Bill Hass on Baseball:Lakewood takes opener from Hoppers

Posted by Press Release on August 2, 2016 at 9:43 am under Professional | Comments are off for this article

Lakewood takes opener from Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

There’s no cavalry coming to rescue the Hoppers.

The team that ripped off 39 wins in 50 games from May 16 to July 9 is struggling lately. Monday’s 2-1 loss to Lakewood was Greensboro’s 14th defeat in its last 21 games.

Lakewood moved into first place in the second-half race of the SAL’s Northern Division, which is suddenly wide open. The BlueClaws are 21-15, Hagerstown is one-half game back at 21-16 and the Hoppers are 1 1/2 games behind at 20-17. Hickory, Kannapolis and West Virginia are all close.

The Hoppers have lost some key pieces from their hot streak. Among the pitchers, Chris Paddack was traded by the Marlins to the Padres (more on him below) and Chuck Weaver is apparently lost for the rest of the season. On offense, first baseman Josh Naylor, who led the team with 54 RBIs, was involved in another Marlins trade, again with San Diego, and is now playing with the Lake Elsinore Storm in the California League.

Those spots have been filled on the roster, but not with players who will provide the same kind of production. More than ever, the Hoppers will need a 25-man effort to stay in the Northern Division race.

“I’m not looking for us to get any help,” said manager Kevin Randel. “You’ve got to do it with the guys you’ve got and they either do it or they don’t. There’s no magic pill for it, no one guy to carry us. We haven’t had that all season. Even Naylor never carried us. We’re the kind of team that has to string hits together, all nine guys in the lineup.”

The Hoppers managed just six hits off three Lakewood pitchers, including three bloopers and one infield hit. Randel recorded only three hard-hit balls all night.

“We can do better than what we’re doing,” he said of the offense.

There was a promising threat in the first inning when the Hoppers loaded the bases with one out. But Roy Morales uncharacteristically struck out (only the 20th time in 57 games). With Justin Twine, who had gone 7-for-9 in his previous two games, at the plate, Lakewood pitcher Alberto Tirado uncorked a pitch that went to the backstop.

Kyle Barrett, on third base, broke for home. But the backstop in NewBridge Bank Park is brick and the ball bounced hard to catcher Deivi Grullon just to the left of the plate. Tirado came in to cover home and took an easy flip from Grullon to tag Barrett standing up to end the inning.

“It’s an instinctual play,” Randel said. “Barrett was off to the races when the ball got past the catcher. He thought the catcher was going to tag him and instead of sliding he veered right into the pitcher’s tag. It’s a tough break, just one of those things.”

The Hoppers did manage a run in the fourth when Twine’s grounder caromed off the foot of Tirado toward first base. Tirado made the play to get Twine as Isael Soto scored from third. But that was it; the Hoppers had only one hit the rest of the game.

When runs are hard to come by, defense and pitching have to be sharp. The defense did its part, turning three double plays and getting a superb catch in center field from Zach Sullivan (jumping to snag a drive at the top of the wall) and a nice diving catch in left by Barrett.

And the pitching was good enough to win most games. Starter Ben Meyer had his longest outing, 5 2/3 innings, giving up a two-run homer to Damek Tomscha in the third that proved to be the difference. Jose Quijada and Kyle Keller combined to finish, allowing no runs and no hits.

“One pitch,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “If (Tomscha) misses by three inches on the barrel, the ball is caught and we might still be playing. Meyer set the tone the way he usually does. He was aggressive to the zone.”

Trevor Richards, recently signed from an independent league, will make his second start for the Hoppers in game two of the series Tuesday at 7 p.m.

NOTES: The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Paddack is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery and will be lost for 14-18 months … In nine games between Greensboro and Fort Wayne in the Midwest League, Paddack was 2-0 and an ERA of 0.85. In 42.1 innings he allowed 20 hits and four runs with 71 strikeouts and just five walks … Batters were hitting .139 against him.

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