Bill Hass on Baseball:Nelson makes sure Hoppers stay hot

Nelson makes sure Hoppers stay hot
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

When things are going good for a hitter, sometimes the ball seems to have eyes.

It’s that way for James Nelson at the moment. The Hoppers’ third baseman had a three-hit, three-RBI night as Greensboro topped Delmarva 6–3 Friday. The team has now won 11 of its last 14 games. The Hoppers are 23–17 and in second place in the Southern Division of the SAL, two games behind Hagerstown.

After Nelson grounded out in the first inning, the Shorebirds couldn’t retire him. In the third, he hit a hard single to right field to drive in Aaron Knapp with the run that put the Hoppers on top for good, 3–2.

In the fifth, Nelson’s chopper up the middle found its way into center field for a single, driving in two big insurance runs and pushing the lead to 6–2. And in the seventh, Nelson led off with another grounder that slipped past the infielders for a single.

“Right now, I’m just trying to bear down and get the runners in,” said Nelson, who leads the team with a .340 average. “It feels great. I do the same preparation every day, from the time I get to the park until the time I leave.

“It’s always fun to win. We all click, on the field and off the field. In junior college, I was on a team that made it to the World Series. This team reminds me of that. It’s like a family.”

With manager Todd Pratt away from the team to attend his son’s high school graduation, Marlins roving instructor Gary Cathcart stepped into the managerial role. He was particularly aggressive in the third base box, challenging the Shorebirds outfielders by waving runners around third base.

“We had a couple of fast guys (Knapp and Corey Bird) coming around third base. We want to have an aggressive mindset, and only a small percentage of runners are thrown out, so we’ll take our chances.”

The role is nothing new for Cathcart, who managed teams in independent ball and in the Toronto and Washington systems. Recently he took over for Jupiter’s Kevin Randell, the former Hoppers’ manager, who suffered a concussion when he was hit by a bat in the batting cage.

“We lost both those games,” Cathcart said. “So (on Saturday night) I have a chance to get to .500.”

Cathcart, now the Marlins’ minor league field coordinator, is impressed with the way the Hoppers are playing under Pratt.

“Todd has done a great job, in his first year in the organization, of getting on board with player development, the style of play we want, giving leeway to the players in their preparation but also holding them accountable,” Cathcart said.

Nelson is a player who has caught Cathcart’s eye.

“Hitters find a way to hit,” he said, “and he’s a natural. He’s a big, strong kid who will be fun to watch. He’s worked hard on his fielding, converting from shortstop to third base, and he made a number of different kinds of plays tonight.”

Three Hoppers pitchers combined to limit the Shorebirds to four hits, two each by Colin Woody and Gerrion Grim. Woody doubled in the first inning off starter Dylan Lee and Grim followed with a two-run homer. Lee then put up zeroes until the sixth inning, when Grim touched him for a solo homer. He still earned his third victory.

“Dylan learned something tonight about how to attack not just a lineup, but also one hitter,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “Grim hits mistakes that are up in the zone and he hit two mistakes tonight. Dylan is beginning to learn to use his off-speed stuff and become a pitcher, not just a thrower.”

The bullpen was perfect, with L.J. Brewster retiring all six batters he faced and Ryley MacEachern retiring the side in order in the ninth for his first save. Of the nine outs they recorded, six were on ground balls.

Braxton Garrett, last year’s No.1 draft pick by the Marlins, will start Saturday’s 7 p.m. game. He has made two starts, with a 1–0 record, 0.93 ERA and eight strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings.

NOTES: Justin Twine had an RBI double, Boo Vazquez a sacrifice fly and Jarett Rindfleisch an RBI on a groundout … Bird had a pair of hits and Knapp scored twice … Of the 18 batters in the game, only five of them recorded hits.