Bill Hass on Baseball:Lakewood handles Hoppers again

Lakewood handles Hoppers again
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

The Hoppers are looking for a boost.

Their recent spiral downward continued Tuesday night when Lakewood handed them a 7–3 defeat. Greensboro has lost seven of its last nine games and is 0–5 against Lakewood in that span.

“Bottom line is their pitching has been a little bit better than ours,” said Hoppers manager Todd Pratt. “There’s still a long way to go. I told (the players) to keep playing hard and things will change.”

Pratt is right, of course. Eighteen games remain in the first half, so there is still time for things to turn. This team did reel off a stretch of 13 wins in 16 games early in May, moving into a tie for first place in the SAL Northern Division.

Now the Hoppers (27–24) trail Hagerstown (31–20) by four games . But they also trail Lakewood (31–21) by 3 1/2 games and Kannapolis (27–23) by half a game.

They have a chance to do something about it, starting with Wednesday’s noon game at First National Bank Field that concludes the three-game series against Lakewood. Next they play four road games at Kannapolis and three home games against Hagerstown.

The BlueClaws strong pitching wasn’t invincible Tuesday, but it was good enough. Starter Ranger Suarez only gave up two hits and one run in six innings. He was touched for a solo home run by James Nelson and had to work his way around four walks, but escaped with no further harm.

The Hoppers had two excellent chances to do some damage. In the sixth inning, Suarez walked the bases full with two outs, but struck out Eric Gutierrez to end the threat with no runs allowed.

In the seventh, the Hoppers loaded the bases again, this time with one out, against reliever Tyler Hallead. When Luis Pintor drew a walk to force in a run, the Blue Claws brought in Trevor Bettencourt, who sported an ERA of 0.56. Aaron Knapp greeted him with an RBI single to cut Lakewood’s lead to 5–3. Then Bettancourt bore down and struck out Nelson and Boo Vazquez, the Hoppers’ two best hitters, to leave the bases full.

The Hoppers didn’t pitch particularly well, with four pitchers giving up 10 hits and eight walks.

“The walks are what worry me,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice, “regardless of the outcome. That’s something we need to work on. Tonight we nibbled instead of attacking the zone.”

Michael King will try to stop the Hoppers’ slide as their starting pitcher Wednesday. He was rocked for nine runs in five innings in his last start, but DiFelice expects a much different performance.

“We did video analysis the day after his last start,” DiFelice said. “The problem was his execution and pitch sequence. He didn’t have his best secondary stuff, but we worked on correcting that when he threw a good bullpen.”

NOTES: Nelson’s homer was his fourth of the season and second in two days, moving his hitting streak to 16 games (and 26 of his last 27) … The Hoppers struck out 11 times, bringing their total to 41 whiffs in the last three games … Hoppers pitchers hit two batters, increasing their league-leading total to 48 … They also allowed a home run for the sixth consecutive game (16 total in that span) … Mickey Moniak, last year’s overall ?1 pick, hit the homer for Lakewood, his second of the season.