The playoffs can’t start too soon for the Hoppers.
Right now they’re playing out the string of the regular season, not an easy task when their playoff spot has long since been secure. Still, nobody refers to the remaining games as meaningless.
“We want to finish on a high note and go into the playoffs with momentum,” said Avery Romero after the Hoppers lost to Delmarva 5-3 Tuesday. “I think these guys understand what we’re playing for. We’re definitely excited to be in the playoffs and we want to finish these last games strong.”
Six games are left — Wednesday (at 4 p.m.) and Thursday (7 p.m.) against Delmarva and then four at Kannapolis.
“We still want to play good,” said manager David Berg. “You don’t want to go into the playoffs losing seven straight.”
One big concern is the starting pitching as the Hoppers try to line up their playoff rotation. They know they want Domingo German to pitch game one on Sept. 3, but things are hazy beyond that. Chris Sadberry, a possibility for game two on Sept. 5, has been sidelined with a strain in his back. Sean Townsley, who started Tuesday’s game, is still bothered by a shoulder issue. He spent a month on the disabled list and has had two outings since he was activated.
“I’m not 100 percent,” Townsley said. “I’m taking it day by day.”
The left-hander gave up seven hits and three runs, two earned, in four innings against the Shorebirds. He did record six strikeouts and, as pitching coach Jeremy Powell pointed out, limited the damage with some quality pitches.
“If he’s healthy, he can help us,” Powell said. “Right now he’s not the same guy he was before he was hurt, but maybe he will be his next time out.”
Because the starting pitchers have had their innings curtailed, either by injury or by how much they have pitched, the bullpen has been taxed. Tyler Kane and Esmerling de la Rosa combined for five innings Tuesday, giving up seven hits and two runs.
“We’re scuffling for a rotation,” Berg said. “We need to find some starters. A lot of guys have stepped up, but are they the answers?”
There wasn’t much in the way of offense Tuesday. Brian Anderson drove in a run in the first inning and that’s all the Hoppers managed until the bottom of the ninth when Anderson cracked a two-run homer. From the fourth through the eighth innings, Delmarva starter Mitch Horacek and reliever Derrick Bleeker retired 15 Hoppers in a row.
Berg will rotate days off throughout the lineup to make sure everyone is rested for the playoffs. These last games will also give him a chance to see what newcomer Mason Davis can do. A 19th-round draft pick this year out of The Citadel, Davis hit .319 with three homers and 29 RBIs in 56 games at Batavia. The switch hitter had 13 doubles, five triples and nine stolen bases in 16 attempts. Davis was the DH Tuesday and can play second, third and the outfield. He went 0-for-4 in his Hoppers debut.