When the Grasshoppers took batting practice Thursday, manager Miguel Perez could see something special was in store for Brett Kinneman.
“I could tell he was going to have a good day,” Perez said. “You can see that. You can feel that. And I’m glad he did. He was huge for us.”
Kinneman hit a homer and a double to drive four runs as Greensboro won its first game of the 2019 season, beating the Hagerstown Suns 9–8. While it’s just one of 140 games, it was historically important because it was the first Hoppers game under their new affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Everyone was aware of the significance.
“One of our messages to the players,” Perez said, “was that this is a new facility, a new town and there’s a legacy here. They’ve sent a lot of players to the major leagues. We want to continue that legacy and build our own.”
Kinneman added, “we’re all really excited to get off to a good start.”
As a whole, the game itself was not particularly memorable. There were four errors (three by the Hoppers), three hit batters, five wild pitches by Suns starter Tomas Alastre and two passed balls by Suns catcher Israel Pineda. Hoppers starter Steven Jennings was tagged for eight hits and six runs (two unearned) in 4 1/3 innings. Just once in the game was the side retired in order by either side.
But there were several bright spots. The Hoppers overcame deficits of 1–0, 3–1 and 6–3, taking the lead for good with a four-run rally in the fourth inning.
“The beauty of the game was the way our team picked each other up every time we were behind,” Perez said. “It was good to see them compete. They never gave up.”
Kinneman set the tone after the Suns scored in the top of the first inning. After Mason Martin doubled, the left-handed Kinneman cracked a home run to left-center to put the Hoppers on top. Then, in the fourth, Kinneman’s double into the left field corner scored two runs and put the Hoppers on top 7–6.
“Going to left field isn’t something I’ve always done,” said the former NC State player. “It’s part of my growth process as a hitter, something I want to do on a regular basis. Both pitches were on the outside part of the plate and I hit them where they were pitched.”
And about batting practice?
“It was one of those days when I really felt good with my swing,” he said.
Another positive for the Hoppers was the bullpen. After the Suns’ leadoff hitter reached base on an error to start the fifth inning, Jennings dug down and got a called third strike for the first out. Samuel Reyes relieved him then and got two more outs to put the first zero on the board for Hoppers pitching.
Reyes put another one up in the sixth, Cam Alldred followed with one in the seventh and Conner Loeprich continued the streak in the eighth. In the ninth, Logan Stoelke walked the leadoff batter and gave up a two-run homer to shave the lead to one run. Then he regrouped and retired three straight earn the save for Reyes, who was the winning pitcher.
“Reyes was the key,” said pitching coach Stan Kyles. “He got us out of that inning and gave us some zeroes. We were fortunate to have a three-run lead when Stoelke gave up a two-run homer. But he pulled himself back together and finished the game aggressively.”
For the Hoppers on offense, Martin, Zack Cone and Pat Dorrian joined Kinneman with two hits each.
Defensively, left fielder Fabricio Macias made an excellent play by throwing out a Hagerstown runner at the plate in the top of the second inning.
The teams play the second game of the series Friday night with right-hander Osvaldo Bido starting for the Hoppers.
ABOUT THE BLOG: I won’t be writing after every game this season; in fact, probably not after most games. The frequency of the blog will be determined as the season unfolds. I appreciate and thank those of you who have been regular readers for a long time. I will continue doing pieces for the program, of which there are 10 different issues during the season, so please look for those. And I’ll still be joining Andy Durham in the broadcast booth on Sundays and most day games.