Stanton, Woods shine in Marlins-Hoppers exhibition
Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com…..
It was an old, familiar feeling for Giancarlo Stanton to hit a home run in the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ stadium, but a brand new one for K.J. Woods.
Stanton — it’s hard not to call him Mike, the first name he used when he hit 39 home runs for the Hoppers in 2008 — cracked a home run on the first pitch he saw Friday afternoon, a shot that propelled the Miami Marlins to a 9-6 win over the Hoppers in an exhibition game at NewBridge Bank Park.
Woods, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013, hit a pair of two-run homers for the Hoppers and drove in another run with a broken-bat single for a total of five RBIs. In 87 minor-league games with the Marlins, Woods had hit just three home runs.
“He battled through some injuries in spring training and didn’t get a whole lot of playing time,” said manager Kevin Randel, “so to have him come in here and hit a couple of homers, what a great day for him.”
Before the game, Stanton was asked if he would hit one out “for old times’ sake.”
“I’ve got some new targets,” he said, pointing to the new apartments looming beyond the berm and the fence inleft center field.
Stanton delighted the crowd that swelled to 9,410 by game time by hitting several towering shots in batting practice, although he said he didn’t see if one might have hit the new building. His homer in the game went to right center, landing in the vicinity of Eugene Street.
“I didn’t hit my target in left center, but I got it out,” he said later.
Several of the Marlins pitchers threw an inning apiece for the Hoppers in order to keep things competitive. A.J. Ramos, who pitched for the Hoppers in 2010 and is beginning his third full season with the Marlins, gave up the gopher ball to Stanton. They exchanged some good-natured words as Stanton rounded the bases and when the next batter stepped to the plate, Ramos playfully threw a pitch high into the backstop netting and pointed at Stanton in the dugout.
“We have some inside jokes,” Stanton said. “You guys wouldn’t understand them. That’s the fun of it.”
Randel enjoyed the exchange.
“It was pretty electrifying,” he said. “Stanton homers in the first and A.J. kind of airmails one to the backstop. That was fun.”
Stanton said he was satisfied with his swing with the season opener coming Monday. The device he wears on the left side of his batting helmet to protect his face (he missed the final month of 2014 after being struck by a pitch) has proved to be no hindrance.
The Marlins gave most of their regular position players three at-bats before pulling them. Former Hoppers Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich each had RBIs as the Marlins bolted to a 6-0 lead in the fourth inning. They used backups next and finished the game with several Hoppers from the 2014 team — Austin Dean, Avery Romero, J.T. Riddle, Brian Anderson and Yefri Perez — in the lineup.
Former Hopper Tom Koehler, who pitched here in 2009, is now a member of the Marlins’ starting rotation. He got five innings of work, throwing shutout ball for the first three and being touched for three runs in his last two.
In the fourth inning, Austen Smith singled, his second hit of the game, and the left-handed hitting Woods cracked a two-run homer to get Greensboro on the board, although he didn’t know the ball had gone out.
“My first time up (Koehler) got me with a back-door curve ball,” Woods said. “The next time he came in with a fastball low and away and I squared that ball up. I booked it down to first base and when the umpire swung his fingers around (for a home run) I put it on cruise control.”
Later in the game, some Hoppers pitchers took the mound for Miami, so Woods faced his good friend Michael Mader in the ninth inning with a man on base.
“That was funny because the whole big-league coaching staff was jawing at me, talking smack that I was going to strike out,” Woods said. “After the first two strikes they really got into me, so I really had to dial in and focus.
“I watched three curve balls in the dirt and I had a feeling (Mader) was going to come back with a fastball middle in. That’s what he did the first time and this time I was ready for it.”
During spring training Woods pulled his hamstring stretching for a throw at first base but says he has put that’s behind him.
“I came back after two weeks fully healthy and ready to go,” he said. “I’m 100 percent healthy and looking forward to the season with my teammates.”
It was a hectic day for the Hoppers, who broke their spring training camp with an early wake-up call, rode a bus to the airport and then boarded a charter plane to Greensboro. Then they headed for the stadium, were fitted for uniforms and waited for their equipment, which was late.
Still, it was a day pitching coach Jeremy Powell called “great for the city, great for the fans and great for the organization.”
Randel said his team played with energy and seemed to have fun. And one of the best things was when they boarded the charter.
“Their eyes perked up like ‘hey, this is where I need to be. Greensboro is nice but maybe I should work a little harder and get up here.’”