Bill Hass on Baseball:Alfonzo, Crescentini help Hoppers to 4-3 win

Alfonzo, Crescentini help Hoppers to 4-3 win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

When Casey Soltis of the Hoppers hit a home run on Wednesday night, teammate Gio Alfonzo knew what it meant.

“As soon as Soltis hit it, (Angel) Reyes and (Isael) Soto turned to me in the dugout and said, ‘you’re the last one,’” Alfonzo said.

What his teammates were reminding him, without any trace of subtlety, was that Alfonzo was the last position player on the roster without a homer.

“I told them I’d get one the next time I played,” Alfonzo said.

And he was true to his word. On his first at-bat of Friday’s game against Greenville, Alfonzo, hitting ninth, cracked a home run to left field for the first run of the game. He later added another hit and scored again to help the Hoppers beat the Drive 4-3.

Crescentini rebounded from a shaky outing on Wednesday and earned his first save by striking out the side in the top of the ninth inning.

After being swept in Greenville last week, the Hoppers took two of three from the Drive this time. Since Hagerstown lost to Columbia Friday, the Hoppers moved into first place in the SAL North Division. They stand 17-10, one-half game ahead of the Suns (17-11).

Alfonzo said he knew he had a home run in him because he hit a couple in spring training and ac couple more in extended spring. He also hit a few in college at Florida State and Tampa.

So how was he greeted by his teammates after circling the bases?

“I’m the one who started pulling guys’ shirts out and punching them (after homers),” Alfonzo said. “So I got beat up pretty good with guys punching me. But it didn’t hurt a bit.”

After the Drive had come back to tie the game 2-2, Alfonzo made another big play. He singled with one out in the fifth, moved up on Anfernee Seymour’s single and went to third when Kyle Barrett laid down a beautiful bunt to load the bases.

Josh Naylor lifted a high fly to short left center field that was caught by Luis Basabe. Manager Kevin Randel took a chance and sent Alfonzo home. Basabe’s throw was off-line and Alfonzo scored the go-ahead run. Reyes then singled in Seymour for a 4-2 lead.

“I tagged up and I was going to go unless he (Randel) said stop,” Alfonzo said. “I heard him say ‘go, go, go’ and I did.”

Randel said he saw that Basabe “wasn’t coming toward home plate and had to re-set his feet. You could see that on his throw. A good one would have gotten (Alfonzo) by a couple of steps.”

That run helped atone for an error Alfonzo made when he dropped a popup in the top of the fifth inning. It looked like first baseman Naylor’s ball all the way, but Alfonzo said he lost the ball and when he picked it again up he thought it was going to fall behind Naylor. When he tried to catch it, it went off his glove and the hitter wound up on second base. That led to an unearned run off starter Cody Poteet.

Poteet, the Hoppers’ hard-luck pitcher this season, pitched five innings and allowed five hits and two runs (one earned). He’s had a lot of games this year when he left the game with the score tied or the Hoppers in the lead, only to wind up with no decision. This time the bullpen made the lead stand up and Poteet earned his fourth win and lowered his ERA to 2.95.

“He did a good job of being business-like and limiting the damage,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara, “and that’s what a good starter will do.”

Three relievers combined to pitch the last four innings and combined for seven strikeouts. Ryley MacEachern threw the sixth and seventh innings and Kyle Keller gave up a homer in the eighth but escaped further damage. With closer C.J. Robinson unavailable, the Hoppers turned to Crescentini in the ninth.

On Wednesday, Crescentini gave up three walks and threw two wild pitches but managed to strand all three runners. He threw 29 pitches, only 11 for strikes. This time he got the first and third hitters to strike out swinging and the second batter to strike out looking.

“My mechanics were better tonight and I was going after hitters,” he said. “I love closing games.”

It’s something he had done in the L.A. Dodgers system after being drafted in the 25th round last year. The big right-hander (he’s 6-4, 240) recorded three saves with Ogden in 2015 and had four more with Great Lakes this season. But he posted ERAs of 7.43 in Ogden and 7.71 with Great Lakes and drew his release on June 11.

“I was struggling with my mechanics and mentally I was all over the place,” Crescentini said. “I thought about my future and what else I might do. The Marlins signed me four days later.”

He was sent to Batavia and pitched four innings in four games there, giving up three hits and a run, and was sent to the Hoppers. He was the winning pitcher in his first appearance, which came at Lakewood. In seven games with Greensboro he has a 1.54 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.

“Now I know what it’s like to have baseball taken away from me,” he said. “I have a chip on my shoulder.”

Sagara said Crescentini “has been reliable for us. He’s a very competitive kid and pitches like he’s closing all the time.”

The Hoppers begin a four-game series with August Saturday with L.J. Brewster starting the first game. It’s a rare matchup of division leaders. The Greenjackets lead the South Division with a 17-11 record.