Bill Hass on Baseball:Keller makes impressive debut for Hoppers

Keller makes impressive debut for Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

Any silver lining looks good to a team mired in a slump.

The Hoppers lost to Hickory 3-1 Sunday, their 12th defeat in 14 games. The offense, which is in a collective funk, managed only four hits.

The roster has been a revolving door lately and two more pitchers were added to the roster Sunday, arriving at NewBridge Park about 2:30 for the 4 o’clock game. Both made their Greensboro debuts and made an immediate impact.

Kyle Keller, drafted in the 18th round last month out of Southeastern Louisiana, entered the game when it resumed in the top of the seventh inning after a rain delay of an hour and 14 minutes. The Hoppers were down by two runs and he kept them in it, retiring all nine batters he faced, striking out six.

“He threw quality strikes,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He kept the ball down in the zone, got ahead in the count and then put them away. I liked how he went about his business and the confidence he had in his stuff.”

Keller had been at Batavia, the Marlins’ team in the New York-Penn League, where he had appeared in three games and pitched four innings.

“I had a feeling I would pitch today,” he said, “and I was happy for the opportunity. I was told during the rain delay that I would pitch when the game started again, so I had time to prepare.”

It’s hard to imagine a better start. Keller’s first eight pitches were strikes and he needed just 10 pitches to strike out the side in the seventh inning. He also fanned the first two hitters in the eighth, giving him five straight, and another in the ninth.

“I was filling up the (strike) zone and keeping it low,” Keller said. “All my pitches (fastball, slider, changeup and curve) were in the zone.”

Also on the same flight was Cody Harris, who was thrust into a tough situation in the sixth. Tyler Kane, relieving starter Luis Castillo to begin the sixth, walked five batters and gave up a sacrifice fly, resulting in two Hickory runs. Harris entered with the bases loaded and two outs but got out of the mess by striking out dangerous Jose Trevino.

“He faced an adverse situation and got a four-pitch punchout,” Powell said.

Unfortunately, the Hoppers’ offense couldn’t do much of anything. K.J. Woods, in his first game back from a 10-game suspension, ripped a solo home run in the fourth inning.

“He made a splash,” said manager Kevin Randel. “It’s good to have his big presence in the middle of the lineup again.”

John Norwood doubled to lead off the fifth and was sacrificed to third by Brian Schales. After a second out, Hickory starter Collin Wiles uncorked a pitch that flew way over the catcher’s head and hit the brick wall backstop. But it bounced right to Trevino, the catcher, and got there so fast that Norwood, breaking for home, was an easy out at the plate.

“We missed that run by about one foot,” Randel said. “If the ball hits the netting, (Norwood) scores. If it hits the bricks, he doesn’t.”

A team can’t add players without roster moves. Closer Josh Hodges (10 saves, 1.17 ERA) got a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Jacksonville, pitcher Connor Overton was sent to Batavia and first baseman Erwin Almonte went to the Gulf Coast League.

NOTES: A&T’s Luke Tendler had two more hits for Hickory and is 5-for-9 in the series … Kelvin Vasquez got a three-inning save for the Crawdads and Wiles won his ninth game … New outfielder Travis Brewster had a two-out double in the eighth but was stranded … Greensboro pitchers combined to strike out 16 hitters, including eight by Castillo … Michael Mader is the scheduled starter for the Hoppers in Monday’s 7 p.m. game.