Bill Hass on Baseball:Newcomers add spark for Hoppers

Newcomers add spark for Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at
New blood can sometimes give a team a lift.

After a flurry of roster moves, the Hoppers had three new players in the starting lineup Friday night, and all contributed to a 7–2 win over the Augusta Greenjackets.

Third baseman James Nelson had a clutch hit in the seventh inning that put the Hoppers ahead for good. Second baseman Mason Davis drew two walks a scored a run. Left fielder Walker Olis had a pair of hits and drove in a run. None of the three are strangers to manager Todd Pratt.

“We knew these guys from the spring, so I knew what I was getting,” Pratt said. “They were down there playing every day and they were ready.”
Nelson’s hit came with the game tied 2–2 in the bottom of the seventh. Garvis Lara led off with a double and Aaron Knapp beat out a bunt for a base hit. A big inning was brewing, but the rain that had started in the sixth inning got harder and the umpires halted play.

Thirty-eight minutes later, play resumed and the Hoppers picked up where they left off. Davis drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases and Nelson followed with a crisp single to right field to score Lara and give the Hoppers a 3–2 lead.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play and drive in a run,” Nelson said.

The rest of the inning was bizarre. Augusta reliever D.J. Myers couldn’t throw a strike and allowed three more runs, two on wild pitches and another when he hit Jarrett Rindfleisch with the bases loaded. That made it 6–2 when the inning ended.

Nelson, drafted in the 16th round last summer out of Cisco Junior College in Texas, was supposed to break camp with the Hoppers but was held back because of a tight quadriceps muscle. The 19-year-old played with most of his teammates in spring training and with some of them last summer in the Gulf Coast League. Still, he wanted to make a good first impression.

“I loved every minute of it, just taking it all in,” he said of his first Hoppers game. “I want to be in pressure situations. That’s just me.”
Olis, who will be 23 on May 4, was drafted in the 29th round last summer out of Pacific. Davis, 24, first played in Greensboro at the end of the 2014 season, played in 86 games here in 2015 and 11 games last season, which was curtailed by injury. He will fill in at second base for Justin Twine, who was placed on the disabled list with an injured thumb.

The pitching held up well. Michael King, who won his first two starts, went six innings with eight strikeouts but did not get the decision. His streak of 17 consecutive scoreless innings to start the season ended when he was touched for a run in the sixth.

“He didn’t have his best slider tonight,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice, “but he found it late. His two-seamer was good and he kept his changeup low.”

Sam Perez entered in the seventh with the Hoppers ahead 2–1 but gave up a run that tied the game and made King ineligible for the win. To his credit, it could have been much worse for Perez. He loaded the bases with no one and allowed just one run, on a sacrifice fly, sandwiched between a strikeout and a popup.

“He showed character, diligence and didn’t panic,” Pratt said.

Kyle Keller pitched the eighth and ninth innings. After hitting the first batter he faced, Keller retired six straight hitters, four by strikeout. DiFelice said it was “refreshing to see the ball jump out of his hand.”

The teams play again Saturday at 7 p.m, with Jordan Holloway starting for the Hoppers.

NOTES: Knapp had three hits and is batting .327 … Colby Lusignan added two hits and an RBI and is batting .315 … Boo Vazquez had two hits, one of them when his sharply-hit grounder to first base knicked Lusignan on the foot. By rule, the runner is out, the batter is credited with a single and other runners cannot advance … In the roster shake-up, infielder Rony Cabrera and outfielder Dalton Wheat were sent to extended spring. Pitcher C.J. Robinson, just sent down from Jupiter, decided to retire and was replaced by Chad Smith.