Rodriguez leaves Hoppers with a big bang
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com
Some people know how to make an entrance but Arturo Rodriguez knows how to make an exit.
Rodriguez belted a three-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th inning Thursday night to give the Hoppers an 8-5 victory over Hickory in the first game of the season’s second half. As he rounded third base and headed to home plate, he threw his batting helmet high in the air before being engulfed by his teammates.
After the game, Rodriguez was told he was being promoted to high A Jupiter in the Florida State League. In the locker room, teammates came up to give him a hug and wish him well.
“I just now found out,” he said, with teammate Roy Morales translating. “I feel so happy that I could help this team win.”
Rodriguez, who was the Hoppers’ No. 1 catcher last year, began this season in Jupiter but struggled in a backup role. When Greensboro suffered a slew of injuries at catcher, he was sent here to help out.
And the Hoppers plugged him in right away. After one game at first base, Rodriguez caught eight straight games. He didn’t start Thursday’s game, but entered after Morales was lifted for a pinch-runner after doubling to lead off the bottom of the 10th inning.
“I don’t like to pinch-run for catchers,” said manager Kevin Randel, “but that was the winning run at second base with no outs.”
The Hoppers couldn’t punch a run across, however, and Rodriguez took over the catching in the top of the 11th inning. His spot in the batting order came up after Justin Twine singled, Josh Naylor sacrificed him to second and Angel Reyes was given an intentional walk.
Against soft-throwing right-hander Omarlin Lopez, Rodriguez got around on a slider and smashed a long home run to left field.
“I knew it was gone,” he said.
So Rodriguez’s stint here ends after 10 games and now he heads back to the level he needs to be at age 24.
“He was a nice rental while we had him,” Randel said. “We knew he would give us a good at-bat (in the 11th), and he did.”
Morales will take over as the top catcher. He had three hits, including two doubles, and drove in three runs against the Crawdads. For him, starting the second half with a win — the club’s 27th in its last 35 games — was important.
“We keep that momentum going to start the second half,” he said. “We want to make the playoffs and win the championship.”
Naylor also had three hits, with two doubles and two RBIS. Randel said he’s swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone, but the three hits should help his confidence.
Naylor is still shaking off the rust after serving his suspension at the Marlins’ minor-league complex in Jupiter. He took some batting practice but didn’t face any live pitching.
“I took some extra hitting today,” he said. “Timing is the main thing. It’s coming around a little bit but it’s not where it needs to be.”
Starter Cody Poteet didn’t make it out of the fifth inning but the bullpen was excellent, allowing no runs in 6 2/3 innings. L.J. Brewster allowed an inherited runner to score but that was it. Kyle Keller threw two shutout innings, as did Jose Quijada, who got the win.
“The bullpen carried over from the first half,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “They didn’t have that many easy innings but they left a lot of runners stranded.”
The Hoppers could have won the game on several occasions but left 11 runners on base and were just 5-for-23 with runners in scoring position. Still, they found a way to pull it out.
“The mojo is working for us,” Randel said, “and it’s something special.”
NOTES: The temperature dropped from 85 degrees when the game started to 69 when it ended, minutes before a torrential downpour … Chuck Weaver will start the second game of the series Thursday night at 7 o’clock in NewBridge Bank Park … The Hoppers will add a catcher to their roster and also another pitcher for the bullpen.