Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers pitchers respond well to pressure again

Hoppers pitchers respond well to pressure again
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Grasshoppers pitchers tempted fate for the second straight game Saturday, but once again they worked their way out of it.

Four pitchers combined to strand 11 West Virginia runners in a 4-1 Greensboro win. That came on the heels on Friday’s 3-2 win in which 11 more Power runners were left on base.

Jose Adames started and hurled five scoreless innings, finishing on a strong note by retiring the side in order in his last inning, the only time all night the Hoppers managed that. Jose Arias and Kyle Fischer combined for three more shutout innings.

Josh Hodges closed things down, in a non-save situation, and was touched for the only run on a bloop double. With runners on second and third, he finished by fanning the last hitter for his third strikeout of the inning.

“That’s the name of the game, pitching with runners on base,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “That’s a difference-maker, seeing what you can do under pressure.

“Adames was electrifying, pitching down in the zone and elevating when he needed to. It was a great bounce-back for him after his last two starts.”

Powell praised the way catcher Rodrigo Vigil called the game and handled the pitchers.

“We mixed up the pitches and they did a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone with good location,” Vigil said.

One thing the Hoppers want to clean up is walks. They issued five Saturday after giving out six Friday.

“That has hurt us all year,” Powell said, “so we might be walking on the edge a little too much. But our pitchers compete and battle under pressure.”

The Hoppers bunched all their scoring in the fourth inning, when Vigil doubled in two runs and John Norwood followed with a two-run homer. Both blows came off Power starter John Sever, who had cruised through the first three innings.

“I saw the ball well today,” said Norwood, who also had a double. “I just wanted to get the bat head out and not try to do too much, for once. I made sure I got my front foot down and used my hands.”

Manager Kevin Randel pointed to a defensive play by Aaron Blanton as particularly important. Although he’s the team’s utility infielder, Blanton found himself in left field for this game because two of the Hoppers’ four outfielders weren’t available. Randel said he could have used Austen Smith, who played one game in left this season, but decided on Blanton for more speed.

“I was told in batting practice,” Blanton said. “The last time I played out there was in high school.”

His speed came in handy in the sixth inning. With Power runners on first and second with two outs, Elvis Escobar hit a slicing line drive toward the left field corner. Blanton made an excellent running catch to save a double and two runs.

“I was a little nervous about the wall,” Blanton said, “but I got a good read on the ball.”

That catch earned the approval of center fielder Norwood.

“I’ve never seen him play left field,” Norwood said, “but he’s got some wheels and he made a good play.”

NOTES: The Hoppers evened their record at 11-11 as Adames picked up his first win of the season … Justin Twine and Arturo Rodriguez joined Norwood with two hits … Tyler Kolek will start Sunday’s 4 p.m. game, looking to extend his streak of 10 consecutive scoreless innings in his last two starts.