GREENSBORO—The Grasshoppers bounced back from a tough weekend in Hickory with a win on July 4. The Hoppers beat Lakewood 4-3 behind a strong performance from starter Daniel Castano.
Castano was aided by a Micah Brown homer and RBIs from José Devers, Thomas Jones, and Harrison DiNicola.
BlueClaws starter Kyle Young was done after securing two outs in the fifth inning, while the Hoppers’ Castano struck out seven over seven with the only blemishes homers by Jake Scheiner and Jhailyn Ortiz.
The Grasshoppers improve to 7-6 on their second-half season record (the South Atlantic League summer is divided into two half-seasons, of which the division winners advance to a playoffs) and are in a virtual dead heat with Lakewood in the upper reaches of the Sally League North.
THURSDAY: Lakewood 4, Greensboro 5
It was a marquee night on the mound for prospect-hawks, 2017 Phillies second-rounder Spencer Howard taking the mound for Lakewood and the 20-year-old Dominican Edward Cabrera for Greensboro. Scouts had their radar guns calibrated and aimed at each team’s youthful starting arm.
Howard and Cabrera did not look so different from one another, entering the night with pedestrian numbers as they struggle to harness their elite stuff.
Howard throws a mid-nineties fastball with movement as well as a high-eighties cutter, a low-eighties slider, and mid-seventies curveball. He has the strikeouts to match expectations of a young prospect, but an ERA north of five, to add that he got hit around on his last visit to Greensboro.
Cabrera has upper-nineties heat and a strong breaking ball but has not racked up the strikeouts in a way befitting his arsenal.
Howard’s struggles continued Thursday, the righty issuing five walks and a pair of wild pitches contributing to his allowance of four runs over five frames.
Cabrera was closer than Howard on Friday to epiphany, tallying a career-high eight strikeouts and allowing just two earned runs over five-and-two-thirds.
Howard walked Isael Soto to open the second, a single by Garvis Lara and a grounder by Micah Brown to push one across the plate. Another walk to Soto and a two-run laser by Lara put Greensboro up 4-2.
This evening of baseball was not trouble-free for Cabrera, whose 98 mile-per-hour fastball was turned around for a first-inning homer by Nick Maton. The lanky righthander proved to be stout of character, rebounding to strike out the side in the third inning and allowing just two more hits through the fifth after being slapped around for four over the first two.
Cabrera seemed to run out of gas in the fifth, walking the nine-hole hitter to load the bases with two outs after allowing Daniel Brito and Edwin Rodríguez each to nab their second hit on the night. Colton Hock, who would go on to toss a perfect two-and-a-third to pick up the win, induced a grounder that was picked and thrown away by Brown at third.
Brown’s error tied the game, but not for long: Luis Cedeño came on for Lakewood and promptly allowed a go-ahead double to Harrison DiNicola after plunking two Grasshoppers. Vincenzo Aiello made it interesting in the ninth, putting two on base before shuttering down the inning to earn the save.
If the Claws had made a comeback, credit would be given to Connor Brogdon, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning.
FRIDAY: Lakewood 5, Greensboro 4
Lakewood salvaged the final game of the series; Greensboro fell short despite rallying back twice Friday. Trevor Rogers slogged through five innings, giving up three runs on a wild pitch and singles to Jhailyn Ortiz in the first and Dalton Guthrie in the fourth.
Rogers, the Marlins’ 2017 first-round draft choice, struck out four, using as his “out” pitch a low-eighties slider playing off fastballs in the low-nineties. The lefty is still settling into pro ball after missing last season with injury, but seems to be gaining confidence.
Greensboro got one back in the fourth, José Devers scoring on a double by Will Allen after walking and advancing to second on an errant pickoff attempt. The big lefty Damon Jones had the home team in his pocket with his fastball/slider combo, striking out five over five-and-two-thirds. Or it seemed like he had them.
Jones was still going strong in the sixth, Marcos Rivera’s anomylous single sandwiched by strikeouts. That was until Ricardo Céspedes laced a liner up and under the scoreboard in righ: tie ballgame.
Sean Guenther spun two-and-a-third clean innings to allow the offense to come back, but Ryan McKay gave up the ghost for Greensboro: two hits, a walk, and a hit batsman put the go-ahead run across in the eighth.
The visitors doubled their money in the ninth when Nick Maton slashed a double down the line to score Matt Vierling. Luis Carrasco held the Hoppers down for two innings, grabbing the win.
The Hoppers launched a volley against Zach Warren in the ninth, Garvis Lara doubling and scoring on a double-play ball. Still, Warren got the save and Lakewood escaped with a win.
Garvis Lara has been showing signs of life with the bat. Greensboro’s infielder had two hits Thursday including a homer, and two hits Friday (including a double); the man from Baní had four good at-bats each night and made a nice diving stab at second to boot.
You can tell who the good hitters are in the Lakewood lineup: shortstop Nick Maton can really “turn on one” with surprising pop, and outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz is an imposing presence who seems to be emerging from an early-season slump as he lashes low line drives.
Tristan Pompey, the outfielder drafted in the 3rd round out of Kentucky, is set to join Greensboro this weekend in Lexington.
Who goes up? Baseball sages suggest Jhonny Santos, who came into Friday’s action with six homers, 29 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, and an OPS above .800.