panicked. After the Power pulled their starter after the first on Thursday, Wallace’s outing was a balm to the Power’s staff.

***Casanova should have been out of the first with just six pitches, but the error started a chain of events from which he never recovered. Like Wallace, he also had command issues with the fastball and it was punished. One wonders what his evening would be like had the error not happened. However, he seemed to panic and was never the same.

***The first “Wow” moment for me this season was Gonzalez’s triple in the seventh. He took a Piechota offering and lined it hard into open grass down into the right field corner. Gonzalez was in full stride between first and second… and then accelerated. It was another gear!

 

Unlucky Seventh Dooms Crawdads

The line will show that Hickory left-hander Sal Mendez had a rough seventh inning, and certainly he contributed to his demise on the mound. However, a couple of unlucky breaks did him in, and in turn it proved to be the difference in a 4-3 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers Sunday afternoon at First National Bank Field.

 

What happened?:

Hickory took a 3-1 lead into the seventh-inning stretch and after Sal Mendez dominated Greensboro in the sixth, the Grasshoppers got their revenge when they sent eight to the plate to score the decisive three runs.

JC Millan started the inning with a solidly lined single to right. With the middle infielders playing at double play depth, Micah Brown hit a medium-speed grounder to the hole at second. Kole Enright from his second base position ranged far to his left, made a diving stop of the ball, but from the seated position he wasn’t able to get enough on the throw to first for the out.

Michael Hernandez then line a shot through the box – I thought it might have hit Mendez – and zoomed into center to score Millan. Zach Sullivan’s sacrifice put runners at second and third before Mendez walked Aaron Knapp.

The tying run scored when Sam Castro hit a checked-swing grounder between the mound and first. First baseman Sam Huff charged the ball but he had no play at home for the force. He turned to get the out at first, however no one covered the bag and the bases remained loaded. That proved crucial as the next hitter Isael Soto hit a high chopper that the 6-4 Huff leapt to snag and then step on first for the out.. However, that made it only two outs and Hernandez score the go-ahead and subsequent deciding run.

The Crawdads took a 2-0 lead in the first on Pedro Gonzalez’s two-run blast to right off the scoreboard.

Hickory started Noah Bremer but was pulled after the first with an oblique injury. A.J. Alexy entered in the second and gave up a lone run on a double play grounder in the fourth. Huff’s first homer of the season accounted for the Crawdads other run in the sixth.

After the blast, Hickory had just two more baserunners. Yohel Pozo doubled to start the seventh. From there, Remey Reed, RJ Peace and Tyler Frohwirth combined to retire the next seven straight, which ended with Gonzalez’s check-swing single. Pozo hit the next pitch for a 6-4-3 double play.

 

The offense is offensive: Just five hits on Sunday, two of those left the yard, and the Crawdads leave First National Bank Field with a .214/.267/.337 slash. Hickory fanned 11 times today and have Ks in over 25% of its at-bats.

I do wonder how different this weekend would have been had the team scored in the first two innings of the opening game of the season. Having the bases loaded twice, the Crawdads came up empty both times and needed a ninth-inning HR by Enright to avoid the shutout. After going 5-for-20 RISP, they only had three opportunities Sunday afternoon and went hitless.

There are a couple of members struggling to make contact. Gonzalez is 4-for-12, but 7 of his 8 outs are Ks. Tyler Ratliff is 0-for-10 with 5 whiffs and Chad Smith is 0-for-7 with 4 Ks. But strikeouts aside, the issue I saw on Thursday and a little this afternoon, is the inability to take advantage of opportunities. When Greensboro starter Brady Puckett got into those opening-inning jams, Hickory went first-pitch hacking and let him off the hook.

This afternoon, speedy Eric Jenkins in the eighth went up 3-0, then swung through three straight pitches. In the ninth after Pedro Gonzalez reached on a checked-swing single, Yohel Pozo went first-pitch hacking and hit into a game-ending double play.

I think this team will hit and do it well and score some runs. But, they need that spark. Unfortunately, guys are trying to force the issue.

AJ’s day: I’m guessing Alexy had planned to pitch today, but not as early as the second inning and perhaps he wasn’t loose, etc.

According the Marlins pitch fx guy, Alexy was around 92 mph with the fastball. He appeared to have trouble spotting the pitch consistently, especially from the stretch. By my count – there was no stringer for Greensboro today, so I kept my own pitch count – Alexy threw just 43 strikes out of 75 pitches in four innings. He missed 10 bats, only one on the fastball (at least it appeared to be a fastball from my vantage point in the pressbox, located in the ionosphere. The curveball seemed to have good bite to it.

Sal Mendez: I’m guessing I like Sal Mendez more than most and it’s because of innings like the sixth that appeal to me. The lefty breaks a bat on a fastball to start the inning. He then gets back-to-back strikeouts on a swing-through change and a curveball for a called third-strike. Then there are those moments like the seventh when weird things happen and he is unable to minimize the damage.

He is able to get outs, but his stuff is such that there is a small margin of error to get outs or to get hit. Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes loves Mendez’ changeup and it is an outstanding pitch when he can keep it down and miss bats. When he misses his spots, he’s very vulnerable.

Defensive gems: Hickory has been almost flawless in the field. Through the first three games, the lone two errors have come of pickoff throws by pitchers. The group covers a lot of ground and, at least to this point, are sure-handed.

Jenkins in left went back and to his left to make a diving catch of a liner off the bat of Millan in the second. SS Yonny Hernandez bailed out catcher Yohel Pozo’s off-line throw on a steal attempt. Hernandez had to cross the bag and avoid the sliding runner, but he managed to make the catch and slap a tag on Sullivan, who was sliding in.

 

 

The 2018 Crawdads: Pitchers – An interview with pitching coach Jose Jaimes

The first half of the 2017 Hickory Crawdads season was a tough one to watch. Most of the games were blowouts early as pitchers were under an organizational mandate to throw fastballs and learn how to use the pitch before infusing secondary pitches. Some of them figured it out and moved on – Kyle Cody being the best example – others struggled with the concept and went down to Spokane for more seasoning.

Of the pitchers to start the 2018 season, eight spent time at L.P. Frans Stadium last year. Tyler Phillips and Demarcus Evans figured out some things at lower levels and are back again with Phillips snagging a top-30 prospect ranking along the way.

With the returnees and a healthy load of college pitchers, the 2018 version could – and should? – be better equipped to handle what is being asked of them: place the fastball correctly, throw strikes and get outs. A group of eight of them did that during Monday night’s exhibition game against Catawba Valley Community College. Save for a second-inning hiccup by Alex Eubanks, the group that pitched threw gas and made quick work of the overmatched JUCO club.

Starting with Phillips on Thursday at a hitter’s park at Greensboro, we’ll begin to see where he and the Crawdads are to start the 2018 season.

I interviewed Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the pitching staff and basically went down the list to get a sense of where everyone is at the start. At least until he had to get to on-field workouts before we could finish.

So below is an overview of many, but not all, of the Crawdads pitchers to start the season.

 

 

 

That was impressive last night. There was no gun, but I’m guessing you ran guys out there throwing 93, 94, 95 pretty much all along the line last night.

Jaimes: Yeah, it was exciting. We have a pretty exciting group. Starting with our rotation, our rotation is a little more experience than last year, so that’s going to make a difference. We’ve got a few college guys and that’s going to help the young kids. Then, when you look to the bullpen, everybody’s around the mid-90s, which is exciting. Hopefully, they can do what you saw yesterday and keep getting better.

 

There was a lot of talk last year about the Rangers wanting the guys to work fastball, fastball, fastball. They had to spot it so many times, or whatever percentage was set before they started to bring in the secondaries. Are they staying with that or is it being tweaked any?

Jaimes: It’s still going to be a priority to control the fastball. That’s still the number one thing, so we’re going to keep preaching that. Definitely, we’re making some adjustments on the plan, but for the most part it’s going to stay the same. It’s fastball and they’ll learn how to use it and learn how to get outs with it and learn to how to play with it. You’ve got basically six pitches with the fastball – going down and away, down and in, up and in, up and away, middle – so you can do anything you want with your fastball. That’s going to be the main focus again this year. I think with the group that we have this year, they have more experience and a little better command than last year.

 

Will it be as strict the first time through the order as it was last year?

Jaimes: (hesitating) No, no, no.

 

I don’t mean to have you give away things, but it at almost seemed like last year, “You will throw the fastball to everybody pretty much the first time through the order.” Like you said, it’s six pitches, but still guys are sitting on it.

Jaimes: Yes, it was tough and you saw it. But it’s a great plan and we saw it pay off towards the end of the year in the second half. Guys learned how to use their fastball and learned how to get outs with it and once they implemented the other pitches, it made a huge difference. I think that was one of the biggest turnarounds that we had in the second half of last year, because they were able to pitch with it. They relied too much on their secondary stuff, so again, that’s going to be a main thing.

 

The rotation, is it still going to be six guys?

Jaimes: Yes, it’s still a six-man rotation. Tyler Phillips will be our opening-night guy. Alex Eubanks will be our second guy. AJ Alexy, that you saw last year, Noah Bremer. Reid Anderson is going to join the rotation and then Tyree Thompson will be the sixth guy.

 

I’m just going to go down the list and if you can give me a little bit about their stuff and your expectations for them. I’ll just start with Tyler. He just seemed overmatched here last year when he started. Like Miguel (Aparcio), he seemed overmatched and then found himself when he went to Spokane. What do you see from him coming back here that he learned from last year?

Jaimes: I think last year was a big learning year for him. He had a good spring training. He showed up this spring stronger, bigger, but most important, more mature. So, I’m expecting him to lead the rotation and be that guy that’s going to teach the young kids. Stuff wise, I was watching down in Arizona, he was 94-95 (mph) fastball. He’s got a really good changeup and a breaking ball. I think he’s come really far physically and mentally and I’m expecting good things about him this year.

Slider?

Jaimes: Curveball and it’s improved a lot since last year.

 

Alex Eubanks.

Jaimes: A strike thrower. He’s a very mature guy. I love the way that he handles himself on the mound. It seems like nothing bothers him when he doesn’t have his best stuff. You saw him last night, the second inning he gave up three hits in four pitches. He never lost his composure; he stayed within himself and minimized the damage. So, that’s him. He’s going to be that guy that’s going to be able to bounce back quick. I love the stuff that he brings. He has good movement on his fastball and a really good changeup, cutter and slider. Good command of every pitch.

 

AJ, he came here and was pretty impressive for a guy who got bounced from his first organization all of a sudden. He had some moments, but all in all not a bad August.

Jaimes: No, he was actually one of our best guys in August. We’re going to continue to build onto what he did towards the end of the year. He had a good spring training, too, so again he’s another guy that’s bigger and stronger, which is good for him. Command wise, it definitely has improved from last year. Again, it’s another guy that we have a lot expectations for.

 

Curveball for his breaking ball, if I remember?

Jaimes: Yes, curveball and it’s a pretty good one and a really good fastball, which is mid-90s that looks harder than what it is.

 

Noah Bremer.

Jaimes: He’s a funky guy delivery wise. He hides the ball really well – I think that’s his biggest weapon – the hitters don’t really get a good pickup of the ball. Again, he’s another gut that can play with his fastball on each side of the plate. He has a really good changeup and a nice breaking ball, too. He’s kind of like what you’re going to see from Eubanks; they’re pretty similar guys.

 

Reid Anderson. He pitched better in the second half, but he always seemed to be the guy that had the one quirky inning or the one quirky moment that would fell him. He’d get 5 2/3 and we could see you’re trying to get him through six and he’d have that one moment where the guy would hit the ball out of the ballpark and you’d be like, “doggone it.” Did he grow up from that last year?

Jaimes: I think so. In spring training at one of his last games, it was the first time he was going to five innings. He got through four innings without any issues, really good. He got to the fifth, the first two pitches he spiked the fastball and threw one over the catcher’s head and went to 3-0. I’m thinking, maybe it’s going to happen what happened last year and he’s not going to get through the fifth and he’ll lose everything. But he did. He went to a 3-0 count and then came back with two good fastballs and struck the guy out and then retired the next two guys with no issues. The next outing, he went six innings without any problem.

So, again, he’s another guy that learned a lot from last year. He knows that he needs to keep the game simple. He knows that he’s preparing himself not to pitch five innings; he’s preparing himself to pitch nine innings. I think that was his main issue last year; he knew that he was about to be done and doubt set in and he couldn’t control it. He’s doing a better job with it.

Remind me of his stuff:

Jaimes: Fastball, changeup, curveball and a cutter.

 

Tyree Thompson.

Jaimes: He’s a real competitor. I love what he brings. I love that he’s a strike thrower. Maybe he’s not that big of a stuff guy, but he’s a pitcher with a fastball, curveball and a changeup. His biggest weapon is that he competes no matter what the situation is. So, I’m excited about having him on the staff and I think he’ll be a big part of it.

 

Tell me about Alex Speas. I read the stuff about his big fastball, but he doesn’t always know where it’s going. After getting used to things last night, he settled in and pitched a good inning.

Jaimes: I think by him being in the bullpen he’s going to be able to keep the game simple. Definitely, he has some command issues at times, but I think he has improved a lot since last year. He had a really good year in Spokane when he went to the bullpen. Yesterday with the first guy, he was guiding the ball, then he just let it go and you saw it, he had really good stuff. He has a good fastball and a really, really good slider. I think he’s going to be a big part of the back end of the bullpen for us.

 

Sal Mendez is back. When you and I talked at this same time last year, I asked you who had the best secondary stuff among your staff. You said Sal Mendez’s changeup. How is his progression from last year and what is he coming back to do?

Jaimes: He’s going to be helping to be the leader of the bullpen. He’s going to have the same role that he played last year – a long man, then he’ll spot start here and there. He’s a big changeup guy, but this year’s it’s going to be more of finding a breaking ball. I think it’s doing better, but I think that’s going to be his priority, having the breaking ball to face left-handed hitters.

 

Going down the list of who was here last year. Joe Kuzia had a cup of coffee and got hit around a bit, but like Phillips, once he got back to Spokane he found himself in the bullpen. He seems like he will be a key bullpen guy that will give you some innings.

Jaimes: Yeah, I’m excited about him. Like you said, when he came up I felt like he wasn’t ready for the competition here. He went down to Spokane and worked on some reliever’s stuff and he got back into a rhythm and had a really good spring training. He’s ready to go.

 

As you have time, run down a quick couple of things about the bullpen guys.

Jaimes: Demarcus Evans. We had him last year.

 

He looked more controlled last night, as far as his delivery.

Jaimes: Yeah, I think he’s going to be our guy. I’m excited for him and I think it’s going to be a good thing for him now to be a part of the bullpen and being able to pitch more often is going to help him. Definitely, command wise, it is the main thing that needs work, but he’s doing better. I’m excited to work with him because I know that whenever he finds it, he’s going to be pretty special.

Meet the 2018 Hickory Crawdads

The Texas Rangers announced the initial roster for the 2018 Hickory Crawdads. A total of 28 players are on the list with three to be pared off before opening day begins on Thursday, April 5 at Greensboro.

Six of the 28 players assigned to Hickory are currently on the Rangers top-30 prospect according to MLB.com. They include outfielders Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10) and Miguel Aparicio (18), catcher Sam Huff (25), and pitchers A.J. Alexy (17), Alex Speas (23), and Tyler Phillips (30).

Twelve of the 28 listed on the initial roster spent some time at Hickory last season, including eight pitchers.

Among the pitchers, five of them – Alexy, Phillips, Reid Anderson, Demarcus Evans and Sal Mendez – made starts for the Crawdads in 2017. Also returning are Dario Beltre, Joe Kuzia and Grant Zawadzki.

The four position players returning to Hickory are catcher Yohel Pozo, infielder Ryan Dorow – his only game with the Crawdads was a start in the final game of the 2017 season – Aparicio and Eric Jenkins, who will spent at least part of a fourth season in Hickory.

Below is a brief look at all 28 players on the initial roster:

PITCHERS                                                                                                           

Josh Advocate (6-1, 195 lbs., 24 y/o) RHP

The native of Mohave Valley, Ariz. pitched in 18 pro games (1-3, 3.63 ERA) out of the bullpen with rookie-affiliate Arizona Summer League (AZL) Rangers and short-season Spokane (Wash.) after his 20th round selection out of Long Beach State. Was a first-team All-Big West Conference pick in 2017. Played one season at Cochise (Ariz.) College and was a first-team Small School All-American in 2012 while at River Valley (Ariz.) High. Also played football in high school and was a first-team All-State pick as a free safety.

 A.J. Alexy (6-4, 195, 19) RHP

The native of Honey Brook, Pa. was obtained by the Rangers last summer as part of a four-player deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Assigned to Hickory after the trade, he made five starts (1-1, 3.05) and struck out 27 in 20.2 innings. Held opponents to a .180 batting average, the third-lowest among all full-season minor league pitchers (min. 90 innings). Originally drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round in 2016, he was signed away from a commitment to Radford. Was a catcher before switching to the mound in his junior season in high school (Twin Valley, Elverson, Pa.). Also wrestled in high school. Currently the No. 17 Rangers prospect according to MLB.com.

Reid Anderson (6-3, 185, 22) RHP

The native of New Egypt, N.J. made 28 appearances (13 starts) for Hickory in 2017 (1-11, 5.30). Was a starter almost exclusively in the second half of the season. The 17th round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Millersville Univ. (Pa.) in 2016, he attended college as an outfielder and moved to the mound during his sophomore season. Went 8-1 in 2016 and made three relief appearances during Millersville’s run to the Division II final. Played baseball and basketball at New Egypt High.

Joe Barlow (6-3, 195, 22) RHP

The native of Riverton, Utah made 16 relief appearances (6-1, 2.00) for Spokane in 2017. An 11th-round pick of the Rangers out of Salt Lake Community College in 2016, he struck out 64 of the 158 batters faced (40.5%) in 45 innings. Barlow was second in the Northwest League in opponents batting average (.177) and fifth in Ks-per-9-innings (12.80). A two-way player in college, he also caught 25 games in college. Pitched in high school at Riverton.

Dario Beltre (6-3, 210, 25) RHP

The native of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic made his first full-season appearance last year since signing as an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2010. Made 11 appearances with Hickory (1-0, 2.60) with 19 Ks in 17.1 innings before ending the season on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. Missed the 2016 season due to elbow surgery. Fanned 173 in 153.1 innings during his pro career.

Noah Bremer (6-5, 200, 21)

The native of Berkeley, Calif. was the sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 2017 out of the University of Washington. Ranks third in innings, sixth in strikeouts and tied for sixth in starts among all hurlers in school history. In his pro debut with the AZL Rangers and Spokane, he made 12 relief appearances (1-0, 2.61) with 30 Ks and four walks in 20 innings. Held opponents to a .152/.211/.212 slash. Was an All-Pac 12 pick in 2017. Pitched in high school at Berkeley.

Jean Casanova (6-3, 155, 21) RHP

Was the 35th-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Waukegan (Ill.) High. Spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers. Made 11 appearances (five starts) with the rookie affiliate in 2017 (5-2, 2.70) and 47 Ks in 36.2 innings. Moved to the U.S. in fifth grade from the Dominican Republic. His cousin Raul played in the majors from 1996 to 2008.

Alex Eubanks (6-2, 180, 22) RHP

The native of Moore, S.C. made 10 of his 11 appearances with Spokane (3-0, 1.17) after his 14th-round selection by the Rangers out of Clemson last June. Struck out 25 and walked just two in 16.1 innings. Made 16 starts for Clemson as a redshirt sophomore last year and walked just 1.73 per nine innings with the Tigers. Was an all-state as a senior at Byrnes (S.C.) High.

Demarcus Evans (6-4, 270, 21) RHP

The native of Petal, Miss. started the 2017 season with Hickory. A shoulder strain placed him on the disabled list in May and he rejoined the club after a rehab assignment with AZL Rangers. Finished the season at Spokane. With the Crawdads (2-5, 4.85), the Rangers 2015 25th-round pick (Petal High) made 12 appearances (six starts) with 46 Ks in 29.2 innings. Held opponents to a .170/.250/.250 slash in five starts at Spokane. As a high school senior, chosen as one of baseball’s “Dandy Dozen” by The Clarion-Ledger.

Joe Kuzia (6-4, 196, 24)  RHP

A free agent signee of the Rangers in April 2017, the native of Cape Coral, Fla. had a four-game stint with Hickory last summer (1-1, 12.79). Spent the rest of 2017 with Spokane where he made 16 appearances. Had the lowest walk-per-9 inning rate (0.86) among Northwest League relievers to go with a 12.93 K-per-9 inning rate. Previously pitched professional with Garden State in the independent Can-Am League, as well as Bridgeport and New Britain in the independent Atlantic League. Was first-team All-Big East at St. John’s in 2014. Pitched in junior college at Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC and at Seymour (Ct.) High. where he also lettered in basketball, football and indoor track.

Sal Mendez (6-4, 185, 23) LHP

The native of Weehawken, N.J. made 25 appearances (6-6, 4.71), including nine starts, with Hickory in 2017. Spent part of August on the disabled list with a strained quad. Was the Rangers 40th round pick in 2013 out of Weehawken High. Missed first two pro seasons with an elbow injury. Threw a no-hitter in high school. Signed away from a commitment to Howard (Tex.) College. Father Sabah played two seasons in the New York Yankees system and one year with the Minnesota Twins chain in the 1970s.

Tyler Phillips (6-5, 191, 20)

The native of Lumberton, N.J. started the 2017 season with Hickory and struggled (1-2, 6.39 in his seven appearances (four starts) before an assignment to Spokane. With the Indians, the Rangers 2015 16th round pick out of Bishop Eustace Prep (N.J.) had 12 Ks in his final start of the season. Had an 18-0 career record in high school and posted a 1.02 ERA his senior season.

 

Alex Speas (6-4, 180, 20) RHP

The native of Powder Springs, Ga. made 16 appearances (7 starts) for Spokane (1-6, 6.15) in 2017 with 45 Ks in 33.2 innings. Was ranked the 12th-best prospect in the Northwest League by Baseball America. The Rangers drafted him in the second round of the 2016 draft out of McEachern (Ga.) High and signed him away from a commitment to Auburn. Threw 8.1 scoreless innings with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season in 2016. Was an Under Armour All-American. Baseball America had him as the 11th-best high school pitching prospect before the 2016 draft. Signed away from a commitment to Auburn. Currently the Rangers No. 23 prospect according to MLB.com

Tyree Thompson (6-4, 165, 21) RHP

The New Orleans native made 13 starts (5-1, 3.15) for Spokane in 2017 and was second in the Northwest League in ERA, fourth in WHIP (1.24). The Rangers 26th-round pick in 2016 was the first player drafted by MLB out of Edna Karr (La.) High, where he threw six no-hitters and two perfect games in his high school career. Signed away from a commitment to play baseball and basketball at Northwestern St. (La.)

Grant Zawadzki (5-10, 200, 25) RHP

The native of Shrewsbury, Mass. signed a free-agent contract with the Rangers in February 2017. Split time with Spokane, Hickory and high-A Down East last season. Made seven relief appearances with Hickory (0-1, 7.71). Previously pitched in the San Diego Padres organization as well as with Lancaster and Southern Maryland in the independent Atlantic League. Played collegiately at Cleveland State (Tenn.) CC and Bryan College (Tenn.). Went to St. John’s High (Shrewsbury).

 

CATCHERS

Sam Huff (6-4, 215, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Phoenix spent both pro seasons with the AZL Rangers after his selection in the seventh-round of the 2016 draft out of Arcadia High. Posted a .249/.329/.452 slash in 49 games last season. Tied for the AZL lead with nine homers and was fourth in total bases. Named to the post-season AZL All-star team. Reached base safely in 24 of 28 games in 2016. Named to Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona baseball team in 2016 after hitting .554 with 14 homers and 49 RBI. Signed away from a commitment to Grand Canyon Univ. Currently the Rangers No. 25 prospect according to MLB.com

Clay Middleton (6-0, 205, 24) B-T: R-R

The native of Oviedo, Fla. spent both pro seasons with Spokane, splitting time behind the plate and at first last season. Posted .263/.323/.415 slash in 39 games with four homers and 17 RBI last season. Was the 22nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of Bethune-Cookman University. Named first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2016. Played high school ball at Hagerty (Fla.) High.

Melvin Novoa (5-11, 215, 21) B-T: R-R

The native of Nandaime, Nicaragua signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. When he appears in a game for Hickory, Novoa will be the first Nicaraguan to play for the Crawdads. Hit for a .281/.338/.467 slash with four homers and 15 RBI in 38 games last season at Spokane. Was suspended for the 2016 season after testing positive for PED.

Yohel Pozo (6-0, 201, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Maracaibo, Venezuela signed an international free agent contract with the Rangers in 2013. In his first full-season assignment last season, posted .338/.373/.465 slash with two homers and 15 RBI at Hickory. His .338 batting avg. is the eighth highest in Crawdads history for a player with a minimum of 150 plate appearances. Opened the 2017 season with Spokane before joining Hickory in July. Threw out 35.1% of baserunners for the Crawdads in 2017. Named to 2016 post-season AZL All-Star Team after hitting .341 for the AZL Rangers.

 

INFIELDERS

Ryan Dorow (6-0, 195, 22) B-T: R-R

The native of South Haven, Mich. played in the final game of the 2017 for Hickory (1-3, double) after suiting up for 40 games with the AZL Rangers. A 30th-round pick last June out of Division III Adrian College (Mich.), he posted a .296/.382/.384 slash. Named MVP of Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association three straight seasons. He is the first player drafted by MLB out of Adrian since 1974 (Sherwin Rogers by Baltimore). Played baseball, soccer and basketball at South Haven. Named to all-state baseball team his senior season.

Kole Enright (6-1, 175, 20) B-T: S-R

The native of Winter Garden, Fla. was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2016 out of West Orange (Fla.) High. After posting a .313/.378/.420 slash with the AZL Rangers in his first pro season, played in 67 games at Spokane last season when he hit .233/.314/.323 with three homers and 20 RBI. Named to the Orlando Sentinel all-area team in his senior season. Signed away from a commitment to Stetson Univ.

Yonny Hernandez (5-9, 140, 20)B-T: S-R

Signed as an international free agent in 2014, he made his stateside debut as a pro last May with AA Frisco (Tex.), where he went 0-for-3. The native of Planta, Baja, Venezuela spent much of the season with the AZL Rangers (32 games) before ending the season at Spokane (18 games). Hit his first pro homer in three seasons with Spokane last year.

Justin Jacobs (6-1, 195, 22) B-T: L-R

The native of Spokane, Wash. signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2017 after playing college ball at Gonzaga. Played in 48 games with the AZL Rangers posting a .326/.438/.431 slash. Was second in the AZL in hits (59) and on-base percentage (.438), sixth in batting avg. Named a JUCO All-American at Lower Columbia College (Wash.). Played high school ball at Auburn Riverside (Wash.).

Tyler Ratliff (6-2, 210, 22) B-T: R-R

The native of Port St. Lucie, Fla. played mostly with Spokane in his initial pro season after his selection by the Rangers in the 17th round out of Marshall Univ. last June. After hitting .500 in eight games with the AZL Rangers, Ratliff hit .264/.330/.421 with the Indians six homers and 25 RBI. Named to the Northwest League All-Star Team. Was a Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week during his sophomore season. Played in high school at T.C. Williams (Va.).

 

OUTFIELDERS

Miguel Aparicio (6-0, 175, 19) B-T: L-L

Signed as an international free agent in 2015, the native of San Carlos, Venezuela struggled as an 18-year-old during a 25-game stint (.176/.255/.247) with Hickory last season in his stateside pro debut. Re-assigned to Spokane, he put together an all-star season with the Indians (.293/.333/.395). Was second in the Northwest League in hits (86), fourth in runs (47) and the third-hardest player in the league to strikeout. Named by Baseball America as the 13th-best prospect in the NWL. Currently the Rangers No. 18 prospect according to MLB.com.

Pedro Gonzalez (6-5, 190, 20) B-T: R-R

The native of Santo Dominguez, Dominican Republic was obtained by the Rangers from the Colorado Rockies last August in a deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Originally signed by the Rockies as an international free agent in 2014. Went 0-for-17 with Spokane in six games after the trade. Before the trade, he put up a .321/.388/.519 slash with 25 extra-base hits in 45 games with the Rockies rookie affiliate at Grand Junction (Colo.). Named the seventh-best prospect in the Pioneer League by Baseball America. Originally a shortstop in the Rockies organization, moved to centerfield in 2016. Currently the Rangers No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com.

Eric Jenkins (6-1, 170, 21) B-T: L-R

The lone North Carolina native (Cerro Gordo) on the Crawdads roster was drafted by the Rangers in the second round of the 2015 draft out West Columbus High. After playing in 51 games with the AZL Rangers in his pro debut season, he hit .389/.421/.444 with the Crawdads in the final five games of 2015 and started in left during the playoffs. Led the South Atlantic League with 51 steals in 2016. Started the 2017 season with a hamstring injury before rejoining Hickory last May. Hit .216/.266/.310 in his final 60 games with the Crawdads. Also played basketball in high school. Signed out of a commitment to UNC Wilmington.

Chad Smith (6-2, 193, 20) B-T: L-L

The native of Snellville, Ga. played for Spokane (.277/.354/.447) for a second-straight season in 2017 before a shoulder injury shut him down for the season after 39 games. A fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of South Gwinnett (Ga.) High, he was as Northwest League all-star in 2016. Named a Perfect Game second-team All-American as a high school senior. Signed away from a commitment to the Univ. of Georgia.

 

Success in Middle Management: Greenville Tops Crawdads 5-3

Greenville (S.C.) scored five runs over the middle innings to support the start of Jhonathan Diaz as the Drive defeated Hickory 5-3 at L.P. Frans Stadium Thursday night in front of 1,725 fans.

The Drive (37-23) took the three-game series by winning the final two games and now lead the South Atlantic League’s first-half Southern Division standings by three games over the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies with ten games to play.

Hickory drops to 23-37 in the first half and are three games behind sixth-place Delmarva (Md.) in its bid to avoid the first last-place finish in a half-season since 2008, when the team was affiliated with the Pirates. The Crawdads are also trying to avoid the worst half-season record by a Rangers affiliated club. The 2009 second-half team finished 30-40.

 

What happened?:

Both lefties – Hickory starter Sal Mendez and Diaz – held the hitters at bay for the most part through the first three innings. The lone flaw by Diaz over the first five innings occurred in the third, when Jose Almonte golfed what appeared to be a low fastball over the fence. The solo blast was his fourth of the season and it gave the Crawdads their only lead.

That was short lived as Greenville returned fire in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead. Ryan Scott doubled hard to left and scored one out later on Rolandi Baldwin’s double to center. After Tucker Tubbs popped out, Tyler Spoon ripped a liner to right for a single. Almonte charged the ball and threw a one-hop bullet home that handcuffed the catcher Ricky Valencia and allowed Baldwin to score. (More on this play later)

In the fifth, Steven Reveles and Chris Madera both singled and later scored when Scott lifted a single past the drawn-in infield (Also more on this play later)

The Drive tacked on their final run in the sixth against Luke Lanphere. Spoon doubled to left, advanced to third on a grounder and scored on Reveles’s ground single up the middle through another drawn-in infield.

Meanwhile, Diaz faced one over the minimum through five innings, the lone blemish being Almonte’s homer and a single by Franklin Rollin in the first that was erased on a double play. The 20-year-old Venezuelan, making just his third stateside start, struck out eight through five innings.

However, the Crawdads finally got to him in the sixth with three straight hits. Yeyson Yrizarri singled to left and moved to third on Anderson Tejeda’s opposite-field double.  Rollin singled in Yrizarri and in the process chased Diaz. Pat Goetze faced Leody Taveras, who bounced into a fielder’s choice to third. Reveles charged the play hard in order to get the force at second, but his throw sailed high and allowed Rollin to reach and Tejeda to score. But with runners at first and second, Yanio Perez hit into an infield fly and Forbes hit into a fielder’s choice. The inning ended when a double-steal attempt blew up and Rollin was caught stealing at home.

The Crawdads mounted an uprising in the eighth against Hildemaro Requena.  With two outs, Taveras and Perez slapped back-to-back singles to place runners at the corners. However, Requena fanned Ti’Quan Forbes to end the threat.

Requena worked around a walk in the ninth by striking out the side to earn his third save of the season.

 

Examples of why errors and earned runs do not tell the whole story:

My friend Scott Lucas, who sends out a Rangers minor league report daily during the season, does a primer at the beginning of the season. In it, he explains that while ERA does reflect some of how a pitcher is doing, there are things that happen during a game that have more of an effect on earned runs (on none) than what meets the eye. Heck, an official scorer’s demeanor might get in the way of a judgment call at times. (Though I’m not one of those… I don’t think.) Earned runs, or the lack of them, do not always tell the fan the whole story.

Hickory was charged with three errors on the night and none officially had anything to do with the scoring. A glance at the box will tell a person the Crawdads played poorly defensively – and they did  – then you look at the pitching line for Mendez and you’ll think, “well, they played poorly, but they didn’t affect Mendez’s earned run total.” While the errors didn’t affect earned runs, misplays that are not charged as errors did.

The first error came opening batter of the game, when Yrizarri’s high throw allowed Chris Madera to reach. Madera was erased on a double play hit into by Santiago Espinal, so no biggie.

The second error was the play that handcuffed Valencia at the plate. The runner, Baldwin, should have been out by 10 feet, as Almonte’s throw was on the money. But, you don’t assume the runner would be out or safe on such a play. There’s usually a benefit of the doubt given to the runner with the hitter getting the RBI. So, what was the error for? Allowing the runner, who had stopped at first, to advance to second. In short, the second run of the fourth shouldn’t have scored, but it did and it ups Mendez’s ERA total.

In the fifth with runners at first and second and none out, Espinal hit a sharp grounder to Perez at first. Perez made the fielding play cleanly, but a hesitation cost him a chance to throw to second for a simple force out, though a double play would’ve been tough. Perez did record an out at first, but his misstep took away a chance at a double play later to end the inning. So, with a runner at second and third and one out, Crawdads manager Spike Owen had to have the infield play in to try and keep the runner at third on a ground ball rather than at normal depth to try and turning an inning-ending double play. It cost them an out and a second run in the inning as Scott’s base hit was a routine pop up just beyond the second baseman’s position ad it fell in for a two-run single. It’s not a play an official scorer can award an error on, but the right kind of out saves a run. Regardless, it cost Mendez an earned run.

One inning later, Taveras and Almonte converge at RCF to retrieve a single that fell in. The runner stopped, but moved up when the two outfielders couldn’t decide on who would make the play. The ball bounced between them and so I gave the error to the player that should’ve taken charge, the CF Taveras – even though neither of them touched it.

Mendez deserves better, but….

The defense did cost him two runs, but Mendez didn’t help his cause by elevating his pitches. Throwing a well-spotted 89-91 mph fastball, he accompanied that with a changeup that dipped well, especially to left-handed hitters early. His effective mix of speeds worked well as he missed several bats with the change.  He pounded the strike zone for first-pitch strikes (17 of 24 hitters). Add to that four broken bats, 10 groundball outs and two Ks and it was good night…. Except in the fourth and fifth he left a lot of pitches up that were spanked. It looked like Valencia kept reminding Mendez to stay out in front rather than fly open on delivery.

I like him more than most. He’s not going to wow you with “stuff”, but to me, there’s a lot there with that changeup that tantalizes hitters to swing… and miss. He has to keep his pitches down, as there’s not enough otherwise to keep him from getting mauled on the mound.

Charles(ton) in Charge: RiverDogs Take Bite out of Crawdads 14-4

The Charleston RiverDogs entered Thursday night’s game with a South Atlantic League high .319 batting avg. in May. The Hickory Crawdads have the league’s worst pitching statistically. That’s proved to be a bad combination over the last two nights and on Thursday, the result was a 14-4 thrashing by Charleston in front of 2,525 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

For the second straight night, Charleston (17-17) scored the first nine runs of the game and cruised to victory. The Crawdads (12-21) have been outscored 25-6 over the first two games of the three-game series.

 

What happened?:

Charleston put the first five runners aboard and eventually sent ten to the plate in the first inning to open a 6-0 lead. Poor defense and poor pitch execution by starter Michael Matuella went hand-in-hand. (More on the defense later.)

Matuella had little command of the fastball in his lone inning, which started with a four-pitch walk to Estevan Florial. After a dubious bloop single to center by Isaiah Gilliam, Hoy Jun Park tripled in both runners. Blake Rutherford singled in Park. Oswaldo Cabrera’s sac fly got a run and Diego Castillo’s two-run single capped the scoring and ended Matuella’s night.

The RiverDogs treated lefty Sal Mendez no better in the second as they sent eight more to the plate and scored three. Gilliam reached on an error and after Park replaced him on a fielder’s choice, Donny Sands singled him in. Cabrera added two more with a single.

Brian Keller kept the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fourth before Miguel Aparicio’s grounder went through the infield. Hickory finally got on the board one inning later as Isaiah Quiroz singled in two.

Alex Kowalczyk (2-for-4) hit a two-run homer in the sixth to cut the Crawdads deficit to 9-4.

However, RiverDogs tacked on three in the eighth and two in the ninth, all against Jake Lemoine, to account for the final margin.

“They have a good hitting ballclub, no doubt,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “We just have to find a way pitching wise to limit the damage and make better pitches. That’s the bottom line. We’re not doing it. We’re not getting it done. The last two nights, we’ve not given our offense a chance to do anything.”

 

Crawdads pitching beginning to look historic… and not in a good way.

As a team, the Crawdads 5.72 ERA and 1.59 WHIP are the worst in the Sally League. They also have allowed the most hits, runs, and earned runs. With the quarter of the season two games away, one begins to look at how they stack up to Crawdads club records. They’re chasing a few.

Hickory has had just two seasons with an ERA over five, which came in back-to-back seasons in 2007 (5.13) and 2008 (5.02). The club record for the worst WHIP in a season is 1.54 in 2007.  The Crawdads are also on pace to set club records for the most hits, runs and earned runs allowed.

 

Defense was offensive:

While Matuella didn’t have his best stuff, some of the first inning struggles could be laid at the feet of the defense.

After Florial walked, Gilliam hit a short fly to center that appeared to be an easy can of corn for Leody Taveras. Meanwhile, shortstop Anderson Tejeda and second baseman Yeyson Yrizarri were pulling a double-play decoy on Florial running hard to second. The decoy worked beautifully except… Taveras couldn’t pick up the ball and with no fielders pointing out the ball, eventually it fell harmless to the turf. So what could’ve been a double play with Florial totally fooled at second turned into a 1st & 2nd situation with no outs.

Later in the inning, a routine double play turned into one out when Tejeda’s throw to first went wide of Yanio Perez’s stretch at first.

And still later in the inning, 3B Ti’Quan Forbes took his time on a grounder by Ben Ruta. Forbes circled around to make the play, but as he appeared in no particular hurry to complete the play, Forbes throw to first was beaten by the hustling Ruta.

A frustrated Owen spread the blame around equally between hurlers and defenders.

“It accumulates and everything when you don’t make plays,” said Owen. “But, we talk to (the pitchers) all the time that sometimes you’re going to have to get four outs and sometimes five outs in an inning. You’re even going to do that in the big leagues. Obviously, not nearly as much, because they are big league infielders, but they have to overcome those things. They sooner they learn that and figure it out rather than say, ‘I should’ve been out of the inning’ or whatever. It is what it is out there….”

Owen later added, “We’ve got to clean it up all the way around, especially the pitching and defense. We’ve been working really hard during the last four defensively and cutting b.p. time saying ‘Let’s have a clean game.’ We haven’t been able to do that.”

 

Better Call Sal:

Once Mendez got settled, he went on to retire the last 14 batters he faced and fanned 6 over 5.1 innings. His work allowed the Crawdads offense to chip away at the lead and take some momentum into the late innings.

The two parts of his outing show just how careful he has to be with his stuff. His changeup is a formidable pitch, at least at this level, and had 7 or 8 missed bats. That with his fastball at 90-91, if he keeps his pitches down, he’s tough.

“I thought Mendez did a really nice job,” Owen said. “His first inning of work he left some balls up and he paid for it. Then he comes out and puts up zeroes from that point on. That’s a good adjustment by him.”

 

Batter Adjustments:

The way that Charleston starter Brian Keller mowed through the first three innings, it looked like history was in the making. He fanned six of the first ten hitters, which included a 10-pitch, three-strikeout third inning. The second time through the order, Keller started missing his location and the Crawdads hitters adjusted to the breaking ball.

Owen: “The guy that started was impressive and did exactly what you’d want to see with a guy that’s got a nine-run lead in popping and pounding the zone. We made some adjustments. It’s good to see that you’re down nine runs and still have competitive at bats from our side.”

 

Smoral on the Fire:

Lefty Matt Smoral made his Crawdads and Rangers affiliate debut on Thursday. A tall presence at 6-8, a SLOW delivery seemed to make his fastball even faster as it whipped from his left hand to the plate. However, the delivery never seemed in control as he flailed about the mound. There’s a lot of moving parts to the motion.

Smoral walked two and threw quite the wild pitch to the back stop.  Control has been the issue for the former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick as he has walked or hit 122 batters in 107.2 innings as a pro

 

Who was that Lemoine’s jersey?

There seemed to be a body language on the mound that said, “here ya go, hit it if you can.” And Charleston did: Five runs on six hits – all hit hard – over two innings of relief. Fastball straight as an arrow and it went to the wall harder. Throw in a walk and two wild pitches and you have a RiverDogs lineup fattening their stats.

Meanwhile, It’s the second poor outing in a row for the right-hander, who allowed two in a walkoff loss at Hagerstown (Md.) last Saturday.

 

Game Stories 4/27 & 4/28: Crawdads Fog and Awe into two wins

The Hickory Crawdads played just nine innings, but picked up two wins over the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies on Friday. The first was awarded Friday morning when the South Atlantic League office declared Hickory the winner of a suspended game Thursday night. The umpires suspended the game in the bottom of the eighth due to fog with the Crawdads leading 8-7.

The second win came when Hickory picked up six runs in the first and used that to again defeat the Fireflies 11-7.

Hickory (8-14) improved to 2-3 during the current homestand, which continues Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. Columbia (12-11) has lost three of four and five of its last seven games.

 

What happened on Thursday?:

Two expected stories converged at L.P. Frans Stadium on Thursday, but Mother Nature decided to make her presence felt and she played the ultimate role in the game’s outcome.

Former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow came to L.P. Frans Stadium and many of the 4,225 in attendance were there to see the football-turned-baseball player.

The Crawdads had their own story in the form of Duke University product and Rangers third-round pick Michael Matuella. A potential first-overall pick in the 2015 draft before suffering problems and then undergoing Tommy John surgery, the 6-6 right-hander made only his second pro appearance on Thursday. And he didn’t disappoint.

A persistent rainstorm delayed the start 97 minutes before the teams finally took the field.

After play resumed, Matuella used a fastball staying in the 94-96 mph range to work around a one-out double and fan the side. He struck out two more in the second – including a 94 mph pitch on the outside corner to catch Tebow looking – but Columbia touched him for a run. Reed Gamache led off the inning with a double to the wall. Two outs later, Desmond Lindsay’s broken-bat blooper went far enough to clear the infield and bring in Gamache.

Matuella threw 46 pitches, thirty for strikes before he was pulled after two innings.

The Crawdads took the lead for good in the third with six runs. Kevin Scott double to left and advanced to third on Yeyson Yrizarri’s single to left. Anderson Tejeda lofted a fly ball to center that Gene Cone tracked down and then lost. Scott scored and Tejeda reached on the error. Eric Jenkins walked to load the bases and they remained loaded after Franklin Rollin bounced to third, which turned into a force play at home. Ti’Quan Forbes saved the rally when he steered a bouncer past the bag at first for a two-run double. One out later, Yanio Perez lined a two-run single to center to complete the scoring.

Two Fireflies errors allowed Hickory to add two runs in the fifth. Rollin reached on an error and Forbes doubled him to third. With two outs in the inning, Perez bounced a single to short. Taveras scored on the play and Forbes rumbled home after Michael Paez’s throw got away at first.

Down 8-1, Columbia took a chunk out of its deficit in the sixth. Dash Winningham and Milton Ramos singled to lead off the inning. After Tebow popped to third, Jose Medina topped a bouncer to Anderson Tejeda at short. Tejeda fielded the ball and threw to third, but Forbes dropped the ball, allowing the runners to advance.

Sal Mendez walked Lindsay before Ali Sanchez singled in two more.

Mendez, who replaced Matuella in the third, pitched into the eighth before running out of gas. With fog drifted onto the field, Mendez hit Tebow with a pitch and Medina lined a single to center. After Matt Ball replaced Mendez, Lindsay clubbed a three-run homer to center that Leody Taveras never saw, nor responded to.

At that point, Crawdads manager Spike Owen got the umpires to stop play until the fog cleared 21 minutes later. When play again resumed, Jake Lemoine replaced Ball and Sanchez greeted him with a single. Sanchez moved to second on a wild pitch, but Lemoine stemmed the rally, the final out on a strikeout of Michael Paez.

Preston Scott reached on an infield hit before the umpires again halted play. After 20 more minutes, the umpires suspended play.

The next morning, the South Atlantic League office awarded the Crawdads the win. In an email sent to the teams, league president Eric Krupa stated:

“Last night’s game in Hickory was suspended in the bottom of the 8th inning due to fog with Hickory leading 8-7.

“Fog is a weather event, not a darkness event.

“Therefore, according to the Official Baseball Rule 7.02 (b)(4)(A), this game is an official/ regulation game with Hickory being declared the winner.”

“That was crazy,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “That fog rolled in and the umpires thought we could suspend it because of darkness, because fog is not in the rule book… It’s a win and obviously we’ll take it.”

 

What Happened Friday?:

The Crawdads bats picked up where they left off Thursday with a six-run first inning, aided by a key defensive miscue.

With one out, Rollin got a broken-bat single to leftfield, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Leody Taveras’ single to right. The key play of the inning came when a potential inning-ending double play blew up as the throw by Ramos at third short-hopped the bag at second and allowed both runners to advance. Ricky Valencia and Perez each had RBI singles before Yrizarri cleared the bases with a homer to left-center.

Tebow singled ahead of Lindsay’s second homer in two days to cut the Fireflies deficit to 6-2. They got another run back in the third on Winningham’s RBI single.

Perez’s two-run blast in the third pushed Hickory ahead 8-3.

An errant pickoff by Hickory’s Kaleb Fontenot led to Ramos’ RBI single in the fourth. However, Columbia repaid the favor in the bottom of the inning when pitcher Blake Taylor’s throw to third on a sacrifice attempt sailed into left field and allowed two runs to score.

The Crawdads eventually made it 11-4 before Paez’s two run homer in the seventh and Ramos’ RBI triple accounted for the final runs.

 

Crawdads bats dry out and charge up:

As a group Hickory scored 22 runs over 10 home games entering the season. The Crawdads have scored 19 the last two nights.

“It’s good to see the bats come alive and scoring some runs.” said Owen after Friday’s game. “We needed every one of them last night and tonight. It got a little closer than we wanted it to.”

In talking around the cage with hitting coach Kenny Hook, he mentioned the long layoff, due to the past week’s rainstorms, set some of the hitters back because of the inability to get onto the field. Owen agreed with that assessment.

“We went five consecutive days without doing anything on the field,” said Owen. “We did get some ground balls a couple of days ago, but with all the rain and the weather, it’s been tough at home. That’s really where you get your extra work in, not only hitting wise, but on the field, as well, with fundamental stuff. We just haven’t been able to do it because of the weather.”

One of the frustrations of the team has been the inability of hitters to take advantage of counts and situations when the hitters have the advantage. That has improved in recent days.

“We’ve had a lot better at bats the last couple of nights,” said Owen. “That’s all we’re looking for is quality at bats. They’re young and they’re chasing hits, which you can’t do in this game. You’ve just got to put a good at bat together and hit a ball hard somewhere. It’s young and they’re looking at averages and things, which is human nature and part of the game. But, they’ll get it.”

Roster Moves: Matuella heads list of new Crawdads

The Texas Rangers announced several moves today regarding the roster of the Hickory Crawdads. They are as follows.

Added to the Hickory roster:

RHP Michael Matuella, RHP Ismel Lopez, LHP Sal Mendez, C Alex Kowalczyk

Matuella was the third-round pick of the Rangers in 2015 out of Duke University. The 22-year-old was a potential first-round pick before suffering spondylosis, an issue involving vertebrae in the lower back, and then undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015. He had one appearance with Spokane in 2015, which lasted three innings before he was pulled due elbow tenderness.

Lopez signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in 2013 from Carupano, Venezuela. The 22-year-old is making his stateside debut after pitching the last three seasons in the Dominican Summer League. There, he struck out 114 in 111.1 innings over 52 appearances out of the bullpen. He has been a heavy groundball pitcher with a GO/AO ration of 2.38 in his career. Opposing batters hit .262 against him.

Kowalczyk was drafted in the 12th round by the Rangers in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. The 23-year-old native of Landsdale, PA put up a .288/.331/.432 slash in 31 games for short-season Spokane. Defensively last year, he threw out 8 of 38 baserunners attempting to steal. He will likely split catching duties with Ricky Valencia.

Mendez’s addition is a paper move.

 

Going to extended spring:

LHP Christian Torres, C Isaias Quiroz, RHP Luke Lanphere, RHP Jonathan Hernandez

Torres posted a 3.86 ERA in six games over 9.1 innings. He struck out ten and walked three with 8 hits allowed. Had a couple of rough outings in the past week vs. West Virginia and at Kannapolis. Otherwise, he had four other scoreless outings, but for now, it was not enough. I’m guessing he’ll show up on the Spokane roster in June unless the need arises again for bullpen help at Hickory. The move leaves just CD Pelham as the lone lefty in the pen, as Sal Mendez appears to be the piggy-back option for Matuella.

Quiroz was 3-for-23 (.043) in seven games with the Crawdads. Had served as the backup to Valencia behind the plate, but with Kowalczyk on the roster that playing time has evaporated. I would think he’ll play in Arizona this summer.

Lanphere posted a 12.60 ERA and South Atlantic hit a robust .429 against the righty. A third trip to Spokane this summer appears to be in the cards for the 21-year-old.

Hernandez’s move is on paper and he is expected to make his next start on Tuesday.

Mission Control: An Interview with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes

With the first full week completed, the Hickory Crawdads go into an off-day on Easter at 5-6 following a split of Saturday’s doubleheader with Kannapolis.

The opening series at Greensboro was a wild one for the pitching staff, as the combined for 37 walks over the first five games, which had much to do with a 1-4 start. Over the last six, that number was cut to 14 and the team’s record is 4-2 in that stretch.

On Friday, I had a chance to catch up with Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes about the team’s start and to ask about some of the names that started the season at Hickory.

 

First, let me get your overview of the season’s first week on the pitching staff. Control has been a bit of an issue, but for some guys it’s starting to come around a bit. Let me get your assessment of that first week.

Jaimes: Those first four games, we had a tough time finding the zone. Some guys just walked too many guys, especially the starters early in the game. We couldn’t locate our fastball. But, if feel like it’s coming and getting a lot better, especially these last four games in Columbia and yesterday. I feel like guys are starting to make some adjustments. To be honest, the fact that we couldn’t practice before the season and we couldn’t play, I think that had some effect on some guys. They couldn’t face hitters for almost a week. That had a big factor on what happened those first four games.

 

That was my next question, how much did the rain affect your guys who couldn’t throw side sessions, etc?

Jaimes: Yeah, especially that exhibition game was going to be huge, especially for the starters. Obviously, we couldn’t play and they ended up throwing bullpens, but it’s not the same as throwing to a catcher in a game. I think it was one reason why they couldn’t find the zone as quick as they wanted. But, it’s getting better.

 

Jonathan Hernandez is back here for another year and honestly, I was a little surprised to see him back as he finished so strong last year. What are the Rangers wanting to see him accomplish starting here a second year?

Jaimes: Consistency with the fastball. Last year, like you said, he finished strong. He put together five good outings towards the end of the year. We just want to see that on a consistent basis. We got to see that in the last outing at Columbia. That’s what we’re looking for. He’s working ahead on the count on every hitter the first time through the lineup. So, that’s the main thing for him, his fastball command. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll get to see him move up.

 

Jake Lemoine is a name some folks have asked me about. I saw him the first outing at Greensboro. At first, he had a little struggle finding a feel, but then had a strong second inning. Coming off the shoulder troubles, what’s sort of things are ahead for him?

Jaimes: He dealt with a lot of bumps the last few years. He last pitched two years ago. I’m actually pretty impressed, especially with his last outing in Columbia where he pounded the zone. He’s a guy that has a feel for the baseball. He controls his fastball and has pretty good control with his secondary pitches. So, I think he’s going to be a big part of the team. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and let the talent play. A great guy.

 

Is he going to be getting bite-size outings?

Jaimes: For right now, we’re going to try to keep it to three innings, just because of what happened the last two years with him. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to pitch every two or three days.

 

Let me ask you about Kyle Cody. Like everybody else, had a rough first outing, then pitched in and out of trouble the last start.

Jaimes: The two outings have been almost the same, Kind of erratic the first two or three innings, but then once he gets it going he gets a lot better. Last night, we saw that. The fourth and fifth innings, he did a really good job of mixing his pitches. His fastball command was a lot better. That was his main issue the first three innings: a lot of deep counts, a lot of 2-1 counts and guys were able to put the barrel to the baseball. A 6-7 guy that’s a really good talent and I’m pretty excited for him. He’s one of our main guys this year, so hopefully he’ll stay healthy. I think once he gets it going, he’s going to keep getting better.

 

Somebody I’m looking forward to seeing, based simply on the stats from the Dominican – this is his first stateside assignment – is Edgar Arredondo.  He had a 56 Ks and 4 walks last year. Like everyone else the first week, he had that wrinkle, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer based on the stats sheet.

Jaimes: He’s a strike thrower. He’s a guy that’s going to feel through it some. He’s going to attack here. It was the first time he was pitching in front of fans and lights. So, I was kind of expecting that, but I after that I saw his first inning, I was really excited. He pounded the first inning 1-2-3. I think he got a little upset when he gave up the first hit on an 0-2 count and then he lost his concentration and couldn’t get it back. Again, he’s a guy that’s going to throw strikes. That was not the Arredondo that I know. I don’t even worry about him. He had a really good bullpen session yesterday. He’s a guy that commands his pitches: fastball and a really good changeup and a really good curve.

 

Tyler Ferguson hasn’t thrown. What’s happening with him?

Jaimes: He couldn’t make the Greensboro series because he got sick, so we just kept him at home. We didn’t want anybody else to get sick. Then coming back, he had to play catch at least three days. He threw a bullpen a couple of days ago and now he’s ready to go.

 

Of the guys that I haven’t mentioned yet – there’s so many guys that come in and out – who’s somebody that you’re looking at as someone that will step forward?

Jaimes: I’ve got one guy and that’s going to be Sal Mendez. He’s been a guy that had a really good spring training. A guy that goes out there and competes. He has average stuff, but the way that he throws the ball with the conviction that he has, he makes it look better. In his last outing at Greensboro when he went 4.2 innings. He’s going to command all three pitches coming from the left side. He has some sink and a really good changeup. I think he’s going to be our sleeper.

 

Emerson(Martinez) is pitching tonight. I know you don’t care about wins and losses, but it seemed that he pitched in a little tough luck when he got into the starting rotation last year.  He had a good outing last time.

Jaimes; Actually, we almost made a big deal of it because last year he went 0-6. It seemed like every time he didn’t pitch we’d score a lot of runs. Then every time he’d pitch, we didn’t score. When he got his first win, he was all pumped up. He said, “It’s a new year and a new beginning and I’m going to help the team.” He grew up a lot last year for us. I had him two years ago when I worked in Spokane. He was kind of timid and he didn’t trust his stuff. That was something that last year he realized that his stuff was good enough to get people out. He showed that in his first game. He went out there and just pounded. I’m really happy with what he’s doing.

 

I’ve seen Tyler (Davis) pitch both in Columbia and here last night and showed some good stuff. Had some good outings here last year before he got bumped up. Doesn’t throw hard, but he spots well and throws a decent slider.

Jaimes: He’s a pitcher, though. He goes out there and pitches. He knows what he has. He knows that he doesn’t have power stuff, so he goes out there and just locates it. He locates his fastball; he locates his changeup, slider. He knows how to pitch. Everybody loves Tyler. When he got here last week, I was pretty excited to have him a part of the team. He not only brings his stuff, but he’s around the bullpen helping me with these kids. I’m really happy for him and having here with me.

 

Christian Torres is back. Another (Alex) Claudio clone, maybe?

Jaimes: You’re hoping for that. Claudio is one of those guys that knows what he does. Claudio is a little bit bigger, but I can see a little bit of Claudio in Torres. Decent sinker, really good changeup. They’re pretty close.

 

Best fastball on the staff right now.

Jaimes: Kyle Cody.

 

Best secondary stuff right now:

Jaimes: Sal Mendez.

 

Best Breaking ball:

Jaimes: Emerson Martinez and Tyler Davis.