Hoppers win with 3 homers, clutch relief work
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com…
The third time was a charm for Ryan Hafner Sunday.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Hoppers’ right-handed reliever faced Jonathan Meyer of Hickory in the key at-bat of the game against Hickory. Hafner had surrendered one run in the inning that cut the Hoppers’ lead to 9-6. Runners occupied second and third base with two outs. Meyer had already driven in two runs with a single earlier in the game.
There haven’t been many situations that Hafner, now in his sixth minor-league season, hasn’t faced.
“With two runners in scoring position, I wanted to pitch to my strengths,” Hafner said. “I think I threw him all sliders. He’s a big hitter and I wanted to get him to roll over on one or strike him out. He took one for a strike and swung through one, then fouled off a couple.”
Hafner won the battle by getting Meyer to swing at a slider in the dirt to strike him out. The ball bounced away from catcher Felix Castillo, who recovered to throw Meyer out and end the threat by stranding both runners.
“If he doesn’t get that out, it changes the whole landscape of the game,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “It came down to one pitch for him and for us.”
Kyle Fischer took over in the ninth and earned his second straight save, his third in four games and 11th of the season.
Manager Kevin Randel maintained that Hafner got Meyer out three times. One foul ball hit to right field might have been caught but bounced in the Hickory bullpen. The second foul should have been caught by Castillo, who camped under it and dropped it for an error. Hafner finally put Meyer away on the swing and miss.
Drafted back in 2010 by Pittsburgh, Hafner was released early this season and signed by the Marlins. Greensboro is his fourth stop this year, following Bradenton, Batavia and Jupiter.
“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the Marlins,” Hafner said. “It’s a fresh start and a new set of eyes on me. I treat every day like it might be my last, which it could be.”
Randel said Hafner, 23, brings a presence and some veteran leadership to the Hoppers.
“He’s here to get some things ironed out and get himself back on the map,” Randel said.
Powell said Fischer uses a hard sinker and a hard slider to be effective. He has been used in a variety of bullpen roles but has done well since getting the chance to close after Josh Hodges (12 saves) was promoted to Jacksonville.
“He’s thrown three and four innings, he’s thrown middle innings and now he’s our guy at the end of games,” Powell said.
Fischer threw just 12 pitches to save Saturday’s game, so he knew he could get the call for a second straight night.
“You treat every day as an opportunity and you take advantage of it,” he said. “I’ve had some good luck and some good defense behind me.”
Offense carried the day for the Hoppers, who banged out 13 hits and scored their most runs since they had 10 on July 30 against Kannapolis. For the second straight game they rallied from an early 3-0 deficit. And for the second straight game Mason Davis hit a home run to get them on the scoreboard, this time to make it 3-1.
That came in the fourth inning and was the catalyst for a three-run inning. Brian Schales and Austen Smith singled, John Norwood singled in a run and Ryan Aper doubled in another to tie the game 3-3. In the fifth, Zach Sullivan doubled, was sacrificed to second by Davis and scored on a groundout by Justin Twine.
Greensboro picked up a run in the sixth on Aper’s RBI after Norwood singled and stole second. Davis led off the seventh with a single and Twine belted his sixth homer. Schales singled and Arturo Rodriguez unloaded his 17th homer, a blast that bounced on the concourse behind Natty’s Hill. That capped a four-run rally that broke a 5-5 tie and was the fourth straight inning in which the Hoppers scored.
“Rodriguez is best when he takes a short stride with a compact swing,” said hitting coach Luis Quinones. “A slow body with quick hands works for him.”
The Hoppers took three of four from the Crawdads and finished 4-3 on the home stand.
“It’s always fun to win,” Randel said. “I like the way we’ve been coming back.”
Defense played a big role, too. Aper made a couple of nice catchers in center, Davis stabbed a line drive with a diving catch at second and Norwood made a diving catch in right.
After a day off Monday, the Hoppers travel to Greenville for four games. They return this coming Saturday to wrap up their home schedule with five games against Lakewood.
NOTES: Smith had three hits and Davis, Schales and Aper had two each … Hickory’s Meyer has only 23 RBIs this season but 13 of them have come against the Hoppers … James Buckelew had a blown save but was the pitcher of record when the Hoppers scored four runs in the seventh and wound up with his fifth win … Michael Mader left after six innings with a 5-3 lead but wound up with no decision.