Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers bounce back convincingly

Hoppers bounce back convincingly
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Sometimes the unexpected can pay off big in baseball.

With the Hoppers down 2-0 to Asheville in the fourth inning Saturday and runners on first and third with one out, Juan Avila caught the Tourists by surprise. He laid down a bunt toward first base that scored Carlos Lopez to get his team on the scoreboard. The base hit ignited a five-run inning and propelled the Hoppers to a 9-3 victory.

After a lackluster performance on a rainy Friday, in when the Hoppers lost a suspended game and then the scheduled game and left runners stranded all night, it was an important bounce-back win.

“I saw their (defense) playing back, we were two runs down and we needed a run,” Avila said. “I got it down and got the run in. We talked about seizing the opportunity and doing the little things to win. They weren’t expecting it.”

Hitting coach Frank Moore said Avila pulled off the play on his own.

“We talk about that situation all the time,” Moore said. “We want to stay out of the double play with one out. That got things rolling.”

It was the first of two hits for Avila, who has been the Hoppers’ hottest hitter lately.

“I’m seeing the ball well and I’ve been working with (Moore), tweaking some things,” he said. “I feel good, confident, and I’m aggressive at the plate.”

The five-run inning backed up a splendid five-inning pitching effort by Chris Sadberry in his second Hoppers start. The left-hander from Texas Tech, which made the College World Series, was drafted by the Marlins in the sixth round and sent to Batavia in the New York-Penn League. He started four games but pitched only 11 innings. He has gone five innings twice for the Hoppers and this was his first professional win.

“It was killing me going two and three innings at Batavia,” he said, “but I understand what they’re doing. This year is about getting some experience.”

The game started roughly for Sadberry when Asheville’s Ryan McMahon tagged him for a long two-run homer in the first inning. After that, however, he slammed the door, retiring the last 14 batters he faced.

“I’m a competitive guy and something like (the home run) ticks me off,” he said. “It was a pretty good pitch, a fastball down and in. But at this level, guys will get the best of you now and then. I just went back to the mound with a clear mind.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell liked the way Sadberry adjusted to Asheville’s aggressive hitters, using his breaking pitches to keep them off balance and making his fastball more effective.

“It was good for him to be able to recognize that,” Powell said, “and he handled them easily after that.”

Sadberry said he mixed five different pitches — fastball, curve, cutter, slider and changeup — to keep the Tourists from being able to figure out any pattern.

After his stint, Cody Crabaugh pitched two shutout innings and Tyler Kane had a one-two-three eighth. The Tourists strung together three straight hits in the ninth to score a run off Kane, but he got a double play to avoid a potentially messy inning.

The victory finished the regular season series between the teams, with the Hoppers winning seven of the 11 games.

“They’re good,” manager David Berg said. “They can swing the bats, they’ve got some pitching and they’re probably going to the postseason. Who knows, maybe it will be a rematch of two years ago.”

For that scenario, Asheville would have to win the second half in the Southern Division and then beat Savannah in the first round of the playoffs while the Hoppers would need to win their first-round series. That would create a championship series between the two franchises that played for the title in 2012, won by Asheville.

There’s a lot of baseball to be played between now and then — 27 games in the regular season. But the seed has been planted.

NOTES: Lopez had three hits and scored twice, Brian Anderson and Yefri Perez each added two hits and two runs and Felix Munoz and Rehiner Cordova both had two-run singles … The Hoppers hit the road for three games at Delmarva starting Sunday. After a day off, they will play four games at Hickory … Sean Townsley (biceps tendinitis) is on a throwing program that is scheduled to have him back in the rotation before the playoffs.