Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers can’t hold early lead for Braley

Hoppers can’t hold early lead for Braley
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

The Hoppers had a little offense early but Kannapolis had a little bit more late.

The result was a 3–2 win for the Intimidators on a hot Wednesday afternoon at First National Bank Field.

When Micah Brown swatted a two-run homer in the first inning and Lazaro Alfonso followed with a double, it looked like Kannapolis starter John Parke might be vulnerable.

But the left-hander regrouped and slammed the door from that point and reliever Tyler Johnson closed it out by retiring all seven Hoppers he faced. Greensboro’s last hit was Alonso’s single in the third inning (he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double).

Meanwhile, Hoppers starter Taylor Braley made Brown’s homer stand up for a long time. It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Kannapolis scored when Braley walked in a run with the bases loaded. It was the only run he gave up in six innings of work, one of his best starts of the year.

“He kept his fastball down and he had a good slider between 84 and 89 (miles per hour),” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “He ’s been working on that and he attacked the zone with it.”

The slider had the Intimidators swinging and missing at pitches that came in looking like strikes but broke out of the zone.

“The slider is what I went to today because I didn’t have good control over my fastball,” Braley said. “I’ve been working to make my slider harder, not as loopy, so it looks more like a fastball out of my hand. You have to make sure you’re on time with your hips and body and don’t overthrow it.”

Braley extracted himself from a messy situation in the sixth inning when the first three hitters singled without a run scoring. Braley struck out one batter, then walked in a run but got a double play to end the inning with minimum damage and the Hoppers still leading, 2–1.

That lead held through the seventh, when reliever Manny Rodriguez worked around a leadoff double without allowing a run. But in the eighth, Rodriguez surrendered a solo homer to Laz Rivera, the SAL’s leading hitter., that tied the game. Then Rodriguez gave up a single, two walks and a sacrifice fly that gave Kannapolis the lead.

Besides his two-run homer, Brown made a fine defensive play at first base in the seventh inning. He dove to his right to stab a hard grounder by Luis Gonzalez, then scrambled up and flipped the ball to Rodriguez, who came off the mound quickly and got to the base to take the throw and beat Gonzalez.

“He can play everywhere,” manager Todd Pratt said of his super utility man. “And everywhere he plays he makes a good defensive play. I wouldn’t be afraid to use him in center field because he’s a good athlete.”

The Hoppers wrap up the series with a 7 o’clock game tonight. Brandon Miller will be Greensboro’s starting pitcher.

NOTES: As well as the starters pitched, neither was involved in the decision … Johnson got the win and Rodriguez took the loss … Craig Dedelow had four hits, all singles, in five at-bats for Kannapolis … He’s now 8-for-13 in the series … The Hoppers dropped to 3–4 on the homestand and 19–23 on the season … First-place Kannapolis improved to 29–15.