The Greensboro Grasshoppers are the hottest thing in town

By BILL HASS Greensboro Grasshoppers are the hottest ticket in town. The Hoppers have won five in a row, they are 9-1 over their last 10 games, the team is something like 45-20 at home this season, and last night at First Horizon Park it was LONG GONE, ALL NIGHT LONG AGAIN.) Let’s have the area’s top baseball writer, Bill Hass, break it down for us as the Hoopers stay hot at FHP.

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Long ball continues to suit the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

The Hoppers slugged four more homers Thursday night en route to a 10-2 win over the Hickory Crawdads. A crowd of 6,187 watched at First Horizon Park, pushing the season attendance to 403,904.

The Hoppers swept the three-game series and chopped the Crawdads’ lead in the Northern Division to 3½ games. Greensboro (31-29) will not play Hickory (34-25) again this season. Each team has 10 games remaining.

Lakewood and Delmarva both lost Thursday, so the Hoppers vaulted over them into second place. Those teams trail Hickory by four games.

The Hoppers hit 10 home runs in the series, essentially playing all three games without leadoff man John Raynor. Raynor injured the ring finger on his right hand in the first inning Tuesday and missed the next two games. He is out indefinitely.

“He’s our catalyst and without him, everyone else feels the need to step up,” said catcher Chris Hatcher, who hit his 14th and 15th home runs. “He was carrying us for awhile.”

Adam Howard hit his 11th homer and Greg Burns added his seventh for Greensboro. Howard’s homer, a three-run shot in the second inning, staked the Hoppers to a 3-0 lead they never relinquished.

“Every night it’s someone different stepping up,” said manager Edwin Rodriguez. “That homer by Howard was huge for us to take the lead there.”

Burns finished with three hits and two runs scored. He also added a sparkling defensive play in the third inning when he threw out Hickory’s Cameron Blair at home plate. Hatcher made a nice pickup of a one-hop throw and applied the tag.

Marc Lewis (2-0) picked up the win, allowing two runs in five innings. The left-hander, drafted out of Creighton in June, scattered six hits and struck out five. Pitching coach John Duffy said Lewis had good location with his fastball and threw his off-speed pitches for strikes.

“He’s a smart pitcher who relies on location and changing speeds,” Rodriguez said. “I liked what I saw tonight.”

Three relievers – Don Czyz, Josh Roberts and Jay Buente – combined for four shutout innings.

Hatcher said he hadn’t figured out what the Hoppers need to do to catch Hickory, but added it didn’t matter.

“We have to take it one day at a time, one inning at a time and one pitch at a time,” he said.

Next up is Lexington, which comes to First Horizon for three games. The first one is Friday at 7 p.m.