Bill Hass on Baseball:Hitter-turned-pitcher shines for Hoppers

Hitter-turned-pitcher shines for Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Taylor Braley misses hitting but he’s settling nicely into being a full-time pitcher.

The former position player turned in the sharpest performance of his brief pitching career Friday night as the Hoppers edged Charleston 2–1. The right-hander held the RiverDogs to one run on seven hits with nine strikeouts through seven innings.

Braley is not a pitching novice. He pitched some in high school and in 14 games as a junior at Southern Mississippi last summer. He posted a 7–2 record but kept playing third base and slugging away, totaling 17 homers and 61 RBIs. He said he didn’t even throw bullpen sessions between starts.

So when the draft rolled around last June, Braley expected he would likely be chosen as a hitter.

“The Marlins scout said they liked me as a hitter but they thought I had a faster path to the major leagues as a pitcher,” Braley said.

After he was chosen by the Marlins in the sixth round, he spent some time at short-season Batavia, where he got in seven games and posted a 1–2 record. Braley pitched 19 innings and allowed just 12 hits, striking out 21 while walking only five. But it was a strange experience.

“It was the first time I hadn’t played every day,” he said. “It was a tough adjustment, especially since I knew I could hit.”

Although he still likes to take some cuts in the batting cage, Braley is learning the routine of a starting pitcher. He had good fastball command against Charleston and used his slider and changeup to keep hitters off-balance.

Only a couple of balls were hard-hit, including a home run by Chris Hess, who belted his fifth of the young season. Braley said that one was on the inside corner “and it wasn’t a terrible pitch.”

The results were encouraging to pitching coach Mark DiFelice.

“He followed the game plan of keeping the fastball down and throwing his slider and changeup for strikes,” DiFelice said. “He’s got a good idea of pitch sequence and he has good stuff. He’s got a future.”

A familiar face, Dustin Beggs, pitched the last two innings and earned his first career save. Beggs started 26 games for the Hoppers last season and won 10 times. He was activated earlier this week after injuring his back late in spring training.

Beggs ran into trouble by giving up hits to the first two batters in the eighth inning, putting runners on first and third. Then he struck out Steven Sensley, and on the play catcher B.J. Lopez threw out Oswaldo Cabrera trying to steal second base. Beggs fanned Hess to end the inning.

“I thought that play won the game,” said Hoppers manager Todd Pratt. “Beggs made a great pitch on 3-and-2 and it was a great throw by Lopez.”

In the ninth, Beggs gave up a leadoff single, then got a strikeout and a game-ending double play.

The victory lifted the Hoppers’ record to 9–5. It was their sixth win in eight games, five of them by one run.

The Hoppers didn’t do much on offense, managing just five hits, but scored twice in the sixth inning. Aaron Knapp tripled and scored on a single by Jose Devers through a ddrawn-in RiverDogs infield. Devers later scored on a wild pitch.

The series continues Saturday at 7 p.m. Eduardo Cabrera, who pitched six no-hit innings against Lakewood in his last start, will be Greensboro’s starter.

“He threw 68 pitches in six innings,” said DiFelice, “and was efficient around the plate. They didn’t come close to getting a hit.”

NOTES: Lopez picked off a runner at first base in the third inning … Charleston’s pitching coach is Scott Seabol, who played third base for the Bats in 1999 and was the South Atlantic League MVP … In the stands another former Greensboro player, Mark Blaser, who played for the Hornets in 1982 … His son, Dalton Blaser, is the RiverDogs’ first baseman.