Bill Hass on Baseball:Sullivan adds to a season of spectacular catches

Sullivan adds to a season of spectacular catches
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

It’s a matter of self-motivation for the Hoppers as the 2016 season winds down.

After Tuesday’s 9-6 loss to Delmarva, the Hoppers still have seven games on the schedule, including a doubleheader at NewBridge Bank Park Wednesday. They are already eliminated from the second-half race in the Northern Division. And although they are mathematically alive in the overall standings in case first-half winner Hagerstown should also win the second half (they trail Lakewood by three games), the odds are remote.

“There’s always motivation,” said manager Kevin Randel. “You have to find what gets you going. Going through the motions won’t cut it.”

And that explains why center fielder Zach Sullivan made another terrific catch, going above the fence in left-center to rob Delmarva’s Ademar Rifaela of a home run in the second inning. Rifaela was between second and third bases when Sullivan pulled the ball down, causing him to throw his head back and snatch off his hat in frustration or maybe disbelief.

Although the Hoppers were headed to a season-high seventh straight loss, it never crossed Sullivan’s mind not to go all-out. He’s been making spectacular catches all season and a losing streak wasn’t going to alter his style.

“No matter what, I”m going after that ball,” he said. “We still have to play hard, I know that. We want to try to finish strong.”

Motivation comes in other forms for other players. Shortstop J.J. Gould, for instance, drove in three runs with a pair of singles. Drafted this year out of Jacksonville, he played at Batavia before being assigned to Greensboro, where he went hitless in his first 12 at-bats. But he’s essentially auditioning for the 2017 season, trying to make a good impression in the remaining games.

For outfielder Stone Garrett, there’s an opportunity to show a little bit of what he can do. Garrett missed 10 weeks after suffering a thumb laceration (in the Josh Naylor “prank”) that required surgery. In the first 15 games after his return, he didn’t have an RBI. He solved that Tuesday with a line drive home run to left field.

Defense was solid the whole game. Besides Sullivan’s catch, second baseman Justin Twine ranged up the middle for a fine stop and good throw to get a batter. Third baseman Aaron Blanton speared a hot one-hopper, stepped on third for a forceout and fired to second base for a double play.

The Hoppers banged out 11 hits and the six runs were the most scored in a game in August. But pitching faltered for the second straight game, allowing 16 hits. The staff has surrendered 19 runs in the last two games.

“We have relied on our pitching all season,” Randel said, “and that’s tough to do every night. They’ve carried us more than enough games this year.”

Pitching coach Brendan Sagara said it’s important for his staff not to tire mentally in the final stretch.

“It’s not easy because they have pitched at a high level all year,” he said. “But we want them to compete until the final out on Sept. 5.”

NOTES: Kyle Barrett had a double, triple and bunt single in his first three trips before making outs his final two … John Silviano hit his eighth home run, a solo shot to left field (his opposite field) … Isael Soto had two hits, walked twice and scored twice … Trevor Richards will pitch the first game Wednesday, which begins at 5 p.m. … Ryan Newell, who pitched here in 2014 but has missed most of this year with an injury, will start and pitch a couple of innings in the second game … Closer C.J. Robinson was named to the all-league team.