Woods, Davis, bullpen come through for Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com
Amnesia worked for K.J. Woods Saturday night.
The Hoppers’ first baseman had struck out his first three at-bats against Hickory, but that didn’t matter when he came up in the bottom of the seventh inning. With his team down by a run, the bases loaded and one out, he knew what he had to do.
“It had been a rough night,” Woods said, “but I had to put that behind me. No excuses. The bases were loaded and I had to get the run in.”
He did better than that, smoking the first pitch from reliever Chris Dula to right field for a double that scored two runs and put the Hoppers ahead 5-4. John Norwood followed with a two-run single to make it 7-4, and that wound up as the final score.
“I had faced (Dula) before and figured he would throw a first-pitch fastball,” Woods said. “He threw what I was looking for, kind of a ‘get me over’ fastball right down the middle. I wasn’t going to let that go by.”
Manager Kevin Randel said “that’s the first time I’ve seen K.J. with an aggressive swing in awhile. He’s been real passive lately.”
Hitting coach Luis Quinones said Woods, who has struck out six times in the last two games, has been taking his eye off the ball and pulling off the pitch.
“When he came back to the dugout after that double, I told him I liked that, that he had to take it one at-bat at a time,” Quinones said. “You get four at-bats in a game, and when your opportunity comes it doesn’t matter what happened before.”
The four-run rally completed the Hoppers’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the top of the third inning. Mason Davis got things going offensively with a two-run homer, his fifth of the season, and he later added an RBI single that tied the game.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play and make something happen,” Davis said. “I caught it pretty good and it got out.”
Davis made a key contribution in the winning rally. After Austen Smith and Ryan Aper drew walks, Davis knew what he would be called upon to do, despite the fact that he was 3-for-3 with three RBIs. He laid down a successful sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third. That forced the Crawdads to walk Brian Schales — it wasn’t four wide pitches but they didn’t give him anything to hit — to load the bases. Woods then delivered the go-ahead hit.
“I wanted to make sure I got a good pitch to bunt,” Davis said. “And I wanted to be sure I did it right. We practice bunting a lot, but if you change one little thing in a game you won’t get it down.”
Starter Tyler Kolek struggled, although he got out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the first inning. But he walked five batters, gave up five hits and had thrown 91 pitches, only 50 for strikes, when he was removed in the top of the fourth with two outs.
“He has to get his fastball in the zone more often,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He used his secondary stuff well when he could. He did a good job in the first inning but couldn’t build on that.”
Kelvin Rivas relieved and struck out the next batter to end the inning, then pitched the fifth and sixth innings, allowing an unearned run. Cody Harris threw a one-two-three seventh, Jose Velez pitched a shutout eighth and Kyle Fischer did the same in the ninth for his 10th save. Harris got the win, his first of the season.
“The bullpen has done a great job for the last few weeks,” Powell said.
The game had some bizarre aspects, none more than the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out, Norwood hit a sinking liner to right field that Hickory’s Jairo Beras appeared to trap. Norwood was called out by plate umpire Alex Trujillo. First base coach Jose Ceballos argued emphatically and was ejected, bouncing his helmet off the turf. Randel went out to argue, then Trujillo huddled with base umpire Ronnie Whiting and reversed the call, giving Norwood a single.
“I’ve seen a lot of calls reversed this year,” Randel said. “It’s weird.”
Randel had to make a host of defensive changes when second baseman Rony Cabrera suffered a spiked wrist on a play in the third inning. Davis moved from left field to second, Eric Fisher went from first to left field and Austen Smith entered the game to play first, although he trotted out to left field by mistake before things got straightened out.
“I was throwing everybody all around the field,” Randel said.
Finally, after the bottom of the third, Davis tried to take his position at second base when he fell over Yogi, the black Labrador who chases the ball shot into the outfield.
“I saw him coming and tried to get out of the way,” Davis said. “I changed direction and he did, too. I changed again and so did he and I fell over him. I wasn’t hurt.”
NOTES: Cabrera said he was OK, although Randel will wait to see how his wrist feels before deciding on whether to play him Sunday … The teams wrap up the series with a game at 6 p.m. instead of the normal 4 o’clock Sunday start because it will be televised on Channel 48 … Michael Mader will start for the Hoppers.