Staying ready when you're not playing isn't an easy thing, but Raul Siri has managed to do just that for the Hoppers.
While he has been with the team since it broke training camp and came to Greensboro, Siri has been on and off - mostly off - the active roster. He was activated Tuesday when infielder Chase Lambert was promoted to Bradenton to fill an open roster spot caused by an injury.
Playing for the first time since April 17, and for just his third game all season, Siri hit a solo home run and a pair of doubles to help propel the Hoppers past the Rome Braves 9-7 to open a seven-game home stand. It was the team's eighth win in its last nine games, improving its record to 15-9.
"I'm super excited about Siri," said hitting coach Chris Petersen. "It's been a long time since he faced live pitching. You can't take any reps off (in batting practice). The way he's gone about his business, he has set a good example by being a consummate professional."
Siri is a seasoned pro, 24 years old with 283 minor league games under his belt. After taking a called third strike his first time up, he was ready for his second at-bat against Braves starter Trey Riley in the fourth inning. He cracked a line drive that cleared the wall in left field into the Sunbrella section to give the Hoppers a 5-4 lead they never relinquished.
"The first time up he threw me inside," Siri said, "so the next time I was looking fastball inside and that's where he threw it. It (the line drive) was a little low, but I could tell by the crowd reaction it was a home run."
That capped off a four-run inning for the Hoppers, who put up another one in the seventh. After Grant Koch drove in three runs with a double, Siri followed with another double for his second RBI that staked the Hoppers to a 9-4 lead.
The Hoppers found themselves in a 4-0 hole after the top of the first inning and needed something to ignite their offense. Castro, hitting left-handed, pulled a pitch over the right-field wall for a solo homer to get the Hoppers on the board in the second inning. In the fourth, Castro drove one the opposite way to left center field for a 3-run homer that tied the game 4-4. They were his fifth and sixth homers of the season.
"The last time I hit two homers in a game was in the Gulf Coast League two years ago," said Castro, with Siri translating. "I've got some pop, but I'm more of a gap-to-gap hitter."
Castro said the first homer came when he set up for a fastball but was able to react and get around on a changeup.
"On the second homer, I had been late on a fastball (early in the bat-bat)," Siri said. "I was looking middle outside and I was on time when I got that pitch."
Petersen liked the discipline Castro showed, swinging at pitches in his hitting zone, seeing the pitches through and not trying to do too much.
The Hoppers were struggling to score runs at First National Bank Field early in the month. But they won 8-4 in their final home game before winning six of seven on the road. They have been scoring runs in bunches, putting up 36 in their last three games.
"They've been putting in the work, sticking to the plan and getting a lot better staying in the moment," Petersen said of the hitters. "They're supporting each other and the communication in the dugout has been outstanding."
Despite a rocky start by Brad Case, the Hoppers got some good pitching. The first four hitters reached base and all scored, but Case settled down. He retired the next 11 hitters in a row before giving up a broken-bat single. He then retired the last four batters he faced.
"He's been throwing well," said pitching coach Stan Kyles, "and when you're doing that it's easier to regroup when something bad happens. Those five scoreless innings he put up were huge."
The series continues with the second game Wednesday at 7 p.m.
NOTES: Case improved to 3-1 … Lolo Sanchez had three hits for the Hoppers while Zack Kone had two hits and two walks … Four Rome pitchers combined to walk eight batters.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.