Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers hot early, then turn cold

Hoppers hot early, then turn cold
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

It wasn’t a doubleheader, but it turned out to be two games in one Tuesday night.

The first one lasted five innings, after which the Hoppers had six runs on 11 hits and seemed headed for a big win. Hagerstown, held at bay by Greensboro starter Brandon Miller, had no runs, no hits, no baserunners and nothing going at all.

Over the last four innings, which comprised the second game, the Hoppers had no runs and just one hit. Hagerstown, meanwhile, scored eight runs on 12 hits.

Merge the two into one nine-inning affair and the victory went to the Suns, 8–6, a tough one for the Hoppers to swallow.

“Hot and cold that quick,” said Greensboro manager Todd Pratt. “That’s baseball.”

There were plenty of positives for the Hoppers. Micah Brown and Marcos Rivera slugged home runs and new first baseman Lazaro Alonso had three hits, including a pair of doubles.

And Miller was superb in the first five innings, retiring all 15 batters. The Suns didn’t get anything close to a hit.

“He was spotting his fastball, with good angle,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “And he had command of his changeup, slider and curve also. But his pitches started to flatten out.”

When he went out for the sixth inning, it was Miller’s longest stint of the season. He retired the leadoff hitter for his 16th straight out before Hagerstown’s Kameron Esthay doubled to right-center field. Miller then gave up a walk and two singles, producing two Suns runs, before being removed.

Reliever Colton Hock, who has been the best man in the bullpen this season, just didn’t have anything working for him. He gave up a double that scored two more runs, both charged to Miller, to cut the lead to 6–4.

Hock made it through the seventh without incident, but was tagged for four runs in the eighth. The big blows were a two-run homer by Luis Garcia and a long solo homer by Alex Flores. Those pushed the Suns ahead.

The Hoppers packed all their offense into the first five innings and were shut down in the last four. Jeremy McKinney was particularly impressive pitching the final two innings and striking out five of the six Hoppers he faced.

The teams play the second game of the series Wednesday. It starts at noon, with Ryan Lillie pitching for the Hoppers.

Just back from a six-game road trip, the Hoppers have a bit of a different team. First baseman Eric Gutierrez and outfielder Aaron Knapp, the team’s two best hitters in April, were promoted to High-A Jupiter.

Alonso replaces Gutierrez and Thomas Jones will take Knapp’s spot. Jones, the Marlins’ third-round pick in 2016, was not available for Tuesday’s game.

With his three hits Tuesday, Alonso is now 10-for-15 in the three games he’s played with the Hoppers. The Cuban native is a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who hits left-handed.

“He’s already doing some damage in the middle of the lineup,” Pratt said.

With Knapp gone, 18-year-old Jose Devers is the new leadoff hitter. He had a terrific at-bat his first time up despite swinging and missing on the first two pitches. He then fouled off seven straight offerings before singling to right field. Devers scored on a double by Isael Soto.