The one thing a closer doesn't want to do, especially trying to protect a one-run lead, is walk the leadoff hitter.
That's exactly what Bryce Howe did Friday night, but he overcame that faux pas and saved the 4-3 win for the Hoppers over Hickory. It was Greensboro's second straight win to open the season.
"It was a tight situation with a lot of pressure and I had a few butterflies facing that first hitter," Howe said of his season debut against Hickory's Kole Enright. "I know walking the leadoff man is a cardinal sin, but I had to put it behind me. I settled down by taking a lot of deep breaths."
Enright reached second base on a sacrifice, but Howe shut down the rally by getting Eric Jenkins to fly out to shallow center field and then slipping a third strike past the dangerous Miguel Aparicio to end the game.
Aparicio had singled in his previous two trips, driving in a run with the first one. But on a 1-and-2 count, he never moved his bat on strike three.
"I got the count in my favor," Howe said, "and then I threw a changeup. I think I froze him because he was looking for something else."
Howe was drafted in the 18th round last summer out of Oral Roberts University, where he began his career as a starter and finished it as a reliever. He notched four saves in five chances in the Gulf Coast League after signing with the Marlins.
"I'm used to coming out of the bullpen," Howe said. "I'll be happy with any role, but I absolutely like the late innings. It fits my mentality, which is to be a bulldog and attack hitters."
It will take some time for the eight pitchers in the bullpen to sort out their roles. Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said Tyler Frohwirth and Reilly Hovis are others who will get a look at closing games.
"Howe has a good curve ball as his out pitch and good command of his fastball," DeFelice said. "I like his aggression in the strike zone."
Brandon Miller, making a spot start after Tyler Kolek went on the disabled list with tendinitis, got through give innings for the Hoppers. He didn't allow a hit for four innings, then was touched for five hits and two runs in the fifth.
"He ran out of gas," said manager Todd Pratt, "but he gave us five good innings on short notice and that's all we could ask."
Colton Hock pitched three innings and wound up as the winning pitcher, striking out four Crawdads and giving up two soft-contact hits.
NOTES: After Aaron Knapp singled on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning, Isael Soto hit a first-pitch home run to right center field to put the Hoppers ahead 2-0 … In the sixth inning, with the game tied 2-2, Micah Brown got a RBI by drawing a bases-loaded walk and B.J. Lopez got an infield hit to drive in a second run … Right-hander Brent Lillie is the scheduled starter for Saturday night's game.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.