The season's first homestand ended with a dud for the Hoppers Wednesday afternoon, but there was promise in the bigger picture.
On one hand, Delmarva handed the Hoppers an 8-2 thumping. On the other, the team boarded the bus for a long road trip knowing it went 5-2 at First National Bank Field.
"We won two series," said manager Todd Pratt, referring to three of four against Hickory and two of three against Delmarva. "This was just one of those days. You have to give credit to their starter (Zach Muckenhirn), who pitched with good tempo and kept us off balance. And this was the first day we didn't have as many quality at-bats."
After the game the Hoppers headed out for the nine-hour ride to Lakewood, where they will start a four-game series Thursday. They follow that with three games at Delmarva. Pratt should get a good read on his team by the time it returns home on April 20.
"This is the start of the grind," he said. "When I played in this league (in 1986), there wasn't this kind of travel because weren't as many teams."
Back then, the South Atlantic League consisted of 10 teams compared to 14 today, and the geography was much more compact. The longest trips were to Savannah and Macon, while Greensboro and Asheville were the most northern cities. Now there are trips to Lakewood; Delmarva; Hagerstown, Md.; Charleston, WV, and Lexington, Ky.
But that's modern life in the minor leagues, and players must adapt. The first time through a long trip can be an eye-opener for those going through a full-season league for the first time.
Wednesday's game was cut-and-dried. Delmarva's Preston Palmeiro, the son of former major-leaguer Rafael Palmeiro, ripped a grand-slam home run off Hoppers starter Alex Mateo in the first inning. Greensboro never got back into it, and the Shorebirds tacked on four additional runs.
The Hoppers' RBIs came when Branden Berry doubled and scored on Luis Pintor's single, and Aaron Knapp's triple followed by Dalton Wheat's groundout. Any thoughts of a comeback were squelched when the Hoppers stranded runners at third base in the third and fourth innings.
Muchenhirn, a left-hander, pitched six strong innings, allowing one run on four hits and striking out eight. Mateo regrouped and pitched through the fifth inning, allowing one additional run.
"You have to execute the fastball down," said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. "Mateo was working on his two-seam fastball and it wasn't there early. You have to stay committed to the process."
NOTES: Gerrion Grim also homered for the Shorebirds … Hoppers' pitchers surrendered 14 homers during the seven games, 11 of them solo shots … Greensboro's defense was solid, with excellent plays by catcher Alex Jones on a foul popup, Mateo on a bare-handed grab of a high hopper and throwing out a runner at home, and a nifty double play from first baseman Colby Lusignan to shortstop Pintor covering second to Mateo covering first base … The Hoppers used a shift against Palmeiro late in the game, moving Berry over from third to give them three infielders on the right side. Pratt said it was just something to try out and will likely not be a regular feature. Palmeiro grounded out … Dustin Beggs will start the first game in Lakewood.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.