It’s now “For Real”, for Greensboro Grasshoppers catcher J.T. Realmuto, as the Hoppers pursue the playoffs……

Posted by Andy Durham on August 30, 2011 at 10:58 am under Professional | Comments are off for this article

from Bill Hass, with Bill on Baseball, at

J.T. Realmuto describes this season as “a dream come true.”

The Hoppers catcher is on a team that’s in the thick of a playoff hunt. Team chemistry is good and everyone is having fun. Monday night they won their sixth straight game, handing Delmarva an 8-0 thumping. It was the second straight shutout by the Hoppers’ pitching staff.

There are six games remaining in the regular season and the Hoppers have improved their position significantly in this home stand. They play their final game in NewBridge Bank Park tonight, take a day off Wednesday and on Thursday they head to Kannapolis for five games to close the regular season.

“I try not to pay too much attention to the standings,” Realmuto said. “As long as we keep winning, that will take care of itself.”

Realmuto has helped the Hoppers keep the winning streak going. Monday, as the DH, he hit a laser-beam solo home run to left field in the second inning to push the score to 2-0. Things stayed there until the bottom of the sixth, when his two-out single to right field drove in Mark Canha and made it 3-0. The Hoppers broke it open with four runs in the seventh and another in the eighth.

“We’ve caught fire at the right time,” said Realmuto, who could also apply that to himself. He had three hits in the game and pushed his season average to .294. Since the all-star game he’s hitting .311 and has hit all of his 11 home runs while playing the majority of the games behind the plate.

“My body is still feeling good,” he said. “There are days when my legs don’t feel their best, but I have all of the off-season to feel better.”

Realmuto said his first home run came on an inside fastball that he hit well but with a lot of topspin. He wasn’t sure it would get out of the park, but it just cleared the top of the fence. The RBI single came in his third at-bat against Shorebirds starter Marty Bywater, and Hoppers manager Andy Haines said Realmuto “had a tremendous approach to take the ball to right field.”

There was a reason for that.

“I left a runner at third base in the fourth inning,” he said. “He threw me a changeup and I rolled over it and hit it it right to the third baseman. When I came up again, I knew he would throw me another changeup. Smoke (hitting coach Kevin Randel) told me to try to hit the ball in their dugout (down the first base line). I stayed back and hit it into right field.”

Also helping the offense were Christian Yelich, who had two RBIs, and Wilfredo Gimenez, who came out of the throes of a 1-for-33 slump with a pair of doubles.

Alex Caldera started and gave the Hoppers six shutout innings, following the seven-inning shutout effort by James Leverton Sunday. Grant Dayton added two more innings and Michael Brady wrapped things up in the ninth.

“The big decision was whether to run Brady out there in the ninth,” Haines said. “But he hadn’t pitched in several days and he was ready.”

THE RACES: Hickory swept a doubleheader from Lakewood, which helped the Hoppers in two ways. First, the Crawdads moved back into first place, one game ahead of Kannapolis. Second, it pushed Lakewood down into fourth place, behind Greensboro.

If Hickory can stay in first place, the Hoppers have a better chance of making the playoffs. The Crawdads won the first half of the Northern Division to clinch a playoff spot. If they also win the second half, the second playoff spot goes to the team with the next best overall record. Currently, Kannapolis is 74-58 and Greensboro is 74-59, just one-half game behind.

In the second-half race, which the Hoppers can still win, they are 34-29 and currently in third place. They trail Hickory by 3 1/2 games and Kannapolis by 2 1/2 games. Lakewood is 33-29, four games out of first place and one-half game behind the Hoppers.

Tonight, as the Hoppers are wrapping up their series against Delmarva, Kannapolis plays at Rome and Hickory and Lakewood play another doubleheader. The results could clear up the picture in both races.

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