Bill Hass on Baseball:Castano helps own cause with play at plate

Castano helps own cause with play at plate
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppes) at

It was a play Daniel Castano knew he had to make.

There was one out and a runner on third base in the top of the fifth inning against Hickory Friday night, Castano, the Hoppers’ pitcher, threw a nasty pitch that the Crawdads’ Preston Scott swung at and missed for strike three.

Catcher Michael Hernandez blocked the ball, which squirted a couple of feet into the dirt as Scott took off running . Hernandez scrambled after the ball and fired it to first baseman Harrison DiNicola to complete the out, the second of the inning.

Yonny Hernandez, the ultra-quick Hickory runner, crept in from third during the play and broke for home as Michael Hernandez threw to first. When Castano saw that, he sprinted to cover the plate. DiNicola alertly pegged the ball home as Michael Hernandez ducked low to avoid being hit by the throw.

Castano took the throw, dropped the tag on Yonny Hernandez and saw the home plate umpire call the runner out to end the inning. It was probably the most important play in the Hoppers’ ultimate 3–0 victory.

“It was just instinct,” Castano said. “I wanted to do whatever I could to keep that run from scoring. Sometimes you have to really fight for it. The defense had been making plays behind me all night, so I wanted to help out.”

And how important was it? The Hoppers were ahead 2–0 at the time and that run would have cut the lead to one.

“There’s a lot of difference in a 2–0 game and a 2–1 game,” said coach Angel Espada. “We were able to keep that little cushion.”

Espada explained that it’s not a play that the defense specifically works on in practice.

“What we do work on is pitchers covering an empty base,” he said. “And it was good awareness by DiNicola at first base. He kept his eyes on the plate and followed the play through.”

Castano was so buoyed by the play that he came out in the sixth inning and retired the side in order, his only one-two-three inning of the game. He wasn’t at his sharpest, giving up six hits and three walks, but he got better as the game progressed and wound up picking up his third win with the Hoppers. He did it without much help from his fastball, so he used a slider, changeup and occasional curve to get the job done.

“It was a tough one today,” Castano said. “I didn’t have my best fastball so I used my slider a lot. It’s something I learned about two months ago and this is the first time I’ve really trusted it.”

Castano battled his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out mess in the first inning, getting a strikeout and groundout to extract himself.

“I just tried to stay calm and in control,” he said. “I didn’t want the game to get away so early.”

Manager Todd Pratt said Castano had to throw “a lot of tedious innings, but he pitched his way through it. He was a pitcher tonight.”

Pitching coach Mark DeFelice said the left-handed Castano threw 28 sliders, 20 of them for strikes, and was burying them inside against the predominantly right-handed hitting Hickory lineup. He threw 97 pitches overall.

“He threw 49 pitches in the first two innings,” DiFelice said, “so he did a good job being efficient after that.”

Gabriel Castellanos threw two effective innings and Michael Mertz picked up a save for the second straight day. Mertz retired the side on eight pitches, holding his breath on the last one when Yohel Pozo drilled a long fly to right-center that looked like it would at least hit the wall. But Isael Soto, after a long run from right field, hauled it in with his back against the wall to end the game.

The Hoppers’ offense did just enough, scoring twice in the first on back-to-back sacrifice flies from Soto and Marcus Rivera, and another in the seventh on an RBI from Jose Devers.

The Hoppers cooled off a hot Hickory team that had won seven of 10 and is now 20–14 overall in the second half. Greensboro hauled itself up to 16–18. Pratt likes the effort being given by a team with a roster that changes seemingly every day.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Pratt said of the revolving door, “but that’s a good thing. The goal is to get the players ready for the next level and it’s a compliment to the staff that we’ve been able to do that.

“The clubhouse is the most important thing and the new players learn the way we run it. It all comes back to being a pro and maturing as young men. We’re competing every day and they’re still excited about coming to the park.”

NOTES: Pratt was ejected after arguing a call at third base when Hickory’s Yonny Hernandez was called safe on a stolen base attempt in the fifth inning … “Sometimes you have to step up for your team,” he said … Hickory didn’t score despite eight hits, three walks and six stolen bases … Two double plays helped the Hoppers, plus the play at the plate that technically doesn’t count as a double play … Castano’s walk in the first inning snapped a streak of 41 innings without one … The teams play the second game of the series Saturday at 7 p.m. … Edward Cabrera will be the Hoppers’ starter.