Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers’ Lillie suffers rare ‘hiccup’

Hoppers’ Lillie suffers rare ‘hiccup’
from Bill Hass, with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Even a team’s best pitcher is going to have an off night every so often.

It happened to Ryan Lillie of the Hoppers Monday. While he wasn’t the pitcher of record in Greensboro’s 8–7 loss to Hickory, Lillie wasn’t his usual sharp self.

“Everyone is allowed a hiccup once in awhile,” said pitching coach Mark DiFelice.

In his previous three starts, Lillie was nearly untouchable. In 20 innings he allowed just one run, nine hits and no walks while recording 15 strikeouts.

And he started fine Monday, striking out four of the first five Hickory hitters. But he struggled in the fourth, when the Crawdads touched him for five runs, two unearned. A very uncharacteristic bases-loaded walk brought in one run and the big hit was a bases-loaded triple by ?9 hitter Yonny Hernandez, batting only .173, on a hanging breaking ball.

“It happened quickly,” said manager Todd Pratt. “He elevated a couple of breaking balls. Otherwise, he had good stuff.

“He’s been great. I like his tenacity, the bulldog in him. He throws strikes and doesn’t mind pitching to contact.”

Lillie got through the fifth without incident but gave up two more runs in the sixth on Ryan Dorow’s single. Michael Mertz gave up the deciding run in the eighth and wound up as the losing pitcher.

DiFelice said there was a valuable lesson for Lillie to learn from the game.

“I think he let his emotions get to him a little bit and the fourth inning snowballed on him,” the coach said. “It’s OK to show some emotion but you have to harness it. You can’t let the other team see it and feed off it.”

Catcher Will Allen provided the bulk of the Hoppers’ offense with a career-high four RBIs?—?two on a double in the second inning and two on a homer in the fourth. He also singled in the sixth.

Cameron Baranek had two hits and scored twice and Garvis Lara, just off the disabled list, picked up a pair of RBIs.

The Hoppers did not do well in situational hitting. Twice they had runners thrown out at third on attempted sacrifice bunts.

“We didn’t execute on the bunts,” Pratt said. “You’re not supposed to bunt it back to the pitcher. You need to push it toward first base or third base.”

The Hoppers stole five bases, including two each by Baranek and Thomas Jones.

Hickory shut out the Hoppers over the final three innings, Reliever Jean Casanova fanned six batters in 2 2/3 innings. Altogether, the Hoppers struck out 12 times, pushing their total to 41 strikeouts in the last three games.

The series continues with back-to-back doubleheaders Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday’s first game begins at 5:30.

The Hoppers will use two bullpen pitchers to start Tuesday’s games. Dustin Beggs, who was a starter last year, will start the first game and Nestor Bautista, their most veteran pitcher, will start the second.

NOTES: Dorow had four hits, all singles, for the Crawdads … Samuel Castro, who was injured in Saturday’s game, was placed on the disabled list with a broken thumb … First baseman Lazaro Alonso, who strained an oblique muscle Saturday, is still “day to day” and remains on the active roster.