Bill Hass on Baseball:Santos finds swing, powers Hoppers

Santos finds swing, powers Hoppers
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

Jhonny Santos could have lost his confidence early in the season but he’s brimming with it now.

The outfielder slugged two home runs Monday night as the Hoppers shook off a 90-minute rain delay and beat Kannapolis 5–3.

“Spring training this year,” Santos answered a question, with teammate BJ Lopez translating, about the last time he homered twice in a game.

So what does he have in store for Tuesday’s game, two more?

“Maybe,” he said with a broad smile.

The Hoppers will be happy if he just continues his hot pace. Santos began the season without a hit in his first five games, going 0-for-14. Since then he has hit in 21 of 23 games for a solid .360 average. In his last 10 games he is 14-for-33, a .424 clip, with six RBIs and six runs scored.

“At the beginning of the season, I couldn’t find my swing,” Santos said. “I don’t know why. But I never lost confidence. I knew I would come through, and now my swing is back.”

Santos, who had just one homer coming into the game, came up in the second inning with no one on base and hit one to left field off Kannapolis starter Lincoln Henzman. In the fourth, with a man on base, he ripped another homer to left off Henzman.

“The first one came on a 2–0 count,” Santos said. “I was looking for a fastball and got one down the middle. On the second one, I had two strikes and was protecting the (strike) zone, just looking to put the ball in play, and I made good contact with the ball.”

On his third trip, Santos showed off his speed by beating out an infield hit to shortstop. It was his first three-hit game of the season.

“He’s maturing,” said manager Todd Pratt, “and being very consistent with his swing through the strike zone.”

The Intimidators came in with the South Atlantic League’s best record (27–14) and a .283 team batting average, 20 points higher than anyone else. Hoppers’ pitching limited them to six hits.

“Execute your pitches,” pitching coach Mark DiFelice told his staff. “And for the most part I think we did a good job, particularly late in the game.”

Starter Ryan Lillie lasted just three innings, throwing 70 pitches, but the bullpen shone. Nestor Bautista and Michael Mertz combined for the final six innings and allowed only one run. Bautista picked up the win and Mertz got the save.

“That was a good job by the bullpen,” Pratt said. “Bautista is doing a great job. He’s experienced and he’s hitting his spots with his fastball, slider and changeup. And he’s doing it against righties and lefties.”

Mertz was a bullpen mainstay on last year’s staff but struggled in Jupiter to begin this season. He returned here to get some things straightened out and looked sharp in his stint.

“His delivery is repeatable now,” DiFelice said. “We didn’t change it so much as we’re getting him back to his old delivery of last year. If he continues to show improvement, he’ll get back to where he needs to be.”

The second game of the series will be tonight at 7 o’clock. With Brady Puckett promoted to Jupiter, the Hoppers’ starter will be Trevor Rogers, a 6-foot-6 left-hander who was the Marlins’ top draft pick last summer. DiFelice wants to see Rogers establish fastball command and use his slider and changeup. He’s looking for about five innings from the 20-year-old, who will be pitching in his first professional game.

NOTES: Lazaro Alonso drove in a run with a single and is now hitting .413 but doesn’t yet have enough at-bats to qualify among the league leaders … Cameron Baranek added an RBI on a sacrifice fly … Laz Rivera, the league’s top hitter, had a double and home run and is hitting .370 … Mertz struck out Rivera to end the seventh inning and keep the lead at 5–3 … Luis Gonzalez, the SAL’s ?2 hitter, went 1-for-5 and is now at .329 .