Bill on Baseball:Hernandez, Smith help Hoppers bounce back in second game

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at…..

Hernandez, Smith help Hoppers bounce back in second game

Yeison Hernandez and Chipper Smith made themselves unlikely heroes for the Hoppers Sunday afternoon.

Hernandez hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Hoppers a 4-3 lead against Kannapolis in the second game of a doubleheader. Smith made it stand up by retiring the side in order in the seventh. With the win, the Hoppers gained a split on the day (Kannapolis won the first game 6-1), a split in the four-game series and a 4-3 record in the home stand.

Perhaps most important, it made a long bus ride more enjoyable as the Hoppers headed out for three games at Lakewood that begins Monday.

“Winning the second game was huge,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “That could have been a miserable nine-hour trip.”

The Hoppers jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning by playing small ball. Five straight singles by Anthony Gomez, Jesus Solorzano, Viosergy Rosa, Yordy Cabrera and Cody Keefer produced the runs. The Intimidators got a run back against Dejai Oliver in the second and two more in the fifth inning to tie it.

With the momentum seemingly shifted to Kannapolis, Smith entered the game in the top of the sixth and took control, getting a groundout and two strikeouts. Keefer opened the bottom of the sixth with a double but stayed at second when Matt Juengel beat out an infield hit to shortstop. Mike Vaughn moved the runners up with a sacrifice.

That brought up Yeison Hernandez, the light-hitting infielder batting ninth in the lineup. He got into a pitch from Anthony Bucciferro and drove it deep into right center field, which allowed Keefer to score.

“I was looking to make hard contact and hit it high and far,” Hernandez said, with Cabrera translating.

Asked if that was the deepest ball he had hit this year, Hernandez smiled and said, “yeah, yeah.”

Smith had pitched so well in the sixth inning that when pitching coach Blake McGinley asked Jorge Hernandez who to bring out for the seventh, the manager elected to leave Smith in. As the pitcher of record when the Hoppers took the lead, Smith in essence saved his own game. He fanned the first two hitters, making it fourstrikeouts in a row, and retired the third on a groundout.

“I just came in to throw strikes,” Smith said. “I mixed my pitches well and got ahead in the count. I’m finding my role now and I know my job. I like it and it gives me a chance to pitch.”

A starter all his life, Smith was switched to the bullpen this season. He can throw anywhere from one to three innings.

“When he’s in the zone, he gets hitters out with all his pitches,” McGinley said. “He’s not scared out there. He’s having fun, feeling confident and getting it done.”

In the first game, the Hoppers held a 1-0 lead after five excellent innings by Austin Brice, who gave up two hits, walked four and struck out seven. Blake Logan came on in the top of the sixth and was greeted by a leadoff homer from Brent Tanner to tie the game. And things got worse from there.

Logan gave up a single and hit a batter. McGinley came out to talk to Logan and, on the way back to the dugout, said something to home plate umpire Clayton Hamm, who ejected him. Patrick Palmiero laid down a sacrifice bunt but third baseman Juengel couldn’t handle it and the bases were loaded. An infield single scored a run and Logan walked in another to make it 3-1 — and still no one was out.

It got really strange when Micah Johnson hit into an apparent double play, only to have the play wiped out. On the ground ball he hit, base umpire Jake Wilburn jumped and made a scissors kick as the ball passed through his legs. But it turned out that it had hit his heel and, by rule, that meant the ball was dead, Johnson was credited with a single and the bases were still loaded. While everyone was following the double play, no one on the field saw Wilburn make the signal for the dead ball.

“(Wilburn) told me the ball hit him,,” Hernandez said. “He tried to get out of the way. He made the call right away with no hesitation. It was the right call.”

Two more runs came in, including another on a walk, before the bizarre inning ended with Kannapolis in front 6-1.

Two things were lost in the craziness. One was a fine effort by Kannapolis starter Kyle Hansen, who allowed one run on four hits in five innings. The other was the job by Austin.

“He was very good,” McGinley said. “He was under control and on top of the ball so he could drive it down. That’s what I saw him do last year.”

So what was the mood in the locker room between games?

“It was like ‘what happened?’” Smith said. “Everything was going so good and then someone flipped a switch.”

Hernandez said his team needs to do a better job of damage control.

“When bad things happen, sometimes we lose concentration,” he said. “We’ve got to stay the course and make quality pitches.”

But they regrouped and ended the day on a good note, so the trip to Lakewood didn’t seem quite so long.