Hoppers survive 11 walks in 8-3 victory
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at www.gsohoppers.com
After Wednesday night’s game at NewBridge Bank Park, the song that came over the PA system was Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
It wasn’t done on purpose, yet it could hardly have been more appropriate.
The Hoppers survived a game in which their pitchers walked 11 Greenville batters but still posted an 8-3 victory over the Drive.
“I’ve been coaching 17 or 18 years and I’ve never had a staff walk that many,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “It was an ugly win for the pitching staff. I’m glad it didn’t blow up on us.”
It’s fair to say that the pitchers labored through the game. Starter Justin Jacome walked five in four innings, Parker Bugg walked two in two innings, Marcus Crescentini walked three in one inning and C.J. Robinson walked one in two innings. In addition, Jacome was called for a balk and he and Crescentini each threw wild pitches. The pitchers had trouble adjusting to the strike zone of home plate umpire Mike Rains.
“A small strike zone can get in guys’ heads,” Sagara said. “They start trying to squeeze the ball in. Sometimes there are good lessons in a game like this.”
The odd thing was, Greenville was never really in the game. The Hoppers’ pitchers helped themselves with 10 strikeouts and made good pitches in clutch situations. Greenville was just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded a dozen runners, leaving the bases loaded twice. The defense played error-free ball and turned two double plays. The Hoppers’ offense pounded out 11 hits in rolling up an 8-1 lead.
“Those double plays were huge,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Great feeds and great turns on both of them.”
One went from second baseman Justin Twine to shortstop Anfernee Seymour to first baseman Josh Naylor. The other went Seymour to Twine to Naylor.
“We need to sew up our starting pitching,” Randel said. “It’s killing our bullpen.”
Jacome used up his pitch count in four innings and Crescentini was only able to go one inning. That forced the Hoppers to bring in Robinson in a non-save situation in the eighth inning. He retired the side in order, but was tagged for three hits, including a two-run homer, in the ninth.
Fortunately for the Hoppers, the offense enjoyed a good game. Aaron Blanton had a three-run homer and a sacrifice fly to total four RBIs, Casey Soltis added a solo homer and Naylor, Kyle Barrett and Roy Morales also had RBI hits.
The homer for Solis was the first of his career. Drafted in the fifth round out of high school in 2014, he played 33 games that season in the Gulf Coast League but only 15 in 2015 with Greensboro before injuring his left (throwing) arm that required Tommy John surgery. He didn’t return from that until this June and has now played in 25 games.
“It felt good and it was a long time coming,” Soltis said of his homer. “It was an off-speed pitch that hung and I put a pretty good swing on it.”
It came off a left-hander, and Soltis had been just 3-for-23 against lefties this season.
“You can’t think about that,” he said. “You go up there with a clear mind. I’ve been feeling more and more confident against left-handers lately.”
As the fourth outfielder, Soltis’ playing time is irregular. That, plus a year away from the game, has made it difficult to regain his timing on pitches.
“I stay in the batting cage and work on my swing every day,” he said. “I have to be ready when they call on me and show I can help us win games.”
Ben Meyer will start Thursday’s game. He’s taking the rotation spot of nine-game winner Chuck Weaver, who is rehabbing an injury and could possibly be lost for the season.
NOTES: The win was the Hoppers’ third straight since stopping a six-game losing streak … Now 16-9 in the second half, they are half a game behind first-place Hagerstown in the North Division … Bugg, drafted in the 27th round this June out of LSU, picked up his first pro win … Naylor, coming off a 5-for-5 game at Kannapolis, doubled and singled his first two times up to stretch his streak to seven hits in seven at-bats. He was hit by a pitch, then made two outs.