Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers score early, help Kolek earn first pro win

Hoppers score early, help Kolek earn first pro win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

By the time he’s finished with his baseball career, Tyler Kolek may not recall the details of every game he wins.

But it’s likely he will always remember the first one.

It came Wednesday, in a game that began at 10:45 a.m., with the young right-hander throwing five shutout innings as the Hoppers came through with a 6-0 win over the Lakewood Blue Claws.

“You dream about playing pro baseball when you’re a little kid,” said Kolek, the second pick in last summer’s draft. “You set new goals when you become a professional. I’m excited to get this first win.”

In the Gulf Coast League last summer, Kolek pitched just 22 innings in nine games, never reaching the five innings necessary to qualify for a win. In his first two starts as a Hopper, he didn’t make it through five, either.

But with an energetic crowd of 6,992 on School Kids day in NewBridge Bank Park, Kolek turned in his longest outing as a pro. He limited Lakewood to two hits, struck out six, walked two and hit a batter. The Hoppers’ offense helped with four runs in the bottom of the first inning.

“I go after guys no matter what the score,” he said, “but it’s better if you have a couple of runs.”

Kolek had a shaky start, walking the leadoff hitter on four pitches and hitting another batter in the first inning. With Rhys Hoskins, Lakewood’s hottest hitter with three homers in two games, at the plate with one out, things might have deteriorated. But Kolek got him to hit a low fastball to third baseman Arturo Rodriguez, who began an around-the-horn double play to end the inning. That might have been the game’s biggest at-bat.

“I have confidence in my stuff,” Kolek said. “It’s mine against yours.”

Kolek stayed out of further trouble, recording a strikeout in each inning (always the second batter) and two in the fifth inning. The only question was would he exceed his pitch count before he completed the fifth.

With two outs, Grenny Cumana of Lakewood made Kolek work by fouling off several 3-and-2 pitches. But on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Cumana grounded out to Rodriguez to end the inning.

“That was a great play by Arturo,” Kolek said. “My teammates were great about finishing off innings.”

“Outstanding,” pitching coach Jeremy Powell said of Kolek. “He was competitive and when the pressure was on, he took things to another level. That last at-bat was a long one and it was great that he won that battle. It’s nice to be a part of his first pro win.”

Powell said Kolek threw about 84 pitches, mostly keeping his fastball down and improving his curve as the game went along. Relievers Sam Alvis, James Buckelew and Colby Suggs finished off the shutout.

Mason Davis got the offense to a fast start with a leadoff homer, his first of the year. The big blow came later in the inning when Rony Cabrera doubled down the left-field line with the bases loaded for three RBIs. Aaron Blanton and Austen Smith later added solo homers.

“I told the guys that in an early game like this, it’s which team wants it more,” said manager Kevin Randel. “The team that doesn’t complain about the 10:45 starting time and gets an early lead usually wins.”

Kolek has a few days to savor this — “until my next start.”

If the rotation holds, that will be back at home on April 28 against Hickory.

NOTES: Rodriguez had two hits to boost his average to .415 … In his first action at third base, Rodriguez handled six chances without a flaw … Randel said third base is probably the most natural position for Rodriguez, who has caught and played first … Smith’s homer was his fifth and Blanton’s was his second … Cabrera had three hits to raise his average to .400. He was brought in to fill the roster spot when shortstop Justin Twine went on the DL and Randel said “he has shown he belongs here.” … Twine (hamstring) and K.J. Woods (wrist) are both expected to return around the end of the month … Felix Castillo got his first start at catcher and threw out a potential base-stealer … The Hoppers, now 7-6, completed their first homestand 5-1. They head back to Delmarva for four games, have a day off and return home April 28 … In the absurdity of the SAL schedule, the Hoppers will have played Delmarva 11 times in their first 17 games, with the other six coming against Lakewood.