Doubleheader sweep puts Hoppers over .500
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com
The young and the old of the Hoppers pitching staff held up their end of Friday’s doubleheader in NewBridge Bank Park.
The offense continued to get contributions from different players in the lineup.
And the defense pulled off an unusual play to end the second game.
All those factors led to the Hoppers sweeping Delmarva, 5-3 and 2-1, pushing their streak to 16 wins in their last 19 games. It also clinched the short series with the Shorebirds, making this the sixth straight series the Hoppers have won.
Most importantly, and unexpectedly, the Hoppers now find themselves with a 28-27 record, their first time over .500 since they won the season opener. There are only 14 games remaining in the first half, so the Hoppers can’t realistically expect to catch first-place Hagerstown, who they trail by 7 1/2 games in the Northern Division. Of course, after digging a 12-24 hole to start the season, winning 16 of 19 didn’t seem realistic, either.
In the opener, 19-year-old Jordan Holloway pitched five excellent innings and the offense supported him with five early runs. Holloway allowed just two hits, struck out six and issued no walks in one of his sharpest outings. He quickly settled down after allowing a leadoff homer and retired the next nine batters.
“My dad always told me to step off the mound and take a deep breath, so I did,” Holloway said. “I just tried to flush that (home run), get back in there and start getting ground balls. I was able to move my fastball inside and out and I had a good feel for my changeup and curve, which I could throw for strikes.”
The Colorado native was drafted in the 20th round out of high school in 2014. He could have gone to a junior college, but it was an easy decision to sign with the Marlins.
“My parents said to chase my dreams, so that’s what I’m doing,” he said.
Holloway spent most of last season in Batavia and stayed in extended spring training this year until May, when he joined the Hoppers. He was roughed up in his first two outings, giving up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings, but has pitched much better since then.
“Every day is a process,” he said. “I got some nerves out of the way my first couple of games, pitching in a big stadium. I try to keep a strong mental side and stay positive.”
Although he was closing in on his pitch count, Holloway made it through the required five innings to be eligible for the win, his second of the season.
The offense helped Holloway by answering the solo homer with two runs in the bottom of the first, on an RBI double by Zach Sullivan and an RBI single by Roy Morales. Sullivan, who finished with three hits, drove in another run with a single in the second inning and Morales lined a two-run homer in the third inning.
“That was the first of my career and it feels nice,” Morales said. “I hit it really well and felt it was a home run. I’m just glad it stayed fair.”
Morales, the catcher, said Holloway’s pitching “was amazing. He painted the corners with the fastball and his curve was really good. When he throws strikes like that, no one can really hit him.”
In contrast to the youuthful energy provided by Holloway, the second game featured the calm demeanor of what manager Kevin Randel called “a salty veteran.” Weaver, who is 25, allowed two hits and one run in six innings. Like Holloway, he fanned six and didn’t walk anyone. And like Holloway, he’s also chasing his dream, although the route has been different.
Weaver pitched at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne but went undrafted. His coach urged him to try out for an independent league team and he signed with the Florence Force, a team in Kentucky. He was in his third year with them when the Marlins picked him up late last summer.
“I had told my family that if I wasn’t picked up by anyone by the end of the season, I would wrap it up, finish school and become a teacher,” he said. “But the Marlins picked me up and I’m happy to be here. I just want to keep climbing the ladder. Everyone will be told one day that their time is done and I want to hold it off as long as possible.”
Weaver is valuable because he has made eight starts and can also pitch out of the bullpen. As long as he gets the ball, he said his role doesn’t matter.
He was staked to an early 2-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Kyle Barrett and an RBI single by Angel Reyes. Weaver didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning, when Alex Murphy hit a solo homer. He was unfazed, however, and retired the next hitter to end the inning. A leadoff error in the fifth didn’t bother him, either, and he set down the next three hitters.
“I was able to locate my fastball early and use my changeup and curve to keep them off-balance,” Weaver said. “Solo home runs will happen; I don’t let it dictate a game. I want to eliminate the big innings.”
Scott Squier earned his fifth save by pitching the seventh inning, but it wasn’t easy. Ademar Rifaela led off with a double, but held there when third baseman Giovanny Alfonzo made a nice stop and threw out the next hitter.
Gerrion Grim lifted a high fly to right field that Isael Soto caught for the second out. Rifaela surprisingly tagged up and headed for third. He just beat Soto’s throw to Alfonzo, but over-slid the base and Alfonzo tagged him out to abruptly end the game.
“I caught his hand and just kept the glove on him in case he slid past the base,” Alfonzo said. “I screamed ‘Yes!’ but I couldn’t hear myself because the fans were so loud. It was awesome.”
Randel said “Soto threw a bullet and Alfonzo made a heads-up play to keep the tag on him.”
The teams play the final game of the series Saturday at 7 p.m. Cody Poteet will start for Greensboro. (Full disclosure: I will be out of town, so there will be no game report.)
NOTES: Delmarva’s Yermin Mercedes began the night as the SAL’s leading hitter at .352, but Hoppers pitchers held him to 1-for-6 and he dropped to .345 … The sweep was costly for the Shorebirds, who fell 4 1/2 games behind Hagerstown … Outfielder Casey Soltis was added to the roster and Stone Garrett (cut thumb) was placed on the disabled list … Soltis opened the 2015 season with the Hoppers but played only 15 games, hitting .192, before an injury ended his season in April … Garrett, the Marlins’ minor league player of the year in 2015, is hitting .244 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 35 games.