After the Hickory Crawdads pummeled Greensboro pitching during the first two games of the weekend series at L.P. Frans Stadium, the Grasshoppers got a solid outing from starter Alex Manasa to lead an 8-2 victory Monday night in front of 1,427 fans.
With the win, the Grasshoppers (34-16) fended off the Crawdads’ attempt to forge a tie for second in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. With 20 games left in the first half, which will include the series finale Tuesday, Greensboro is two games ahead of Hickory (32-19).
Despite having the second- and third-best records in the SAL, the problem remaining for both is the dominance of Delmarva (Md.). The Shorebirds captured a 2-1 win over in-state rival Hagerstown earlier in the day to improve to 40-11. They remain five games up on Greensboro and increase to seven ahead of Hickory.
Crawdads manager Matt Hagen expressed some of the frustration of both teams in chasing Delmarva.
“They (Shorebirds) split a doubleheader yesterday (Sunday) and we made up half-a-game,” Hagen said. “We keep winning but we can’t seem to get anywhere near them.”
Despite a 6-4 record over the past 10 games, the Crawdads have lost two games in the standings to Delmarva. Hickory will close out the first half with a four-game series at Delmarva from June 13-16.
“I’m anxious to see just how good they are in person,” Hagen said.
The Grasshoppers and Crawdads entered the series with two of the top three pitching staffs in the SAL but the lineups excelled the first two nights with a combined 35 runs. Hickory had scored 31 over the past three games, but Manasa chilled the bats on a hot night with a solid performance. The Farmington, Mich., native needed just 82 pitches (55 strikes) to complete seven shutout innings. Throwing a combination of a fastball, slider and changeup, Manasa struck out one and gave up six hits to pick up his sixth win without a defeat.
“He did a good job getting himself out of a couple of jams,” Hagen said. “Then he did a good job of changing speeds and had good command of two, if not three pitches. It kind of gave our guys a little bit of trouble.”
The Grasshoppers built a 4-0 lead over the first four innings against starter Ronny Henriquez. Ji-Hwan Bae and Fabricio Macias opened the game with singles to place runners at first and third. Mason Martin’s sacrifice fly scored Bae for the first run.
The baserunning of Bae and Macias played a big hand during a two-run uprising in the third. Bae doubled to left before Macias hit a grounder to third baseman Sherten Apostel. Bae’s advance to third distracted Apostel’s attempt to field the play, with the ball deflecting into left. Bae scored on the play and Macias wound up at second.
One out later, Macias took off in an attempt to steal third. Rodolfo Castro smashed a hot grounder to Curtis Terry, who made the difficult play and ran to first for the out. However, Macias motored at full speed and slid into home just ahead of Terry’s throw.
Back-to-back doubles by Justin Harrer and Brett Kinneman in the fourth pushed the lead to four.
Hagen did not feel Henriquez was as sharp as in previous outings.
“Every time he goes out there, we feel pretty good about it because he has electric stuff,” Hagen said of the 18-year-old Dominican. “He’s such a blast to watch pitch. Tonight, he just wasn’t as super crisp.”
Pedro Gonzalez and Matt Whatley provided much of the offense for the Crawdads against Manasa. The two connected for back-to-back singles in the second and were stranded. Gonzales singled again in the fifth, but was caught stealing before Whatley doubled and was later left at third.
While Hagen was complimentary of Manasa, he also felt his squad was snakebit at times.
“I thought we hit a couple of balls hard with some guys on base,” Hagen said. “But it found some gloves.”
The Grasshoppers put the game out of reach with four more in the ninth, capped by a three-run blast by Martin. The homer was Martin’s 15th, which put him in a tie for the SAL lead with former Crawdads catcher Sam Huff, who was promoted nearly three weeks ago.
Miguel Aparicio spoiled the shutout in the ninth with his fifth home run of the year. Terry followed with his 11th to account for the final outcome.