Bill Hass on Baseball:Strong defense helps Hoppers to sweep

Posted by Guest Columnist on August 3, 2016 at 10:25 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

Strong defense helps Hoppers to sweep
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

The hitting was spotty and the pitching kept battling out of tight situations, so defense carried the day for the Hoppers Wednesday.

A number of outstanding defensive plays, plus a total of five double plays, helped Greensboro to a doubleheader sweep of Lakewood at NewBridge Bank Park. The Hoppers took the first game 3-1 and followed with a 4-1 victory in the second.

The results left the Hoppers with a 22-17 record in the second half and moved them one-half game ahead of Lakewood and Hickory, both at 21-17, in the Northern Division. At the end of the day, depending on the outcome of the game between Hagerstown (22-16) and Delmarva, the Hoppers were either in second place, one game behind the Suns, or tied with them for first.

The regular season has a month to go, so daily changes in the standings are likely.

For the Hoppers, it was important to reverse the recent trend that had seen them drop 14 of 21 games. Next they play Kannapolis, which could climb into contention with a hot streak, in a four-game home series that begins Thursday. Cody Poteet will pitch the opener at 7 p.m.

It was an odd day in some respects. The Hoppers outscored the BlueClaws 7-2 despite being outhit 15-12. Greensboro packed all its runs for the day into two innings, a three-run fourth inning in the opener and a four-run first inning in the second game. That proved to be enough.

Trevor Richards, recently signed by the Marlins out of the independent Frontier League, picked up his second win in the opener. Marcus Crescentini recorded his second save.

“I think I can help by keeping us in games and throwing strikes,” said Richards, who pitched at Division II Drury University in Springfield, Mo. “I’ve learned through experience in college and in independent ball. There are certain things you can control and some you can’t. You have to let it go (if something bad happens) and focus on the next pitch.”

Richards allowed five hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. He acknowledged the defense behind him, which started in the second inning when left fielder Casey Soltis made a leaping catch at the fence.

Lakewood led off the top of the fourth with a double and two singles, which scored a run. Then came a play that may have changed the entire day. With runners on first and second and no outs, Deivi Grullon smashed a grounder that appeared to be headed down the left field line.

But third baseman Gio Alfonzo made a diving stop to his right, scrambled up to tag third for one out and then threw to Angel Reyes at first to nip Grullon and complete the double play. Richards then fanned Carlos Duran to end the inning.

If the ball gets past Alfonzo, at least one run and possibly two score and there are still no outs.

“I had a feeling (Grullon) was going to pull the ball down the line, so I took a half-step over there,” Alfonzo said. “I had already decided if the ball was to my left I would go to second base and if it was to my right I would tag third. I just reacted to the ball. I knew with Grullon running I had time to get him, but I had to let it go right away.”

The play was a momentum-changer and the Hoppers answered Lakewood’s run in the bottom of the inning. Anfernee Seymour beat out a beautifully-placed bunt to led off, moved to third on Kyle Barrett’s single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Reyes. Isael Soto cracked a two-run homer to push the Hoppers in front 3-1.

“I’ve learned that when I bunt the ball softly to third base, right in front of the circle (separating the infield dirt and grass), it will be a tough play and no one can catch me,” Seymour said.

The last defensive gem of the first game came in the top of the seventh when Zach Sullivan sprinted in from center field and made a diving catch against pinch-hitter Brendon Hayden. Sullivan stayed on his knees for a long time and, when he was able to get to his feet, left the game. He suffered a strained back that will require some rest and possibly a precautionary placement on the disabled list. Manager Kevin Randel said he didn’t expect the effects to be long-term.

The second game took a combination of four pitchers to nail down. Joel Effertz made a spot start and pitched the first three innings, followed by newcomer Isaac Gil, Jeff Kinley and C.J. Robinson. The BlueClaws had seven hits but were thwarted by four double plays (Jan Hernandez hit into three of them). Gil wound up as the winner.

“There was a lot of hard contact in the second game,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara, “but we kept the ball down and the defense was able to make plays. They really helped us out today.”

Lakewood scored in the top of the first but Effertz limited the damage by getting dangerous Damek Tomscha to hit into a double play.

The Hoppers responded right away and again Seymour was the catalyst with a leadoff single. Barrett’s double sent Seymour to third and Soto’s single drove him in. Justin Twine walked to load the bases and bring up John Silviano, in the throes of an 0-for-21 slump.

Strangely, Lakewood played its outfielders shallow, even in right field. Silviano, a left-handed hitter, drove the ball past the right fielder for a double to score two runs with a third scoring on a throwing error to home plate to complete the four-run inning.

“I’ve been struggling to see the ball and rushing my swing,” Silviano said. “So I wanted to slow down and focus on seeing the ball and I got a fastball I could drive.”

Randel made an unusual pitching change in the fifth inning. Lakewood had two runners on base with two outs and Randel brought in the left-handed Kinley to face right-handed hitter Jose Pujols, who had both Lakewood RBIs on the day. Pujols smoked a line drive to left, right at Kris Goodman, who took a couple of steps in, went to one knee and made the catch to end the inning.

“Kinley isn’t really a marchup guy for me,” Randel said, “because he’s better against right-handers than ledt-handers. But that was a rocket Pujols hit.”

Randel took no chances in the seventh, bringing in closer C.J. Robinson. He wasn’t at his sharpest, issuing two four-pitch walks, but got two flyouts and a soft line out to record his 21st save in 21 chances.

“I’ve been having some control issues,” Robinson said, “and my velo (velocity) is down, but I think that’s just because it’s August. I feel fine. I’ve put on five to eight pounds, which I do every year.”

Silviano, the catcher, said Robinson’s pitches were moving even more than usual.

“But he’s always going to get the job done,” he added.

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