The Hoppers finally found a way to solve their Power crisis Friday night.
A nice bounce-back by their bullpen carried them to a 5-2 win over West Virginia, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Power (seven games in the second half and one in the first half).
One night after the Hoppers’ relievers were tagged for nine runs in four innings, they responded with four shutout innings to preserve the three-run lead. James Buckelew pitched the sixth and seventh innings, Sam Alvis the eighth and Kyle Fischer got the save in the ninth.
“The bullpen is one unit,” Fischer said. “Our job is to close the game, but pitchers get hit every once in awhile. That’s what happened (Thursday). They won that one and we won tonight.”
Fischer picked up his fifth save of the season in five opportunities. He hasn’t been the primary closer, but with Josh Hodges and his 10 saves promoted to Jacksonville, the role is open and will be done by committee for the time being.
“We’ll go with the best guy that we’ve got that night in the ninth inning,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “and we’ll see how it sorts out. Fischer did fine tonight. He went to some three-ball counts but was able to come back from them.”
Fischer will accept whatever role is thrust on him.
“As long as I pitch and get some innings, I”m OK,” he said. “Closing is a little different because you’ve got to come in and throw strikes. I had a little trouble with that tonight and had to throw some over the middle, but it worked out.”
The beneficiary of the bullpen’s work was a former member of the unit, Luis Castillo. He made 18 relief appearances and recorded four saves before being moved into the starting rotation. This was Castillo’s seventh start and, while he wasn’t as sharp as he had been, he limited the damage to two runs in five innings, picking up six strikeouts en route to his fourth win.
“He’s got good enough stuff that he can get away with some mistakes,” Powell said. “He kept us in the game.”
The Hoppers spotted the Power two runs before picking up one in the fourth. With one out, Justin Twine hit a potential double play ball to second base. The Power got the forceout at second but Twine’s speed enabled him to beat the relay throw to first as K.J. Woods scored from third base.
In the bottom of the fifth, Rony Cabrera and Arturo Rodriguez picked up RBIs to send the Hoppers ahead 3-2. In the sixth, they scored two runs without a hit, parlaying four walks around an error. Cabrera got his second RBI on a bases-loaded walk.
In the ninth, the Hoppers had an anxious moment after Elvis Escobar singled for the Power with one out. Chase Simpson sent a high fly to short left-center that left fielder Ryan Aper dropped. Escobar, who had gone halfway to see if the ball would be caught, didn’t react quickly and Aper was able to throw to Cabrera for the forceout at second base. Fischer then got a groundout to close the game.
“The bullpen has been a thorn in out side lately,” Powell said, “and we were on the edge of our seats in the dugout. It was nice to see us hold it down.”
The Hoppers only managed six hits and manager Kevin Randel said he would like to see his team play more crisply. But he wasn’t about to hang black crepe on the win by a team that has been scuffling.
“You just have to keep running them out there,” said Randel. “They have to accept failure for what it is and move on. This game can beat you up and make you lose confidence.”
NOTES: John Norwood had a pair of doubles and drew two walks and Rodriguez had two hits … The Power still has the best second-half record in the SAL at 12-4, while the Hoppers have the worst at 4-12 … The teams play again tonight at 7 with Michael Mader starting for Greensboro.