Bill Hass on Baseball with Hoppers Wednesday Win:Nygren gives Legends a sinking feeling

Greensboro Grasshoppers 8
Lexington Legends 2

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

Nygren gives Legends a sinking feeling

There’s nothing James Nygren likes better than to see opposing hitters beating the ball into the ground.

He came out of the bullpen to pitch three scoreless innings and picked up the win Wednesday afternoon as the Hoppers beat Lexington 8-2.

Nygren’s best pitch is a fastball that sinks, which causes a lot of ground balls when it’s working well. The first two outs he recorded were groundouts in the fifth inning and he got two more, including an around-the-horn double play, in the sixth.

“That’s just the movement I’ve always had,” he said. “With our defense, I have the confidence to throw that pitch. I want to pitch to contact. “

Nygren entered the game when starter Austin Brice was pulled after throwing 91 pitches in four innings.

“He wasn’t quite himself today,” manager David Berg said of Brice. “I think it was more attitude. He’s a real competitor and usually pitches with a chip on his shoulder but today he tried more for location.”

The Hoppers had taken a 4-2 lead by the time Nygren entered in the top of the fifth. Brent Keys had a bases-clearing double that swung the game from a 2-1 deficit to the Hoppers’ favor. Matt Smith drilled a two-run homer to extend the lead to 6-2 and the Hoppers tacked on two more, with the help of two Lexington errors, in the seventh.

It was the first home run in June for Smith and the blast traveled some 400 feet, hitting halfway up the batter’s eye backdrop in center field.

“He had been moving his head,” Berg said, “but on his previous at-bat (a line-out to center field) he kept his head back and he did that the rest of the day. He’s a strong boy and we need some more of that.”

Keys finished with three hits and Austin Barnes, Aaron Senne and Ryan McIntyre had two each.

The Hoppers don’t have a designated closer. Nygren began the season in that role and recorded 10 saves, but was hit hard at times so he was shifted to more of a long reliever where he can use his sinker, slider, changeup and curve.

“Pitching longer helps me get in more of a groove,” Nygren said. “I go to the park just expecting to pitch. I have the same mental approach whether it’s a save situation or long relief.”

The way the bullpen is now constructed, it’s a fluid situation with Nygren, Mincey, Greg Nappo, Johnny Omahen, Dejai Oliver, Jose Rodriguez and Chris Shafer can all throw up to three innings or come in for a save opportunity. Kevin Cravey, currently on the DL, should be back around the middle of the month.

“We all throw our egos out the window,” Nygren said. “Everyone is equal and when our name is called, we want to be performing at our peak.”