Results tagged ‘ Ti’Quan Forbes ’

Crawdads trim Legends 7-5

The Hickory Crawdads rallied from behind and then held on late to take a 7-5 win over the Lexington (Ky.) Legends Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the seconds straight for the Crawdads (25-38) in the four-game series and they will attempt to take just their fourth series win of the first half, the second at home in Monday’s finale. Meanwhile, Lexington (30-33) dropped its fifth in six games on the current road trip, which concludes on Monday at L.P. Frans.

What happened?:

Hickory pounded out 12 hits on Sunday, seven of those for extra bases, and it started with Eric Jenkins’s lead-off triple in the first. Leody Taveras brought him in with an RBI grounder to short.

Kyle Cody retired the first six hitter before running into trouble in the third. Joe Dudek doubled to the track in center. One out later, Rudy Martin singled in Dudek to tie the game.

Lexington grabbed the lead in the fourth with a three-run inning. Angelo Castellano led off with a single. Two outs later, John Brontsema singled and Yeison Melo bounced a double off the bag at third to score Castellano. Dudek’s second hit in two innings was a two-run single.

Alex Kowalczyk’s homer (5) to right got Crawdads within 4-2. Cody (2-6) provided a boost for his team by working out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. With one out and runners at second and third, Cody intentionally walked Emmanuel Rivera. He then struck out Gabriel Cancel and got Brontsema to fly out to center.

The Crawdads took that momentum to the bottom of the inning and turned it into three runs to retake the lead. Leody Taveras smashed a sharp grounder off the leg off Gomez for a single. Yanio Perez was hit by a pitch. One out later, Forbes doubled off the wall in left to score Taveras. Garay then doubled to the track in center for the other two runs to make it 5-4.

Despite the three-run deficit, Crawdads manager Spike Owen felt confident his club would be able to battle back. “We knew we were in the ballgame,” said Owen. “Especially with the wind blowing out. We put good at-bats on and put men on base and got a big two-out, two-RBI double from Garay.”

Cody pitched a scoreless sixth before Jake Lemoine added two more shutout innings, though he needed a big play to maintain the lead. Melo singled with one out and after Dudek moved him up with a grounder, Mark Sanchez ripped a sharp grounder to left. Eric Jenkins charged the ball aggressively and then hit the catcher Kowalczyk on the fly with a throw that was in time to nab Melo trying to score.

Blaine Prescott cracked his third homer of the season in the bottom of the inning, a two-run shot that made it 7-4.

“Blaine’s home run in the eighth was huge to give us a cushion,” Owen said. Jenkins play in the top of the eighth was big throwing the tying run out at the plate. We made the plays we had to make and got some timely hits.”

Jenkins throw and Prescott’s homer proved crucial has Khalil Lee clubbed his 10th homer of the season in the ninth. Castellano singled to center to bring the tying run to the plate. But Kaleb Fontentot induced Rivera to bounce into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

“That was a good ball game, today.” said Owen. “We made all the plays and got some big hits. The pitching kept us in the game. Nice to see it all in one game.”

 

Cody guts out six:

(I preface all this by reminding the reader that I am not a scout, baseball mind, etc. My main job at the games is to be the official scorer and so I see the games with those eyes and I miss some things. These are my observations and they could all be just bunk.)

Even when he retired the first six, I’m not sure that Cody had his best stuff today. Rangers trackers had him at 94-96, but pitches tended to stay up. Normally a groundball pitcher, 1.43 GO/AO, three of the first six outs were in the air. Dudek’s double to start the third was crushed to the CF track. Castellano’s single to start the fourth was a liner and Cody needed a leaping, sprawling grab by Forbes at third to take away a potential double off the bat of Rivera. Cancel then flew out to CF.

After the flyout, Cody did run into a bit of bad luck for the three runs with three straight groundball hits, including Melo’s slow bouncer that found the bag.

He seemed a bit rushed in the fifth on two straight walks as Kowalczyk walked in front of the plate to remind Cody to stay in front on delivery. Forbes made a tough, backhanded play for an out at third to move runners to second and third. An intentional walk to set up a double play seemed to settle him down. He got his footing back on three straight fastballs to K Cancel, before a routine fly to center ended the threat.

Of course, a pitcher will not have his best stuff every time out, but learning what to do in those situations will propel or impede a pitcher’s progress.

The Rangers have had a good run with Midwestern-born, hard-throwing, right-handed pitchers out of college in recent years. Nick Tepesch (Missouri), and Jared Eickhoff (Indiana) made it to the majors. Connor Sadzeck (Illinois) is knocking on the door of the majors, as he is on the Rangers 40-man roster at AA Frisco. With that sinking fastball, slider and change, and a good ability to mix them all, the Wisconsin native is intriguing to me. He’ll take his lumps -Tepesch and Eickhoff did during their year here – but pitching coach Jose Jaimes likes his ability to shrug off those lumps. That’s half the battle as a pro.

 

Defensive gems:

Forbes again, (see the Cody section above)

Cody and Perez: With Martin on first and one out, the Legends sent the speedster on a hit-and-run and the SS Yrizarri covered the bag. Lee put the ball in play and Forbes made a charging play towards the mound to collect the roller and throw to first. With Forbes and Yrizarri both in motion, third base was uncovered. Aware of the situation, Cody sprinted towards the open bag. 1B Yanio Perez, who’s not been reliable with infield throws, hit Cody on the run to third and Cody arrived in time to place a tag on Martin. The play kept the Lexington uprising in the third to just one run.

Jenkins: After a couple of poor performances in key spots on Saturday, his throw to nab Melo at the plate in the eighth was huge.

 

Forbes ready to fly?:

The dude picks it at third every single game. He’s made adjustments at the plate and is back smacking nearly everything hard. The K-rate has dropped. Is it time to allow him to ride the bus to different cities in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region? Not sure what else he needs to do.

Weird Baseball: Hickory outlasts Lexington 6-5

When you have a pre-game that has the Red Power Ranger and Dale Murphy throwing out first pitches back-to-back and the box manager announces the attendance dressed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume, the game itself must be weird.

After the offenses were dormant early, the Hickory Crawdads and the Lexington (Ky.) Legends battled back-and-forth until a play at the plate settled the contest, which the Crawdads won 6-5 on Saturday at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win snapped the Crawdads (24-38) losing streak at three and sent the Legends (30-32) to their fourth loss in five games on the current road trip.

 

What happened?:

Well, not much in the first 5 ½ innings. Lexington’s Jace Vines (KC’s 2016 4th round pick from Texas A&M) held the Crawdads without a baserunner until the fifth and a hit until the sixth. Meanwhile, his counterpart Walker Weickel allowed two hits, walked two and struck out five over his four innings.

Lexington scored in the fifth against reliever Christian Torres. Rudy Martin walked, stole second and scored on Angelo Castellano’s single to left.

Alex Kowalczyk broke up the fledgling perfect game with a leadoff walk in the fifth. In the sixth, Jose Almonte laid to rest Vines’s no-hit bid with a clean single through the left side of the infield. Yeyson Yrizarri singled up the middle before Vines walked Anderson Tejeda to load the bases. After Vines fanned Eric Jenkins, Leody Taveras ambushed a first-pitch fastball and drove it over the funeral home sign in center for a grand slam, his fifth homer of the season to make it 4-1.

“It happens in the game,” said Crawdads manager Spike Owen. “(Vines) was throwing well against us the first five innings. We got to the sixth inning and finally had some quality at bats and got the no-hitter out of the way with Almonte’s single and Yrizarri had a great at-bat. Obviously, Taveras get the first-pitch fastball for the grand slam. Up to that point, we didn’t have anything going, but you’ve got to play nine innings. That’s what we’ve been preaching to them all year.”

Matt Smoral picked up for Torres in the seventh and after striking out the first two hitters, he walked the bases loaded. C.D. Pelham entered to face Emmanuel Rivera, who hit the lefty’s second pitch out to left for his fifth homer of the season.

The Crawdads fought back to tie it a 5-5 in the seventh, when Ti’Quan Forbes and Yrizarri pieced two doubles together for the tying run.

Lexington threatened in the eighth when it put Gabriel Cancel on second with one out. Yeison Melo ripped a Pelham pitch to left – or it would have landed there if not for the diving play of Forbes at third, who made the catch and fired to second to complete an inning-ending double play.

What turned out to be the winning tally started in the eighth when Eric Jenkins had a hustle double and moved to third on Taveras’s infield hit. Yanio Perez hit into a fielder’s choice to erase Taveras, but Jenkins inexplicably stayed at third. After Kowalczyk lined out to short, Forbes brought in Jenkins with a single.

Things got harrowing for the Crawdads in the ninth as Pelham hit Martin with a pitch with one out. After Pelham struck out Khalil Lee, Castellano singled Martin to second. Rivera hit a grounder up the middle that SS Tejeda knocked down, which seemingly would’ve kept Martin at third. Except, Martin ran with his head down and either didn’t see manager Scott Thorman with a stop sign, or Thorman didn’t throw one up. Martin circled around third and sprinted for home. Tejeda’s throw to the plate was in plenty of time to allow Ricky Valencia tag Martin sliding in.

 

Yes, Taveras is back.

I thought Taveras was on the way to his usual pest-like self again on Friday. When he’s on, Taveras is marvelously skilled at picking out his pitch. Whether it’s a first-pitch fastball, like on the grand slam, or a 9-pitch AB as in the first inning, he will seek out his pitch, and more often than not, smack it hard somewhere.

 

But he’s bunting?

After Friday night’s ninth-inning loss Spike Owen was pulling out the stops to get a win. AFter Jenkins double in the eighth,  Taveras fouled off the first two pitches on failed bunt attempts before connecting on a slow roller that set up the final run of the game. Hickory has only 8 sac bunts this season – Tejeda has 3 of them – it just seemed a weird strategy to take the bat out of your second-best hitter.

 

Forbes making noise like a duck:

Or he could if he gets a promotion to the Down East Wood Ducks. He offers stellar defensive play every night, but it’s been the stick that has held him back. He continues to see fastball and is willing to drive it where it’s pitched. Tonight, he got pitches in and he knows what to do with them. A great play at third deprived him of three hits.

 

Eric, oh Eric:

There is so much raw talent, but wow, there seems to be some baseball acumen missing at times. In the sixth with the bases loaded, he swung through a fastball up –  a big swing, when just putting the ball in play most likely gets a run. Later in the AB, he fouled off a high slider that screamed “hit me”. Jenkins did work the count in the AB, but eventually flew out to shallow left. When he is in a key situation in an inning, he tends to overswing.

Him holding at third with runners on the corners and no outs was just odd – just as odd as it was for the Legends to play back for a double play with no outs and the go-ahead runner at third in the eighth.

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.

Greenville Rallies, Defeats Hickory 5-3

The Greenville (S.C.) Drive rallied with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to defeat the Hickory Crawdads in front of 3,625 fans, many of whom spent the 10:30 a.m. matinee in line at the lemonade stand at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Drive (35-23) snaps both their three-game losing streak and the Crawdads (23-36) three-game winning streak. Pending today’s other action in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, the Drive is guaranteed at least a three-game lead with 11 games to play in the first-half title chase. Columbia (S.C.) already defeated Lexington (Ky.) today and is three back. Rome (Ga.) will play at in-state rival Augusta this evening. The Braves started the day 2 ½ games behind the first-place Drive.

The loss assured the Crawdads first sub-.500 record for a half-season since the second-half of the 2009 season. Hickory is now simply trying to avoid its first last-place finish since their affiliation with the Pirates ended in 2008. They entered the day two games behind sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The Crawdads worst half-season record as a Rangers affiliate came in the 2009 second half with they finished 30-40.

 

What happened?:

The Greenville started the game with a single by Chris Madera and a walk issued by Edgar Arredondo (2-3) to Santiago Espinal. One out later, Tyler Hill doubled to left to score Madera.

Hickory pounced back with two of its own in the bottom of the first against Darwinzon Hernandez. With two outs and the bases empty, Yanio Perez singled and then walks to Ti’Quan Forbes and Alex Kowalczyk loaded the bases. Carlos Garay hit a broken-bat, jam-shot blooper into shallow center to score both Perez and Forbes.

That turned out to be almost the last of the Crawdads offense as Robby Sexton replaced Hernandez in the second and was nearly unhittable in earning his first pro win (1-5). The lefty, a 14th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2016 out of Wright State, retired the first 11 and 18 of the 20 hitters he faced.

Greenville vaulted ahead 3-2 in the fifth with two runs that came after the Crawdads missed a chance for the third out.  Mitchell Gunsolus doubled and one out later moved to third on Arredondo’s wild pitch. Madera joined him on the bases when he was hit by a pitch. The key play of the inning occurred when Espinal flew out to shallow right. Jose Almonte made the catch and while Gunsolus held at third, Madera, for some unknown reason, tagged up from first and tried to advance to second. 1B Yanio Perez cut the ball off, but his throw to second to cut down Madera was high and the runner slid in safely. Ryan Scott singled in both runners to give the Drive a lead they would never relinquish.

Greenville used a two-out rally for a run in the sixth. Reliever Christian Torres loaded the bases by sandwiching walks to Gunsolus and Madera around a single by Carlos Tovar. Espinal hit a liner that was initially caught when SS Yeyson Yrizarri made a leaping grab. However, the ball tumbled out as he fell to the ground and that scored Gunsolus.

Franklin Rollin hit his third homer of the season in the eighth off closer Stephen Nogosek (11th save). However, Madera returned serve with his third homer of the season to start the ninth and accounted for the final score.

 

Strikes matter:

A missed opportunity for the final out in the fifth aside, the game came down to the ability of the pitchers to throw strikes. When Hernandez couldn’t throw strikes in the first (32 pitches, 16 strikes), the Drive moved quickly to shuffle in Sexton and he was brilliant. He mixed in a few breaking balls to miss bats – especially to Jose Almonte and Alex Kowalczyk – but it appeared he stayed with a fastball that was 88-90 according to the pitch trackers with a few changeups mixed in. Sexton (65 pitches, 46 strikes) moved the ball around well, hit spots and the Crawdads never really made solid contact against him.

Arredondo’s fastball was in the 90-92 range with iffy command and he had difficulty getting any of his secondary pitches (change, curve, slider) over the plate. He finished with just 57 strikes out of 87 pitches through 4 2/3 innings.

Christian Torres walks (32 pitches, 19 strikes) cost him a run in the sixth, though he used his change effectively in getting out of Arredondo’s jam in the fifth.

 

Early-run woes continue:

The first-inning run by Greenville was the 30th time in 59 games that an opponent has performed that feat. Further, Hickory has kept the opposition off the scoreboard over the first three innings just nine times.

 

Center field prospects take the day off:

Hickory’s Leody Taveras – the Texas Rangers No. 1 prospect – had his second straight off day on Wednesday. He had missed only one game this season prior to this week and on the heels of a 1-for-18 weekend at Delmarva (Md.) a chance to rest and regroup could be what is needed for now.

Greenville’s Lorenzo Cedrola – the Boston Red Sox No. 15 prospect – sat out on the heels of getting pulled from Tuesday’s game for not running out a groundball.

 

 

Crawdads Drive Greenville to 2-1 loss

Tuesday night, it was the last place (Northern Division) Hickory Crawdads against the first place (Southern Division) Greenville (S.C.) Drive. So of course, the Crawdads won 2-1 at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win was the third straight (23-35) for Hickory and sent the Drive (34-23) to their third loss in a row. However, the loss didn’t harm Greenville in the chase for the first-half Southern Division title. It remains 2 ½ ahead of second-place Rome (Ga.), which lost at Augusta (Ga.). However, Columbia (S.C.) moves to three games out with 12 to play.

 

What Happened?:

Four Crawdads pitchers combined to hold the Drive to seven baserunners and Ti’Quan Forbes drove in both runs, including the go-ahead tally in the eighth.

Michael Matuella retired nine of the first ten hitters he faced before Santiago Espinal hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Espinal stole second and scored when Ryan Scott lined a hard single to center to chance Matuella.

Hickory got even in the bottom of the inning against starter Bryan Mata. Yanio Perez singled with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch before Forbes singled him in.

Mata held the Crawdads in check through the sixth innings as he allowed just the one run on four hits, one walk, and fanned six.

Kaleb Fontenot quelled further damage by Greenville in the fourth and went on to pitch three scoreless. He struck out three and allowed a walk and a hit.

Hickory’s Matt Smoral and Matthew Gorst matched scoreless seventh innings before action for both sides in the eighth determined the final score. Smoral walked Chris Madera to start the eighth and that prompted manager Spike Owen to bring in Reid Anderson. Espinal failed at two sacrifice attempts before Anderson got him looking. Scott then bounced back to the mound and Tyler Hill flew out to right to end the threat.

Gorst retired the first two hitters in the eighth before the Crawdads put together three hits. Miguel Aparicio lined to right, Perez followed with an opposite field liner to right. Forbes then singled to left to score Aparicio.

Roldani Baldwin singled to start the ninth and moved to second with one out on a wild pitch. Anderson then struck out Isaias Lucena and got Mitchell Gunsolus to ground out to second and end the game.

“We haven’t had a lot of those from the standpoint of solid pitching, good defense and timely hitting,” said Owen. “That was a fun game. A 2-1 game, obviously, you want to be on the winning side of it, but that’s all we’re looking for is good baseball. That was a good baseball game.”

 

Forbes back to April?:

Ti’Quan Forbes was a pleasant surprise when he cranked out a bunch of homers and hits to start the season. Then, what seemed like a hitch showed up in the swing in the latter part of April and was it made him late on fastballs. He also swung through a ton of breaking balls.

During the last homestand, Forbes seemed to have an approach of taking everything up the middle and away and was able to pick up the breaking pitches better, but was still able to stay on the fastball.

Mata chewed him up with breaking pitches (looked like sliders) in the second for a strikeout. In the fourth, Forbes waited back on the curveball and bounced it along the line and past third. In the eighth, he sat dead-red and ambushed a fastball to left.

He now has a six-game hitting streak (8-for-24). Over a longer stretch, he has hits in 15 of the last 18 games, five of those with two hits. More importantly for him, he has just 10 Ks in that stretch over 69 plate appearances (14.4%). Forbes whiffed 27% of the time in April. He still needs to work the occasional walk, but he’s seeing the ball better and making contact.

 

Matuella no-match for the Drive:

The Rangers pitch trackers had him at 96-98 mph and most of his secondaries were changeups. There seemed to be a few sliders mixed in, but I was told they were changes. He needed only 38 pitches (27 strikes) to get through the third and so having him go to the fourth seemed to be an easy call. The first sign of trouble got him pulled.

“He had a good fastball and threw some changeups,” Crawdads manager Spike Owen said. “He’s still on a pitch limit and once action started happening in the fourth, we went ahead and went to the pen.”

As good as his stuff is, whether Matuella is tiring or hitters are adjusting to him, the few times he faces the lineup the second time through the order, he is getting hit. Both hits tonight came the second time through the order and both were smacked hard. He’s faced the order a second time in four starts and thus far hitters are 6-for-15 (2 Ks) with two doubles, a hit batter and a sac fly. There are adjustments to be made on Matuella’s part as to what he offers the hitters.

 

Fontenot signaling he is ready to become a DEWD?:

He throws 91-92 with a slider, change and curveball. When he is on, the fastball is spotted well and he can befuddle hitters with the breaking stuff. His 12.54 Ks per 9 innings (52 Ks in 37.1 IP this season) is the fifth best among SAL relievers.

Over the last four outings, he has allowed two hits, hit two, walked three and struck out 14 over 11.2 innings.

“Fotenot’s been outstanding all year,” said Owen. “He can flat out pitch. He throws harder than you think and he can put it where he wants. He’s got a good changeup and slider he can throw at any time in the count, so he’s able to keep them off balance. He’s not afraid to throw an offspeed pitch behind in the count. He’s been really good.”

 

Smoral and Anderson:

Smoral’s fastball was at 85-87 with iffy command which led to two walks of the five hitters he faced. He was able to get the slider to miss bats and it accounted for the lone K. His delivery out of the stretch is glacially deliberate and it led to his removal Smoral walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth with the game tied.

“He could’ve went more, but his situation was once he walked the leadoff guy, we wanted to be able to control the running game better,” said Owen. “He’s slow to the plate and we didn’t want to ask him to do something he’s not comfortable doing right now.”

The outing for Anderson was a needed one, as tonight was just the fourth scoreless outing in 13 appearances (2 starts). He attacked the strike zone with the fastball, pounding 17 of his 23 pitches for strikes.

“I’m happy for him and I hope he can gain some confidence off that in a tight game, coming in with a go-ahead run at first base and doing what he did,” said Owen. “Then once we took the lead, coming back and attacking the strike zone.”

 

Prospect benched:

The Drive entered Tuesday night’s game on the heels of two straight shutouts, the last a 17-0 pasting on Sunday by Charleston. So, when Drive CF Lorenzo Cedrola (Red Sox No. 15 prospect) jogged unenthusiastically to first on a 4-3 grounder to start the game, it was not received well. 1B coach Wilton Veras gave him an earful as he returned to the dugout and manager Darren Fenster took out the lineup card in the third-base coach’s box.

Surprisingly, Cedrola took the field in the bottom of the first, though he did not return for the second.

 

What’s the Mata?:

The 18-year-old from Maracay, Venezuela has impressed in his first three stateside starts. The Red Sox No. 27 prospect has now 16 Ks in 15 innings with 11 hits and five walks allowed. On Tuesday, he was clocked in the 90-92 mph range with which he was able to paint the corners for punchouts. Add in a curveball that had some bite and found the strike zone, Mata was tough to solve at times. However, the curve could be loopy and Forbes was able to wait on one long enough for an RBI single in the fourth.

From what I saw, there’s a lot for Red Sox fans to be excited about.

Series Preview: Kannapolis at Hickory May 29-31

Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (26-22, 4th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (19-31, 7th SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads continue the second part of a weeklong homestand with a three-game series against the Kannapolis Intimidators.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Monday-Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

PROMOTIONS: Monday – Make a Difference Monday: Donate a requested item of $5 or more to Foothills House of Hope and receive a free ticket. Click here for requested items: http://m.foothillshouseofhopeministriesinc.com/Donation-Needs-List.html

Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday: Bring pet to the game for $1 each. Dog show each Tuesday night. $1 hot dogs, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products.

Wednesday – Business Card Special: Show your business card at the Ticket Office for a $5 ticket.

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.

WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.

PARKING: All parking is $3.

CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf

 

Probables (Kannapolis / Hickory):

Monday: LHP Bernando Flores vs. RHP Kyle Cody

Tuesday: TBA vs. RHP Michael Matuella

Wednesday: RHP Jimmy Lambert vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

 

Recent Series History:

So far in 2017, the teams have split the 12 previous games played, including a 2-2 series at L.P. Frans in April. Hickory has not lost a home series to the Intimidators since 2014 and are 42-28 there since 2009. The Crawdads won three of five at Kannapolis earlier in May.

 

About the Crawdads:

Hickory opened the homestand by losing three of four and dropped to 9-16 at Frans this season. The Crawdads enter the series losers of 7 out of 8 and 8 of 10… Hickory is often playing catch-up and often in a big way. The Crawdads have been outscored 139-88 over the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning 24 times, while the Crawdads have 25 total runs in the first inning. In 43 games, opposition has scored at least one run in the first three innings… Pitching continues to make its effects felt on a disappointing first half. Hickory is last in the SAL in ERA (5.45), WHIP (1.54), hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and are next to last in walks allowed. For the season, Hickory has given up seven or more runs 21 times in 50 games, 15 of those during the last 29… The Crawdads continues to slug their way into runs. They are second in the SAL in homers with 42, but are eighth out of 14 teams in runs scored. They are fourth in slugging (.391), but 10th in on-base pct. (.313). They are next to last in walks accepted, but third in total bases.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has missed one game this season, leads SAL in at-bats, 10th in hits. After sitting out a game during the midst of four-straight games without a hit, Taveras has a hit in five of the last six. He’s also starting to get his patience back with a walk in each of the last two games. After ten walks in April, he has just five in May.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Tied for third in Ks (59). Both his K-rate and walk-rate have declined in May compared to April. Went 4-for-13 in his last three games with a run scored in each. Has two strikeouts in three of the last four games.

LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Hitting just .194/.286/.290 since joining the Crawdads on May 10. Has 14 Ks in 70 plate appearances.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Sat out the final two games of the series with Asheville. Has hits in 17 of the last 20 games, which boosted his average from .155 on May 4 to its current .245.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After a rough start, Matuella is coming off two straight strong outings with just one hit and a walk over his last six innings and 8 Ks. He will be limited to 60 to 70 pitches.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Hit a pair of homers over the weekend, but K’d 8 times in 16 ABs. Now with 42 Ks in 15 plate appearances this season (28%).

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After a hiccup in mid-May, Ferguson has two scoreless outings with three Ks over 3 innings and one hit allowed. Control is his key. He has walked or hit 12 of the 58 batters he has faced, but has fanned 24.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High (MS). Played in all 50 games, second in ABs in the SAL. Has posted a .333/.373/.500 slash vs. Kannapolis in 12 games. Hit a three-run homer vs. Asheville on Saturday, his first since mid-April. Has reached base in 12 straight games and is 12-for-41 in that stretch with four walks and two hit batters. Approach of late has been to take pitches up the middle and away.

C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Is 10-for-28 with six RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis in 2017

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Had three hits on Sunday and is 5-for-13 with two homers in his last three games. He is the leading Crawdads hitter in May, posting a .431/.484/.690 slash in May.

OF Franklin Rollin: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of La Romana, D.R. Is 15-for-36 with two homers and 9 RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis.

RHP Kaleb Fontenot: 21st-round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Currently third in SAL among relievers in Ks per 9 innings (13.50). Has 11 Ks in his last 7 innings over two outings.

 

About the Intimidators:

Managed by Justin Jirschele in his first season with the Intimidators… Kannapolis split a four-game series at Greensboro and are coming to Hickory after striking out 20 hitters in Sunday’s game. The Intimidators are in fourth place, but sit just 3.5 games behind first-place Hagerstown (Md.). Kannapolis will have a chance over the next 17 games to put itself squarely in the division chase. After the Crawdads series, Kannapolis plays four games vs. third place Greensboro, then travels to second-place Lakewood (NJ) for three and sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The run is capped with a three-game home series vs. Hagerstown… At the plate, Kannapolis is hitting .279 in May, which is second in the SAL. The Intimidators have scored eight or more runs in five of the last ten games. Overall, Kannapolis is third in the league in batting (.264) and OPS (.719)… On the hill, Kannapolis relies on strong starting pitching to eat up innings and get the game to its bullpen. The Intimidators are 18-8 when scoring first and an SAL-best 19-5 when scoring last. When leading after five innings Kannapolis is 20-3… Statistically, both teams should be able to use the running game to generate offense as Hickory and Kannapolis are at the bottom of the SAL in nabbing baserunners trying to steal. However, his is not the Intimidators game. They have just 21 steals in 36 attempts, both SAL lows. Joel Booker has ten of those… Defensively, Kannapolis is third from the bottom in fielding pct.

 

Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:

LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 16 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Tied for 9th  in SAL with 12 doubles. Saw a 12-game hitting streak end on Saturday (19-for-47), he still owns a 14-game on-base streak. Has posted a .338/.422/.606 slash in May.

LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 19 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Allowed one run on four hits over six innings in his last start. Has split his two decisions vs. Hickory, gave up four runs on eight hits over 4 innings vs. Hickory on 5/18.

RF Micker Adolfo (No. 21 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Tied for 3rd in the SAL with 14 doubles. Had a 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) earlier this month. Currently in the midst of a 4-for-22 stretch.

P Victor Diaz (No. 23 mlb.com, No. 26 Baseball America): Traded to the White Sox from Boston in the Chris Sale trade. The Dominican native made his season’s first appearance on May 26. Has retired all nine batters he faced in two outings with six Ks. With an upper-90s fastball, his stay in Kannapolis could be brief.

 

Others to watch – Kannapolis:

CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Quietly putting together a nice season as the Intimidator leadoff hitter. Currently second in the SAL in hits and runs scored, sixth in batting avg. (.318) and tenth in total bases.

RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Has allowed the fewest baserunners per 9 IP (3.96) among SAL relievers and is second in saves (8). He has yet to allow a run in 25 innings with 34 Ks to just 11 baserunners. He has given up four hits this season; Hickory has three of them.

RHP Jimmy Lambert: Fifth round pick in 2016 out of Fresno St. Is third in the SAL in innings pitched and has a 1.13 walk-per-nine-inning ratio, the best among starters in the SAL. Relies on defense to make plays, has allowed 57 hits in 55.2 innings. He is 2-1 vs. Hickory with a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings.

C Seby Zavala: 12th-round pick in 2015 out of San Diego St. Tied for second in the SAL with 10 homers and eighth in slugging (.520). Once a top-15 prospect with the White Sox, he’s struggled to make contact. Four of his HRs are against Hickory.

RHP Kyle Kybat: Non-drafted free agent out of Nebraska. Allowed 6.18 baserunners per 9 innings, third among SAL relievers, 0.65 BB per 9 innings 5th among relievers. Has a 0.59 ERA over 30.2 innings. Given up two earned runs, one of those surrendered to Hickory.

2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick in 2016 out of Wright St.  Tied for seventh in the SAL in hits. Slash line of .242/.279/.293 in May.

Offensive Tourists Rude to Hosts: Defeat Crawdads 8-6

Hickory reached the 50th game of the season and a familiar theme through the first 49 played out again on Sunday afternoon.

The Asheville Tourists built a big lead early and the held on to an 8-6 win Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The Tourists (21-27) took three out of four in the series and sent the Crawdads (19-31) to their seventh loss in eight games and the eighth out of ten.

 

What Happened?:

Two in the first, one in the third, four in the fourth nearly put the game out of reach for the Tourists, though the Crawdads did make it interesting in the middle innings.

With Jonathan Hernandez – the reigning South Atlantic League’s pitcher of the month – on the mound for the Crawdads, Manny Melendez led off the game with a single to center. One out later, Colton Welker (4-for-5) sliced a liner just on the line in right for a run-scoring double. After Willie Abreu popped out, Max George hit a long fly ball to the warning track in center. Leody Taveras tracked the ball, but was never able to get his body square for the catch and it fell in for a triple.

Alex Kowalczyk (3-for-4) took a dead-fish fastball from Ty Culbreth and sent it in orbit over the fence in left-center to cut the Crawdads deficit in half. However, Abreu slapped a Hernandez changeup off the billboards in right to reclaim the original two-run lead for the Tourists.

What turned out to be the difference in the game was the fourth inning. Carlos Herrera tripled and scored on Eric Toole’s squeeze bunt. The inning fell apart with two outs in the ninth when Campbell Wear, the Tourists’ backup catcher, who entered the game hitting .067, walked. From there, Wear stole second and scored on Melendez’s single. Jose Gomez doubled, Welker lined a single to left and it was now 7-1.

With rain falling beyond centerfield – but not in the ballpark – Hickory got back into the game with three in the fourth. Taveras walked and Kowalczyk singled. A fly ball to right advanced Taveras to third and he scored on Carlos Garay’s sac fly. Jose Almonte made the game interesting with a two-run homer to left-center to make it 7-4.

In need of a shutdown inning, it didn’t happen in the fifth. George doubled, moved to third on a Hernandez wild pitch and scored when SS Anderson Tejeda – playing in to try and keep the runner at third from scoring – fielded a groundball hit by Joel Diaz, then double pumped the throw home, which was enough to allow George to slide around the tag of Kowalczyk and score.

The Crawdads got within 8-6 in the seventh when Tejeda doubled and one out later scored on Leody Taveras’s single up the middle. Ti’Quan Forbes walked to put the tying run on, but Asheville brought in Julian Fernandez to finish the inning. He did so emphatically (up to 100 mph!) with a strikeout of Garay.

That turned out to be the game. Fernandez breezed through the eighth to earn the scorer’s-decision win. J.D. Hammer struck out two in the ninth to work around a one-out single and earn his third save of the series, the fifth overall.

 

Hernandez today:

(The following is my own observation. I could be WAAAAAY off base, but this is what I saw. There are smarter people than me that may say this is all bunk.)

Today was the first time I’d seen Hernandez pitch since he started a stretch of four, strong starts that eventually led to a one-hitter over seven innings vs. Greensboro. The thing I noticed was the windup seemed to be much more deliberate than in the past. He starts out facing the catcher, turns as if to reset himself into the stretch position, then the windup and a pitch. Hernandez has a tendency at times to rush his delivery and then fly open, which, to me, seemed to make his pitches flatten out. I’ve seen him use the towel drill between starts to work on staying in line with the plate upon the delivery – he’s done this at least for two seasons now.

In talking with pitching coach Jose Jaimes during the last homestand, he mentioned that Hernandez has developed the ability to throw his changeup at any count. He has a fastball that sits 95-97 – but it is often straight – and he can mix in a slider that does catch the strike zone. The money pitch for him is when that changeup is on. He misses bats with it, but it’s the groundball outs that is the clue as to whether he will be effective or not. Today, it wasn’t.

Today, out of the stretch, he tended to fall off the first-base side of the mound and his pitches flattened and stayed up. Two groundouts (should’ve had a third on the fielder’s choice in the fifth) and a ton of well-struck pitches for hits or outs.

It looked like in the third he was finding a groove. Hernandez started the third with back-to-back whiffs on a change and a slider for the K, then got a quick grounder from Welker. Abreu followed and Hernandez appeared to get him to swing through a change to get the count to 1-2. The umps ruled Abreu checked the swing and whether it was from frustration or something else, another change followed that stayed up and left the yard.

After he gave up the first run in the fourth on Toole’s squeeze, Hernandez seemed to lose concentration. The five-pitch walk to .067-hitting Wear followed and one could sense that things would fall apart… and they did.

Hernandez understands what he’s to do and is working to fix the mechanics. Some day’s he’ll have it; some day’s… no. This was a no day.

Jonathan Hernandez - Proffitt

Jonathan Hernandez (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

Forbes:

Went 0-for-3 with a walk. Two fly balls to right and a strikeout on an 9-pitch AB. The approach is better; he’s seeing pitches better. Hopefully the results will follow as they did on Saturday when he homered to center and singled to right.

 

Taveras:

That fly-ball triple to Taveras in the first, I honestly thought he was going to catch it. He seemed to have no trouble tracking it down and raced it to the warning track. However, it seemed like he couldn’t get his body turned the right way to catch it. Now, admittedly, the play was 450+ feet from me, and so it may have been a harder play than I am describing. But, such as the expectations one has when watching Taveras on a near daily basis.

At the plate today, he looked like his “old” self, working the count or ambushing fastballs. I swear, nearly every plate appearance is over six pitches or 1-2.

 

Kowalczyk:

The dude is strong and right now, he is seeing everything. His third hit in the fifth was a thing of beauty. Down 1-2, he spoiled a Bryan Baker slider (?), then laid off a pair of breaking balls to work the count full. The play-by-play stringer and I both thought there’s no way – given how he attacked the first two ABs – he’d see a fastball, especially with a base to work with. Kowalczyk saw one low and in and he ripped it to left.

Alex Kowalczyk - Proffitt

Alex Kowalczyk homered and knocked in two on Sunday (courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

He’s a tall kid, built solid and, at least at this point, the bat is ahead of SAL pitching. The whole adjustment to pro-game breaking balls hasn’t phased him for now. His defensive work, however, has been suspect. Kowalczyk entered Sunday’s game catching just one of 14 baserunners attempting to steal and the throws – at least on this homestand – have not been close. Several have sailed into center, or bounced well to the 3B side of second. Take on three passed balls and four errors thus far on the season – and would’ve added a fifth if not for Taveras backing up the play and throwing out Joel Diaz at third – and it’s been a tough road for him.

 

Falling behind:

Hickory simply falls behind too many times and often it’s big. Here are the numbers:

The Crawdads have scored first in just 19 games this year and when the opponent scores, it comes during the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning in 24 games. The Crawdads have scored just 25 total first-inning runs.

The opposition has scored in the first three innings in 43 of the games and hold a 139-88 over innings 1, 2 and 3 combined. Nine times, Hickory has given up six or more runs over the first three innings 8 times, 5 runs two more times.

The emphasis for the Rangers in their system is to command the fastball. It’s pretty certain that at Hickory, the starters are not commanding that pitch.

Homers Gain Home Team a Win: Crawdads Rally 6-4

A pair of homers, including one that capped a three-run inning in the sixth, helped the Hickory Crawdads to a come-from-behind 6-4 win over the Asheville Tourists Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (19-30) snapped a six-game skid and set them up for a chance to split the series after the Tourists (20-27) took the first two of the four-game set Thursday and Friday. First pitch of Sunday’s finale is scheduled for 3 p.m.

 

What Happened?:

For just the 18th time in 49 games, and the first time since their last win on May 20, the Crawdads scored first. With two outs and the bases empty, Leody Taveras singled to left and reached second when 3B Travis Snyder’s throw to second for the force sailed over Max George’s glove as he covered the bag. Facing Brandon Gold, Ti’Quan Forbes then launched a three-run blast, a high-arching shot that kissed the batter’s eye in center. The homer was Forbes’s sixth of the season, but the first since April 17.

However, the Tourists rebounded quickly against Crawdads starter Matt Ball with two runs each in the second and third innings. In the second, Manny Melendez, Carlos Herrera and Joel Diaz all singled, with Diaz’s hit scoring Melendez. Ball then struck out Robbie Perkins, but a run scored when Diaz took off for second on a double-steal attempt. Herrera scored on the play as Diaz got caught in a run down between first and second.

In the third, Vince Fernandez singled and scored when Jose Gomez hit a sinking liner that Taveras closed in on and attempted to make a diving catch. The ball fell in and scooted past Taveras to the track, turning the play into an RBI triple. Gomez then scored easily on Willie Abreu’s double to the RCF track.

The Tourists had a chance to tack on more runs in the fourth when Ball walked the bases loaded after two outs. However, Ball settled down and struck out Gomez to end the inning.

Hickory held the deficit to 4-3 until the sixth when it scored the decisive runs. Anderson Tejeda singled and then scored all the way from first when Gold fielded Franklin Rollin’s swinging bunt and threw it down the right-field line. Rollin went to third on the play and scored when Valencia lofted a deep fly just over the fence in right for his second homer of the season.

Ricky Valencia - Lin 3.jpg

Ricky Valencia’s two-run HR in the sixth was the difference in the game (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

After Ball got out of the bases-loaded jam in the fourth, he and C.D. Pelham allowed just one baserunner until Pelham walked Abreu to start the eighth. With the tying run at the plate, Pelham struck out Melendez and Herrera. Jake Lemoine was then summoned to face Diaz, who swung at the first pitch and hit into a force play.

Asheville threatened in the ninth after Perkins reached on an error by Forbes and Lemoine walked Fernandez with two outs. However, Gomez ended the game when his soft liner was snagged in the hole at second by the leaping Blaine Prescott.

 

Forbes getting the money swing back; at least, I think he is:

I sent out a tweet Friday night that it appeared Forbes was getting close.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Feel like Ti’Quan is close: hitting ball middle away. Took drive to warning track in CF, last AB was 11 pitches</p>&mdash; Mark Parker (@CrawdadsBeat) <a href=”https://twitter.com/CrawdadsBeat/status/868275387561857025″>May 27, 2017</a></blockquote>
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

The first pitch fastball from Gold was a no-doubter to center. Forbes did try to pull a couple of pitches away and both turned into grounders to short. However in the eighth, he sent the same pitch up the middle for a hard-hit single. He’s still plenty quick enough on the fastball, but secondary pitches away have given him trouble. It appears that he is trying to use his hands more on those pitches – that is when he recognizes them.

 

Taveras pressing?:

It’s only natural during a losing streak to see players try to do something to put the team on their backs. For the most part, he 18-year-old Taveras has been immune from that, but over the first few games of the homestand, it looks like he is trying to do too much.

Though he doubled on Thursday – with the help of a deflection off the 1B’s glove – he seemed impatient on his final three ABs with just three pitches for each one, all strikes with four swing-and-misses – an unusual amount for him.

On Friday, Abreu stole second and moved to third on the overthrow by the catcher. Taveras backed the play up correctly, but even with no real chance for the out at third, he threw it anyway. The ball landed on the protective screen behind the third-base dugout. Add to that a K and a couple of weak grounders – two pitches on each of those ABs – and you have a kid that is trying to do too much. Eight Ks in 7 games (through Friday) was not like him.

Tonight, his dive into center was ill-advised – perhaps he didn’t read it well as it was hit directly to him – and what should’ve been a single to set up first and second with one out turned into a run with another at third.

Taveras is very good at ambushing fastballs, or working long counts to get a pitch he can do something with. The single in the first tonight was classic-Taveras. Hitting left-handed, he served an 0-1 fastball away into left. Later in the eighth, we saw him work the count and earn a walk. That serves him well when he doesn’t get those first-pitch fastballs.

Leody Taveras vs Braxton Garrett - Lin

Leody Taveras (Crystal Lin)

 

The rally that almost wasn’t:

After the Crawdads had four – four! – runners thrown out on the bases Friday night in a one-run loss, including pinch-runner Franklin Rollin, who was inserted as the tying run in the seventh and then proceeded to get picked off, a near disastrous start to the sixth almost occurred. If it had, I think manager Spike Owen would’ve had a coronary on the field.

Anderson Tejeda opened the inning with a lined single to right. As Tejeda rounded the base at first, a throw from Willie Abreu in right was already on the way behind him and nearly picked him off as he scampered back to first.

 

Was this closing day?:

The first few innings had the feel of the final day of the season, as the hitters went hacking. Gold needed just 51 pitches to get through the fifth inning and the Tourists hitters went hacking against Ball. Of the seven hits allowed by Ball over the first three innings, five of those were on the first or second pitch as the hitters saw a flat fastball.

Gold went on to record a complete game, despite the loss, needing just 93 pitches. He did a good job of pounding the strike zone (71 strikes) and getting the Crawdads to swing at his pitches early for weak contact. In fact, just six of the 34 Crawdads saw five or more pitches.

 

A smooth CD:

Like fine music, this C.D. (Pelham) was smooth and kept the Tourists in a relaxed state. As Gold did, the 6-6, 235 lb. lefty got outs quickly (39 pitches, 26 strikes over three innings) then finished them off with either a change or a slider. The slider was especially good to lefties as three of the four Ks came courtesy of that pitch. Given the rough treatment Pelham got at Lexington (KY) on Wednesday (2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER), the bounce back was badly needed.

CD Pelham - Lin.jpg

CD Pelham retired 9 of  the 10 he faced and fanned four (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Progress Report: An Interview with Crawdads Hitting Coach Kenny Hook

 

The Hickory Crawdads had a rough start at the plate. April rains in the area often limited the hitters work to the batting cage and on the field the Crawdads as a unit struggled to put an offense together other than homers.

Hickory jumped to the South Atlantic League’s lead in homers in April and still remain near the top. However, hitters too often missed in-game opportunities during individual at bats and wasted scoring chances as a team.

But, the season is long and as the sunshine returned to the area, the team perked up as well, especially during a late-April series against Columbia (S.C.). Yanio Perez tortured Fireflies pitching and won the Sally League hitter-of-the-week award as a result of that work and hasn’t looked back. Leody Taveras – the Texas Rangers top prospect – has been as advertised. He went through a 15-game stretch during which he had more hits (20) than swings-and-misses (15). Yeyson Yrizarri woke out of a 1-for-39 slump and has had two four-hit games this month. Anderson Tejeda has cut his strikeout rate.

The talent is here and, more importantly, it is developing. I had a chance to speak with Crawdads hitting coach Kenny Hook during the recent home stand about the young hitters and how that development is coming along.

Perez Taveras - Lin

Yanio Perez (left) and Leody Taveras have led the Crawdads attack in recent weeks (photo by Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Let me ask you first of all, the team, started really slow. You and I talked a little bit on the side about all the rain we had and guys not being able to get into a routine. Suddenly, a lot of guys have found a stroke of genius that you’ve given them, or whatever. What about that turnaround and where the guys have come from?

Hook: The weather and not being able to spend a lot of time out on the field. The main thing is, you can get kind of fooled inside a cage sometimes. Being out on the field and seeing the flight of the ball offers you some pretty valuable feedback. So, that did play a factor, but some of it is being able to get locked in on a routine, develop more of a plan and an approach at the plate, and then getting a good understanding of how they’re going to get pitched in certain situations.

I think that’s been the biggest thing is the ability to get a better pitch earlier in the count, to not be afraid to get deep into a count, then be a little more refined in a two-strike approach. I think you saw that really with our last road trip. That was really good with two outs and two strikes was a big difference.

 

One of the things I noticed up front – and that turned around in the second home stand – is when guys would get in hitter’s counts, they almost seemed jumpy to try and do something, rather than waiting on the next pitch. That 2-1 or 3-0 pitch wasn’t the one you wanted and they weren’t ready for a fastball. That seems to have come around.

Hook: Yeah, I think some of that is having to do with their youth. I think a lot of them really want to get big hits instead of just getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it. They’re trying to do too much at those times. I think they get excited and a little anxious when they work themselves into good counts. They kind of anticipate something good is coming pitch wise and then maybe they chase a little bit and swing at a pitcher’s pitch in those counts.

That’s gotten a lot better. We’ve slowed it down and allowed pitchers to make mistakes more often. But, I think that’s going to come and go because we’re young. These guys get really high and then they get down on themselves because they all want to perform and they put a little too much pressure on themselves at the plate in certain situations. They’ll get better at the more games and the more times they are in those situations.

 

I’m going to do a little name association and start with Leody Taveras. As an 18-year-old, he brings a lot. I know you’ve watched the twitter things I’ve posted of him having more hits that missed bats over the last couple of weeks. For an 18-year-old, that’s pretty rare.

Hook: You know what, I would say, other than his baseball skills, I’ve been most impressed with just his preparation, how intense he is. He shows up and performs every night and he is really locked in as far as playing one pitch at a time. He really understands what he needs to do in certain situations in the game. He understands that guys aren’t just going to just attack him and allow him to get good pitches in certain situations.

Leody Taveras - Lin vs Columbia

The switch-hitting Leody Taveras in a game vs. Columbia (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

I think the switch to the three hole has really kind of changed his mindset there. He’s been more patient and he’s really refined his play, as far as looking for a really small zone early in the count, something he can do some damage on, and then later in the count being able to use the whole field. I think shrinking the zone early has allowed him to work into deeper counts and get ahead in counts, and then trust that he can drive the ball the other way later in counts is huge for him.

 

You mentioned his preparation, what does he do differently than the average 18-year-old that stands out to you?

Hook: I think it’s just mentally. I don’t think it’s something you can really see as far as that. I think all the guys prepare physically. I think he has a certain way, as far as his demeanor and really processing whatever it takes to win. He’s a fierce competitor. I think a lot of them are competing and are great competitors, but he just has a knack for being able to stay in the moment and not get too outside of himself or try to do too much in certain situations. Where I think he’s built a little different, as far as being able to control his emotions at such a young age, is what stands out for me the most.

 

 

Yanio Perez started slow, but man did he find a stick in the Columbia series. He pretty much tortured anything they threw up there. He was one of those that seemed a little jumpy in hitter’s counts early, but has found a groove.

Perez: For him, I think it’s just his mind set as a hitter. He’s so good at kind of being able to hit breaking balls and offspeed pitches up the middle and the other way to where, he was seeing a lot of them and he was just giving up on fastballs and looking to drive the breaking stuff the other way and get his hits that way.

What you saw in the Columbia series, and kind of the ongoing thing with him as far as what he needs to improve on, and what we’re preaching is, stay on the fastball timing all the time. Because, at any point, he recognizes well enough to where he can still hit the offspeed the other way. What you saw in that series is, he was looking fastball and he was committed to it, so when they did hang a slider or offspeed, you saw him get the bathead out and pulled more baseballs in that series. When he gets extended and pulls the ball, obviously you’re going to do more damage. So, you saw big power numbers in that series.

Yanio Perez Spike Owen - Lin

Yanio Perez (left) and manager Spike Owen shake hands as Perez rounds the bases after one of four HRs against Columbia at L.P. Frans Stadium (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

When Andy Ibanez came here last year, one of things that the Rangers wanted him to do was having him get used to how baseball is played here. How has Perez coming here and playing here made those adjustments at this level, in this country, at this setting, etc.?

Hook: I think he’s done a really good job, especially for a guy that’s played multiple positions and is getting moved around a lot. He’s transitioned pretty well. Offensively, that’s been the easiest aspect. The defensive stuff at first base – he may be in right field, left field, third base, first base – I think that’s something that’s his biggest asset, as far as being able to move around. But at the same time, it does take a certain understanding that you have to get your groundballs during BP, you have to get fly balls. There’s a lot of work to stay ready to play those positions.

I would say is, what you’re seeing is that he’s a pretty sound defender when he’s on the dirt and he can always go play corner outfield, but I think being able to do both is a huge asset, I would think in the industry as a whole and obviously, for our club.

 

Ti’Quan Forbes has gone the opposition direction. He started real hot and has cooled off. But the thing I noticed about him last year and the start of this year is that his confidence is so much above when he started here last year. What you do you see in him, even now when he is slumping, what he is bringing to the plate?

Hook: What I think is that it’s a trust in himself and maturing and understanding his body and his swing, and he realizes if he sticks to his plan and stays and gets ready to hit fastballs, he’s athletic enough to where good things are going to happen. That confidence and I think it’s a matter of maturing.

As kids mature, they start to understand what kind of player they are, what’s important for them to have success. You’ve seen that and even through not getting hits, he’s still hitting the ball hard every night. He’s still a threat in our lineup. He spent a lot of time in that four hole where you go into a series and you put that batting average and those power numbers up on the board, they’re going pitch him a little different. I think he’s shown how much he’s grown up by the way he’s handled that.

He’ll come out of it and they’ll start falling. He hit two balls last that were right on the barrel and hit them over 90 miles an hour. That’s all you can ask for as a hitter is hard contact and eventually those are going to turn into hits.

Ti'Quan Forbes at 3B - Lin

3B Ti’Quan Forbes continues to play stellar defense while developing his stroke at the plate (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

It doesn’t look like it’s hurt him defensively and it didn’t last year. He doesn’t take it to the field.

Hook: He’s got a great routine and he realizes how important his defense is. So, I think that’s one other aspect of his maturity. He understand that once it’s time to play defense, he really focuses on that and doesn’t let his offense affect his defense and vice versa. It’s just a matter of being a well-rounded play and understanding his role and his job.

 

Where does Anderson Tejeda get that power? He’s still a bit of a scrawny guy and not much bigger than my 15-year-old?

Hook: Well, I think it’s what he generates in his swing. He’s got a big leg kick and he really gets a lot of separation, and there’s a ton of bat speed in there. He’s a guy who’s at bats have gotten a lot better because he’s been able to control his body a little bit. He’s another guy that understands that people aren’t going to throw fastballs inside, because that’s his strength. So, he’s been able to be more selective. He can hit the ball out to any field. I think trusting that has been the key for him. He doesn’t have to pull the ball to do damage. He’s just a talented, gifted hitter that, at his age, is pretty impressive.

Anderson Tejeda leg kick - Proffitt

Anderson Tejeda with the high leg kick as he prepares to swing in a game vs. Rome (photo courtesy of Anderson Tejeda)

 

Yrizarri came back and for me, that was a bit of a surprise. He came back here and struggled at the start, but has seemed to find himself again. Did he struggle with all of this coming back and trying to figure out what he’s doing here and moving positions?

Hook: I think there’s probably something to that, as far as feeling a little disappointed that he didn’t move up from here. You know, I think he understands at this point that’s what’s best for him. He’s got to take it for what it’s worth, but come out and improve on what he did last year here and play a little more second base and being able to control the strike zone better and really get more of a well-round game. I think what you’ve seen with him lately is he’s got a lot of two-strike hits. He’s not chasing as much.

I think what you saw early on was a guy who felt like: I was one swing away every time I went up there, getting big hit and then getting moved out of here as fast as possible. You’ve just got to do what you can and stay in the present every time and that stuff will take care of itself.

Yeyson Yrizarri at 2B - Proffitt

Switched to 2B for 2017, Yeyson Yrizarri struggled at the plate at the start of the season, but has two four-hit games in May (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

I’m really happy with his work ethic through all his struggles. He’s been at it every day and his mindset hasn’t changed. He’s a great kid that puts a ton of pressure on himself. He’s very emotional and cares so much about the team and about his performance that sometimes to a fault. Keeping an even keel is probably the biggest challenge and will directly affect his success.

 

What happened with Eric Jenkins? He came here and had really good at bats the first couple of games. But there was the Columbia series where the team had a tight game in the ninth, and he had a chance for a big hit and the uppercut swing came back. What mindset do you see with him so far?

Hook: I think it’s a work in progress. I think he was on to some really good things and having some plate discipline in there. I think, as it is with any hitter, if you don’t start to see the results, as any human would do, you revert back to what you know and what you’re comfortable with.

Eric Jenkins - Lin

Eric Jenkins struggled to make contact during a 2017 cameo with Hickory (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

I expect him to go down there (extended spring) and work and be back here soon. He’s very talented and a very likable kid and he’s got a lot of tools. So, I think it’s a matter of giving him a chance to step back and just understand what he needs to do to develop his game. He’ll be back here, I’m sure pretty soon.

 

Who has surprised you the most to this point of the season?

Hook: To this point, I think Ricky Valencia. I’ve known, but I haven’t seen Ricky, though this is my fourth year with Texas. Ricky has never been in a situation where he’s been a frontline guy, in my time with the Rangers. His leadership – he’s a little bit older – but his ability to hit and to understand having a plan, and being that guy that can teach the younger Latin kids. He’s a great role model and a great leader for them. He’s a solid, solid guy. Every night, you know what you’re going to get. Whether he’s 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he’s pretty much the same.

He’s probably been the most impressive because I’ve never seen him in that role and it looks like he’s talking full advantage of that chance and opportunity.

Ricky Valencia 2 - Lin

C Ricky Valencia in a game vs. Rome Braves (Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Kowalczyk is taking advantage of his opportunity.

Hook: Yeah, he’s a big strong kid that can obviously generate some bat speed. He just needs experience, I think, learning how to call a game and learning the catching position at this level. He’s been impressive since he’s gotten here with the bat.

 

 

What do we look for in Aparicio?

Hook: A guy that is a lot like Tejeda. He’s got a little pop. He can really play the outfield and has a really good and a really food competitor. He’s a guy that sprays the ball around. I think he’s got some real tools. He can run. He’s got the hitability. I think we’re getting a player that’s exciting, a lot like that players we have here right now, so he should fit in great.

Greensboro continues to punish Crawdads pitching; Wins 8-2

Another game during the homestand, another blowout loss.

The Greensboro Grasshoppers scored the first five runs and went on to an 8-2 win over the Hickory Crawdads Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for Greensboro (21-15) was an important win as the Grasshoppers are tied with Lakewood (NJ) for second place in the South Atlantic League Northern Division, with both teams a game behind Hagerstown (Md.). The Grasshoppers have won 9 of 10 – including the first two games of the current four-game series – and 12 of 15 to get into the division chase.

Meanwhile, Hickory (13-23) has dropped four of five and 8 of 11. Only Augusta (11-24) has a worst record in the Sally League.

 

What happened?:

Poor command and untimely defensive play was again the downfall for the Crawdads. Today, it was starter Tyler Phillips that took the brunt of things early.

Greensboro scored two in the first, which started when Eric Gutierrez was hit by a pitch – the first of five on the day. Boo Vazquez followed with a bouncer to SS Yeyson Yrizarri. His feed to start a potential double play was a slow, underhanded toss to 2B Blaine Prescott covering the bag. With the runner sliding in, Prescott’s turn and subsequent and relay to first was off the mark, which allowed Vazquez to reach. The misplay proved to be a key part of the inning as Jarett Rindfleisch doubled in Vazquez. One out later, Corey Bird singled in Rindfleisch.

Greensboro added three unearned runs in the fourth. With one out Vazquez lined a single to right and went to second when Rindfleisch was hit by a pitch. The inning began to unravel when a grounder by Luis Pintor was fielded in the hole by Yrizarri, who then attempted a force play at third. However, Ti’Quan Forbes dropped the throw, which allowed the runner to reach and loaded the bases. From there, Bird’s sacrifice fly scored Vazquez and Austin Knapp singled in two more. Phillips’s (1-2) day was done after he walked Justin Twine.

As has been the case lately, that was more than enough for starter Braxton Garrett. The Miami Marlins top prospect pitched five innings of two-hit ball to pick up his first pro win (1-0). One of the few mistakes Garrett made was a high changeup that Yanio Perez hit high off the billboards in right for his eighth homer of the season.

Matt Ball entered the game in relief of Phillips and after he got the Crawdads out of further damage in the fourth and stranded two more in the fifth, Greensboro tagged him for a run in the sixth when Colby Lusignan singled in Justin Twine.

Tyler Ferguson entered the game in the eighth on the heels of five scoreless outings (7.1 IP), but he too was not immune to the week of wildness. Bird and Knapp both singled and advanced to second and third on a fly to right. James Nelson walked and then Bird scored on a wild pitch. Lusignan was walked and Gutierrez was hit by a pitch to score Knapp and end Ferguson’s day. Kaleb Fontenot retired the final two batters of the inning pitched a perfect ninth to prevent further scoring.

Leody Taveras accounted for the final run in the ninth with a towering homer off the batter’s eye.

 

The beat goes on:

This afternoon’s game was the 16th time in 36 games the Crawdads have allowed seven or more runs, the tenth in the last 16 games.

In the four games during the homestand that went nine innings, Hickory has combined to throw 750 pitches with just 440 going for strikes. Today’s total: 189 pitches with 116 for strikes.

 

What next?: With the short outings by the starters this week – only Edgar Arredondo reached five innings – the bullpen has been taxed. Only Jake Lemoine has not seen since Thursday, and that outing was the second straight poor one for him (2.1 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 3 BB). I would not be surprised to see the Rangers make some roster moves to help with a stretched-out bullpen, but then perhaps a rotation spot or two come open for grabs. Argenis Rodriguez (13.80 ERA in 5 appearances, 4 starts) has already been sent to Arizona. Phillips (6.39 ERA in seven outings, four starts) and Demarcus Evans (7.88 ERA in seven outings, 3 starts) could be the next to at least come out of the rotation.

One-quarter of the season is gone and adjustments have not been made. Those adjustments may need to come in Arizona and/ or Spokane.

 

#1 vs. #1

The matchup I wanted to see was a pair of top-100 prospects squaring off: Garrett vs. the Rangers top prospect, Taveras.

In the first, Taveras ambushed a first-pitch fastball by Garrett that was down, but served hard into right. The southpaw then caught Taveras leaning the wrong way, but Taveras was able to beat the throw to second for the steal.

In the fourth, Garrett used a fastball and change to get ahead 0-2. Taveras ignored a curve and fastball that both went low,  fouled off another pitch (Don’t remember what it was) before Garrett froze him with a curveball on the 1B corner of the plate.

 

Impressions of Garrett:

The No. 7 overall pick made his second pro start and from what I could pay attention to – we had computer issues in getting the game info to New York – he impressed. Fastball ran 90-94 mph with some life and he mixed in a changeup liberally that stayed armside, as well as a curveball from the first inning on.

I mentioned to the stringer working the game with me in the third that the curveball seemed very loopy. He must have heard me from the press box because right after that, Garrett tied up the right-handed hitting Franklin Rollin up with back-to-back 11-5 curves that bore in on the hands as he swung through both.

As stated above, the only real mistake was the high change that Perez punished.