Rogers dominant in near-masterpiece
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at www.gsohoppers.com
Trevor Rogers was breathing heavily after his post-game workout in the Hoppers’ weight room.
A lot more heavily than he had to during his time on the mound Sunday. The young left-hander showed why he is so highly touted, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning in a game the Hoppers eventually won 2–1 against Hickory.
Rogers’ final line looked like this: 7 2/3 innings, one hit, two walks and 12 strikeouts on 95 pitches. In his 12th start, a near-masterpiece, he set personal bests for innings, pitches thrown, strikeouts and fewest hits.
“It’s a great feeling,” Rogers said. “I had a stretch this season where I couldn’t get past the fourth or fifth inning, so this is awesome. I’ve been working all year with (pitching coach) Mark DiFelice. I have to remember that it’s a process and I’m beginning to figure it out.”
Rogers used his fastball well, consistently hitting between 93–95 mph. What made him even more effective were off-speed pitches, particularly a slider, to keep the Crawdads off-balance.
“You’ve got to have patience,” said manager Todd Pratt. “He believes in the process and had made great progress in his previous three games. He dominated today by throwing his fastball inside, which opened up the strike zone.”
The only down side of his performance was that Rogers didn’t get the win. That went to reliever Michael Mertz, the pitcher of record after the Hoppers won the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“I told him ‘I wish there was some way I could give the win to you,’” Mertz said. “That was one of the coolest outings I’ve ever seen. Since the beginning of the season, there has been a transformation in his pitching and his mindset.”
Rogers appreciated Mertz’s sentiment, but wasn’t bothered by not being the winning pitcher.
“I’m just glad the team got the win,” he said. “That’s more important than my personal stats.”
Rogers breezed through the first inning but walked Tyreque Reed to open the second. He showed great poise by striking out the next two hitters and getting a line drive to third baseman Marcos Rivera for the third out. That began a streak of retiring 20 straight hitters, with nothing even close to a hit. He looked like a veteran pitcher with his smooth delivery, quick pace and unflappable approach.
“In the fourth inning I looked at the scoreboard and noticed a lot of zeroes up there,” he said. “In the sixth inning, I said, ‘well, I made it this far so I’ll keep battling.’”
Rogers rolled into the eighth inning and opened with two strikeouts. Then he showed signs of fatigue with a walk to Yohel Pozo. Miguel Aparicio followed by hitting a flare that went over the head of Torres at shortstop and dropped in front of Ricardo Cespedes in left for Hickory’s only hit of the game.
“I was a little disappointed,” Rogers admitted. “Would I have liked to have gotten a no-hitter? Absolutely. Then I kind of laughed because that kind of hit is an example of what baseball is all about.”
Will Allen, the Hoppers’ catcher, said he called for a fastball inside.
“(Aparicio) was a little late on the swing and it jammed him,” Allen said. “He hit it off his fists but it was in the right spot. I think it was the right call because he didn’t hit it hard.”
Allen said Rogers was locked in from the start.
“I don’t think he shook me off once during the game,” Allen said. “That means a lot because he showed a lot of confidence in me and wasn’t second-guessing me. I hope this is something he’ll remember. I’ll remember it as well.”
Hickory starter Tyler Phillips pitched extremely well but the Hoppers were able to touch him for a run in the fourth inning. Tristan Pompey walked, stole second base and scored when Isael Soto slashed a double just inside first base.
When Rogers gave up the hit in the eighth, Pratt came out to pull him and Rogers walked to the dugout to a standing ovation. Even if Rogers had gotten the out, he still would have been removed because his pitch count had reached 95.
Mertz came out of the bullpen to record the final out in the eighth. His job then became to preserve the shutout in the ninth. But Bubba Thompson opened the inning by reaching on an error by second baseman Gunnar Schubert and Yonny Hernandez followed with a walk. That gave the Crawdads two speedy runners.
After Mertz got a popup for the first out, he got Tyreque Reed to hit a high bouncer toward first base. Harrison Dinicola came in a couple of steps to field the ball and made a motion as if to throw home but broke back to tag first for the second out as Thompson scored. There was an audible groan from the fans, who thought Dinicola should have tried for the out at home plate, but Pratt defended him.
“He made the right play,” Pratt said. “He looked (at home) but it was too slow of a chopper and there was no chance to get Thompson. What we didn’t want was a throw that might get away and let two runs score.”
That left Hernandez on third in a tie game. Mertz then hit Pedro Gonzalez, who promptly stole second base, hoping to draw a throw so Hernandez might try for home. But Allen held the ball to keep the runner at third. Mertz struck out Sam Huff to end the inning and keep the score 1–1.
The Hoppers could have been deflated, but Pratt said the team’s resiliency showed through.
“They didn’t hang their heads,” he said. “I’m happy with the way the players are maturing and growing up in front of me.”
Chris Torres opened the bottom of the ninth with a single off reliever Demarcus Evans and Pompey followed by drawing a walk. After Allen struck out, Soto lined a drive into the right field corner. The ball rolled along the base of the fence, ending any chance the Crawdads had to make a play on Torres.
“I was thinking about getting a pitch to hit to help the team,” said Soto, with teammate Nestor Bautista translating. “It was a changeup and I knew right away it was going to be a hit.”
Pratt said Soto has been delivering clutch hits since he had five RBIs in a game against Lexington.
“He’s doing a great job solidifying the middle of the lineup,” the manager said.
Even though Rogers didn’t wind up with the victory, the buzz after the game was about him. For DeFelice, it was especially gratifying.
“It’s a culmination of all the hard work he’s put in,” he said. “He has gained confidence and you can see it in the way he carries himself. His shoulders are back and his head is up and that changes his mound presence.
“He’s given us flashes, but today he showed why he was a ?1 pick. You can tell when it starts to click for a pitcher. He’s learning how to work the hitters and read the tendencies in their swings. I think it’s something we can get used to.”
The Hoppers completed the three-game sweep of Hickory and won their fourth straight overall. They left after the game to begin a seven-game road trip. The first three will be in Rome, followed by four in Kannapolis and then a day off.
After the game, word came to the Hoppers that 18-year-old shortstop Jose Devers had been called up to Jupiter. He was leading the team with a .273 batting average and consistently playing outstanding defense, committing only seven errors in 65 games. As of Sunday night, Pratt hadn’t been told who would fill the roster spot.
NOTES: There has never been a no-hitter thrown in the 14-year history of the Hoppers’ home park … Torres is now 6-for-12 in his three games with the Hoppers … Edward Cabrera, who lasted only three innings in Saturday’s game, has a blister on his big toe and will miss his next start … With the sweep, the Hoppers lead Hickory 11–8 in their series with four games left to play at the end of the season.