Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers flirt with no-hitter, end with 6-1 victory

Hoppers flirt with no-hitter, end with 6-1 victory
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

NewBridge Bank Park kept its record intact Friday night, but it wasn’t easy.

Greensboro’s home park, now in its 11th season, has never seen a no-hitter. But a patchwork of Hoppers pitchers took one into the eighth inning before a broken-bat single broke it up with two outs. The Hoppers ultimately settled for a 6-1, three-hit win over Hagerstown.

“We got the win, first and foremost,” said manager Kevin Randel. “The other stuff is just icing on the cake. I’m not even disappointed that we lost the shutout because (Conor Overton) got himself out of a jam in the ninth inning.”

It was a rare night when pitching, hitting and defense came together for the Hoppers in what Randel called their best game of the year.

“It started when (shortstop) Rony Cabrera made a nice play in the hole to get the leadoff batter,” he said. “That set the tone right there. We made some other nice plays, too.”

It was Tyler Kolek’s turn to start, but the Hoppers decided to give the big right-hander a “mental break” and pushed his start back several days. That meant they needed a spot starter out of the bullpen and they chose Luis Castillo, hoping he could deliver at least three innings.

Castillo did one better, throwing four innings of no-hit, shutout ball, walking two and striking out six in his longest outing of the season.

“He was fun to watch,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He pitched ahead in the count, and with his plus stuff. He was really efficient.”

After using 55 pitches in his stint, to begin the fifth inning. A starter early in the season, Squier has struggled in his switch to the bullpen.

But things clicked for him in this game. He retired the side in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings and got the first two outs in the eighth before Brendan Middleton reached on an error by Cabrera.

Then Hagerstown catcher Jorge Tillero broke his bat on a soft line drive that just got over the glove of leaping second baseman Mason Davis to spoil the no-hitter. Davis put both hands on top of his head in reaction.

“I just couldn’t get to it,” Davis said. “Everybody said I was pretty close. I wasn’t disappointed, but I wanted to keep the no-hitter going.”

Squier said he threw an inside fastball just where he wanted, so he wasn’t displeased with the pitch.

“It’s not what I wanted to give up,” he said, “but that’s part of baseball.”

Squier then got the final out of the eighth to put the finishing touches on four sparkling innings during which he retired 11 straight batters. Randel said it was the best he has seen Squier throw all season. Powell said his fastball control was excellent and his breaking ball was effective.

“I was able to hit my spots tonight,” Squier said. “I changed speeds and my fastball location was the best it has been all year. I’ve been working (with Powell) in the bullpen, so seeing some results is a confidence-booster.”

Overton gave up two hits and a walk in the ninth that loaded the bases with one out. But he extracted himself by getting a groundout, which scored a run, and then striking out the last hitter to end the game.

The Hoppers took their time getting their offense going. Right-hander Joan Baez (seriously, folks) made his first start since being called up from extended spring training. None of the Hoppers had seen him before and he mowed down the first 10 batters before Brian Schales singled for the first hit of the game by either team with one out in the fourth.

Baez faltered in the fifth, walking two batters with one out, and was replaced by Sam Johns, who got the next two hitters without incident.

But in the sixth, the Hoppers flushed Johns. Cabrera opened with a double and Schales singled. K.J. Woods then unloaded his fifth homer of the year, a long drive to right field, for three runs. Arturo Rodriguez doubled, Austen Smith singled and both scored when Davis slashed a double to make it 5-0.

Davis added another RBI with a single in the bottom of the eighth.

“I’ve been hitting too many popups lately,” Davis said. “I want to hit line drives and ground balls.”

Randel said Davis is “a game-changer” who sometimes tries to do too much but is effective when he sticks to his short, compact swing. If he can stay hot, he could be moved from the No. 8 spot to somewhere at the top of the order.

NOTES: Jorgan Cavanerio will start Saturday’s 7 p.m. game for the Hoppers … Randel said he was part of a no-hitter when he played for the Bats in 2004 in Memorial Stadium. Jason Vargas started with Nate Nowicki and Juan Carlos Martinez combining to finish the gem late in the season … The last Hoppers no-hitter was a combo effort on April 24, 2012, at Hickory. Jose Fernandez pitched the first six innings, Greg Nappo went the next two and Kevin Cravey pitched the final inning.