Bill Hass on Baseball:Crawdads eclipse Hoppers, move back into 1st

Crawdads eclipse Hoppers, move back into 1st
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

The cloud cover that spoiled the solar eclipse Monday also cast a shadow on the Hoppers game.

Hickory salvaged the finale in the four-game series, handing the Hoppers a 5–2 loss to put the Crawdads back in first place in the Northern Division of the SAL. Greensboro trails by a game.

Still, the Hoppers won three of four and cut two games off the three-game lead the Crawdads enjoyed when the series began.

“I wish we could have swept them,” said outfielder Brian Miller. “Hopefully we’ll get back in the win column at Kannapolis.”

The Hoppers will play 10 of their final 13 games away from home. They open a three-game series at Kannapolis Tuesday night, then move on to play three games at Rome.

Road games shouldn’t bother the team, Miller said, because they have bought into Pratt’s approach of taking one game at a time. It’s something that has served the team well.

“If you look too far in the future, it’s a bad habit,” Miller said. “There’s no reason for us to look ahead to next week.

An unusually large Monday crowd of 6,756 stopped by to see the game at First National Bank Field, many drawn by the opportunity to view the eclipse. Heavy clouds began to move in well ahead of the event’s peak viewing period, although the skies cleared enough for some good looks through special glasses as the eclipse waned.

First place was at stake, so a good portion of the spectators stayed around. But good pitching by the Crawdads stymied Greensboro’s offense most of the day.

The Hoppers did manage to score two runs in the second inning off starter Reiver Sanmartin. But the slender left-hander prevented a really big inning.

After the Hoppers loaded the bases with one out, Rony Cabrera singled in a run and a second scored on a wild pitch. But Miller flied out to shallow center field with no runners advancing and Luis Pintor popped out to end the threat.

Another opportunity arose in the fifth when Miller and Eric Gutierrez singled and moved up on a wild pitch. But they were left in scoring position when Walker Olis flied out. Cabrera doubled with one out in the seventh but was stranded.

Sanmartin, who improved to 4–0, was backed up by two scoreless innings from Christian Torres and one from C.D. Pelham, who earned his 11th save.

“We didn’t get that knockout hit,” said manager Todd Pratt. “It was another good day for Cabrera (2-for-3 with an RBI) and Miller is Steady Eddie (2-for-4).”

Pratt mentioned the big hits that Hickory got?—?a solo homer by Chuck Leblanc and a two-run shot by Anderson Tejeda. All five runs came off Brandon Miller, who continues to struggle as a Hopper.

He was one of four minor-leaguers acquired in a Marlins trade that sent reliever David Phelps to Seattle. Miller was 9–5 with Clinton in the Midwest League, which is the same level as the South Atlantic League. But he’s 0–3 here with an ERA of 8.86.

Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said he believes fatigue may be a factor in Miller’s performance.
“His stuff just isn’t showing so far,” DiFelice said.

The Hoppers continued to play superb defense up the middle. They turned three double plays that went from shortstop Pintor to second baseman Cabrera to first baseman Gutierrez.

“Those were big-league double plays,” Pratt said.

NOTES: Ethan Clark will start the first game at Kannapolis, followed by Michael King and Dustin Beggs … Reliever Reilly Hovis had to leave the game in the seventh inning with an apparent oblique injury … The severity should be determined Tuesday … The Hoppers have targeted Aug. 25, the first day of the series at Rome, as the return for James Nelson from the DL … Nelson, hitting .312 with 28 doubles and 56 RBIs, has had a hamstring injury.