Bill Hass on Baseball:Norwood’s slam, 6 RBIs power Hoppers over Drive

Norwood’s slam, 6 RBIs power Hoppers over Drive
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at…..

Still decorated with the remnants of an obligatory pie tin full of shaving cream in his face, John Norwood stopped to think for a moment Tuesday night.

Do you remember the last time you hit a grand slam?

“I have no idea,” he replied.

Last time you hit two home runs in a game?

“Don’t know.”

Six RBIs in a game?

“I’ve never done that before,” he replied quickly.

It was that kind of night for Norwood. The outfielder had his best game as a professional, hitting a grand slam and adding a two-run homer to power the Hoppers to a 12-4 win over Greenville.

It was the most runs scored by the Hoppers since they put up 14 against Rome on May 10, and only the third time this season they’ve scored in double figures. It was also their third straight win.

“We needed it,” said manager Kevin Randel. “You take one like that and never look back.”

The offense made most of the noise, pounding out 16 hits. Arturo Rodriguez slugged two solo homers among his four hits. Everyone in the lineup had a hit and eight players scored runs.

Equally important was the pitching effort of Luis Castillo, who threw five shutout innings. A relief pitcher for the first 111 games of his career, Castillo was converted to starter recently. After two outings of four innings each, he easily made it through five to qualify for the win.

“He bore down in the first inning to leave runners stranded on second and third, then dominated the rest of the way,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He had an electric fastball that he threw down in the zone for strikes. Early in the game, he used his secondary stuff with a lot of changeups and sliders and that got them off-balance.”

Early on, Castillo lacked fastball command, walking the leadoff hitter and giving up a single to the second. After a groundout moved the runners up, he fanned the next two hitters to get out of the jam. He used the changeup and slider to get two more strikeouts in the third inning and turned to the fastball after that.

Randel said he saw 99 (miles per hour) once on the stadium radar gun and 98 a couple of times. If Castillo was tired in the fifth inning, he didn’t show it, striking out the last hitter he faced with a pair of pitches that registered 97.

“He made it look easy,” Powell said.

Catcher Rodrigo Vigil said Castillo “has a strong arm and he has control. We can do a lot of things when he’s like that.”

This was no slouch team the Hoppers beat. The Drive, a Red Sox farm club, is now tied for first place with Savannah in the Southern Division of the SAL. Left-hander Jalen Beeks brought a 6-2 record into the game and stymied the Hoppers the first three innings.

But things changed quickly in the fourth when Rodriguez led off with a homer to left field to break the scoreless tie. K.J. Woods, Justin Twine and Brian Schales singled to load the bases and bring up Norwood. He unloaded a blast that hit the roof of the maintenance shed behind center field.

“That’s (Giancarlo) Stanton territory,” Randel said.

Norwood has “been working on my rhythm” with hitting coach Luis Quinones and felt confident.

“I got a high fastball and I stayed on it and put a lot of backspin on it,” Norwood said.

That pushed the lead to 5-0. Beeks remained in the game and, in the bottom of the fifth, Rodriguez led off again and tagged him for another homer, this one to left center near the picnic tables on the bank.

After Castillo’s five innings the Hoppers had a 6-0 lead, but reliever Ben Holmes was touched for four runs in two innings to tighten the game. Then Twine and Schales drove in runs in the seventh and Norwood cracked his second homer, a rocket to left field, to make it 10-4.

“I had two strikes and was thinking I might see a breaking ball,” Norwood said, “but he came with an inside fastball and I got the sweet spot on it.”

Norwood, drafted out of Vanderbilt last summer, has been inconsistent this season. He’s hitting just .223 and now has five homers.

“He should be doing better,” Randel said. “He’s shown flashes here and there. He’s got tremendous tools — run, throw, big-time power. Hopefully he’s a late bloomer.”

Quinones said he has been preaching to Norwood to stay within himself.

“He tries to do more than he’s capable,” Quinones said. “I tell him to have some discipline, make the pitcher throw your pitch, not his pitch. Tonight he was sure and quick, patient, and the payoff is good results.”

NOTES: The series continues Wednesday with a 12:30 p.m. game. Michael Mader will start for the Hoppers, who are closing the first half with a six-man rotation … The teams combined for 27 hits and six homers.