Bill on Baseball:Hoppers win one with Tank in the pen

Hoppers win one with Tank in the pen
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

It was a good afternoon for a pickoff, for snapping a slump and for Tank in the pen.

That last one is going to require some explanation, which will come later.

The upshot of Sunday’s game was a 5–2 victory for the Hoppers over West Virginia. Brandon Miller pitched six strong innings to gain his second victory, recovering from a mistake to open the game.

Jhonny Santos broke out of the throes of a 3-for-37 slump with three hits, including a two-out RBI double.

The game began when Miller walked the Power’s leadoff batter, 6-foot-6 shortstop (yes, that’s a 6–6 shortstop) Oneil Cruz. No pitcher wants to begin a game that way, so Miller got out of it by picking Cruz off.

“You just try to shrug it off and start throwing more strikes,” Miller said. “But I was able to pick him off and not have to worry about it. I varied my move to first?—?first slow, then I waited, then I sped it up and was able to get him.”

That enabled Miller to pitch from his windup and not from the stretch, and he spent most of the rest of his afternoon there. Miller allowed just three hits and shut out the Power for five innings.

“Every pitcher is at his strongest from the windup,” he said. “I was able to mix up my pitches and throw them all for strikes. My slider was working the best and I threw a few curves for strikes.”

He faltered briefly in the sixth inning when Chris Sharpe hit an up-and-away fastball for a solo home run. Cruz followed with a triple, putting Miller in a spot of trouble with a man on third and one out. But he got Rodolfo Castro on a popup to shallow left field, with Cruz holding third, then he fanned the Power’s best hitter, Cal Mitchell, to end the inning.

“I didn’t want to give in to Mitchell,” Miller said, meaning he didn’t want to throw only fastballs. “So we stuck to breaking balls and got him on a slider.”

Three relievers finished up— Nestor Bautitsta with a scoreless seventh, Vincente Aiello with a shutout eighth and Travis Neubeck, who gave up a run in the ninth.

The offense was able to jump on Power starter Hunter Stratton for two runs in the first. Santos singled and came around to score on a wild pitch and Micah Brown singled and scored on a two-out single by Marcos Rivera.

The Hoppers added three runs in the fifth. Thomas Jones had a sacrifice fly, Santos contributed his two-out RBI double and Brown added an RBI single.

Now, about Tank in the pen ….

In the fourth inning, the Hoppers had to make a defensive change when third baseman Garvis Lara left the game with a wrist injury. Brown shifted from first base to third and backup catcher Will Allen went in to play first.

With both catchers in the game, that meant there was no one to warm up relief pitchers in the bullpen. So when Bautista went down to warm up in the sixth inning, manager Todd (Tank) Pratt had to don the gear and catch.

Pratt spent 14 seasons as a catcher in the major leagues, but his career ended after the 2006 season. But, at age 51 and with the temperature in the high 80s, he did what the situation required. He had done the same thing once last season.

He didn’t want to spend much time talking about it, preferring to talk about the players.

“It wasn’t that bad,” he said. “It’s like riding a bike.”

Pratt warmed up Bautista, Aiello and Neubeck.

“He played in the big leagues for, what, 15 years?” said Neubeck, who was only off by one year. “It’s all the same stuff as when he was playing. It was fun to see and he’s a big target.”

The game was a good bounce-back for the Hoppers, who took a 4–0 drubbing Saturday but wound up winning two of three in the series. After a day off Monday, they head on the road for three games at Delmarva.

“In this park, anything can happen,” Brown said, “so those insurance runs helped. It was a good answer to last night.”

NOTES: Lara will go on the Disabled List with the wrist injury and the Hoppers will activate J.C. Millan, who has been inactive while on the Batavia roster … Edward Cabrera will pitch the opener of the Delmarva series.