Bill on Baseball:Hoppers win behind Oliver’s pitching

Posted by Guest Columnist on August 1, 2013 at 9:57 am under Professional | Comments are off for this article

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

Hoppers win behind Oliver’s pitching

Dejai Oliver kept telling himself the same thing before every inning.

“It was a belief that I was the best pitcher alive,” he said.

And for seven innings Wednesday, the right-hander was certainly the best starting pitcher to wear a Hoppers uniform this season. He shut out Greenville on one hit and allowed no walks, retiring 13 batters in a row at one point.

Oliver weakened in the eighth when he allowed a solo home run and a single, and he was charged with three more runs in the ninth before Blake Logan was able to curtail a Drive rally to preserve a 6-5 win. In the end, Oliver pitched 8 1/3 innings and allowed six hits and four runs, striking out seven. It was a most deceiving line in the box score.

The real story was how Oliver dominated the first seven innings. Pitching coach Blake McGinley said he kept throwing first-pitch strikes, repeating his delivery and commanding his fastball, curve and changeup. Oliver was sharp from the beginning, retiring the side in order in the top of the first inning, something starters haven’t been able to do lately.

“It was all about the first inning,” said catcher Jose Behar. “He set them down one, two, three and that gave us some momentum. I called (the pitch), set up and he hit the spot every time. And he looked confident, which is something I haven’t seen from him this season.”

With his parents, brother and sister watching in the stands at NewBridge Bank Park, Oliver struck out the side in the second inning, gave up a single in the third and faced only three batters in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. He said he had never thrown like that in his professional career.

“Throwing up a zero in the first inning, especially at home, is a big boost,” he said. “It gives your team an opportunity to score early and puts them in a great situation to win. I set the tone early and got ahead in the counts and that helped keep the pitch count low.”

The Hoppers built a 2-0 lead with solo homers by Behar and Viosergy Rosa. They added four runs in the seventh inning, three on a bases-clearing double by Juancito Martinez. Those add-on runs proved crucial.

Oliver began to tire in the eighth, giving up a leadoff homer and a single, but regrouped to get the next three hitters. The plan was to pull him after that, but Oliver said he wanted the complete game and he lobbied to stay in, enlisting help from teammate Mason Hope and hitting coach Frank Moore.

“He was pitching the game of his life, so we decided to send him back out,” McGinley said.

He retired the first batter but was touched for three straight singles that scored the Drive’s second run. Blake Logan relieved Oliver and got the next hitter for the second out. But Aneury Tavarez tagged Logan for a three-run homer, with two of the runs being charged to Oliver, and suddenly it was 6-5.

Logan nailed it down by striking out Kevin Heller to end the game.

Oliver had no regrets about starting the ninth inning.

“I was more physically tired than mentally tired,” he said. “But I decided if I got through the eighth, then I wanted to be out there for the ninth. And now that I’ve been through eight innings, I want to go through nine.”

Manager Jorge Hernandez said Oliver did exactly what the Hoppers needed, pitching deep into a game. He also liked the team’s clutch hitting.

“We need the guys in the middle of the lineup to get us going,” he said. “Rosa hit four balls on the nose today.”

Rosa’s homer, his 21st, was a line drive, pulled hard over the right field fence. That was in contrast to the homer he hit on a high arc in the eighth inning Tuesday. He also added a double into left-center field.

“I’m recognizing pitches better,” Rosa said. “Maybe I can stay in the groove.”

The Hoppers, 17-20 in the second half, hit the road for four games at Delmarva and three at Hickory. The big question is whether they can sustain any momentum.

“We’ll go as far as our pitching takes us,” Behar surmised. “Maybe the next starter (Ramon Del Orbe) will take this game as something to live up to.”

After the game the Hoppers learned that closer Frankie Reed (5-0, 0.60 ERA, 12 saves) had been promoted to Jupiter. Infielder Alex McClure was sent to Double-A Jacksonville. Those moves dropped the Hoppers roster to 22 players. Replacements should arrive during the road trip.

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