Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers’ first-half run comes up short

Final Score:Delmarva Shorebirds 9, Greensboro Grasshoppers 2
WP:Lucas Humpal/LP:L.J. Brewster….Hoppers(37-31)/Birds(29-39)

Hoppers’ first-half run comes up short
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

The Hoppers’ locker room was tinged with disappointment Sunday evening, but no one sat with their head bowed or their face covered with a towel.

The players were coming to terms with the fact that their run for the SAL Northern Division championship had come up short. When the day started they had a chance, but everything had to fall just right and nothing did.

In the end, after their 9–2 loss to Delmarva, the Hoppers finished with a 37–31 record and in fourth place for the first half, two games behind Kannapolis and Lakewood and half a game behind Hagerstown. Kannapolis (39–29) took the title with a .574 percentage to .571 for Lakewood (40–30).

“We played really well (in the first half) and were in the hunt until the last day,” said outfielder Boo Vazquez.

“Maybe if the ball had bounced our way in some games in the first couple of months, it would have been a different story. But that’s just part of baseball.

“We can use this break to re-set and try to pick up where we left off (in the second half).”

James Nelson, the 19-year-old third baseman who finished the first half with a .325 average, said “we couldn’t ask for anything better. We competed and put ourselves in a good position.”

Days off were rare for Nelson, who said it had taken a bit of a toll on his body, but he insisted he still felt good and would be ready for the second half.

The Hoppers were actually eliminated before they took the field for the 4 o’clock game. Lakewood’s 4–1 win over Hickory knocked them out of contention. Both Vazquez and Nelson said they didn’t know that result before the
Hoppers’ game started, preferring to concentrate on their own game.

Manager Todd Pratt knew but didn’t say anything.

“Did they know? Probably,” Pratt said. “Did they show it? No. I didn’t hear any frustration from anyone.

“When you’re playing on the last day for a chance at a division championship, you’ve done well no matter what happens. And that’s what I told them. Probably half the teams in the league have much more money and prospects than we do, but they didn’t get as far.”

Sunday’s game was one in which Delmarva simply out-hit and out-pitched the Hoppers. Colby Lusignan’s two-run homer in the first inning was the extent of the offense. Shorebirds starter Lucas Humpal was dominant after that, retiring the last nine hitters he faced and 14 of the last 16. Three relievers pitched an inning apiece to close it out.

Delmara scored twice in the second inning to tie, twice in the third to take a 4–2 lead on a homer by Gerrion Grim, and three times in the fifth inning to break the game open at 7–2. L.J. Brewster took the loss.

There won’t be any vacations for the players over the three-day break. Pratt said the team will work out Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning and head for Hagerstown Wednesday afternoon.

The Hoppers will open the second half with four games against the Suns, starting Thursday, and follow with four at Lakewood. They don’t play their first home game of the second half until June 30 against Asheville.

Pratt said the things that impressed him about the team were its work ethic, its ability to grind out games and several walk-off victories.

“They get here at noon for a 7 o’clock game,” he said. “That’s old-school.”

The goal for the second half, he added, is to keep playing the same way and continue to get better every day

“If we’re playing on Sept. 4 (the last day of the second half) for a chance at a playoff spot,” he said, “then everyone from the players to the staff to the trainer and strength coach has done a great job.”

Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said he was most pleased with the way the pitchers developed.

“When we first got here, we weren’t sure what what we had,” he said. “There were a lot of question marks. They all had specific things to work on, and they did. I like how they competed and turned themselves into prospects.”

In the second half, DiFelice would like the staff to cut down on its league-leading 70 home runs allowed.

“When we get guys on base, I’d like for them to use the fastball a little more instead of gong to off-speed pitches so much,” he said. “We did a better job of commanding the fastball down and we should use it more.”

As for how the Marlins might change the roster with promotions to Jupiter, Pratt said he had no idea what might happen. Several of the relievers are 23 or 24 years old and could be candidates to move up if openings develop.

Among the position players, the big question is whether Nelson will remain a Hopper or be promoted. In the past, the Marlins have tended to leave players that young with the team where they started the season. But there have been changes in the Marlins’ minor league staff the last couple of years and that philosophy may no longer apply.

NOTES: Greenville won the Southern Division by half a game over Columbia … And Columbia is where Vazquez and Nelson are headed for the SAL All-Star game Tuesday in the Fireflies’ new stadium … Lusignan finished the first half with seven homers and 39 RBIs … Reliever Sam Perez will start the second half in Batavia and transition to becoming a starter.