Bill Hass on Baseball:Lopez provides spark for winning rally

Lopez provides spark for winning rally
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

The Hoppers were desperate for a spark when they came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday afternoon.

And BJ Lopez played the part of the catalyst. It was his excellent at-bat that began the winning 3-run rally that lifted Greensboro past Charleston 3–2, giving the Hoppers their third win in the four-game series.

The Hoppers stayed true to form, winning their eighth one-run game of the season. They are 10–6 overall.

Things looked grim when the bottom of the eighth rolled around. The Hoppers had been dominated for seven innings by RiverDogs starter Garrett Whitlock. His sinker and slider had them beating the ball into the ground all day. He recorded 15 groundouts and just two flyouts, both of which were in the first inning. He ended his stint by setting down 15 straight Hoppers.

But when Lopez led off the eighth, with his team down 2–0, he faced hard-throwing Brian Trieglaff.

“Their starter had all his pitches working, especially the two-seam fastball,” Lopez said. “The second guy didn’t have a two-seamer. A four-seamer is easier to hit.

“I just tried to battle and start a rally. We were kind of dead. Once I got a hit, it changed the momentum and became contagious.”

Not that it was easy. Lopez fouled off three tough pitches while he worked the count to 3-and-2. Then he laced a solid single to left field to get things going.

“I knew couldn’t get beat with a fastball and strike out, especially in the eighth inning,” Lopez said. “On 3-and-2 I was just trying to be ready for any pitch around the zone. I didn’t want to get too jumpy. He threw a fastball and I got my foot down on time for a good swing.”

Things fell the Hoppers’ way with the next two batters. Zach Sullivan’s bunt took a high hop and he beat the catcher’s throw to first for a base hit. Sam Castro’s bunt went about halfway to the mound and he hustled down the line to beat the throw from the pitcher for another hit that loaded the bases with no one out.

Aaron Knapp found a hole against Charleston’s partially drawn-in infield and poked a single through to score Lopez with the first Hoppers run. Jose Devers hit the ball sharply but right at the shortstop to begin a double play, which scored Sullivan to tie the game.

Isael Soto then sliced a drive to left field that got over the defender’s head for a double as Castro scored the go-ahead run.

After the Hoppers had scrapped their way to the lead, it fell to Tyler Frohwirth to close it out in the ninth. The RiverDogs couldn’t do anything with his submarine delivery and he retired the side in order, striking out Leonardo Molina to wrap it up.

“Frohwirth’s ball is a big sinker that drops a lot,” Lopez said, “and he also has a slider. The last pitch was a two-seam fastball right on the corner and there was no way (Molina) was going to hit it.”

Hoppers manager Todd Pratt acknowledged Lopez for getting the winning rally started and pointed out another contribution?—?helping starter Brady Puckett get turned around. Puckett gave up two runs in the first inning when his two-seam fastball and cut fastball were not acting like they should.

“Lopez corralled Puckett after the first inning,” Pratt said, “and you give credit to the catcher. This was BJ’s day to shine.”

Puckett threw six consecutive shutout innings to match what Whitlock was doing and keep the score 2–0, which gave the offense a chance. Reliever Travis Neubeck got two outs in the eighth and then surrendered a double, but picked off the runner trying to steal third to end the inning. He wound up with the win.

Lopez alternates days with Michael Hernandez and Pratt said he’s happy with both catchers. It’s steady work for Lopez, who spent five years in Arizona’s farm system before the Marlins claimed him in the Rule 5 draft over the winter. The Hoppers are the eighth team he’s played for in his career.

“I’m excited to be with the Marlins,” he said. “It’s a fresh start. In five years (with Arizona) I was always a backup. Here, playing every other day, it’s a lot better than sitting four or five days. I’m having my best year hitting (.333 in the early going).’”

NOTES: The Hoppers head out on their second road trip, starting in Hickory Monday night … Brandon Miller will pitch the opener of the 4-game series … After that, they go to Asheville for three games … Soto made an excellent catch in right field in the sixth inning, going into foul territory in the RiverDogs’ bullpen and stabbing the ball with a backhand motion … The game was played in a season-fast 1:54 … There were no walks by either team.