GREENSBORO— To claw their way back to an even record on the season’s second-half, the Greensboro Grasshoppers hosted a three-game weekend set with the Texas Rangers-affiliated Hickory Crawdads, who sit at 20-13, second place in the South Atlantic League Northern Division.
Their weekend labors brought the Grasshoppers to an 18-18 record in the second half of the 2018 season, as of Monday morning.
The Hoppers had returned home from a 3-5 road trip and entered the series with the Crawdads at 15-18 on the second half and down in a fourth-place hole, six games behind the Sally North-leading Lakewood BlueClaws.
Friday: Hickory 0, Greensboro 3
Daniel Castano won a pitchers’ duel with Tyree Thompson despite struggling early and often in Friday’s game. The lefty had the bases loaded with one out in the first and allowed a hit in each of the first five frames, tossing a few walks in as well.
It wasn’t until Castano’s sixth and final inning of work that he managed to retire the side in order, but seven strikeouts and six innings of shutout ball will play anywhere.
Hickory’s Thompson was more effective than his numbers and pedigree would suggest, the 26th-round pick with an ERA over 4 working into the seventh, striking out five and allowing three runs. The slight righty from New Orleans also has stuff that belies his frame, with a fastball running up to 93 and a tight slider. And the process showed better form than the results would indicate.
Thompson was slow out of the gate, allowing an infield single to Thomas Jones and plunking José Devers. Tristan Pompey singled and the lead runners came around on sacrifice flies by Isael Soto and Marcos Rivera.
Thompson mowed down his opposition until the seventh, and he was snake-bit as he faltered. Bubba Hollins led off with a soft single and advanced on what should’ve been a sac bunt but was thrown away by the pitcher attempting to catch the lead runner. After walking Jones to load the bases with one down, Thompson was pulled in favor of Jean Casanova, who sawed Devers off with a fastball that made its way into left field and brought in the third run.
Gabriel Castellanos tossed two shutout frames and Michael Mertz had a breezy ninth to take the save.
Saturday: Hickory 5, Greensboro 8
Edward Cabrera struggled mightily but the Greensboro bats struck early and then late in the game, outslugging the visitors and ensuring a series victory.
The home team was quick to hop on soft-tossing lefty Tyler Thomas, converting a leadoff walk into three runs on singles by José Devers and Tristan Pompey and a double by Isael Soto.
The Hoppers added on to their lead in the second when Chris Torres snuck one around the right-field foul pole for his first Sally League homer. Michael Hernandez homered in the fourth to give the hosts a 5-4 lead they wouldn’t relinquish, as they scored three in the eighth off Alex Eubanks and Joe Barlow to put it to bed. That barrage was aided and abetted by walks and a hit-batsman, Pompey and Torres again coming up with the big hits.
Cabrera tossed a beautiful first inning, striking out two while touching 98 and flashing a tight slider. The mercurial Dominican ran into a bit of trouble in the second, walking a pair after surrendering an impressive opposite-field poke to Tyreque Reed.
The wheels rolled off in the third after a single by Yonny Hernández and a double by Ryan Dorow led the inning. Cabrera completely lost the plate, his explosive heater landing far afield of the four quadrants. Two of the inning’s three runs came on wild pitches. Brandon Miller came up huge in relief, striking out four over four spotless frames.
Hickory’s only peep came in the eighth when Miguel Aparicio smacked a solo shot off Nestor Bautista. Jeremy Ovalle struck out three in the ninth and took the save.
Sunday: Hickory 1, Greensboro 2
Greensboro sealed the sweep Sunday afternoon, narrowly skirting bonus baseball when Isael Soto doubled in Chris Torres to walk it off.
Beside Soto, whose fifth-inning double knocked in the Hoppers’ only other run, Trevor Rogers was the star of the matinee. The lefty from New Mexico has struggled in his first full season of pro ball; the 2017 first-round pick entering the day with an ERA perilously close to six points.
But Rogers had it all working on this afternoon, striking out twelve and recording 23 outs before allowing a hit. Rogers was painting both corners with a fastball that sat at 92-94 m.p.h. and touched 95, pairing the hard stuff with a tight slider that hovered around 80.
The lefthander was especially adept at busting righties in to set up his breaker. The exciting ending was made necessary by Michael Mertz’s rocky ninth. The tying run was unearned, the result of an error, a walk, and a struck batter.
Bubba Thompson’s speed earned him a couple of singles the hard way this weekend. Thompson’s overall numbers indicate that he has a solid approach and the ability to drive the ball; the 2017 first-rounder also made a very nice running catch in center Friday night.
Catcher Yohel Pozo has a good approach at the plate and enough pop to drive the ball the other way with authority. The same can be said for first baseman Tyreque Reed.
Toolsy outfielders Pedro González and Miguel Aparicio are still finding their way in the batter’s box.
Tristan Pompey has only been in full-season ball for a couple of weeks, but the outfielder looks extremely comfortable at the plate. The Canadian had four hits Saturday and took a pair of walks Sunday.
Thomas Jones continues to struggle with pitch recognition, especially on breaking balls. The outfielder has seemingly been mired in a slump since his hot start upon his arrival in Greensboro.
Isael Soto looks to be breaking out of his malaise, racking up RBIs and extra-base hits with regularity. Even his outs are hit hard.
Chris Torres, acquired from the Seattle organization last year, looks quite advanced already a week into his full-season career. The 20-year-old Dominican shortstop is a switch-hitter who shows a proclivity for shooting hard singles up the middle and powerful drives to the opposite field.