Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers can’t close it out for Puckett

Hoppers can’t close it out for Puckett
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

The rough patch continued for the Hoppers Thursday night.

Leading Lakewood by a run going into the ninth inning, the Hoppers bullpen surrendered four runs and the team spun to its ninth loss in 10 games, 4–1.

Starter Brady Puckett did all he could by pitching seven shutout innings. B.J. Peace pitched a one-two-three eighth with two strikeouts. And Bryce Howe got off to a good start by striking out the leadoff hitter.

But Howe walked the second batter and that seemed to throw him off. After that he gave up a triple and a single, got another strikeout, then gave up three more singles. Michael Mertz got the last out to finish the inning.

“He just didn’t do his job,” said manager Todd Pratt. “Someone has got to step up in the bullpen. They’re young, but someone has to step up.”

The Hoppers dropped to 16–20 on the season and Pratt reiterated that it’s still relatively early.

“This is only Game 36 and we have 104 to go,” he said. “It was about this point last season that we got going. I’m not pressing and I don’t want the players to press. We want them to keep their heads up.”

Puckett dueled Lakewood starter Will Stewart, who was 4–0 with a 1.46 ERA coming in. The Hoppers scratched out an unearned run off of the left-hander in the first inning, then he stopped them with five scoreless frames. Three relievers combined to shut the Hoppers out in the last three innings. Greensboro managed just six hits and struck out 13 times.

Puckett kept the BlueClaws at bay, never letting a runner reach third base. He allowed five hits and struck out five.

“Puckett had all his stuff tonight,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “He attacked with his fastball and his changeup was really working. He’s had some good games this year.”

In eight starts, Puckett has pitched at least six innings in all but one. That was against Asheville, when he was tagged for six runs (three unearned) in three innings.

“That was his last outing, so it was good to see him bounce back from that,” DiFelice said. “You’ve got to have a short-term memory.”

Puckett won the opening game of the season and hasn’t posted a win since. He’s gotten some no-decisions in games the Hoppers have won late and at least twice the bullpen has given up leads after he left the game.

NOTES: The second game of the series will be played Friday night at 7 o’clock … Brandon Miller will start for the Hoppers … OF Isael Soto was placed on the disabled list when Cameron Baranek was activated … Baranek, a ninth-round draft pick last summer, completed serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for stimulants (not performance-enhancing drugs, also known as PEDs) last August.