Bill on Baseball:Hoppers pitch way out of trouble to win

Hoppers pitch way out of trouble to win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

A big part of pitching is extracting yourself from a jam of your own making.

Starter Michael King and reliever Michael Mertz were both able to accomplish that and the result was a 4–0 victory for the Hoppers over Kannapolis Friday night.

The win broke a three-game losing streak and enabled the Hoppers to move into third place in the extremely tight Northern Division race. At 20–19, Greensboro stands 1 1/2 games behind Hickory. But the standings are likely to be shuffled on a daily basis the rest of the regular season. Right now, the seven teams are within 3 1/2 games of each other.

King pitched six innings, allowing only three hits and one walk while recording three strikeouts. He picked up his ninth win of the season.

“He set the tone, which he’s been doing all year,” said manager Todd Pratt.

King put himself in a precarious situation in the fourth inning, giving up two singles and a walk to load the bases with one out. But he got Mitch Roman to ground into a double play?—?shortstop Luis Pintor to second baseman Rony Cabrera to first baseman Eric Gutierrez?—?to end the inning.

“(Catcher Jarett) Rindfleisch said to go inside to get a ground ball,” King said. “So I went to a slider on 2-and-2 and he hit it on the ground right to Pintor.”

King pitched around a couple of other situations, but that was the biggest one.

“We had a pretty good game plan,” King said, “and that was going inside and getting them uncomfortable.”

Jared Lakind pitched a shutout seventh and Michael Mertz, the Swiss Army knife of the staff, took over in the eighth. But he immediately got into trouble by surrendering a single and double to the first two batters.

“I’ve been getting in the middle innings,” Mertz said, “so it was nice to get into a game late. It gets the adrenaline going. I didn’t have my best stuff tonight, but I made some pitches when I needed them.”

Mertz got one out on a called third strike and a second on a popout to Rindfleisch. That brought up Micker Adolfo, who bashed two long homers in the Intimidators’ 7–5 win Thursday. Pitching carefully, Mertz went to a 3-and-0 count.

“After seeing what he did last night, I didn’t want to leave anything over the plate,” Mertz said. “And a walk wouldn’t have been the worst thing.”

But he was able to get two strikes on Adolfo, who then drove a 3-and-2 pitch high and deep to left-center field.
Center fielder Aaron Knapp was able to run it down on the warning track to end the inning.

“The wind was blowing and it went farther than I expected,” Mertz said. “Knapp kept going back and I was breathing harder. I’ll have to get him a dinner later.”

There was a little more drama in the ninth, when Mertz allowed a single and a walk to put two runners on base with one out. But he recovered to strike out Zach Remillard swinging and Casey Schroeder looking to end the game.

“It was good to see that when guys got themselves in trouble, they used what has been successful for them all year to get out of it,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “King went to a two-seamer so he could sink the ball and make them put it on the ground (for the double play).

“Mertz was able to get a strikeout and popup when he needed them (in the eighth inning). He went right after hitters when he needed to.”

The hitters produced just enough offense to back the pitching. Trenton Hill had an RBI single in the first inning, Knapp drove in a run in the third and Jhonny Santos had a two-run single in the fifth. It was redemption for

Santos, who flied out with the bases loaded in his previous at-bat.

“This is a team where everyone needs to contribute, and Santos was able to contribute today,” Pratt said.

Knapp’s contribution was also big. He led off the first by drawing a walk, stealing second and scoring on Hill’s single. In the third inning, his grounder to first base probably should have been handled but wasn’t and he was credited with a single that scored Pintor.

“You need all the cheap ones you can get,” Knapp said with a smile, “especially at this point in the season.”

On Thursday, Knapp broke an 0-for-24 skid. But he never got down on himself.

“It happens to everyone, even to old pros in the big leagues,” he said. “Everyone goes through it at some point.”

NOTES: Dustin Beggs will start Saturday’s game for the Hoppers, going for his 10th win of the season … Hill and James Nelson each had two hits for the Hoppers … King lowered his ERA to 2.98 and Mertz shrank his to 1.86.