Knapp Keeps the Heat on During a Chilly Night

By Bill Hass / Greensboro Grasshoppers | April 8, 2017 10:21 AM ET

The weather was more suitable for penguins than baseball players Friday night, but Aaron Knapp found the perfect way to keep warm.

The Hoppers' leadoff man was in constant motion, getting two singles, walking twice, stealing four bases, scoring two runs and driving in another run. That's known as stuffing the stat sheet, and it lifted the Hoppers to their second straight win of the young season, 6-4 over Hickory.

The California-born Knapp, who played at Cal-Berkeley, endured the temperature that started at 51 degrees on the outfield thermometer and ended at 44 some three hours later.

"It wasn't ideal baseball weather," he admitted, "but once you're in the batter's box the adrenaline takes over."

Manager Todd Pratt said Knapp is the perfect leadoff man.

"Speed doesn't slump," Pratt said, "and that's what this team is built on. (Knapp) 
gets on base and creates problems for the other team's pitching staff, He's dangerous at the plate because he's not always bunting. That's part of his game, but he has a short swing and hits the ball hard."

Knapp loves the leadoff spot, which he filled at Batavia last season and for three years in college. Stealing bases sets up RBI opportunities for the hitters behind him.

The bottom of the first inning was a perfect example. Knapp walked, got a good jump to steal second and then stole third base. He came in to score on Justin Twine's slow chopper to third base, manufacturing a run without a base hit.

"Angel Espada (the first base coach) gives me the pitcher's time to home plate," Knapp said, "so two pitches is all I really need. (Hickory starter Kyle Cody) was slow in his delivery and he had a high leg kick."

His second time up, Knapp singled, stole second and came in to score on Colby Lusignan's two-run double into the left field corner.

In the sixth inning, after the Hoppers had broken a 3-3 tie with two runs, Knapp singled in an insurance run to push the lead to 6-3. He followed that up with his fourth stolen base of the night.

"If I can get the pitchers to pay attention to me," Knapp said, "that's better for hitters and means I'm doing my job. I want to do more of what happened tonight and produce at the top of the lineup."

The pitching held up well, despite giving up three solo homers. Starter Alex Mateo pitched into the fifth inning, striking out five, before coming out because of pitch count. Ben Meyer and Kyle Keller, two holdovers from 2016, finished the game. Meyer picked up the win with four strikeouts in 2 1/3innings and Keller notched the save, fanning three in two innings.

"Our guys are very aggressive in the strike zone," said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. "In fact, we're teaching the staff to throw more balls because they're so efficient throwing strikes. It's a good problem to have."

Dustin Beggs will be Saturday's starter for the third game of the series, which starts at 7 p.m.

NOTES: Shortstop Garvis Lara was hit by a pitch on the finger in the fifth inning and replaced by Luis Pintor "for precautionary reasons," Pratt said … Pintor contributed a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning … Earlier in the inning, catcher Alex Jones laid down a sacrifice bunt that was so good it turned into a single to load the bases … Friday's 12 strikeouts boosted the total for the Hoppers pitchers to 27 in two games ... Conversely, Hickory pitchers have walked 20 batters in the two games, including eight Friday … Right fielder Boo Vazquez made a diving catch in the top of the third inning, saving a run.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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