Barrett’s homer propels Hoppers to 8th straight
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com
Not even a long delay was going to keep the Hoppers from their eighth straight win Thursday night.
In a game scheduled to start at 7 p.m., the first pitch wasn’t thrown until 8:36. As rain finally subsided, the tarp was pulled and the field was prepped for play, there was nothing the players could do but wait.
“Some guys play cards and I like to listen to music,” said outfielder Kyle Barrett. “But I’m always expecting to play the game, so that way I stay ready. When you start thinking it might be rained out, you lose your focus.”
Barrett used that focus to provide the Hoppers with the game-winning run against Kannapolis when he led off the bottom of the eighth with a homer to break a 2-2 tie. A couple of add-on runs followed to make the final score 5-2.
The Hoppers pushed their second-half record to 12-3 and opened a three-game lead over the second-place Intimidators in the North Division. It was the opener of a four-game series at NewBridge Bank Park.
The winning streak matches the one the Hoppers ran off in the first half of the season when they began to turn things around.
“We probably played better baseball in the other streak,” said manager Kevin Randel. “We’ve been getting away with some mistakes — we made four outs on the bases tonight. We haven’t played our best ball, but we’re finding ways to win. Early in the year we were finding ways to lose.”
The Hoppers scored twice in the first inning against Kannapolis starter Brannon Easterling. Josh Naylor drove in Anfernee Seymour with a sacrifice fly and Roy Morales got an RBI single to score Angel Reyes.
The offense fizzled from there and the Intimidators tied the game in the sixth on a two-run homer. But Barrett gave the momentum back to the Hoppers with his first professional home run, which went over the Mercedes Benz billboard in right field. Randel said it “squeaked out” of the park, but Barrett saw it differently.
“I was just trying to get on base,” he said. “I thought about bunting but they were playing in so that took away that option. I was looking for a pitch to drive and I got a slider and dropped the barrel of the bat on it and let it do its work. I knew it was out.”
So did his teammates give him the traditional silent treatment in the dugout?
“No, they attacked me, threw water all over me,” he said. “It was great.”
Barrett is quietly having a fine season, hitting .287 with 20 RBIs. It’s particularly satisfying because he only played four games last season at Batavia after being drafted out of Kentucky. A broken thumb sidelined him and took a long time to heal.
“It was late October or November before I could swing and then I couldn’t do much,” he said. “I started slow in spring training and Joe Dillon (the Marlins’ organizational hitting coach) got me on track and playing the way I’m supposed to play.”
Barrett also got to play center field while Zach Sullivan got a day off. Fittingly, the final out of the game came on a fly ball to Barrett.
The Hoppers pitching continued its superb stretch, allowing just four hits. In its last 36 innings, the staff has allowed only five runs on 14 hits. Steven Farnworth gave them five shutout innings to start, seemingly unfazed by the long delay.
“It can be tough,” pitching coach Brendan Sagara said of the situation. “It’s like a boxer focusing in the dressing room, then being told the start of the fight will be delayed. You have to keep that focus and energy. Farnworth is mature enough to roll with the punches and make the adjustments.”
After the game was tied, Ryley MacEachern pitched two shutout innings to keep the score where it was and set the stage for the Hoppers in the eighth. C.J. Robinson preserved MacEachern’s first victory by getting his 16th straight save.
NOTES: Seymour had two hits and stole his 33rd base, Reyes had two hits and Morales added a second RBI … Former Hopper K.J. Woods went 1-for-3 for Kannapolis, getting a single and drawing a walk but also taking two called third strikes … High Point native Landon Lassiter, who played at North Davidson High and UNC, hit the two-run homer for the Intimidators … Justin Jacome will be the Hoppers starter Friday in the second game of the series.