Bill Hass on Baseball:Unusual lineup pays dividends for Hoppers

“I was just looking to put the bat on the ball and hit it deep,” Austin Dean said. “I got a fastball and took it a long way. I didn’t see where it landed because I was excited, but off the bat I knew it was gone.”

Unusual lineup pays dividends for Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Biill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

All Austin Dean needed was to lift the ball fairly deep to the outfield or poke the ball through a drawn-in infield.

Instead, with runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, he crushed a three-run walk-off homer to left field to send the Hoppers to a 9-6 win over West Virginia. It was Dean’s only hit of the day and it extended his streak to nine games, but he insisted he would have settled for the sacrifice fly.

“I was just looking to put the bat on the ball and hit it deep,” Dean said. “I got a fastball and took it a long way. I didn’t see where it landed because I was excited, but off the bat I knew it was gone.”

Manager David Berg said Dean “hits the ball hard. His early at-bats weren’t that good but it’s the last one that counts.”

It was an improbable win in many ways. The Hoppers trailed all afternoon, although they came back to tie the game 3-3 and again at 6-6. It was accomplished by an unusual lineup that had center fielder Yefri Perez at shortstop, corner outfielder Carlos Lopez in center, backup Joel Jimenez behind the plate and seldom-used Carlos Duran at DH.

All of them contributed as catcher Chad Wallach, third baseman J.T. Riddle and shortstop Rehiner Cordova were given a day off by manager David Berg. Perez played flawlessly at shortstop, got three hits and scored three runs. Lopez played well in center and added two hits and an RBI. Duran provided a crucial sacrifice fly that tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. Jimenez threw out a runner at second base and handled three Hoppers pitchers with no problems.

“I’m absolutely OK with Perez at shortstop,” Berg said. “He has taken ground balls there all year (in infield practice) and he played well today.”

Perez said shortstop is his natural position but he was converted to center field last year. He had played second base one game this season, but hadn’t made any appearances at short. He handled three ground balls smoothly with good throws and caught a line drive.

“I hadn’t played there in two years and it felt a little different today,” Perez said. “I wasn’t nervous but I felt better after the first ground ball.”

The Hoppers had an adventurous day on the mound. Starter Jarlin Garcia allowed eight hits, including two home runs to JaCoby Jones, and five runs in five innings to continue a string of poor outings. In his last four starts he has pitched 23 innings, allowed 35 hits and 20 earned runs. Amazingly, he won his previous three outings and, although he got no decision this time, the Hoppers continued their uncanny knack to score runs and win games when he starts.

Ramon del Orbe took over in the sixth and promptly surrendered a homer to Kawika Emsley-Pai, and two singles. But Dean threw out a runner at third base from left field for the first out and del Orbe retired the next two hitters on ground balls. He gave up a leadoff double in the seventh but stranded the runner at third, and a leadoff walk in the eighth that he stranded.

Sean Donatello came on for the ninth with the game tied and gave up a pair of one-out singles. He had been hit hard his last two outings, but this time he regrouped and got two groundouts to end the inning and became the winner on Dean’s homer.

“Sometimes it’s not pretty,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “Del Orbe and Donatello were able to limit the damage and get out of there. The three innings del Orbe threw were huge so we could save the bullpen.”

The Hoppers won two of three from the Power and have beaten them 11 out of 14 meetings. They begin a three-game series against Kannapolis Monday at 7 p.m. with Domingo German starting.

NOTES: Felix Munoz had a two-run double that extended his hitting streak to eight games. He leads and team with 59 RBIs and 58 runs scored … Lopez, Avery Romero and Duran also had RBIs … West Virginia’s Jones had four hits for the day and finished the series 8-for-13 with four solo home runs, all leading off an inning.