Results tagged ‘ Ti’Quan Forbes ’

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.

Greensboro Ballin’: Crawdads wildness leads to 14-2 thrashing.

Had the Crawdads lineup not put together 12 hits, Saturday night’s 14-2 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers might be one of the uglier losses in my own memory here.

Eleven walks, three hit batters, a wild pitch, an error on a throw to first following a strikeout, two passed balls all added up to every bit of that 14-2 defeat.

To the Grasshoppers credit, the lineup was patient and took advantage of the opportunities given them. Greensboro went 10-for-28 RISP and still stranded 14 for the game.

 

What happened?:

It started so innocently. Crawdads starter Demarcus Evans needed just ten pitches to get through the first. Good, lively fastball and three F-8’s later we’re thinking, here we go. Then it happened…

Hit batter, walk, walk, K, then a walk to .134 hitter Luis Pintor sent manager Spike Owen to the mound with a matter-of-fact walk to remove Evans. Reid Anderson entered and gave up a two-run single to Corey Bird (4-for-5) and a run-scoring double to Aaron Knapp (3-for-5, 5 RBI).

In the third, with one out, Colby Lusignan and Eric Gutierrez singled. Anderson K’d Boo Vazquez, but a passed ball on strike three scored Lusignan from third. Then, hit batter, Pintor’s RBI single, Bird RBI single and Knapp’s three-run homer made it 10-0 after three.

Grasshoppers starter Dylan Lee then just had to throw strikes and he did. Through seven scoreless innings, he scattered seven hits and struck out two.

Ismel Lopez was next up for Hickory and Greensboro got him for single runs in the fifth and sixth. Pintor walked and scored on a bases-loaded walk to Lusignan. In the sixth, Knapp’s sacrifice fly brought in Jarett Rindfleisch.

An unearned run made it 13-0 in the seventh. James Nelson earned the golden sombrero, but got all the way to second when catcher Alex Kowalczyk’s throw to first to complete a strikeout went into right. Vazquez eventually singled him in.

Finally in the ninth against CD Pelham, Vazquez and Rindfleisch hit back-to-back doubles.

The Crawdads got their runs in the ninth as Ti’Quan Forbes and Yeyson Yrizarri each had RBI singles.

 

The damage:

Our internet combined with Gameday’s brain fart late in the game skewed pitch counts from the sixth inning on. By my count, I had the Crawdads combining for 234 pitches with 125 going for strikes. Just 28 first-pitch strikes to 55 hitters.

Evans threw just 19 strikes out of 42 pitches to get five outs.

 

What may be:

Getting the feeling that there will be some changes made and it could be a wakeup call for some guys. Tonight was the quarter-mark of the season and we now see what the reality is. Guys are not throwing strikes or commanding pitches in the strike zone. With manager Spike Owen having to go to the pen in the first through third innings too often, guys in the bullpen are shouldering a ton of work. The rotation and pitching roster may look different when the Crawdads go to Kannapolis on Thursday.

 

Tough night for Kowalczyk:

Whether it was the strain of trying to will pitchers into, or catching nearly every day for a week after sitting out until last week, Kowalczyk had a tough night. Two passed balls in the third, several other pitches that were simply dropped and then the error in the seventh on a routine throw to first. He had a ground single in the fourth, but otherwise K’d twice and bounced to second.

 

Leody busts it:

After a tough night Friday (2 Ks and a GIDP), Taveras was his young self again Saturday. After a Willie Mays, cap-fall-of-the head running catch in the first, he lined an 0-1 pitch hard off the mound, which bounced high into centerfield. He grounded to short and third in his next two ABs, but both times he sprinted hard to first and made both routine plays close. Taveras got rewarded for that hustle in the ninth when he beat out an infield hit to third.

 

Yay for Yay-Yay:

Yeyson Yrizarri had the best AB I can recall seeing in the third. (This was with the team down 10-0). A 9-pitch adventure, during which he spoiled five different 1-2 pitches, turned into a hard-hit single to left on a hanging curve. An infield hit in the fifth, a double into the LF corner in the eighth and an RBI single in the ninth and he winds up with a four-hit night. Add in a leaping catch of a liner to save two runs in the fifth and that’s a pretty good night for a guy during a game when he, and others, could’ve mailed it in.

 

Anderson at second:

Anderson Tejeda looks pretty comfortable at second and I think I could get used to seeing him there. Made two difficult plays look easy as he charged in on both and made the quick, across the body throw to first on the run.

 

Yanio is Yanio:

Three hits, two of them smoked, and I think he’s getting ready to go to Columbia, S.C. with Taveras for the SAL all-star game.

 

Rollin is rollin’

Franklin Rollin went 1-for-5, but could’ve easily had three more hits. Lined hard to first twice and to short to end the game. Just one of those nights.

 

As a matter of fact:

Several hitters torched the ball but found gloves. Along with Rollin’s smashes, Ti’Quan Forbes smoked a liner to third in the seventh that nearly doubled off  Perez at third. Rollin’s smash to first did double off Yrizarri in the third. Almonte had a hard hit liner to center in the fifth. Hickory had 12 hits, but could’ve had more.

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.

 

Series Preview: Hickory Crawdads at Hagerstown (Md.) Suns May 5-8

Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (10-17, 7th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hagerstown Suns (Washington) (17-10, 1st Northern Division)

The Hickory Crawdads continue a two-city road trip with a four-game series at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Friday 7:05 p.m., Saturday 6:05 p.m., Sunday 2:05 p.m., Monday 10:35 a.m. (Games are streamed through the Suns website or milb.com

 

Promotions:

Friday – Post-game fireworks

Saturday – Disney Night & Vacation Giveaway

Sunday – Superhero Day

Monday – Education Day

 

TICKETS: $12 VIP section, $10 Grandstand, $9 General Admission

 Where is it?: 274 East Memorial Blvd., Hagerstown. From I-81, take exit 6A (US 40 East) through downtown Hagerstown. Turn right at Cleveland Ave.

PARKING: Free parking available at the stadium.

 CONCESSIONS: Municipal Stadium has standard ballpark fare (Burgers, hot dogs, pizza, funnel cakes, etc.) There is also a beer garden down the left field line.

 

Probables (Hickory / Hagerstown):

Friday: RHP: Edgar Arredondo vs. RHP Carlos Pena

Saturday: RHP: Argenis Rodriguez vs. LHP Tyler Watson

Sunday: RHP: Tyler Phillips vs. RHP Sterling Sharp

Monday: RHP: Jonathan Hernandez vs. LHP McKenzie Mills

 

Recent Series History:

The Suns took the season-series 5-3 in 2016, including 3-for-4 at Municipal Stadium. Since 2009 – the start of the Crawdads affiliation with the Rangers – Hagerstown holds a 44-42 edge overall, but the Crawdads are 27-22 on the road.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads began the two-city road swing by winning game one of the series at West Virginia, then dropped the next two. The play in the field has been a concern of late. Hickory committed six errors in the Power series, and has at least one error in nine straight games, two or more in six of those. Collectively, the Crawdads are 11th in the 14-team South Atlantic League in fielding (.965)… After struggling the opening weeks of the season, the offense continues to perk up. Hickory has scored at least five runs in five of the last seven games. The homer pace has cooled off – only Yanio Perez and Anderson Tejeda have homered over the last four games – but Hickory’s 26 homers is one behind the SAL lead… The Crawdads remain at the bottom of the SAL in ERA (5.13), hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and WHIP (1.54). Three of the starters in the six-man rotation and one tandem member have ERAs above 6.62 (Phillips). Hickory is 5-8 on the road.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. In the middle of a six-game hitting streak (10-for-27) and has reached base in eight straight. Went 5-for-13 in the series at WV. Has played in all 27 games for the Crawdads, just one of two players to do so (3B Ti’Quan Forbes). Is second in the SAL in at bats. Has hit better on the road (.333/.397/.509) than at home (.189/.246/.245).

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Went 3-for-12 in the series at WV and had the team’s only homer. Is 2-for-17 against lefties with 7 Ks. Strikeouts continue to plague the phenom with 34 in 89 plate appearances (38%).

OF Eric Jenkins (No. 14 MLB.com, No.26 Baseball America). Second-round pick in 2015 out of West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.). After a promising couple of games for the 20-year-old, Jenkins has returned to his contact issues from a year ago. Has at least one K in seven straight and 11 in 36 PAs (31%). Speed is his game, but the SAL’s leading base stealer from a year ago has just one as he has posted a .129/.229/.161 slash. Recently moved to the No. 9 slot in the order after leading off all last year.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. After claiming the SAL’s hitter of the week award, the 21-year-old cooled off to just 2-for-11 in the WV series. Has hit right-handers (.338) and left-handers (.333) equally, but powered up against lefties, slugging .750 against southpaws. Gone five straight games without a K.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. In an 0-for-11 funk with four Ks and a double play. Hitting just .128/.143/.213 on the road.

RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 Baseball America, No. 18 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2013 from the D.R. After a rough start, had his best outing of the year at WV on Tuesday, needing just 80 pitches to get through seven innings. Though he can through up to 97 mph, he is at his best when his changeup is working. Got 11 groundball outs in the start at WV.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Returned from the DL (leg) this week and went 2-for-7. Has six walks in 19 games after just 9 all last year. Hit 8 homers in 57 games last year, he is still looking for his first in 2017.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Continues to dominate over the last couple of weeks. Has been unscored upon over his last four outings (6.1 IP) with 11 Ks to just three hits allowed. The league is hitting .219 against him.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick out of Pittsburgh. Expected to be activated for the series after missing all three games at West Virginia. Likely to receive a bulk of the playing time while starting catcher Ricky Valencia is out with a hamstring injury. Is 0-for-4 in his lone game after joining the Crawdads last week.

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: 2nd -round pick out of Columbia (MS) High. After a hot start, has cooled up to .267 for the season. A likely candidate for a day off, has 2 Ks in each of the last two games and two errors over the last three.

2B Brallan Perez: 2012 international free agent out of Cartegena, Colombia. Rejoined the Crawdads to start the road trip and went 3-for-7 with a pair of walks in two games.

OF Franklin Rollin: 2013 international free agent out of La Romana, D.R. Has begun to receive more playing time lately, filling in at right for Almonte and as the DH. Went 5-for-13 in the WV series.

RHP Tyler Phillips: 16th round pick in 2015 out of Bishop Eustace High, Pennsauken, NJ. Finally put together a decent outing last time out Sunday against Columbia on the back end of a tandem with Demarcus Evans. Allowed one run on one hit and a walk over four hits. Not an over powering pitcher, he has to keep the ball down and let his defense work. The SAL is hitting .290 against him.

 

About the Suns:

Managed by Patrick Anderson in his fourth season with the Suns (255-190). Led the team to the SAL playoffs two of his first three season. Lost in the SAL finals in 2014 and in the first round last year… The Suns took a 2-1 series win against Rome (Ga.) and have taken four of the last five…The offense is nearly unstoppable as their team slash of .285/.353/.438 leads the SAL in all categories. Added to that, they lead the league in runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI and have the fewest strikeouts. Hagerstown set the SAL record with 30 hits in a game at Lexington on Sunday… However, the pitching staff can be had as shown by a 4.26 ERA. The Suns are one of two SAL teams without a shutout. They’ve allowed 27 homers, tied for second most in the SAL.

 

Prospects to watch – Hagerstown:

SS Carter Kieboom (No. 4 mlb.com, No 8 Baseball America): First round pick (28th overall) out of Walton High (Marietta, GA). Currently in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak (13-for-30). Had a three-homer, five-hit game for the Suns during their 30-hit outburst on Sunday. He is fourth in the SAL in total bases and slugging pct. (.570), tied for 4th in hits and homers (5), 8th in batting avg. (.333). His brother Spencer made his MLB debut with Washington in 2016.

3B Sheldon Neuse (No. 6 mlb.com, No. 17 Baseball America) Second-round pick in 2016 out of Oklahoma. Three-time, first-team All-Big 12 for the Sooners. Tied for 5th RBI and 9th runs scored. Saw his seven-game hitting streak (9-for-27) snapped on Wednesday.

1B Anderson Franco (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 15 mlb.com): 2013 international free agent out of Bani, D.R. Had four hits on Sunday, but is hitting at a .200/.303/.307 pace this season. Has a good eye at the plate (12 walks), but thin-railed (6-3, 190). Missed much of 2016 with a back injury.

CF Blake Perkins (No. 16 mlb.com, No. 20 Baseball America) Second-round pick out of Verrado High (Buckeye, AZ). Went 0-for-8 in the Rome series and is in the midst of a 2-for-29 skid. A natural right-handed hitter, the switch-hitter is hitting .339 as a lefty, but only .171 from the right side. He is currently second in the SAL in runs scored.

LHP Tyler Watson (No. 19 mlb.com, No. 27 Baseball America): 34th- round pick in 2015 out of Perry High (Gilbert, AZ). 6-5 lefty came out of nowhere to post a 1.88 ERA and 10 Ks-per-9 innings with short-season Auburn (NY) last year and got a late-season promotion to the Suns. Has fanned 34 of the 110 batters he’s faced. Fanned 8 over six innings in his last start. Signed away from a commitment to Loyola Marymount (CA).

LF Nick Banks (No. 25 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick in 2016 out of Texas A&M. Enters the series with a nine-game hitting streak (11-for-34). Named SEC Tournament MVP in 2016. Played for Team USA in 2015.

OF Daniel Johnson: (No. 29 mlb.com) Fifth-round pick in 2016 out of New Mexico St. Named the WAC player of the year in 2016. Tied for second in HRs (6), fifth in total bases and slugging (.565). Had five homers in his first ten games, but just one since. The left-handed hitter is hitting .339/.369/.645 against righties.

 

Others to watch – Hagerstown:

2B Jake Noll: Seventh-round pick in 2016 out of Florida Gulf Coast. Is 11-for-21 with five RBI and 6 runs scored.

LHP Jordan Mills: Free agent signee, last pitched for the Houston Astros chain in 2015. Unscored upon in his last eight outings, with 13 Ks and no walks over 13.1 innings.

LHP McKenzie Mills: 18th round pick out of Sprayberry High (Marietta, Ga.). Has 35 Ks to just seven walks over 25.2 innings this season. Allowed two runs (one earned) over his last three starts.

Note: Preston Scott was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday (undisclosed injury) and Jose Almonte returned to the lineup…. Suns RF Juan Soto (No. 100 prospect mlb.com/ No.3 Nationals) went to the DL after suffering an ankle injury on Tuesday. His .360 batting average is third in the SAL.

Game Story 4/29/17: Crawdads Rally, Defeat Fireflies in Extras

The Hickory Crawdads shook off the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies with a tying run in the ninth and a walk-off RBI double by Preston Scott in the tenth to claim a 9-8 win in front of 4,325 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The win for the Crawdads (9-14) is the third in a row during the four-game series, which concludes Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Columbia (12-12) has dropped four of its last five games and six of eight.

 

What happened?:

Columbia’s outfielder Tim Tebow did not play. The crowd behaved and were quite well-mannered. Only one chant of Tebow occurred in the ninth inning.

 

What really happened?:

For the third straight game, the Crawdads offense got in gear and carried the team to the walk-off win. After scoring just 22 runs over its first 10 home games, Hickory now has 28 over the last three.

Columbia took a 3-0 lead after its first two at-bats. In the first, Andres Gimenez, the New York Mets No. 8 prospect (MLB.com) who was just added to the Fireflies roster, homered in his first stateside at-bat, a towering blast over the 32-foot high billboards in rightfield. Gene Cone added a two-run double in the second.

The Crawdads, who lead the Sally League in homers, added two in the second as Yanio Perez and Preston Scott snacked back-to-back solo blasts to left against starter Harol Gonzalez.

The Fireflies got the two runs back in the fourth. Jay Jabs singled and Desmond Lindsay walked before a passed ball moved both runners up. Ali Sanchez slammed a liner off the back of starting pitcher Argenis Rodriguez. 3B Ti’Quan Forbes scooped the ball up and made the play to first, but Jabs scored on the play. Milton Ramos doubled in Lindsay.

Yanio Perez then continued his assault on Fireflies pitching with a three-run homer to left to tie the game at 5-all. For the season, Perez is now 10-for-20 in six games with a double, four homers, four walks, 8 runs scored and 11 RBIs.

Hickory took the lead in the fifth as Yeyson Yrizarri singled in Eric Jenkins and scored himself on Forbes’ groundout.

The see-saw affair continued in the sixth when Columbia scored three times to take an 8-7 lead. Sanchez singled in two runs before Cone’s grounder brought in Lindsay for the go-ahead run.

The score remained there until the bottom of the ninth when Anderson Tejeda doubled to start the inning. One out later, Yrizarri squeezed in a single through the left side of the infield. Taveras then lofted a blooper just beyond the reach of the shortstop Gimenez, who had retreated to center, to score Tejeda.  Matt Blackham then struck out Forbes and Ricky Valencia to end the inning and send the game to the tenth.

A perilous moment occurred in the tenth, when Ramos drove a deep fly to left. Eric Jenkins trotted back to the track, then dropped the ball and allowed Ramos to reach second. However, C.D. Pelham recovered to strike out Cone looking to end the threat.

In the bottom of the tenth against new reliever Joseph Zanghi (0-2), Perez got his third hit of the game with a hard single to left. Scott then lasered a double to the wall in left center to score the winning run.

Pelham (1-0) pitched two-hit ball over three scoreless innings with three strikeouts to keep the Fireflies at bay. Jake Lemoine preceded Pelham’s work with two shutout innings of his own.

 

Tejeda base savvy:

I have to make note of a couple of brilliant base-running plays by Anderson Tejeda in the game, both occurring on second-to-third plays.

In the third, Yeyson Yrizarri hit a grounder to Ramos at third. Ramos made the diving stop to his left and threw to first on his knees for the out. Watching the play, Tejeda crept off the bag at second and then scrambled to third ahead of the return throw.

After he doubled in the ninth, Yrizarri’s grounder was just out of the reach of Ramos and Gimenez at short. Tejeda, anxious initially, waited until the play developed before making his move to third.

 

A near disaster in the OF Part 1:

Columbia’s Luis Carpio lined a shot to the gap in right-center field. Perez from right and Taveras from center both tracked the ball with neither calling the other off. The two converged and bumped, but Taveras made the catch and held on. The two had a conversation before returning to their positions. For a brief moment, it looked scary.

 

A near disaster in the OF Part 2, or Jenkins part 1:

There’s no gentle way to put this. On the play in left in the tenth, Jenkins trotted and pranced to the track and then put the glove up for the nonchalant catch. Except he didn’t make the catch. It didn’t look good.

 

Jenkins part 2:

In talking with Eric some on Saturday, he talked about some of his adjustments, especially in addressing the strikeouts from 2016. He talked about not following the swing high, but keeping the swing up the middle. An emphasis on working the count is also a part of his approach. For the most part, he’s done well with getting deep into counts and putting the ball in play. Though the average hadn’t shown it, he hadn’t been giving away at bats.

The two steps forward this week is now a step back. First AB was a one-pitch, weak grounder to 1B. The second AB was a one-pitch fly to LF. He reached on an infield hit in the fifth, then was looking on three pitches in the seventh and tried to muscle up a pitch in the ninth and struck out.

 

Taveras mastery at the plate:

In this homestand, Taveras has seen 102 pitches. He has swung and missed just five. Think about that when considering this is an 18-year-old. Three of those were vs. Braves No. 6 (MLB.com) prospect Ian Anderson.

One of those was tonight in the ninth when he wailed violently at a 1-0 fastball from Matt Blackham with runners on the corner. He settled down, worked the count full, then put the bat to the ball. It wasn’t a full-swing, but he made enough contact to loft the ball into short center for the game-tying RBI single.

In the fifth, he yanked an 0-2 off-speed pitch to RF for a single. Two innings later, it was an 0-2 fastball off the plate that he served to left.

Looking back through my mind’s eye, I remember how good Jurickson Profar was as an 18-year-old here. More walks than Ks, he would spoil two-strike pitches to the point of driving opposing pitchers batty. At 17 and early 18, Nomar Mazara, though he fanned a good bit, would battle and battle with two strikes. For me, at least for now, Taveras is right up there as far as strike-zone judgment.

 

Perez zeroed in:

After the two homers, he saw only curveballs during a full-count walk in the fifth. In the eighth, he crushed a change which wondered over the plate that Gimenez made a leaping catch of. The single in the tenth, also a fastball, was smoked to left.

 

Baserunning rally killers:

Both teams made curious decisions on the bases that stunted run-scoring innings. In the fourth, Columbia scored two and took a 5-2 lead with seemingly more on the way. With one out and Cone at the plate, Ramos wondered off the bag at second as Cone bunted through a pitch. Alex Kowalczyk saw the play and calmly threw to second for the pickoff. Cone then struck out to end the inning.

Hickory took a 7-5 lead with two in the fifth and had runners at the corners with two outs. With the count 2-2 to Preston Scott, Perez took off from first. When the throw from the catcher Sanchez went to second, Taveras scrambled for home. Luis Carpio cut off the throw at second and easily gunned down Taveras at the plate.

 

Walk-off remembered:

The walk-off win is the second of the season for the Crawdads and the first over the Mets Low-A affiliate since a 17-inning win over Savannah on 5/9/15, when Jose Cardona lined a homer into the leftfield corner. The day after, manager Jose Leger, who had argued Cardona’s homer was foul, was ejected during the home-plate meeting.

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.”

Series Preview: Columbia (S.C.) at Hickory April 27-30

Columbia Fireflies (New York Mets) (12-9, 3rd SAL Southern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (6-14, 7th SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads continue a weeklong homestand with a four-game series against the Columbia Fireflies at L.P. Frans Stadium in South Atlantic League action.

 

If you plan to go:

GAME TIMES: Thursday-Friday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 6:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

 

Promotions: Thursday – “Thirsty Thursday”, NFL Draft Party

Friday – Post-game fireworks, Dynamic Duo Night

Saturday – Ladies Night, featuring Luke Pell from The Bachelorette, Replica Jersey giveaway to first 1,000 through the gate.

Sunday – Church Bulletin Sunday (Bring church bulletin for $6 ticket. The Crawdads will donate $4 back to respective church.)

 

TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section. Games Thursday through Saturday are sold out.

 

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 (Columbia / Hickory):

Thursday: RHP Colin Holderman vs. RHP Michael Matuella

Friday: LHP Blake Taylor vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo

Saturday: RHP Jordan Humphries vs. RHP Argenis Rodriguez

Sunday: RHP Gabriel Llanes vs Demarcus Evans

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads took two of three at Columbia during the opening week of the season. In the only series played last year, the Fireflies held a 2-1 advantage.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads are struggling to find any sort of groove to kickstart their season and they hope the Fireflies will provide that start. Hickory’s only series win in 2017 was at Columbia April 10-12. Since then, the Crawdads are 3-10. Overall, the Crawdads have lost four straight after a three-game sweep by Rome (Ga.) this week. At home, the Crawdads are 2-8 and have scored a total of 22 runs … At the plate, the Crawdads lineup continues to be all-or-nothing. They are tied for the SAL-lead with 19 homers and have the most Ks in the league. They are third in slugging (.385), but 11th in batting (.230) … A good series vs. Rome brought the Crawdads team ERA below five, but the 4.91 ERA is still last in the league. The team has surrendered the most hits, runs, earned runs, the second most walks and the team WHIP of 1.61 is easily the worst in the SAL. However, the Crawdads allowed just nine runs in three games against the first-place Braves and have shown signs of progress in the starting rotation as of late.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Went 0-5 for to close out the Rome series, but did have a pair of walks in Wednesday’s game. Continues to show a discerning eye at the plate for his age (18) with nine walks. Has struck out 22.4 percent of the time (20 Ks in 89 plate appearances), which is not out of the norm at this level for a player so young. Shows good speed out of the box and covering ground in center, but has been timid to use it on the bases. Has only two steals (both on 4/22) in five attempts.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Has a higher walk ratio than Taveras (14.3% to 10.1), but is striking out a ton. His 27 Ks is one behind a trio of leaders in the stat and is at an unsustainable ratio of 43%. Thus far, Tejeda has struck out at least once in all 15 games in which he has played. Defensively, Tejeda has rebounded from a slow start. Committed two errors in the first game of the season and just two more since.

OF Eric Jenkins (No. 14 MLB.com, No.26 Baseball America). Second-round pick in 2015 out of West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.).  Made his first appearance after coming to Hickory this week from extended-spring training. Has a double and two walks over seven plate appearances. Jenkins will have to cut down on the Ks after piling up 154 in 2016. An elite base stealer, Jenkins was third in all the minors with 51 last year. Took in several deep counts during the Rome series, reaching twice after being down 0-2.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. In the midst of a mini four-game hitting streak (6-for-14, with 2 walks), Perez collected his second homer of the season on Tuesday when he drove a ball in on the hands out to right field. Tends to collect strikeouts in bunches. Of the 19 games he has played, Perez has six multi-strikeout games and 10 other games with none.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) Yrizarri has begun to show signs of life at the plate. He has reached base in five of the last seven games and is 8-for-28 in those games. Is battling to lay off breaking balls low and away. Went three straight games without a whiff, but K’d twice in Wednesday’s game.

RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. Was on the path of becoming a first-overall pick in 2015 before back troubles and then Tommy John surgery derailed that promise. He pitched in only three injuries last summer at short-season Spokane before further elbow tenderness caused the Rangers to shut him down. Will be extremely limited in order for him to gain his stamina and to simply get him through low-A ball healthy.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. After just nine walks all last season, Almonte has five already in 15 games. Was 1-for-13 before sitting out of Wednesday’s contest.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Of his four relief outings so far, three of those were scoreless for the 6-4 right hander. His one blowup outing (5 ER over 1.2 IP) has his 2017 ERA at 7.50 with his OBA at .304. Control will be his make or break. Has walked just three of 31 hitters, but has hit four more. Conversely, he has fanned 10 to date over six innings.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick 2014 out of Columbia (MS) High. Might be due for a day off after he went 0-for-10 during the Rome series with six Ks. Has started to chase breaking balls of the plate. He is still tied for first with five homers, but has not gone deep since April 17.

SP Matt Ball: Obtained in a trade with the White Sox in 2016. Posted a 1.60 ERA in 50.2 IP with Hickory after the trade by the Rangers. Throws a heavy sinker that gets ground balls and thus, relies on his defense to make plays. Had nearly two-and-a-half groundball outs for every fly out with Hickory.

 

 

About the Fireflies:

Managed by Jose Leger in his third season (163-135) with the Mets Low-A affiliate. (The Fireflies were based at Savannah, Ga. prior to 2016… Columbia took two of three against Asheville, but were 3-4 overall during the just concluded homestand… Offense has been the struggle for the Fireflies as they were shut out three times during the last homestand and scored a total of 15 runs. Columbia’s .221 batting average is 13th in the 14-team league. The Fireflies provide little power with just six homers as a team and are tied for the fewest extra-base hits in the SAL. However, it is a patient team. Their 86 walks are the most in the SAL and they often use those to manufacture runs. Columbia is third in steals and sixth in runs scored… The Fireflies do bring an impressive group of arms to Hickory. Six of the 12 wins are by shutouts and overall, the 2.56 ERA is third in the SAL. They have surrendered the fewest walks and lead the SAL with a 1.03 WHIP. Only five homers have been hit vs. Fireflies pitching. The pitching staff is backed by a league-best defensive unit that has given up just 15 errors and has thrown out 45.8 percent of base stealers, second in the SAL.

 

Prospects to watch –Columbia:

CF Desmond Lindsey (No. 4 Baseball America, No. 5 MLB.com). Second-round pick 2015 out of Out-of-Door Academy, Sarasota, FL. Struggled with hamstring issues, missing much of his high school senior season. He again suffered the same injury and was limited to 37 games during the 2016 season at two short-season stops. Currently at .143/.286/.186. Seeing a lot of pitches, but it could be perhaps that he’s not seeing the ball with discernment. Has 23 Ks – at least one in 16 of the 17 games he’s played in – and 11 BBs in 70 plate appearances.

2B/SS Luis Carpio (No. 15 MLB.com, 20 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Caracas, Venezuela. Missed much of 2016 after surgery for a torn labrum. Came back late in the 2016 season, but was exclusively a DH. Has played mostly 2B this season. In the midst of a 2-for-25 skid with six Ks, he was 5-for-9 against the Crawdads in early April with two steals.

C Ali Sanchez (No. 20 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Carora, Venezuela. At this point, Sanchez is defensively ahead of the offensive side of his game. Is currently third in the SAL in nabbing base stealers. Entered this season with 24 passed balls in just 111 games, but has just one so far this year and has yet to commit an error. At the plate, however, he is 6-for-47 with just two walks.

3B/ SS Milton Ramos (No. 22 MLB.com) Third-round pick in 2014 out of Heritage High School (Plantation, FL). In his second season with the Fireflies, he has found full-season leagues tough to solve. After posting a .220/.292/.273 slash in 2016, it’s even worse this season as he is at .179/.233/.179 at the start of this season (10-for-56). Ramos did have a four-game hitting streak from April 18-21, but that has fizzled to an 0-for-10 his last three games. He does put the ball in play (12 Ks in 60 PAs), but with little authority. Defensively, he’s yet to commit an error.

3B Blake Tiberi (No. 29 MLB.com) Third-round pick in 2016 out of Louisville. Missed two weeks with an undisclosed injury, returning 4/24/ Currently 3-for-18 with a double.

 

 

Others to watch – Columbia:

LF Tim Tebow: Signed as a free agent in 2016 out of the SEC Network. Went 9-for-20 during the recent homestand with three doubles and a triple – his total for the season. Had two homers in his first three games, but has not homered since. Hickory held him to 1-for-10 with four Ks and a double play at Columbia

2B/SS Michael Paez: 4th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Played for the Chanticleers during the team’s run to the 2016 College World Series title. Has two of the team’s six homers this season, including a solo shot during Wednesday’s win.

RHP Colin Holderman: 9th round pick out of Heartland CC (IL). Threw six shutout innings with 11 Ks against Hickory on April 10. Has lasted just seven total innings over his last two starts with four total whiffs.

RHP Jordan Humphries: 18th round pick out of Crystal River High (FL). Currently 2nd in the SAL with 34 Ks, 4th in WHIP (0.71), and 10th in the SAL with a 1.42 ERA. Fanned 12 over 6.2 innings in his last start on Monday.

 

Notes: The Crawdads are assured its worst April since before 2002. As a Rangers affiliate, the worst April start was a 11-12 mark in 2014. They went 10-11 in 2009. As a Pirates affiliate, the worst mark was a 10-13 record in 2006… Hickory is also on pace to break its own SAL record for strikeouts in a season, which was set by the 2013 squad with 1,403.  The current pace would take them to 1,421… RHP Emerson Martinez was promoted to High-A Down East. OF Travis Bollin and IF Brallan Perez were both sent to Rangers extended spring… Top-30 prospect RHP Harol Gonzalez was placed on the disabled list by the Fireflies.

Game Stories 4/25/17: Rome builds two in a day; Sweeps DH

The Rome (Ga.) Braves took the lead early in both games went on to sweep the Hickory Crawdads 2-1 and 4-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.

The wins pushed the Braves (13-6) to a 5-1 record during their current road trip and improved the road record to 10-2 for the season. Rome has won 8 of their last 10 games at L.P. Frans over the last two seasons. The Crawdads (6-13) have lost three straight and are now 2-7 at home, where they’ve scored 21 total runs.

The teams conclude the series on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

 

What happened?:

Game 1:

Rome took advantage of a rough start by Crawdads starter Jonathan Hernandez to get on the board in the first. Randy Ventura lined a single to center, moved to second on Derian Cruz’s sacrifice and then to third by Cristian Pasche’s single. Juan Yepez’s fly ball to left was deep enough to score Ventura, but Pasche was out on the play as he failed to retouch second on his way back to first.

The Braves added a run in the third. Lucas Herbert and Kurt Hoekstra singled back-to-back to start the inning. Ventura bunted into a strikeout (I still don’t get that one) and then one out later, Pache squeezed a grounder past the dive of Ti’Quan Forbes at third to score Herbert.

The Crawdads put five runners on over the first three innings, but Rome’s starter Jeremy Wilson (Gardner Webb Univ. product) faced only two over the minimum in that stretch. Eric Jenkins led off the first with a double, but was doubled off second on a sharp liner by Leody Taveras to short. Hickory loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Jose Almonte hit into a double play. Anderson Tejeda opened the third with a single, but was then caught stealing.

Hernandez (0-3) settled down and had his longest start of the season, going into the sixth. The Crawdads right-hander allowed just the two runs on eight hits – five of those in the first three innings – over 5.2 innings with six Ks and – more importantly – no walks.

Hickory finally scratched a run across in the seventh against Rome reliever Jon Kennedy. Ricky Valencia doubled and went to third on Yanio Perez’s single. Preston Scott whistled a sharp grounder up the middle through Kennedy’s legs, but the Braves were able to get an out at second while Valencia scored. Scott eventually stole second and third, but Almonte and Tejeda both struck out to end the game.

 

Game 2:

Hickory took its only lead of the doubleheader in the second inning when Yanio Perez hit his second homer of the season, a high fly ball to right after it appeared he was jammed.

However, Rome quickly and swiftly took the lead back in the third. Kevin Josephina lined a Tyler Phillips (1-1) 0-2 pitch to center and stole second. Ventura singled Josephina to third and then himself stole second. Anfernee Seymour singled in Josephina and advanced moved up to second. Ventura and Seymour scored on back-to-back grounders to make it 3-0.

The Braves added an unearned run in the sixth as a botched pickoff at first set up Seymour’s second RBI single of the game.

Hickory managed only three hits against starter Oriel Caicedo (4-0) over his five innings of work. Matt Custred gave up two hits and fanned two over his two-shutout innings for his first save of the season.

 

Jenkins returns:

Last year’s starting centerfielder Eric Jenkins played in his first game of the season with Hickory. In his first AB, he fell behind 0-2, the proceeded to spoil a couple of fastballs and spit on breaking balls off the plate to get the count full. The 8-pitch plate appearance ended when he turned on a fastball and shot it into the rightfield corner.

The second time up, he waved through a low breaking ball, but then recovered to work the count full before again turning on a fastball. Only this time, it was a liner to first. After 157 Ks last year, job one is to make contact to take advantage of his speed.

One thing of note to me was not that Jenkins played left in game one, but when Leody Taveras went into the DH role in game two, Jenkins did not play in center. It’s probably nothing, but it grabbed my curiosity.

 

Taking advantage of the advantage:

I’ll admit it. It’s frustrating to watch the lineup miss opportunities to cash in runs. It’s a young lineup, I know, but it feels like this team never feels like it has the advantage. When it has the opposing team against the wall, it feels like Hickory is standing by the wall with them.

In game one, Hickory had the starter Walker on the ropes in the second inning. Struggling with control, Walker loaded the bases after back-to-back, five-pitch walks with one out. A mound visit ensued after which Jose Almonte tried to pull a fastball away, which turned into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

From there, Hickory had just three more baserunners until the seventh. In that inning, Valencia doubled and Scott worked a walk out of an 0-2 count. Almonte fanned and then with Anderson Tejeda at the plate, Scott – the tying run – stole second and third. However, Tejeda went fence chasing and turned a 2-0 count into a full-count K and ended the ballgame.

It was more of the same in game two. Hickory was gifted an error and a hit batter in the fourth. However, a 2-0 count with runners at second and third turned into an Almonte K. Hickory had just one other baserunner the remainder of the night.

 

Hernandez night

Hernandez has struggled with fastball command so far this season and it was more of the same at the onset on Tuesday.

An 0-2 fastball was lined to center by Ventura to start the night. One out later, Hernandez went 3-1 to Pache before losing the battle on a fastball. He also struggled to get his change over the plate. But suddenly in the fourth, he found a groove with both pitches and with a slider mixed in, Hernandez began to take command. The most impressive AB was the fourth-inning sequence to Brett Cumberland. Facing last year’s Pac-12 home run champ, Hernandez got the left-handed hitter to chase a pair of changeups off the plate, then ran a fastball (93-96 mph on the night) in on the hands for the Ks.

His fate though was sealed in the third when .140 hitter Lucas Herbert lined a 2-0 fastball for a single and .182 Kurt Hoekstra fought back from 0-2 to also single. Later, Hernandez made a good pitch (low-and-in fastball) to Pache that needed 75 hops to find a hole through the left side of the infield.

 

That was… different:

Hickory got out of further damage in the first when on Yepez’s sacrifice fly to left, Pache went well past second and then on the return trip, cut through the inside cut of the grass near the second base bag. This wasn’t an attempt to cut a corner. He took the most direct route back to first.

After Herbert and Hoekstra singled in the third, Ventura (.368) was asked to bunt… not once… not twice… but on every pitch, including for strike three.

 

Phillips looking for the out-pitch:

Tyler Phillips used sinker/ change to get the Braves hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Four straight outs and a ground single stretched from the first through all the second inning. But in the third, Phillips couldn’t find a put-away pitch and eventually that put Phillips away. Josephine’s single was on 0-2. Ventura’s single was on 1-2. Seymour’s on 0-2… All on what looked to be off-speed pitches away to the left-handed hitters… All of whom used shortened swings to politely serve them into center and left. Phillips threw 39 pitches in the third before manager Spike Owen took him out.

 

Evans hurls the spheroid:

Listed at 6-4, 270, Demarcus Evans gassing it at 95 can be intimidating. He fanned five of the 14 hitters he faced Tuesday and for the season K’d 16 of 48. But, with two walks this evening he now has walked 11 to go with 2 HBPs.

His offspeed I thought was a slider, but the Rangers pitch trackers say it’s more of a curve at 80. Whatever it is, it stays up and was quite hittable. Also, to my untrained eye, Evans seems to slow everything down when he throws anything offspeed. I could tell it was coming.

Series Preview: Rome Braves at Hickory Crawdads April 24-26

Rome Braves (Atlanta Braves) (11-6, 1st SAL Southern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (6-11, 7th SAL Northern)

The Hickory Crawdads open a seven-game homestand with three South Atlantic League games against the Rome Braves at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium.

Leody Taveras - Lin

Leody Taveras looks to continue his hot streak (5-for-11) as Hickory begins a three-game series with the Rome (Ga.) Braves

 

If you plan to go:

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

Promotions: Monday – Make a Difference Monday: Receive a free ticket with requested items valued at $5 or more: Requested items include Pencils, Markers, Loose-leaf papers (wide ruled), Pencil sharpeners, Erasers, Highlighters, Dry-erase markers (Expo Markers), Permanent markers, Three-ring binders (any kind of size), Black & Blue pack of pens, Paint Brushes, Acrylic Paints, Washable Paints, Construction papers, Drawing sketch pad for arts & crafts, Yarns, Scissors, Glue Sticks, Hula hoops, Jump ropes, Football/ Soccer ball/ Basketball /Volleyball, and any Toys for boys/girls ages 6-17. Items go to Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club.

Tuesday – 25th Anniversary Celebration: If the Crawdads score five runs in the fifth inning, one lucky fan in attendance will win $25,000. T-shirt Giveaway: First 500 fans in attendance will receive a free Crawdads replica jersey T-shirt.

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

 

Probables (Rome / Hickory):

Monday: RHP Jeremy Walker vs. RHP Argenis Rodriguez

Tuesday: RHP Ian Anderson vs. RHP Tyler Phillips

Wednesday: LHP Joey Wentz vs. Jonathan Hernandez

 

Recent Series History:

The Crawdads and Braves split the 2016 season series 9-9 with each club taking charge at the other’s ballpark. Rome held a 7-4 advantage at L.P. Frans, while the Crawdads were 5-2 at the State Mutual Stadium.

 

About the Crawdads:

The Crawdads return home after a 1-2 trip to Kannapolis. Hickory was 2-5 during last week’s homestand… After the Hickory lineup limped to Kannapolis near the bottom of many of the SAL statistical standings, the Crawdads charged ahead to 24 runs over the last two games. When the Crawdads are churning, it usually involves the longball. Hickory leads the SAL with 18 homers and is third in slugging (.400).  However, their 73 runs are seventh in the league … Awakened from a dormant state on Saturday was the running game. The Crawdads had seven for the season entering Saturday’s game at Kannapolis, then ripped off a single-game, club-record eight in four innings… The pitching, however, continues to struggle. Currently, they are last in the SAL with a 5.30 ERA, which is nearly a run more than the next lowest. Greensboro is at 4.47. Hickory is also last in hits allowed, total runs allowed and WHIP, as well as second in walks allowed… The Crawdads fate is usually determined by the sixth inning. They are 6-1 when ahead or tied after six innings, 0-10 when trailing. The one loss came in the last game, when the bullpen coughed up an 8-1 lead.

 

Prospects to watch- Hickory:

CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 51 MLB.com top-100 prospects): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. After posting a 3-for-28 skid during the last homestand, Tejeda started to heat up at Kannapolis. Enters the Rome series with 5 hits in his last 11 ABs. Got his first two steals of the season on Saturday.

SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Returned to action last Wednesday after bruising his forearm on a hit-by-pitch. Hit a three-run homer on Friday and then singled on Saturday. Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend at Kannapolis was a three-walk game on Saturday. Has eight walks already in 2017 after just 18 all last season in 66 games.

OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Sat out Friday’s game at Kannapolis following an 0-for-9 drought, then went 2-for-5 with a walk on Saturday. Normally makes good contact, though he can run up Ks in bunches. Has 2 whiffs in each of his last two games after having none the previous five.

RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No. 17 Baseball America, No. 18 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2013 from the D.R. Arguably the Crawdads best starter down the stretch in 2016, Hernandez has struggled to put it together out of the gate in April. Has yet to make it out of the fourth in his previous three starts, he has six walks in ten innings so far. Opponents are hitting .386 against Hernandez.

2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After starting the season 1-for-39 stretch and hitting .065 over his first 12 games, Yrizarri has begun to show signs of life at the plate. He doubled and homered during the last home game on Wednesday, and then went 4-for-13 the last two games of the Kannapolis series. Yrizarri has scored five runs and knocked in three over his last four games.

RF Jose Almonte (No. 29 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. After just nine walks all of last season, Almonte has five already in 15 games. Went 0-for-7 in the Kannapolis series with a walk and three Ks.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Can he maintain control? That will separate him from success and failure. In his first outing (4/14), Ferguson threw a perfect inning with two Ks. Three days later, he walked one and hit two of the 12 batters he faced, and along with four hits allowed, he gave up five runs over 1.2 IP. On Friday, he walked one, hit two more, but fanned five over two shutout innings.

 

Others to watch – Hickory:

3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick 2014 out of Columbia (MS) High. After a brief cooling-off period after a hot start, Forbes is back at it again with four hits in his last two games, three for extra bases. Among the top-ten in the SAL, Forbes is tied for first with five homers, one hit behind the league leader, second in total bases and in slugging (.647), third in OPS (1.044) and tied for 6th in RBI (12).

LF Franklin Rollin: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of La Romana, D.R. As the leadoff man, went 9-for-17 over his last three games with six runs scored, two homers and seven RBI. Has also been a spark plug with four steals.

1B Preston Scott: 34th round pick in 2016 out of Fresno Pacific Univ. Sat out last Wednesday’s game following a 1-for-22 drought, then went 5-for-11 in the Kannapolis series. Has just 2 RBI over his last 12 games.

 

About the Braves:

Managed by South Atlantic League, Hall-of-Fame manager Randy Ingle in his 10th overall season (592-675) with Rome during his third stint with the class Low-A club. The Braves are the defending SAL champs and were named “Team of the Year” for the 2016 season by Baseball America … Rome is on the second leg of a two-city road trip, which started over the weekend at Greenville (S.C.) where the Braves took two of three in a rain-shortened series … Rome is 8-2 on the road this season… The Braves lead the SAL with 31 steals and have been caught just five times … As it does most years, Rome relies on a strong pitching staff. The staff has allowed just three homers in 17 games and its 2.30 ERA is second in the SAL and they are second in Ks. They have allowed the third fewest hits in the SAL, but control has been an issue, as they have allowed the third most walks. Rome has given up three or fewer runs in 12 of 17 games.

 

Prospects to watch – Rome:

LHP Ian Anderson (No. 5 Baseball America, No. 6 MLB.com, No. 81 MLB.com top-100) First-round pick (third overall) in 2016 out of Shenendehowa High (Ballston Lake, NY). Had a 2.04 ERA over ten starts at two rookie-level affiliates in 2016, Anderson currently has a 1.98 ERA after three starts this year. SAL hitters are hitting just .133 against Anderson, who has 23 Ks to 8 walks over 13.2 innings. Braves signed him away from a Vanderbilt commitment.

RHP Joey Wentz (No. 13 MLB.com, No. 15 Baseball America) First-round pick (40th overall) in 2016 out of Shawnee Mission East High (Prairie Village, KS). Didn’t allow a run over four starts with the rookie Gulf Coast League Braves, then moved up to Danville (VA) where he struggled with control (20 walks in 32 innings). Has curtailed the wildness in the early going (19 Ks to 3 BBs in 14 innings), but the SAL is hitting .333 against him. Signed out of a commitment to Virginia.

CF Cristian Pache (No. 13 Baseball America, No. 14 MLB.com) Signed as international free agent in 2015 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Speedy 18-year-old could potentially be the Braves centerfielder of the future, though at this point he has yet to put the speed to use on the basepaths (3 steals in 16 games this year.) Showed the ability to make contact at rookie levels – 24 Ks in 220 ABs – but struggling so far this year, with already 14 Ks in 61 ABs.

SS Derian Cruz (No. 20 MLB.com, No. 22 Baseball America) Signed as international free agent in 2015 out of Puerto Plata, D.R. A natural right-handed hitter, is toying with switch-hitting. Enters the series at .167/.215/.250 as much of his struggles have come from making contact. (16 Ks/ 2 BBs in 60 ABs). He is also working to slow down the game, as he has nine errors in 14 games. The Braves will be patient with the 18-year-old in his first full season.

C Brett Cumberland (No. 23 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com) Second-round pick in 2016 out of California. Led the Pac-12 Conference in homers in 2016. A bat-first catcher for now, as caught just three games and DH’d the other seven. Hitting at a .143/.333/286 slash.

C Lucas Herbert (No. 28 MLB.com, No. 30 Baseball America) Second-round pick in 2015 out of San Clemente High (CA). Returns to Rome after splitting time behind the plate for the team in 2016. A defensive-first catcher to date, he has struggled to hit and make contact and enters the series 1 for his last 29 with 15 Ks.

OF Anfernee Seymour (No. 30 MLB.com) Traded to the Braves from Miami in 2016. Was an 2015 all-star pick in the short-season New York-Penn League and one of the speedier shortstops (37 SBs) in the SAL when with Greensboro. But the Braves have chosen to shift him to the outfield. Strikes out too much, given his speed – 118 times in 491 ABs – the Braves are working to cut that ratio and to raise his walk pct. in order to make him into a leadoff hitter.

 

Others to watch – Rome:

RHP Jeremy Walker: Fifth-round pick in 2016 out of Gardner Webb Univ. Had 37 Ks in 39.2 innings with Danville last year,but has just 5 Ks and 5 walks so far in 12.1 IP. Relies on his defense to soak up grounders, has a ratio of two groundouts to airouts in his pro career.

IF Marcus Mooney: 10th round pick in 2016 out of South Carolina. Had 7 hits in his first 10 ABs at Greenville, currently at .378/.462/.444 with the Braves. Among the top-ten in the SAL in runs (6th), hits, Batting Avg. (6th) and on-base pct. (7th).