Three players repeating Low-A ball made an impact for the Hickory Crawdads on Wednesday in a 5-1 matinee win over the West Virginia Power at L.P. Frans Stadium.
An “Education Day” crowd of 3,556 saw starter Tyree Thompson allow two hits and strike out six over six innings. Thompson was backed up by Jose Almonte and Kole Enright, who combined for four of the team’s eight hits, including a solo home run for each.
Thompson, the Texas Rangers’ 26th-round pick in 2016 out of Karr High School in New Orleans, returned to Hickory after a 7-11 season over 23 games (20 starts) and a 4.93 ERA. Armed with a fourth pitch, a slider to go with a fastball, change and curve, the 21-year-old said after Wednesday’s game that he feels more comfortable this season.
“I’ve added a few pitches,” Thompson said. “The main thing is just going out there and competing and having fun. I sharpened up a few things mechanical wise.”
Thompson also returned in mid-May from extended spring with more velocity on his fastball. Over his first five starts, he has allowed just 15 hits and struck out 20 over 24.2 innings.
“Just hitting the weight room,” said the right-hander. “Just a lot of arm care and getting stronger. I’ve also been using my legs more.”
Crawdads manager Matt Hagen thought the fastball was a difference maker for Thompson on Wednesday.
“He was able to locate the fastball on both sides of the plate,” Hagen said. “He definitely commanded the fastball better than he did last year.”
The lone wrinkle for Thompson (2-2) came on the first pitch of the fifth when Johnny Slater smashed a hanging curve for his first pro home run.
Hickory punched back quickly in the bottom of the fifth and took the lead for good. Almonte took Power starter Ryne Inman (5-5) deep for his second home run of the season. Two outs later, Enright squared up a fastball and sent it off the billboards for his first home run since joining the Crawdads last Thursday.
Enright, a former top-30 prospect for the Rangers, who selected him in the third round in 2016 out of West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Fla., is 7-for-18 in his five games so far with Hickory. Hagen said Enright is likely playing with a chip on his shoulder after hitting .224 in 77 games with the Crawdads in 2018.
“He’s out here trying to prove something, which is a good place to be,” Hagen said.
Enright agreed with Hagen's comment and said he's taken more ownership of his career.
"I've kind of taken my game into my own hands, at this point," Enright said. "No coach or rules can hold me back. They've provided me the resources, but it's my job to use them."
West Virginia (28-29) saw the game get away from it in the seventh due to shoddy defense. The inning started when Matt Whatley reached after Inman fielded an easy comebacker and lollipopped a throw past first. Almonte followed with a double to the gap in left-center to score Whatley.
After missing much of the past three seasons with various injuries, Almonte has struggled to find a groove this year, hitting just .178.
“Over the last week, the at-bats have been getting better,” Hagen said of the 22-year-old. “Even though the results haven’t been what he wanted… but he’s swinging at more strikes and leaving pitches alone out of the zone.”
Almonte scored on Jax Biggers’ single before Enright’s double placed runners at second and third to set up a bizarre play. With the infield in to cut off a run on a sharply hit grounder, the Power got what they wanted when Miguel Aparicio hit a ball to Joseph Rosa at second. Rosa made the play, but missed a chance to get Enright, who took off for third while Biggers held. Rosa threw to first baseman Onil Pena, who then tried to catch Enright scrambling back to second. The throw allowed Biggers to scamper home with the final run of the game.
Grant Anderson, who was acquired by the Rangers in a trade from the Seattle Mariners organization in April, faced his old teammates for the first time and closed out the game. Anderson worked around two hits and a walk over three innings. He picked up his fifth save of the season with a strikeout of Slater to end the game.
The Crawdads (37-22) return to L.P. Frans on Thursday at 7 p.m. to start their final home series of the first half with a game against the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies. They moved within a game-and-a-half of second in the SAL Northern Division standings after Greensboro lost on Wednesday.