What’s the best thing about being 3–0 to start the season?
“It feels like you want to be 4–0,” said catcher Michael Hernandez after the Hoppers beat Hickory 4–3 Sunday afternoon.
The Hoppers will get that chance Monday night when they open a 3-game series against the Augusta Greenjackets at First National Bank Field.
Greensboro took all three games from Hickory (one other game was rained out) for its best start to a season since 2008. That team won three straight and dropped its fourth game. The 2006 team had the fastest start, winning its first four.
Their were many contributions by hitters and pitchers in Sunday’s win, but Hernandez was the common denominator. He handled four pitchers who combined to hold the Crawdads to five hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks. And he got the biggest hit in the Hoppers’ three-run rally in the seventh inning that pushed them into the lead.
Starter Ryan Lillie pitched much better than his stat line of five innings and three runs allowed. After giving up a two-run homer in the first inning, Lillie settled down and retired the next 12 batters, until he gave up a solo homer by Sam Huff. That one may have caught up in the stiff breeze blowing to right field.
“He made two mistakes all day,” manager Todd Pratt said of Lillie. “He kept his head up after that first home run.”
Pitching coach Mark DeFelice said pitchers learn some important lessons from the cozy dimensions of the home field.
“They learn that they can’t make mistakes and that they have to work on keeping their fastball downhill,” DeFelice said.
Remey Reed pitched the sixth and seventh innings, allowing one hit and notching three strikeouts. He wound up as the winning pitcher. R.J. Peace retired the side in order in the eighth, with two strikeouts, and Tyler Frohwirth got the save, ending the game by inducing a classic short-to-second-to-first double play.
“Lillie did a great job,” Hernandez said, “and Reed set the tone for the next two guys with his fastball, curve and changeup. Peace’s inning was huge and Frohwirth did his job getting the double play.”
Peace threw a “shutdown inning” that coaches love. After your team scores to take the lead, you don’t want the opponent to come right back and score. The Hoppers rallied for their three runs in the seventh and Peace put a zero on the board in the top of the eighth.
Frowirth is a “submarine” pitcher, meaning he releases his pitches with an underneath motion of his arm. It’s a different look for batters and can throw them off stride.
“I caught him last year in Batavia,” Hernandez said. “He got the last batter with his fastball, which acts almost like a sinker.”
The Hoppers’ offense was held at bay most of the day. They had the bases loaded in the fourth inning with no outs, but the inning was short-circuited by a double play, although a run scored.
In the seventh, down 3–1, they made sure it didn’t happen again. After J.C. Millan singled and Micah Brown beat out an infield hit, Hernandez rapped a solid single to score the first run and keep the inning going.
Pratt said he could have called for a bunt in that situation, but he wants his hitters to be aggressive so he let Hernandez swing away and it set up the rest of the inning.
“I wanted to stay with my approach and hit the ball up the middle,” Hernandez said. “I got a pitch I could handle and put a good swing on it.”
Later in the inning, Sam Castro beat out an infield hit when the Hickory infielders didn’t properly cover first base. That drove in the second run and then a groundout by Isael Soto scored the third.
NOTES: Right-hander Taylor Braley will be the starter for Monday’s game … In the third inning third baseman Millan contributed an excellent catch of a foul ball that was blown around by the blustery wind.