Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers lose but welcome Steckenrider back

Hoppers lose but welcome Steckenrider back
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

It had been a long time since Drew Steckenrider pitched in a game that counted.

In 2013 the Hoppers’ right-hander injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. He rehabbed all of 2014 and began this season on the disabled list. He was activated for Thursday’s game against Hickory and made his presence felt in a contest that lasted 12 innings and was won by the Crawdads 5-3 on a two-run homer by Tripp Martin.

Steckenrider made his first appearance in nearly two years, starting the top of the sixth in relief of starter Ben Holmes and pitching into the 10th, getting two outs before being replaced by Josh Hodges. He pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings, gave up four hits, walked one and struck out four.

“He pounded the bottom of the zone with his fastball and went right after hitters,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. He battled his butt off and it was good to see. He’s worked hard to come back. He saved our bullpen tonight.”

Steckenrider, who will pitch out of the bullpen for the time being, said he was a little nervous entering the game but settled down after a couple of pitches.

“It was exciting to pitch in something that mattered, in a real game,” he said. “It was close and I just wanted to give us a chance. It’s good to be healthy again. There’s no pain or tightness and I’m excited about the rest of the year.”

Down 3-0 early, the Hoppers came back with runs in the fourth, sixth and ninth innings to tie it. They had their best hitter, Arturo Rodriguez, at the plate with runner on first in the bottom of the 12th, but he popped out to end the game.

The Hoppers caught a bad break in the sixth after Rony Cabrera reached first on a third-strike wild pitch and K.J. Woods singled. With two outs, Brian Schales laced a drive to left-center that bounced off the warning track and over the fence for a ground rule double. Cabrera scored but, by rule, Woods could only advance to third base. Casey Soltis grounded out to end the inning.

“That killed us,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Woods was rolling and with two outs and a ball in the gap, that was an easy call to send him home and I’m sure he would have scored. But we had to bring him back to third. Those things happen.”

In the ninth, Justin Twine was called out on a close play at first base to begin the inning. Randel sprinted out of the dugout to confront base umpire Reid Joyner and was quickly ejected, bouncing his helmet off the ground for emphasis.

“That was brutal,” Randel said. “I’m not one to get thrown out, but that seemed like the appropriate time, in the ninth and our leadoff hitter should be on. I hope (Reid) didn’t take it personally.”

Soltis doubled and scored on a single by Rodrigo Vigil to tie the game.

In the 11th inning Hickory manager Corey Ragsdale was also ejected. Ragsdale first bounced his helmet — probably a little higher than Randel — and then sprinted out to protest an out call at third base by Joyner, who summarily ejected him.

The Crawdads won two of the three games in the series to improve to 15-5 overall. The Hoppers fell to 9-11 and open a four-game series with another good team, West Virginia (13-7) Friday night at NewBridge Bank Park. Michael Mader is the scheduled starter.

NOTES Hickory outfielder Luke Tendler, who played at North Carolina A&T, had a single, double and triple and scored three runs … Hoppers pitchers handled the top of the Hickory order, with the first four hitters going 2-for-23, but the five through nine hitters went 11-for-26 … Hoppers left fielder John Norwood made an outstanding catch in the fifth inning, sprinting to his right and laying out to backhand a line drive by the Crawdads’ Michael De Leon … Woods had three hits and drove in his first run of the season … Second baseman Mason Davis, who injured his right hand in Tuesday’s game, was put on the disabled list and replaced by Cabrera, activated off the Batavia roster … Reliever Jacob Smigelski was put on the Batavia roster to make room for Steckenrider.