As is the norm in the minor leagues, the Hickory Crawdads have had turnover with some members of the pitching staff in recent weeks. Two of the newer additions showed their mettle Tuesday night and Miguel Aparicio provided the walk-off single in the 10th to reward them with a 3-2 win over the Lexington (Ky.) Legends at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The victory played out in front of 1,221 fans to start an eight-game South Atlantic League homestand, the Crawdads’ longest of the season. More importantly, Hickory (29-15) was able to pick up a game against first-place Delmarva (Md.) in the SAL Northern Division race. The Shorebirds (33-10) lost 4-2 at home to Lakewood (N.J.). However, the Crawdads remain in third, one game back of Greensboro (30-14).
The winning run scored when Aparicio chopped a single into left that brought in Jose Almonte from third. Almonte began the inning at second and moved up to third on Frainyer Chavez’s bunt single.
Manager Matt Hagen, Aparicio’s manager for parts of three seasons at short-season Spokane (Wash.) and now Hickory, said the heroics by the Crawdads center fielder were in sharp contrast to how he would approach the situation in the past. Prior to the postgame interview, Hagen said he and the coaches talked about that approach.
“He looks a lot more confident,” Hagen said of Aparicio, who is in his third season with Hickory. “The first strike, he took a big swing and was trying to be the big hero. In years past, he would take three big swings like that thinking he’d have to hit the ball 500 feet to win the game. After that, he changed his mindset to just make contact to win the game. He got a breaking ball away and put the barrel on it to make contact. It’s nice to see the change.”
The Crawdads and Legends forged a 2-2 tie by the middle of the third inning. Facing left-hander Evan Steele, who was called up by Lexington earlier Tuesday to make his first appearance in two seasons, the Crawdads had four singles from the first five hitters. Sherten Apostel and Melvin Novoa each put up RBI hits to account for Hickory’s runs.
Lexington tied it in the third against starter Ronny Henriquez. Also called up earlier in the day, Brhet Bewley made his first at-bat count with a single to left. Jackson Lueck followed with a triple and scored on Michael Gigliotti’s sacrifice fly.
That turned out to be the final runs for the Legends as relievers Kelvin Gonzalez and Jesus Linarez combined for six scoreless innings and struck out nine.
With promotions and injuries creating spots for the new pitchers, Hagen said the additions have performed better than expected since coming in from the Rangers’ extended spring training camp.
“You don’t expect necessarily guys that come in from Arizona to pitch the way the guys did when they left off,” Hagen said. “These two guys have been just as good, if not better.”
Hagen later added, “I’d like to say I’m surprised, but the guys in Arizona do a tremendous job getting them ready.”
Gonzalez entered the game in the fifth and worked around four hits and a walk over three innings with three strikeouts. Lexington (21-23) put two on in both the sixth and seventh innings, but Gonzalez was able to stifle each threat. He got help in the sixth when his shortstop, Ornelas, made an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center. In the seventh, Gonzalez struck out Eric Cole to strand two.
Gonzalez, who was acquired by the Rangers in a trade from Kansas City last summer, has allowed just one run over three appearances spanning 7.2 innings since joining the Crawdads on May 11.
Linarez entered in the eighth and held the Legends to two baserunners over three innings. With the runner on second to start the 10th (under minor league rules, all extra innings start with a runner at second), Linarez (1-0) got Cole to pop to short before striking out Reed Rohlman and Nick Hutchins.
Linarez had already made an impression on his new manager during his first appearance with the team last Friday at Hagerstown (Md.).
“I think Linarez showed up in like the third or fourth inning,” Hagen recounted. “And then he pitched the fifth, because his plane had just arrived.”
The series continues Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at L.P. Frans.