Bill Hass on Baseball:Big inning boosts Lakewood over Hoppers

Big inning boosts Lakewood over Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

The Hoppers stumbled out of the gate in the first game of an important series Monday.

Lakewood pinned an 11–5 loss on Greensboro in a game that wasn’t that close. The BlueClaws broke things open early with six runs in the fifth inning to grab an 8–0 lead and rolled from there.

So the Hoppers lost ground in the crowded race in the SAL Northern Division. Not only do they trail first-place Hagerstown, but they missed a chance to pick up ground on second-place Lakewood. The BlueClaws (30–21) are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Hoppers (27–23).

“We need to take two of three from them,” said manager Todd Pratt. “We’ve got to gain a game on them.”
To do that, the Hoppers must win games Tuesday night and Wednesday at noon to bring them within one-half game of the Blue Claws.

But it won’t be easy. Lakewood brought the league’s best ERA (2.90) into the series with the third-most strikeouts (458). Monday’s starter, JoJo Romero, teamed with reliever Mauricio Llovera to stop the Hoppers with two runs on seven hits in eight innings.

Romero recorded eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. By the time the Hoppers nicked him for single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, the game was out of reach. Llovera thwarted any thoughts of a rally with 2 2/3 shutout innings.

The Hoppers’ undoing was the fifth inning. A mishandled bunt by third baseman James Nelson opened the gates. The big hits in the inning were a two-run triple by Mickey Moniak and a three-run homer by Henri Lartique. That blow came on the first pitch from reliever Sam Perez.

Daniel Brito added a two-run homer for the BlueClaws in the sixth inning. That brought the opponents’ total to 15 home runs in the first five games of the home stand.

Greensboro added three cosmetic runs in the bottom of the ninth, but it was way too little, too late.

Nelson had three hits, including a homer, and two RBIs for Greensboro and has now hit safely in 15 straight games. Catcher Gunner Pollman, in his first game for the Hoppers, also had three hits.

Lakewood recorded its fourth straight win over the Hoppers, adding on to a three-game sweep at home last week.

“We’re facing good pitching, some of the best in the league,” Pratt said. “And they (Lakewood) just hit the ball well today.”

Tuesday’s starter for Lakewood, Ranger Suarez, is 3–1 with a 2.01 ERA. The Hoppers will counter with L.J. Brewster, who has started four games and relieved in 10 for the Hoppers. He has a 4–2 record, the most wins on the staff, and a 2.92 ERA. He replaces left-hander Braxton Garrett, who will miss at least one start with elbow soreness.

NOTES: The Hoppers struck out 10 times and have fanned 30 times in the last two games … Nelson has hit in 25 of his last 26 games … Luis Pintor, Mason Davis and Aaron Knapp had the other RBIs … Moniak, 19, was the ?1 overall pick in the draft last summer by the Phillies, signing for $6.1 million … He’s hitting .285 with 21 RBIs.