Hoppers notch 17 strikeouts in 5–1 win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at www.greensborosports.com
A good team can learn things from a defeat.
The Hoppers took the lessons from Wednesday’s loss to Greenville and put them to good use Thursday, pinning a 5–1 defeat on the Drive.
Starter Ethan Clark set the tone with 5 1/3 innings of superb pitching, notching 10 strikeouts. Kyle Keller followed with 2 2/3 innings, giving up an unearned run, and five more strikeouts. Chad Smith closed it out in the ninth, adding two strikeouts to bring the total to a season-high 17 for the night.
“That was just what we needed after that barrage last night,” said manager Todd Pratt, referring to a seven-run inning and 13 total hits by Greenville. “We put the blinders on our pitchers and they commanded the zone tonight.
“Clark had better command of his fastball and that opened up his off-speed. We took advantage of an aggressive lineup.”
Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said the staff noticed the aggressiveness in the Drive’s hitters. They talked about it in Thursday’s pitchers’ meeting, emphasizing throwing fastballs inside and then, in favorable counts, getting the hitters to chase breaking balls in the dirt and fastballs up.
Clark made his fifth start for the Hoppers since being obtained by the Marlins in a trade with Tampa Bay. He picked up his second straight win, allowing two hits. He struck out the side in the second and fourth innings.
“I had an outing a few weeks ago when I went six innings with nine strikeouts,” Clark said, referring to his final start with Bowling Green in the Midwest League. “I thought my stuff was better tonight. I kept my fastball down and mixed it in with my splitter and those two worked really good.
“I’ve thrown the splitter since I was a freshman in college (at a two-year school) and even a little in high school. I have a big hand and that helps, and I made an adjustment on my grip.
“I wish I could have gone a little further, but I just hit a wall. It was a little hotter than usual out there.”
After retiring the first batter he faced in the sixth inning, Clark issued two straight walks and was lifted.
Keller entered and threw a wild pitch to put runners on second and third, but then got a popup and a strikeout to get out of the inning.
Keller and Smith just pounded their fastballs by the Drive.
“You saw big-league stuff from those guys,” DiFelice said. “Keller was 94–97 (miles per hour) and Smith was 96–99.”
The Hoppers got enough offense to back the outstanding pitching. Brian Miller drove in three runs with an RBI single in the third and a two-run homer in the fifth. James Nelson added an RBI double and Trenton Hill got his first RBI as a Hopper on a single.
Miller’s single was solidly hit but barely over the glove of leaping second baseman Steven Reveles. His home run went to left field, his opposite field, something he rarely does.
“I hit one to the opposite field in college,” he said. “I got a fastball away and I wanted to see it deep (in the zone). I got it in the air with some backspin, but I didn’t think it would go out. I thought it would probably go off the wall, but it just got over. On the single, I thought it might be caught. It’s a game of inches.”
The Hoppers improved their second-half record to 13–12. Greenville, which won the first half in the Southern Division to earn a playoff berth, is 13–13.
NOTES: Michael King will start Friday’s game for Greensboro in the series finale … Former UNCG pitcher Hunter Smith pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts for Greenville … The Marlins landed four minor-league players in Thursday’s trade that sent reliever David Phelps to Seattle … They got an outfielder and three pitchers, one of whom may wind up with the Hoppers.