Position players take mound in Hoppers’ win
Courtesy of Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com
Coming back from a trip out of Town Wednesday, I checked to see if the Hoppers had played an afternoon game.
Boy, did they ever. The box score made me rub my eyes.
Greensboro won a road game over Hickory, 6-5, in 14 innings, for their 19th win in their last 23 games. Then I checked to see who pitched — and saw that third baseman Aaron Blanton was the winner and utility infielder Giovanny Alfonzo got the save.
So I called manager Kevin Randel, who kept laughing as he explained what happened.
“That was a a wild one,” he said. “What a day. Thank goodness we won.”
A series of roster moves left the Hoppers’ bullpen in a depleted state, at least for a 14-inning game. Ben Holmes and Scott Squier, both essential to the pen all year, had recently been promoted to Jupiter. Justin Jacome and Andy Beltre had both been activated off the DL and available for limited innings. L.J. Brewster had returned from the Batavia roster.
Gabriel Castellanos started for the Hoppers but only last four innings, giving up four hits and three walks, before being taken out for pitch count. He gave up two unearned runs. Jacome, in his first game back, gave the team two innings, allowing another run.
Kyle Keller relieved Jacome and gave a sterling performance for three innings, shutting out the Crawdads and allowing only one hit while striking out three.
Keller completed his stint in the ninth inning and held the score at 3-3.
“He did a great job to get us to the 10th,” Randel said.
Randel turned next to Brewster, who hurled two shutout innings with four strikeouts.
The Hoppers scored twice in the top of the 12th to take a 5-3 lead and Jose Quijada came in to close things. But Hickory nicked him for two tuns in two-thirds of an inning to tie the game. To complicate matters, Quijada had reached his 30-pitch limit.
“Blanton wasn’t in the lineup, so I sent him out to warm up in the 12th, just in case,” Randel said. “When Quijada reach 30 pitches, I had to go get him. We were out of bullets, so Blanton came in with two outs and two runners on.”
And Blanton got Connor McKay to line out to center fielder Zach Sullivan to end the inning and keep the score tied. After the Hoppers failed to score in the 13th, Blanton retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning.
“He pitched in junior college,” Randel said, “and he was throwing 90-92. He threw 18 pitches in 1 1/3 innings, but I didn’t want to take a chance on him hurting his arm.”
The Hoppers scratched out a run in the top of the 14th when Roy Morales scored from third on a Hickory error for a 6-5 lead. Alfonzo, who had played the whole game at second base, moved over to the pitcher’s mound and Justin Twine entered the game at second.
Alfonzo got two outs on a flyout and strikeout. He then hit Yeyson Yrizarri, putting the tying run on base. Perhaps Yrizarri thought he could take advantage of a position player pitching. He took off for second, but catcher Korey Dunbar threw him out, with Twine covering at second, to end the game.
Blanton was the pitcher of record when the Hoppers scored the go-ahead run, so he got the win and Alfonzo earned the save. Those stats will forever be listed for the 2016 season on their professional resumes.
“Alfonzo threw kind of a funky sidearm, around 80 (mph),” Randel said. “He was more my speed. It’s pretty fun when position players pitch, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
After that adventure, the Hoppers open a seven-game home stand Thursday night. Rome comes in for four games, followed by Asheville for three. The club took two of three in Hickory, winning its seventh straight series.
The Hoppers will play through Sunday without first baseman Josh Naylor, who is on the suspended list. Randel could not comment on the reason, but in a national story several days ago a Marlins front office person, Michael Hill, confirmed that Naylor, during a prank of some sort, wound up cutting the thumb of his roommate, Stone Garrett, who has been placed on the DL. Naylor is ranked as the Marlins’ No. 2 prospect and leads the Hoppers with 36 RBIs.
NOTES: The Hoppers had 18 hits, 17 of them singles … Angel Reyes went 5-for-7 and scored twice and Morales went 4-for-6 and scored twice. Each of them drove in a run … Dunbar picked up two RBIs and Kyle Barrett had the other.