Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers sticking to the same approach

Hoppers sticking to the same approach
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

Todd Pratt probably doesn’t even have a fire-breathing, inspirational speech for his players.

But he doesn’t need one. Every player knows what’s at stake and doesn’t have to be reminded .The Hoppers sit in second place in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League, one game behind Hickory. The second-half winner qualifies for a playoff berth.

As the Hoppers head into their final seven games of the season, everyone is taking the same approach that has gotten them this far.

“Pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, inning to inning,” Pratt summed up. “I like where we are. We’re playing good and we’re healthy and we have seven tough games left.”

The Hoppers open a three-game series with Kannapolis at home Tuesday at 7 p.m. While there has been talk about the importance of the final four games of the regular season at Hickory, Pratt knows it’s folly to overlook the Intimidators.

It would be easy enough to do so. Kannapolis won the Northern Division first half to grab a playoff berth. Record-wise, the Intimidators have dropped from 39–29 to 27–36. The Hoppers have beaten them 12 out of 18 games this season, including an 8–3 mark in the second half.

“They’re a good team,” Pratt said. “Their lineup is well-stocked with prospects and their pitching has been better this half. They’ve gotten a lot of players through trades and draft picks and they’re well-rounded.”

Pitching and good defense have been the Hoppers’ trademarks this season. Michael King, the top winner with a 10–8 record and 3.18 ERA, draws Tuesday’s start. Dustin Beggs (9–6, 3.53) will pitch Wednesday and Max Duval (3–0, 2.56) is set for Thursday.

The question has been whether or not the Hoppers could muster enough offense to support the pitching. The loss of hitters like Colby Lusignan, Boo Vazquez and Corey Bird?—?all promoted to Jupiter?—?could have crippled the lineup.
The constants have been James Nelson (.315, 30 doubles, six homers, 56 RBIs) and Brian Miller (.329, 38 runs, 25 RBIs, 16 stolen bases). Miller joined the team in late June after being the Marlins’ second pick in the draft. Inserted into the leadoff spot, he has been a fixture ever since.

Nelson just came off a two-week stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. He went 4-for-9 in two games against Rome, one as the DH and the other at his normal spot at third base.

“I think the time off re-charged him,” Pratt said. “He looked in mid-season form and made three great defensive plays.”

Catcher Jarett Rindfleisch has been hot lately, batting .324 with three homers and nine RBIs in his last 10 games. Second baseman Rony Cabrera was hitting just .170 on Aug. 17 with no homers and a hanfful of RBIs. Since then, he has hit .378 with two homers and six RBIs.

It will take more of the same for the Hoppers to win at least two of the three games against Kannapolis and sweep if possible. Then they can see where they are in relation to Hickory entering those final four games.