Bill Hass on Baseball:Sullivan’s defense, bat spark Hoppers

Sullivan’s defense, bat spark Hoppers
Courtesy of Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

It’s not often that a game-saving defensive play happens in the first inning, but that was the case for the Hoppers Monday night.

Center fielder Zach Sullivan threw out a runner at the plate for the third out in the top of the first inning. The run that was saved proved to be the difference, as the Hoppers held on to beat Asheville 4-3 at NewBridge Bank Park. It was their 22nd win in the last 28 games.

Sullivan also provided a key role on offense, drilling a two-run homer to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning. Angel Reyes added a solo homer later in the inning to provide a 4-1 lead. The Tourists made it interesting in the ninth, scoring twice, but closer C.J. Robinson slipped a called third strike past the last hitter to end the game.

Back to the first inning. After Asheville’s Brian Mundell doubled (his 33rd of the season) with two outs, Yonathan Daza singled to center. Sullivan charged the ball and fired it home, but it was high and wide. Not only did Mundell score, but Daza went to second base.

“It was off-line and (because it missed the cutoff man) the runner went to second,” Sullivan said. “You can’t let that happen.”

Sam Hilliard then singled to center and Daza was waved home. This time, Sullivan fired a strike to home plate — one that could have been cut off, if necessary, by first baseman Reyes. Catcher Arturo Rodriguez took the throw and tagged out the sliding Daza.

If Daza scores, the game is 2-0 and the Tourists likely have another runner in scoring position, a potential big inning brewing.

“The first throw took off on me, so I stayed on top of the ball on the second one,” Sullivan said. “I wanted to make sure I threw it through Reyes so he could cut it off.”

“It was a great throw and a great catch and tag by Rodriguez,” said manager Kevin Randel.

The Hoppers answered with a run in the bottom of the first when Reyes doubled in Kyle Barrett. For the next four innings, the game settled into a pitchers’ duel between Steven Farnworth of the Hoppers and David Hill of Asheville, each holding the other team scoreless.

“Farnworth knows how to pitch,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He’s tough when he gets his sinker in the zone. He found a good place with his pitches and stayed there.”

Going into the bottom of the sixth, the game remained tied. But the Hoppers were in their third time through the order facing Hill. Anfernee Seymour opened with a perfect bunt that rolled to a stop about halfway down the third-base line.

He stole second and Sullivan came up with the idea of moving him over to third base. Instead, he put a slight uppercut swing on a fastball and drove it over the left field fence for a 3-1 lead.

“The count was 3-and-0 and I took that pitch,” he said. “On 3-and-1, he threw pretty much the same pitch, a fastball a little low but down the middle. I definitely knew it was gone off the bat.”

Two batters later, Reyes ripped another homer to make it a three-run lead.

“Sullivan’s was a good bolt and sounded good off the bat,” Randel said. “Reyes had another good bolt. He’s red-hot.”

Reyes is 6-for-12 in his last three games and 18-for-40 in his last 10 games. He has RBIs in six straight games.

Farnworth’s night was over after five innings and stocky left-hander Jose Quijada took over. After giving up a single to the first hitter, he retired the next eight hitters (one on a double play) and struck out the last five hitters he faced.

“He’s tough when he’s in rhythm,” Sagara said. “He’s got a sneaky fastball, a slider and changeup. His delivery is herky-jerky and unconventional and it can be tough for hitters to see the ball.”

Robinson, who had been on the DL and hadn’t pitched since May 26, entered in the top of the ninth. He hit a batter and gave up an RBI single and an RBI double to shave the lead to one run with two outs. But he caught Chris Rabago looking at a third strike to end the game, earning his 10th save.

“We’re not worried about C.J.,” Sagara said. “I felt like he got back to his A game on that last batter.”

Randel said first baseman Josh Naylor will be activated from the suspended list and will play in Tuesday night’s game. Naylor has been in the Marlins’ Jupiter complex since he was suspended for a “prank” in which outfielder Stone Garrett suffered a thumb laceration that will sideline him for 8-10 weeks.

NOTES: With scheduled starter Gabriel Castellanos on the disabled list, the Hoppers will patch together a group of relievers for Tuesday’s game … L.J. Brewster will start and, depending on how many innings he throws, the Hoppers will adjust from there … Andy Beltre and Jeff Kinley are possibilities to follow Brewster … The home runs were the second of the season for both Sullivan and Reyes … Sullivan now has 24 RBIs, four more than he had all of last season … Asheville’s Mundell, the league’s leading hitter, was held to 1-for-4 and is now at .349.