May 15, 2013
Just when the Hoppers got one part of their game going Wednesday, two other parts broke down.
Hagerstown pinned a 6-0 loss on the Hoppers, who finished the homestand with just two wins in seven games. Even that was better than the previous one in which they went 1-6. They now are just 7-14 in NewBridge Bank Park this season.
Starting pitching, an Achilles heel most of the season, wasn’t the problem Wednesday. Scott Lyman pitched five shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks and striking out three. It was by far his strongest performance at home this season.
But because the starters are capped at five innings for the time being, Lyman had to come out of the game. Brian Ellington got through the sixth without incident but the Suns touched him for three runs in the eighth. The big blow was a two-run double from Stephen Perez, followed by an RBI double by Erick Fernandez.
Hagerstown tacked on a run against Jheyson Manzueta in the eighth on a homer by Shawn Pleffner, and two more in the ninth (both unearned) against usually-reliable Frankie Reed.
“Lyman was outstanding,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “Our bullpen has been solid but it fell apart today.”
Meanwhile, an offense that put up eight runs the day before was stymied by Ronald Pena, David Fishcher and former Florida State reliever Robert Benincasa. Only one runner reached third base all day. Viosergy Rosa had two hits, giving him seven in the series, and Anthony Gomez added two.
“We just didn’t hit,” Hernandez said “We don’t do well in these early games (it was a 10:45 a.m. start).”
The Hoppers now go on the road for seven games against the same two teams they just played here. They will be at Lakewood for four and Hagerstown for three.
“We’ve got to get something started somehow, some way,” Hernandez said. “This is a learning process, a teaching process and about learning to play the game the right way.”
May 14, 2013
As cruel a game as baseball can be, it can also offer redemption.
And the Greensboro Grasshoppers took advantage of that Tuesday night at NewBridge Bank Park, beating the Hagerstown Suns 8-7 to snap a four-game losing streak.
“Hallelujah,” exclaimed manager Jorge Hernandez, as much in relief as in jubilation.
The body bumps and celebration on the field were fun for everyone, but particularly sweet for three players.
Matt Juengel had a wretched game Monday, twice making the third out with the bases loaded and also hitting into a double play. Hernandez moved him from No. 3 in the order to No. 5 and he responded with a two-run homer in his first at-bat and later drew two walks.
“Last year (at Jamestown) I would have a bad game and take it to the next day, then the next and the next,” Juengel said. “I’ve learned to leave it at the field.
“The home run felt great. Last night I tried to do too much, so tonight I just wanted to put the ball in play with two strikes. I got a pitch I could handle and it went out.”
Viosergy Rosa had been in a slump that reached 1-for-15 in this home stand, leaving numerous runners on base, before he had two hits Monday. In his first at-bat against Dixon Anderson, the Suns’ top starter, he singled to drive in a run in the first inning and singled again in the second. In the fourth, after Hagerstown had rallied from a 5-0 deficit to tie the game, Rosa hit a leadoff homer to regain the lead for good. It was his ninth of the season.
“Nobody likes to leave runners on base,” he said. “But that’s baseball. You can’t look back at those at-bats; just keep working every day. That home run, I was just looking to hit the ball hard. I broke my bat but it had enough on it to go over the fence.”
The third bit of redemption came for reliever Chipper Smith. On Friday against Lakewood, he entered the game in a bases-loaded situation and promptly gave up a grand slam to turn a 4-3 deficit into 8-3. He went on to pitch four innings, giving up one additional run, but the damage had been done. This time, entering with the Hoppers ahead 6-5, he pitched two shutout innings to keep the score where it was.
“He made one mistake in his last outing,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley. “It was a costly mistake and that’s part of the game. Tonight he did a good job mixing his pitches and he used his curve effectively.”
Position players have the advantage of being able to come back the next day. A bullpen guy may wait three or four days for another chance.
“You better get your mind right because every day is a new day,” McGinley said. “If you’re not strong mentally, you’re going to struggle. You learn from your mistakes, make adjustments and keep the runs limited.”
There were other key contributions. Cameron Flynn had a double, two walks and two runs scored. Tony Caldwell doubled in a run and scored twice. In the seventh inning, Cody Keefer singled in a run and Anthony Gomez had a sacrifice fly. Those two add-on runs proved huge when the Suns scored twice in the top of the eighth to cut the lead back to one run.
Blake Logan made sure there were no more rallies for the Suns, retiring them in order in the ninth inning for his eighth save.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came in the top of the fifth. Starter Mason Hope, who had surrendered five runs in the previous inning, gave up a single and a walk to start things. With the next batter up, he suddenly whirled and fired to shortstop Gomez, who had moved in behind the runner at second base. The pickoff move was successful for the first out, and Hope then got a groundout and a strikeout to end the inning.
Hernandez called the play from the dugout.
“I was thinking they were going to do a double steal,” he said, “and that’s exactly what they were going to try. We gambled and it paid off. It couldn’t have worked any better.”
The series and the home stand wrap up Wednesday with a game starting at 10:45 a.m.
May 13, 2013
Positives are hard to find for the Greensboro Grasshoppers right now.
Hagerstown dealt the Hoppers a 9-4 loss Monday night, extending their woes in NewBridge Bank Park. Greensboro has lost four straight on this home stand by a combined score of 33-12. The Hoppers are 6-13 at home for the season and have lost 10 of their last 11 here.
At the moment, they’re not getting it done on the mound or at the plate. Pitching continued to be a problem Monday, once again putting the offense in a deep hole. Dejai Oliver gave up five runs (four earned) in four innings and Dane Stone was tagged for four runs in the sixth as the Suns surged ahead 9-0.
“If we keep the score 5-0, we have a better shot because we scored some runs,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “Those four in the sixth really hurt us. Stone has been really good, too.”
The Hoppers managed to come back with four runs in the final four innings, but those were mainly cosmetic. Early on, they couldn’t take advantage of opportunities to score. They even bunched four hits in the third inning without getting a run.
Things are going so badly for the offense that Matt Juengel, the team’s most consistent hitter to date, twice made the final out with the bases loaded and also hit into a double play.
When the Hoppers did score, once was on a fielder’s choice and another on a bases-loaded walk. The only runs driven in with hits were by Jesus Solorzano and Mike Vaughn.
Mason Hope, who won the first game of the home stand, gets the start in the second game of the series Tuesday at 7 p.m.
May 12, 2013
The Hoppers can’t change the scenery so maybe a change of opponents will help.
Lakewood topped Greensboro for the third straight game Sunday, taking a 5-1 win to wrap up the four-game series. It was the Hoppers’ ninth loss in their last 10 games in NewBridge Bank Park.
They have three games left in this home stand. Hagerstown, a team they haven’t seen yet this season, will provide the opposition, starting Monday at 7 p.m. Dejai Oliver, who pitched well in his first start last week against Kannapolis, will be on the mound for the Hoppers. He’ll face a Suns team that leads the Northern Division with a 20-13 record.
“We’re aware of how they’re doing,” manager Jorge Hernandez said of the Suns. “We will have some scouting reports on them — who’s hot and who’s not, how their starting pitcher is doing. We need to concentrate on taking care of our own business and try to win the series.”
The Hoppers couldn’t do that against Lakewood, which had the worst record in the Northern Division when the series began. Greensboro won the opening game 5-4 but couldn’t build any momentum off that and dropped the next three. The Hoppers were pounded in the Friday and Saturday games by a combined score of 19-7.
Although the pitching improved Sunday, it wasn’t good enough and it got no support from the offense, which was limited to seven hits by three BlueClaws pitchers.
“We’ve got to find a way to put pitching and hitting together,” Hernandez said, “and get a good winning streak going.”
Starter Austin Brice gave up three runs, all in the fourth inning with two outs. The big blow was a two-run homer by catcher Justin Dalles, playing in his first game for Lakewood. Dalles is no rookie — he was drafted in the sixth round by the Orioles in 2009 and was in their system for four seasons. He had 15 career home runs before connecting off Brice.
“Brice made one big mistake, leaving a fastball up,” Hernandez said.
It was the BlueClaws’ seventh homer of the series.
Lakewood tacked on two more runs off Jheyson Manzueta in the seventh inning for some breathing room.
The Hoppers’ offense was essentially one and done, scoring in the first inning on Yordy Cabrera’s sacrifice fly. But there were several other opportunities that were wasted. In the second, singles by Matt Juengel and Cody Keefer and a sacrifice by Tony Caldwell put runners on second and third. Juancito Martinez grounded to third baseman Mitch Walding, whose throw home got Juengel sliding in. Yeison Hernandez then flied out to end the inning.
“He was going on contact,” Hernandez said of Juengel breaking for home. “That’s a situation where you want to be aggressive.”
In the sixth, the Hoppers got the first two batters on base but Viosergy Rosa and Jesus Solorzano struck out and Juengel flied out.
Finally, in the ninth inning the Hoppers loaded the bases with two outs but Martinez flied to center to end the game.
May 11, 2013
It was the kind of replay that no team wants to go through.
Lakewood thumped the Hoppers 9-4 Saturday night in a game that was eerily similar to a 10-3 loss Friday. In Friday’s game, the Hoppers overcame a 2-0 deficit to gain a 3-2 lead, then gave up a six-run inning that put them in a deep hole from which there was no escape. Saturday, they cut a 3-0 lead to 3-2 and again surrendered a six-run inning, burying them in a 9-2 hole.
“It was a carbon copy of last night,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “Home runs and big innings are killing us.”
The BlueClaws cranked out two more homers Saturday, two-run shots by Zach Taylor and Art Charles. That gave them six homers in two nights, nearly doubling their season total of eight coming into the series.
Starting pitching has been the culprit both games. Friday, Scott Lyman was charged with seven runs in 2.2 innings. Saturday, Ramon Del Orbe was tagged for all nine runs in 3.2 innings.
“We’ve got to keep battling and start pitching lower in the zone,” Hernandez said. “This is a small field and you have to keep the ball down.”
Pitching down in the zone is the key in any ball park, but mistakes are magnified when the dimensions are as tight as they are in NewBridge Bank Park, where the Hoppers are now 6-11.
“You can’t let little things rattle you,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley. “You have to locate your pitches. You know you’re going to give up a home run here and there, but make them solo homers and stay out of the big inning. You can’t get flustered.”
Austin Brice will start today’s 4 o’clock game as the Hoppers try to salvage a split of the four-game series.
NOTES: The relief pitching was solid, with Dane Stone, Brian Ellington and Miguel Fermin combining for 5.1 shutout innings … The Hoppers had eight hits, two each by Cody Keefer, Cameron Flynn and Anthony Gomez … In the bottom of the ninth Gomez hit his second homer of the season, a fly ball down the right field line that was ruled a fair ball inside the foul pole, despite vigorous protests from the BlueClaws … Miguel Nunez pitched six innings and improved to 4-0 for the BlueClaws, one-third of their wins this season … Lakewood center fielder Carlos Tocci made 10 putouts, including one sprinting catch of a long fly by Jesus Solorzano when he bounced off the fence and held on to the ball.
May 10, 2013
Playing at home has not been kind to the Hoppers so far this season.
They took a 10-3 drubbing by Lakewood Friday night, dropping their season record in NewBridge Bank Park to 6-10. They’re 9-8 in road games for an overall record of 15-18.
“We should be playing better here,” manager Jorge Hernandez said. “Maybe it’s a lack of concentration or we get too comfortable. We’ve got to pitch better in this park with its short porches.”
Hernandez said poor pitching set the tone for the game. The BlueClaws, who came into the game with just eight home runs in 32 games, slugged four Friday. Starter Scott Lyman gave up a two-run shot to Bryan Pointer in the first inning, then back-to-back long balls to Zach Taylor and Roman Quinn in the third. It was Taylor’s first of the season.
Lakewood went on to load the bases with two outs. Hernandez brought in left-hander Chipper Smith to face Chace Numata. After getting a strike on a fastball, Smith threw a changeup that Numata deposited on Natty’s Hill for a grand slam. Just like that the game went from 4-3 to 8-3.
“One bad pitch changed the whole game,” Hernandez said. “If we get the out there, it’s still 4-3 and a whole different game.”
The Hoppers had answered Lakewood’s two runs in the top of the first with three in the bottom. Jesus Solorzano doubled in two runs and Matt Juengel doubled in another. But after the BlueClaws scored six in the third inning, Greensboro didn’t score in the bottom half and the game was essentially over.
The Hoppers banged out 11 hits but hit into two double plays and left numerous runners in scoring position. Juengel, Mike Vaughn, Alfredo Lopez and Yordy Cabrera each had two hits.
The teams play the third game of the series Saturday at 7 p.m. Ramon Del Orbe will be the Hoppers’ starter.
May 9, 2013
When a team has a three-run lead shaved to one but still wins, the usual terminology is it “held on” for the victory.
But there was no holding on about the way the Hoppers finished off Thursday’s 5-4 win over Lakewood. Relief pitchers Frankie Reed and Blake Logan were dominant down the stretch, striking out the last five BlueClaws hitters.
Reed’s work was done in the eighth inning, after Lakewood had trimmed a 5-2 Hoppers lead to 5-4 with two runs off Miguel Fermin. Reed entered the game with one out and runners on first and second base. He got Angelo Mora to ground sharply to third base but Yordy Cabrera couldn’t handle it and everyone was safe on the error.
A tough situation had turned into a real mess and the bases were loaded. But Reed said he just tried to imagine that there was no one on base.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and keep doing what I’ve been doing all year,” he said. “I try to throw strikes low in the zone and get ground balls. It was a little stressful but we got out of it.”
He did it by getting pinch-hitter Josh Ludy to strike out swinging on a fastball for the second out. With Art Charles up, Reed polished him off with a fastball and two sliders to retire the side, leaving the bases loaded and the score still 5-4.
“I had a great spring training and I feel confident,” said Reed, whose ERA dropped to 0.59. “I feel I can get out of any situation they put me in.”
Blake Logan took the mound for the ninth inning. He didn’t waste any time, getting Willie Carmona, Larry Greene and Mitch Walding to strike out, all swinging, to earn his seventh save of the season.
“I was hitting my spots,” Logan said. “I couldn’t get them to swing at breaking balls so I got them with fastballs.”
Logan started the season strongly with three saves, blew one, got another save and then hit a rough patch by blowing consecutive saves and surrendering six runs in 2 2/3 innings.
“I had to work on a few things,” he said. “When you’re in a slump, you can’t sit on the couch. You have to figure things out.”
Marlins pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal suggested that Logan go back to pitching from the stretch, so he did. In his last four appearances Logan has not allowed a run or a hit and has three saves.
“Logan has his confidence back and he’s more aggressive,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley. “He’s back to being the bulldog he was at the beginning of the season.
“Reed just goes out and competes. He’s making quality pitches and he’s not scared out there. Those two sliders he threw (to Ludy) were outstanding.”
The work by Reed and Logan preserved the first win of the season for starter Mason Hope. He battled his way through five innings, allowing three hits and four walks but just one run. Hope got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by getting Charles to fly out.
It was an unusual offensive game for the Hoppers, who scored two runs on sacrifice flies, one of a fielder’s choice and one on a throwing error. The only one driven in on a base hit was by Matt Juengel. Jesus Solorzano and Tony Caldwell had the sac flies.
The defense was shaky, committing three errors. Manager Jorge Hernandez attributed that to not playing for two days (a rainout in Kannapolis Tuesday and a day off Wednesday).
The game was the start of a seven-game home stand. The four-game series against Lakewood will continue tonight through Sunday and then Hagerstown comes in for three games Monday through Wednesday.
PERSONNEL CHANGES: Catcher Mike Vaughn was brought up from extended spring training to replace Sharif Othman, who took a foul tip off his right hand against Kannapolis and suffered a broken finger … Othman will be out four to six weeks, according to Hernandez … Pitcher Andrew Steckenrider is also on the DL (right elbow tendinitis) and was replaced by D.J. Oliver, who appeared in 29 games with the Hoppers last year as a relief pitcher (2-2, 5.03) … He will be the team’s No. 5 starter … Oliver made one start already, throwing five innings against Kannapolis, allowing three hits and one run.
April 30, 2013
Every team goes through stretches in a baseball season when things just don’t go right.
The Hoppers are in one of those cycles. Mired in a six-game losing streak, they had an off day Tuesday and manager Jorge Hernandez did not have the team practice. They resume play with a seven-game road trip that starts Wednesday at West Virginia. After three games there, they will play four at Kannapolis.
Perhaps going on the road will help. The Hoppers are 6-5 away from NewBridge Bank Park and just 5-9 at home. After winning the first game of the just-completed home stand, they lost the next two against Hickory and then were swept in four games by Rome.
Against the Braves, the Hoppers couldn’t hit when they pitched well and couldn’t pitch when they hit well. They lost pitchers’ duels by 2-1 and 1-0 (in 10 innings) and slugfests by 10-6 and 9-6.
“We’re just not clicking right now,” Hernandez said. “We’re not doing the little things. That’s baseball, but it can be frustrating.”
Monday’s doubleheader loss to the Braves (full disclosure — I was not able to be there) was an example of the pattern. In the opener, Greensboro got outstanding pitching from starter Andrew Steckenrider (5 innings, 1 hit, 8 strikeouts) and the bullpen. The seven-inning game was scoreless and extended into the 10th before the Braves scratched out a run against Dane Stone.
“We had opportunities to score,” Hernandez said. “We had runners on second and third with one out and couldn’t get them in.”
In the second game, the Hoppers swung the bats better but they were constantly battling from behind. Every time they closed the gap or tied the game, a pitcher would give up more runs in the top of the next inning. Starter Austin Brice did not record an out in the fourth inning and altogether was hammered for seven runs and 10 hits.
“He was up in the zone and got hit hard,” Hernandez said. “We’ve got to stay away from those long innings after we score.”
In a box score oddity, every Hoppers hitter had one hit but no one had two. There were four homers, all solo, by Cody Keefer, Viosergy Rosa, Sharif Othman and Jesus Solorzano. For Rosa, it was his fourth homer of the home stand.
So how do the Hoppers break out of this slump?
“We need some guys to get hot,” Hernandez said. “We’re not picking up the slack in some games. We seem more focused on the road, so if we can put a couple of wins together maybe we can get something going.”
Hernandez said third baseman Yordy Cabrera, who missed three games with turf toe, should be back in the lineup Wednesday.
Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann, with Rome on a rehab stint, went 0-for-4 in the first game Monday and did not play in the second. He completed the series 3-for-11 but did damage with two home runs Friday and a crucial RBI double Saturday.
“It took us two games to learn how to pitch to him,” Hernandez said. “He didn’t hit the ball hard on Monday. That’s what we needed from the beginning of the series.”
ALUMNI NOTES: With Giancarlo Stanton (2008) being placed on the DL, the Marlins recalled Marcell Ozuna (2011) from Jacksonville … Ozuna was just named the Southern League’s player of the week. In five games hie hit five homers and drove in 11 runs. He hit a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth as the Suns rallied for seven runs to beat Chattanooga … Christian Yelich (2011) had a two-run double in the ninth and a three-run homer earlier in that game … Also, the Marlins recalled left-hander Brad Hand (2009) from New Orleans to help in the bullpen.
April 27, 2013
This one really hurt.
It was only one loss during the course of a 140-game season, but not many will leave a taste worse than the Hoppers’ 2-1 defeat by Rome Saturday night. Greensboro played superbly for eight innings and carried a 1-0 lead into the top of the ninth, only to surrender two runs and see it slip away.
“That was like a big punch in the gut right there,” said Hoppers manager Jorge Hernandez.
After giving up 10 runs and four homers to the Braves in Friday’s loss, the Hoppers’ pitchers righted themselves. Starter Ramon Del Orbe pitched five shutout innings, allowing just two hits. Jheyson Manzueta followed with two more scoreless innings, giving up two hits.
“Del Orbe had good sink on the ball and stayed down in the zone,” said pitching coach Blake McGinley. “He had a good changeup and slider and pitched with good tempo. Manzueta was sharp.”
Closer Blake Logan cruised through the eighth inning, retiring the Braves in order. But in the ninth, Logan hit leadoff batter Ronald Luna and that changed the whole scenario. It brought up Brian McCann, Atlanta’s all-star catcher on a rehab assignment, with no outs and a man on base.
“With nobody on base, it’s a different story,” Hernandez said. “But with a man on, now you have to go after him.”
After hitting two home runs Friday, McCann had been held in check with a flyout, groundout and strikeout. He took ball one, then turned on Logan’s second offering and smoked a double into the right field corner to score Luna. Rome sent in a pinch runner, who tagged and went to third on a deep flyout. Levi Hyams then singled in what turned out to be the winning run.
“I wanted to give him two innings,” McGinley said of the decision to bring in Logan in the eighth. “But he didn’t pitch smart (in the ninth) and he was flat in the zone. Once he hit the batter, McCann was up next (and tied the game) . Then there was a base open with a left-handed hitter (Hyams) up and he beat us. You should be careful there.”
The Hoppers’ offense couldn’t do much with Rome starter Mauricio Cabrera, who allowed three hits and walked two in seven innings. They did scratch out a run against him in the second when Jesus Solarzano doubled and scored on a single by Cody Keefer.
There was a golden opportunity in the sixth when Yeison Hernandez singled and Anthony Gomez walked and they moved up on a wild pitch with one out. But the runners had to hold on Matt Juengel’s groundout against a drawn-in infield. Viosergy Rosa then grounded out to end the inning.
“We had runners on second and third with one out,” Hernandez said. “We had the right hitters up but they couldn’t get the runners across.”
It was the fourth straight loss for the Hoppers, who will try to shake this one off and get back on track Sunday at 4 p.m. Andrew Steckenrider will start for Greensboro. McCann is scheduled to catch for Rome.
April 26, 2013
Put a major league hitter in a minor league lineup and things happen.
Brian McCann, the all-star catcher from the Atlanta Braves, played his first baseball game since undergoing surgery in October for a torn labrum in his right shoulder. At the plate, he looked as if he had never been away, smashing a pair of two-run homers and drawing two walks to propel Rome over the Hoppers 10-6 Friday night.
“It felt good,” he said. ”I got some pitches to hit and luckily I didn’t miss them.”
He was most pleased about the way his shoulder felt behind the plate and how fast he got the ball out of his glove and on the way to second base. The Hoppers tested McCann on the basepaths, stealing four bases, and he made two throwing errors. But accuracy is something he said he can iron out.
“The night couldn’t have gone any better,” he said. “I was a lot happier with how I threw the ball than I thought I would (be). The game was a little bit fast for me behind the plate, kind of like my first game in spring training. The more I get back there the better I’ll feel.”
McCann will be with Rome through this four-game series, likely alternating between catching one day and being the DH the next. He said his situation will be day to day after that.
“When I’m ready, I’ll be back up (with Atlanta),” he said. “I get 20 days (to rehab). It could be 10 days, I don’t know. I’m not going to put a date on it. If I feel like I did today, I’ll build off it tomorrow and see what happens.”
The crowd of 6,349 included numerous fans wearing McCann jerseys, and they didn’t have to wait long for results. Hitting third in the lineup, he drew plenty of cheers when he came up with a man on base in the first inning. On a 3-and-2 pitch from Scott Lyman, he drove a pitch over the fence in right center field.
In the third inning, he drew a walk and scored on a three-run homer by Josh Elander. In the third, facing Brian Ellington, McCann drove one high and far over the right portion of the scoreboard for another two-run shot. He drew another walk in the fifth and grounded sharply into a double play in the seventh to complete his night. Second baseman Anthony Gomez speared the hard-hit ball on a short hop to start the double play.
Hoppers pitching coach Blake McGinley said the pitchers didn’t try to set up McCann by pitching him inside. His power hitting was contagious — Elander and Casey Kalenkosky hit three-run homers. Lyman’s line was brutal — 17 batters faced in two innings, nine hits allowed (three homers and three doubles), two walks and a wild pitch. The eight runs he allowed inflated his ERA from 3.44 to 6.64.
The Braves put up five runs in the first inning, three in the second and two in the third. They didn’t score again, with the Hoppers’ getting three shutout innings from Chipper Smith and one from Frank Reed.
Greensboro’s hitters showed some life, with Yordy Cabrera contributing a three-run homer and Viosergy Rosa drilling a long solo shot for his sixth homer of the season.
“You can’t allow a guy like (McCann) to beat you, and he was the difference,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “They were hitting .232 as a team, but you put a guy like that in the lineup and you see what happens.”
The teams play the second game of the series tonight, with Ramon Del Orbe drawing the start for the Hoppers.