HOPPERS RALLY FROM 4-RUN DEFICIT TO BURN ROME
By BILL HASS
GREENSBORO, N.C. â€“ Josh Roberts wants to show that heâ€™s a battler.
And Sunday evening, he did just that. Making his first appearance for Greensboro, Roberts threw 2 1-3 innings of shutout relief and picked up the win as the Hoppers rallied to beat the Rome Braves 5-4 before 5,076 fans at First Horizon Park.
Roberts, from the University of Portland, was drafted in June by the Florida Marlins in the 35th round. He made one appearance at Jupiter before joining the Hoppers.
â€œItâ€™s a good experience to make my first appearance and leave with the win,â€ Roberts said. â€œI was just trying to keep us within striking distance.â€
Roberts entered the game in relief of starter Michael Hyle with a runner on second and one out in the sixth inning and the Braves ahead 4-0. He struck out the first hitter he faced, then gave up a run-scoring single before getting the final out.
He pitched a scoreless seventh, got two outs in the eighth and gave up two singles. Jay Buente came in to get Ernesto Mejia for the final out. Buente then retired the Braves in order in the ninth for his second save of the season.
Roberts said he tried to blot out any nervousness and focus on the glove of catcher Chris Hatcher.
â€œI consider myself a professional glove-hitter,â€ Roberts said. â€œWherever he puts it, thatâ€™s where I want to throw the ball.â€
Hatcher said Roberts did just that, using a fastball, sinker, slider and changeup.
â€œHe reminded me of a bulldog â€“ â€˜here it comes, now hit it,â€™â€ Hatcher said. â€œHe kept the ball down and threw strikes.â€
Hatcher played a key role in the offense. Rome built a 4-0 lead and pitchers Chris Vines and Sergio Valenzuela shut Greensboro out for the first five innings. Jake Blackwoodâ€™s two-out double scored James Guerrero with the Hoppersâ€™ first run in the sixth.
Things really got going when Hatcher led off the seventh with his 12th homer of the season and second in two games. Justin Webb reached on an error and, one out later, stole second base. He scored on John Raynorâ€™s â€œexcuse meâ€ single to right field. Raynor stole his 52nd base of the year, then scored on Guerreroâ€™s triple to tie the game. Scott Cousins doubled in the go-ahead run.
â€œI havenâ€™t changed anything except my approach at the plate,â€ said Hatcher, who drove in four runs in Saturdayâ€™s loss to Columbus. â€œIâ€™ve been trying to lay off breaking balls and hit fastballs. Thatâ€™s hard for an aggressive hitter like me, so itâ€™s a matter of controlling that aggression and taking it out on a pitch I can hit.â€
Brandon Hicks and Phillip Britton hit solo home runs for the Braves. Tyler Flowers had an RBI double.
The Hoppers backed their pitching with some nice defense, including a diving catch of a line drive by Webb at shortstop and two running catches in center field by Greg Burns.
â€œThese kids are tired and some of them have hit the wall, but they keep battling,â€ said manager Edwin Rodriguez. â€œHatcher has been hitting the ball all over the field the last three games and Roberts made a very good first impression. Buente has been making some adjustments and his split-finger pitch has been better.â€
The teams play the second game of the series Monday at 7 p.m. at First Horizon Park.
*****Check out all of Bill Hass’s articles at www.gsohoppers.com*****(You can also visit the greensborosports.com luxury box at FHP and sit with Don Moore, Robert Stutts, Bobby Stutts, Stephanie Stutts, Cecil Carr, Johnny Jones, John DiGorgio, Bryan Jones, Chris Jones, and the Tatoo Man. The box is out in the Grandstand just above the K Zone in left field. Don Moore will sign you in and Dug Cockman will help you surf on over to greensborosports.com.) Don looks like Norm from Cheers and Dug looks like Spicolli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.