Bill Hass on Baseball:Naylor finds a way to contribute in the clutch

Posted by Guest Columnist on April 7, 2016 at 11:53 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

Naylor finds a way to contribute in the clutch
(from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

All Josh Naylor wanted to do was find a way to contribute.

Greensboro’s young first baseman had gone hitless in his first three at-bats Thursday night. But in the bottom of the eighth inning in the season opener against West Virginia, he came through in the clutch. His RBI double tied the game and a moment later he scored the go-ahead run. Steven Farnworth nailed down the save in the top of the ninth and the Hoppers came away with a 3-2 win before a crowd of 6,203 at NewBridge Bank Park to start the 2016 season.

It was an odd game in many respects. The Hoppers managed just three hits and committed three errors, usually not a winning formula. But stout pitching and just enough good defensive plays carried them through.

“I’ll take those every night,” Randel said of the close victory. “I love those dramatic finishes where you’re spent after the game.”

Naylor had a quiet night, grounding out and striking out twice, until he came up in the eighth with the Hoppers down 2-1. Aaron Blanton had worked a two-out walk off Power left-hander Cesilio Pimentol. Naylor, a left-handed hitter, crushed the first pitch to right field. West Virginia’s Ryan Nagle seemingly had it lined up, then jumped as the rising line drive flew over his head to the fence.

As Blanton rounded third, the Power made a play at the plate but the throw was high and wide and Blanton scored to tie the game. Just as important, Naylor had the presence of mind to take third base on the throw.

Greensboro’s Angel Reyes hit a grounder to Power shortstop Alberto Reyes, whose throw to first was high. Angel Reyes reached safely on the error, then fell down and was tagged out to end the inning. But Naylor had already crossed home plate, so his run counted to give the Hoppers the lead.

“I wasn’t sure it counted,” Naylor said, “but everyone told me it did. It changed the whole momentum. I needed to find a way to contribute. I see left-handers well and I got a fastball high.”

The play happened so fast and the inning ended so abruptly that Randel wasn’t sure Farnworth was ready to come in. And the closer was immediately greeted with a single by Carlos Munoz. He regrouped to get a flyout but a stolen base put the tying run in scoring position.

But Farnworth struck out Nagle for the second out. then got Christian Kelley to ground out to end the game. There was a bit of irony in that because Kelley was the catcher when Farnworth pitched at Cal Poly-Pomona.

“That was weird to be facing my college catcher,” he said. “I tried my hardest not to look at him.”

The ability to shut out distractions is Farnworth’s demeanor, however.

“He has ice in his veins,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He simmers inside but he’s very calm and keeps it under control.”

The secret for Farnworth is repetition.

“You can’t let baserunners bother you,” he said. “And when one gets in scoring position, my focus intensifies.”

The eight innings leading up to Farnworth were well-pitched. Starter Justin Jacome allowed two hits and one run, a homer by Tito Polo off his shoetops, in five innings. Ben Holmes pitched two innings, giving up an unearned run, and CJ Robinson pitched the eighth and wound up with the win.

Holmes and Robinson are both veterans of the 2015 team. Sagara explained that he wanted the first two pitchers out of the bullpen to be ones who had been through the South Atlantic League. Their experience paid off because they stranded several runners despite allowing a combined five hits and a walk.

Jacome’s start was the best part of the game for Randel.

“Him going five strong (innings) got the season started off right,” Randel said. “That’s what I want our starters to do.”

Jacome said his fastball location wasn’t as good as he wanted but his slider and changeup were working well.

“The home run was on a slider that I thought was a good pitch,” he said. “This was a good team win and it gets the season rolling.”

The most important defensive play came in the top of the eighth with one out. Polo laced a triple to right center, his third hit of the game. When Isael Soto slipped, center fielder Zach Sullivan backed up the play and fired the ball to second baseman Rony Cabrera. When Cabrera bobbled the throw, Power manager Brian Esposito waved Polo home.

Cabrera uncorked a perfect throw to catcher Rodrigo Vigil, who stood at the plate waiting. Polo tried to vault over him but Vigil made the tag for the out to save a run.

The teams play the second game of the series tonight at 7 o’clock. Cody Poteet will start for the Hoppers.

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