Hoppers regain momentum:Bill Hass on Greensboro Grasshoppers Baseball from Thursday night at NBBP

Posted by Press Release on August 31, 2012 at 10:26 am under Professional | Comments are off for this article

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at www.gsohoppers.com:

Hoppers regain momentum

The Hoppers are alive and well after all.

They completed a turnaround from one of their worst games of the season on Tuesday, an 8-0 loss to first-place Hagerstown, by winning their second straight game over the Suns Thursday night, 12-2. That followed a 4-0 win Wednesday that was more dominant than the score indicated.

The loss, coupled with Hickory’s win over Lexington, put more pressure on the Suns. They still lead the Crawdads by two games with four left in the second half. Hickory’s “elimination number” remains at four, meaning any combination of Hagerstown victories and Crawdads losses totaling four means the Suns win the Northern Division’s second half. If that happens, they would meet the Hoppers in the first round.

The Hoppers’ win, their 79th of the season, means they head into their final four games at Lakewood feeling pretty good.

“If we pitch and hit like that, it doesn’t matter who we play (in the playoffs),” said manager David Berg. “Now we want to win a few games in Lakewood and feel good about ourselves.”

The Hoppers pounded out 18 hits and scored in six of their eight innings at bat Thursday. Austin Barnes, Brent Keys and Matt Smith had three hits each. Josh Adams hit a two-run homer and added a third RBI and Ryan McIntyre, inserted as a defensive replacement, added another two-run shot.

The home run was Adams’ 14th of the season but only the second in the second half. After slumping in July, when he hit just .198 with nine RBIs, Adams has rebounded to hit .301 in August with 16 RBIs.

“It’s been a long time and I’ve missed that feeling,” Adams said of his homer. “I think mentally I hit the wall. This grind is more than I’ve been through before and I was in a funk for about two months. But I think I’ve caught my second wind.”

The beneficiary of the offensive outburst was starter Andrew Heaney, who had his best game as a Hopper and picked up his first professional win. Drafted in the first round out of Oklahoma State in June, he agreed to terms on the last day he was eligible to sign. He only pitched seven innings in the Gulf Coast League before joining the Hoppers and didn’t have anything to show for his first three starts.

“It had been about a month since I pitched in college,” Heaney said, “and I lost my rhythm and mechanics. It took me longer to get them back than I thought. It was a little frustrating, a head game with me trying to get back to the groove I had in school.”

Heaney looked the part of a first-rounder, retiring the first nine hitters before surrendering a leadoff single in the fourth inning. The left-hander pitched shutout ball for five innings before giving up a pair of runs in the sixth to complete his evening, finishing with nine strikeouts.

“I’m really happy,” he said. “That’s the best I’ve felt in pro ball. I’m back in my rhythm. I thought my fastball was the difference tonight. I was able to locate it and throw it for strikes early in the count.”

Berg liked the way Heaney threw the ball inside and mixed his pitches. Pitching coach Blake McGinley said he commanded both sides of the plate, used his slider and changeup effectively, got ahead of hitters and then put them away.

James Nygren pitched two scoreless innings and Nick Wittgren pitched the ninth. The three Hoppers pitchers did not issue a walk and combined for 14 strikeouts. J.R. Higley of the Suns whiffed four times.

Against Lakewood, Jake Esch will start Friday, Josh Hodges Saturday, Jose Urena Sunday and Scott Lyman Monday. The plan is to start Heaney in the first playoff game Wednesday on the road and follow him with Esch in Greensboro Friday. Urena would pitch the third game if needed in the first round.

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