Bill Hass on Baseball:Big inning spurs Hoppers past Lakewood

Final:Greensboro Grasshoppers 8, Lakewood BlueClaws 5
WP:Michael Mertz(4-1)/SV:Miguel Del Pozo(1)/LP:Jonathan Hennigan(0-2)
Hoppers Line:8-9-3/BlueClaws Line:5-9-2….Hoppers’ record(7-7)/Claws’ record(6-10)…Hoppers home record (24-10) for 2017….

Big inning spurs Hoppers past Lakewood
from Bill Hass eith Bill on Baseball at

The “Grinders” returned Friday night.

That’s the way the Hoppers won a lot of games in the first half, by plugging away and rallying for wins in the late innings. They returned to that formula by scoring six runs in the seventh inning to beat the Lakewood BlueClaws 8–5.

“It’s about time we had a comeback win,” said manager Todd Pratt. “We haven’t had one in awhile. This team never says die. They just keep grinding out good at-bats.”

Down 5–1 in the bottom of the sixth, the Hoppers scored on Colby Lusignan’s opposite-field homer to shave a run off the lead. In the seventh, they parlayed two walks, two singles, two doubles, a fielder’s choice and an error into six runs.

The big blows were by Lusignan, who ripped an RBI double to the gap in right-center field to tie the score, and Dalton Wheat, who singled up the middle to drive in two runs.

It was a big night for Lusignan, who hit his ninth homer and 18th double and raised his RBI total to 49.
“With a left-hander pitching, I didn’t want to get beat by a breaking ball,” Lusignan said. “When I saw a fastball it handcuffed me a little but I saw it deep (in the strike zone) and was able to get enough on the swing to get it out of the yard.”

The thing that Lusignan may have liked best about his line in the box score was no strikeouts. With 111 on the season, he leads the SAL.

“I’m trying to lock in and minimize those in the second half,” he said. “I’ve bought into a two-strike approach. I’m trying to see the ball deep and shoot the fastball to the opposite field or give myself a chance if it’s off-speed and not try to pull it over the fence.”

Wheat’s single came with two strikes against a drawn-in Lakewood infield.

“I was looking for something to elevate for a sacrifice fly,” he said. “When it got to two strikes, I just wanted to put the ball in play and make their defense work.

“There wasn’t one thing that made the inning happen. We just had one good at-bat after another and built upon each other.”

Brian Miller went 3-for-4 and scored a run, Corey Bird had two hits and an RBI and Aaron Knapp had a hit and scored twice.

The beneficiary of the big inning was reliever Michael Mertz, who pitched three shutout innings with four strikeouts to improve to 4–1. Starter Kolton Mahoney allowed five runs (four unearned) in five innings with seven strikeouts, but gave up two homers and four runs in the fifth inning.

Miguel del Pozo, a recent addition to the roster, finished the game with a flourish. Using a breaking ball to his advantage, the left-hander saw the first batter reach on an error and gave up a broken-bat single to the next. Then he struck out the side to post the save.

“He had a great breaking ball,” Pratt said, “and he throws hard with easy velocity. Left-handers had no chance against him.”

Del Pozo pitched here in 2014, going 2–6 with four saves. He moved to Jupiter in 2015 and hurt his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. After missing all of 2016 and the first half of 2017, he pitched two games in the Gulf Coast League and has pitched two with the Hoppers.

“He’s been on the Marlins’ radar for awhile now,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “He was moving quickly through the system when he got hurt. He might not be here long.”

Ethan Clark will be Greensboro’s starter for Saturday’s second game of the series.

NOTES: Miller raised his average to .333 since he joined the team in the second half … Hoppers pitchers struck out BlueClaws shortstop Raul Rivas four times … The coaching staff was taken by surprise when pitcher L.J. Brewster told them he was retiring a few days ago. They tried to talk him out of it, but to no avail.