Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers win 5-0 behind Holmes, three homers

Hoppers win 5-0 behind Holmes, three homers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

You don’t always need a power arm to get hitters out, as Ben Holmes ably demonstrated Tuesday.

The Hoppers’ left-hander was in complete control all afternoon, throwing seven shutout innings against Hickory. James Buckelew put the finishing touches on a 5-0 win, throwing two perfect innings to preserve the fifth shutout this season for the Hoppers’ staff.

Holmes allowed just three hits, issued no walks and struck out nine, a season high. It was his best performance of the season, raising his record to 3-5 and lowering his ERA from 5.25 to 4.77.

“Today I was hitting my spots and throwing all four pitches (fastball, curve, slider, changeup) for strikes,” Holmes said. “I could throw them for strikes in any count.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell liked the way Holmes prepared and executed his game plan.

“He made quality pitches all day,” Powell said. “He worked ahead in the count, got a lot of early outs and was efficient (87 pitches). He had great location of his fastball, his slider has been looking good lately and he stayed unpredictable.”

That unpredictability kept the Crawdads off balance. Holmes threw his fastball for strikes and dropped in his other pitches to keep hitters guessing. Baseball people love “power arms” — pitchers with a live fastball in the mid- to high 90s — but appreciate those like Holmes whose command of several pitches results in getting hitters out.

Holmes, who pitched at Oregon State, knows exactly what kind of pitcher he is.

“I have to stay down in the zone and move the ball around, up and down, side to side,” he said. “It’s a mindset of attacking hitters, and if I’m throwing all my pitches in the strike zone, I’ll have success.”

The task for Holmes is to carry this performance forward and become more consistent.

“It’s been an up and down season,” he acknowledged. “It seems like I take a step forward and then a couple steps back. This was a good feeling and the challenge is channeling it into my next start.”

A solo homer by John Norwood in the first inning gave Holmes the only run he needed, but the Hoppers added more via the long ball. In the fourth inning, K.J. Woods hit his seventh homer, a two-run shot, and Austen Smith followed with his 13th. The other run came in the third when Taylor Munden doubled, moved to third on a flyout and scored on Rony Cabrera’s groundout.

The homer by Woods was his second in three games since he came off a 10-game suspension imposed by the Hoppers. He said he worked out at the indoor facilities at his high school in Fort Mill, S.C. He was gratified that this homer went to left field, the opposite field for him.

“I’m seeing the ball good,” he said. “They were throwing me changeup after changeup today and he (Hickory pitcher Nick Gardewine) hung one. I want to use all fields and if I can take that changeup to left field, I think I can be a tough out.”

One win does not end a team slump, of course, and the Hoppers are just 3-10 in the second half. But it was a gratifying day for manager Kevin Randel.

“We need to do that a little more often,” he said.

The Hoppers begin a five-game series against West Virginia on Wednesday, with newcomer Enderson Franco drawing the start. Franco was originally signed by Houston, was selected by Tampa Bay in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft in 2014, then traded to the Marlins a few days ago.

The right-hander, made 13 starts this season for Bowling Green in the Midwest League, which is the same low A level as the South Atlantic League. He recorded a 5-6 record, a 3.89 ERA in 71 2/3 innings, 47 strikeouts and only eight walks.

NOTES: Catcher Felix Castillo was activated off the disabled list and outfielder Travis Brewster was sent to Batavia … To make room for Franco, pitcher Tyler Kane, who walked five batters in a disastrous inning on Sunday, was released … Bowling Green, nicknamed the Hot Rods, is a franchise that moved to the Kentucky town from Columbus, Ga. It spent the 2009 season in the South Atlantic League, then moved to the Midwest League along with Lake County. The shift left the SAL with 14 teams and increased the Midwest League to 16 teams.