Bill Hass on Baseball:Hernandez shines in Hoppers’ 1–0 win

Hernandez shines in Hoppers’ 1–0 win
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers), at

A teammate came by the locker of Hoppers catcher Michael Hernandez and handed him a crumpled, creased piece of cardboard?—?the lineup card from Friday’s game.

“Thanks, man,” he said as he started smoothing it out.

Turns out that Hernandez keeps the lineup cards from all the staff shutouts. This one?—?from a 1–0 win over the Delmarva Shorebirds?—?was particularly meaningful, coming just two days after the Hoppers absorbed a 20–2 shellacking at the hands of the same team.

“After that game, I went home thinking that I didn’t play baseball tonight,” Hernandez said. “All you can do is shrug it off. So this one is nice.”

There were several exclamations in the locker room about how crazy the game of baseball is and how fast fortunes can turn.

“I keep reminding them that this is a 140-game season,” said manager Todd Pratt. “There’s no difference if you lose a game 2–1 or 20–2. It’s all about pitching and who’s starting the next day.”

On Friday it was Daniel Castano, a 23-year-old left-hander making his first start for the Hoppers. He’s one of several new pitchers on the staff, which has become something of a revolving door lately.

Castano began the season in Jupiter and was 5–6 with a 5.65 ERA. He made 11 starts before hurting his back and after treatment and a couple of rehab appearances in the Gulf Coast League, he was sent to Greensboro. And it couldn’t have gone any better.

Castano pitched six innings, allowed just four hits, didn’t walk anyone and struck out eight. He retired 12 batters in a row at one point and allowed only two runners to reach second base.

Although cozy First National Bank Field is quite different from the spacious spring training park Jupiter uses, Castano didn’t let that bother him.

“I just pitched my game and didn’t focus on the field,” he said. “And I trusted Mike (Hernandez). I don’t think I shook him off once. He did all the work and I just executed the pitches and let my teammates do the rest.”

The game was played in front of a lively crowd of 7,009, far bigger than anything Castano had seen in Jupiter. That eased any disappointment he might have felt about being sent down a level from High A to Low A.

“Great teammates, great fans?—?I’m having a blast,” he said.

Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said Castano kept his fastball down and mixed in a slider, curve and changeup to keep the Shorebirds off balance.

“He was here on Wednesday (the 20–2 game),” DeFelice said, “and he paid attention, took notes, made a good game plan and executed it.

“With him being hurt, he had something to prove to himself and to the organization that he’s healthy and can pitch.”

Travis Neubeck pitched the seventh inning and retired the side in order, with two strikeouts. Vicente Aiello nailed things down in the eighth and ninth innings to earn his fifth save.

The Hoppers were quiet on offense most of the night but pushed a run across in a most surprising way. With one out in the fifth inning, Micah Brown hit a sky-high popup that either third baseman Branden Becker or shortstop Mason McCoy could easily have caught. But neither took charge and they watched it drop between them as Brown steamed into second base with a double.

After Harrison DiNicola walked, Hernandez came to the plate. He looked over the defense and caught everyone flat-footed with a perfect bunt pushed toward first base. Brown scored and the bunt was so good Hernandez beat it out for a hit, which was a bonus.

“I did that on my own,” he said. “We used to do it in college to manufacture a run. I decided this was a good time for it because I knew this was the type of game where there wouldn’t be too many hits. I just wanted to get the run home and help my team.”

Pratt agreed that it was the perfect play.

“That’s almost indefensible if it’s executed right,” he said. “He did a great job.”

In addition to his good pitch-calling, Hernandez made a crucial defensive play in the second inning. Delmarva’s Chris Shaw struck out on a low pitch while runner Jean Carrillo broke for second base. Hernandez blocked the ball, then fired a perfect throw to Garvis Lara covering second for a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play.

“The key was blocking the ball,” Hernandez said, “then getting my feet under me to make an accurate throw. I figured I had him when I let it go.”

The Hoppers took the final game of the short series after dropping the first two by a combined score of 28–5. They’re now 5–3 in the second half and 39–38 overall. They begin a four-game series in Hickory tonight and will host Lakewood for three games in a series that begins July 4 in what will be the biggest crowd of the season.

NOTES: Neubeck learned after the game that he’s moving up to Jupiter … He’ll be replaced on the roster by Ryan McKay, who has been with Batavia … Full disclosure: Bill on Baseball will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks and return in late July.