Bill Hass on Baseball:Alfonzo helps Hoppers squeeze out 3-2 win

Posted by Guest Columnist on August 16, 2016 at 11:54 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

Alfonzo helps Hoppers squeeze out 3-2 win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com

Tuesday night was a big first step for the Hoppers.

Reeling after losing six of seven games on a road trip, they righted themselves, at least momentarily, with a 3-2 win over Delmarva at NewBridge Bank Park. That keeps them well within range of the top spot in the SAL’s Northern Division second-half standings.

“We know we went 1-6 on the road trip,” said shortstop Gio Alfonzo, who drove in two of the team’s runs. “But we’re only three games back. The season is far from over. We put the trip behind us and our plan is to attack every game like it’s do or die.”

Nineteen games remain in the regular season and the Hoppers face all division opponents, so the opportunity is there to beat the teams ahead of them. But things are going to get chaotic, with six of the seven teams having a chance to win it. Lakewood took over first place Tuesday with a doubleheader sweep of Hickory. The Hoppers trail the BlueClaws by three games.

Here’s how things stand after Tuesday’s results: 1. Lakewood 29-22; 2.Hagerstown and Kannapolis 28-23; 4. Greensboro and West Virginia 26-25; 6. Hickory 25-26.

There’s another way to make the playoffs if the Hoppers don’t win the second half. For that to happen, first-half winner Hagerstown must also win the second half. The second playoff spot would go to the team with the next-best overall record. The Hoppers have a slight edge there with a 64-57 record, followed by Hickory at 63-58, Delmarva at 62-58 and West Virginia at 61-59.

The possibilities are endless and the best thing for the players to do is to concentrate on the game in front of them. And Alfonzo said the focus goes even deeper than that.

“The hitters had a meeting after the last road game,” he said. “We talked about each player doing his job and not trying to do anyone else’s. Whether it’s moving runners over or getting a runner in, we can only do our job. No one can do it for us and we can’t do it for anyone else.”

Alfonzo drove in the go-ahead run twice. After Aaron Blanton opened the fourth inning with a double, the next two batters made outs. Alfonzo’s single scored Blanton to put the Hoppers ahead 2-1.

In the seventh, with the score tied 2-2, Zach Sullivan walked and then stole second. Alfonzo bounced a broken-bat single through the middle to score Sullivan to regain the lead.

“There were two strikes on me and I knew they would try to bust me inside,” Alfonzo said. “I saw a fastball in so I tried to keep my hands inside. I broke the bat, but it died a hero so I don’t feel bad about it.”

Pitching, a Hoppers staple all season despite a revolving door with the staff, was sharp again. Starter Cody Poteet gave up a run in the first inning, then put five shutout innings on the board. He allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out five.

“He didn’t waste any energy,” pitching coach Brendan Sagara said of Poteet. “He pitched to contact and limited the damage in the first inning, then settled into a groove. He only threw 68 pitches in his six innings.”

Unfortunately, Poteet didn’t get the win. His ERA dropped to 2.88, one of the best marks in the league, but he has only four wins to his credit. He left with a 2-1 lead, but Kyle Keller gave up a solo homer in the seventh that tied the game. When the Hoppers regained the lead, Keller pitched a strong eighth, getting two strikeouts and a come-backer.

Marcus Crescentini earned his fourth save by striking out the side in the ninth to preserve the win for Keller. Regular closer C.J. Robinson, who took a line drive off the shin on the road trip, was given the night off.

“We’re trying to develop as many guys to pitch in the ninth inning as we can,” Sagara said. “Crescentini has gotten a lot better since he’s been with us and has really taken to the things we’ve challenged him with.”

Manager Kevin Randel said the Hoppers’ pitching and defense have remained steady.

“We’re looking to get a little flow to the offense,” he said. “Put together some quality at-bats and grind them out. We’re not looking to blow anyone out of the water. We’re just searching for some consistency.”

Outfielder Stone Garrett appeared in his first Hoppers game since June 1. He suffered a thumb injury when former teammate Josh Naylor cut him in a “prank” gone bad. Garrett played in three games with the GCL Marlins prior to rejoining the Hoppers. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his return.

Another new face in Tuesday’s lineup was catcher Gunner Pollman, this June’s 26th-round draft pick by the Marlins out of Sacramento State. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Mason Davis, who played 98 games here last year and a handful in 2014, was the DH and went 1-for-4. He was on the injured list all season.

NOTES: Angel Reyes drove in the Hoppers’ first run with a double … Catcher Roy Morales is rehabbing a hand injury in Jupiter and likely won’t return … Pitcher Steven Farnworth was promoted to Jupiter.


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