Bill Hass on Baseball:Lakewood deal Hoppers a 5-3 loss

Lakewood deal Hoppers a 5-3 loss
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

It’s been a season-long struggle to score runs for the Hoppers and Monday night was no exception as they dropped a 5-3 decision to Lakewood in NewBridge Bank Park.

Out of 14 teams in the South Atlantic League, the Hoppers rank last in batting average, hits and runs, 12th in strikeouts and 13th in walks drawn.

“Tonight was an example of how hard it is for us to score,” said manager Kevin Randel. “There were a lot of balls not put in play (because of 13 strikeouts) and we don’t get many free passes, so it’s tough for us to push runs across.”

The Hoppers rank second in the league with 93 homers, and their three runs Monday came on a two-run shot by Taylor Munden and a solo homer by Austen Smith. But what they couldn’t do — and haven’t been doing with any consistency — is drive in runs with a clutch single or double. They stranded 10 runners and left the bases loaded once.

There were a couple of close calls. In the bottom of the seventh, down by two runs with runners on second and third, a grounder by Arturo Rodriguez past third base was just foul.

“Six inches to the right and it would have been a tie game,” Randel said.

In the fifth, Rodriguez delivered a two-out single with John Norwood on second base. Randel waved Norwood home, forcing the BlueClaws to make a play. And they did when left fielder Cord Sandberg uncorked a one-hop throw to catcher Deivi Grullon, who tagged the sliding Norwood for the third out.

“I had made up my mind to send him,” Randel said, “but Sandberg made a great throw.”

That’s the way things go when you’re 48-84 and in a six-game losing streak.

Greensboro did manage 10 hits — two each by Smith, Rodriguez and Felix Castillo. But Norwood struck out four times, Zach Sullivan three times and K.J. Woods went 0-for-5 against the Lakewood shift.

The Hoppers tagged starter Austin Davis for three runs in six innings, but the pitcher they couldn’t take advantage of was reliever Jeff Zgardowski. In two innings he allowed five baserunners (three hits, two walks) and somehow wriggled out of it without allowing a run. Six strikeouts helped, including Woods to retire the side with the bases loaded in the seventh and Sullivan with runners at the corners to end the eighth.

The pitching staff rebounded from being shelled for 15 runs on Sunday. Starter Gabriel Castellanos kept the score close, although he threw 96 pitches and couldn’t make it out of the sixth inning. James Buckelew relieved and promptly threw wild on a pickoff attempt, advancing a runner to second base. That error cost a run when Herlis Rodriguez followed with an RBI single.

“If you’re not mentally tough enough, things can creep up and affect you,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “Part of a pitcher’s job is to finish strong and be ready to compete every game. Nobody remembers what you do in April but they remember what you do in August and September.”

Hoppers pitching has been torched by Drew Stankiewicz and Grullon in the last two games. Stankiewicz is 7-for-10 with four runs scored while Grullon is 6-for-9 with two homers and eight RBIs.

NOTES: The BlueClaws own a 16-7 advantage over the Hoppers this season … Enderson Franco draws the start for Tuesday’s game for Greensboro … Smith’s homer was his 15th and pushed his RBIs to 46 … Munden’s homer was his second.