It isn't easy to watch your team take its lumps night after night, but Hoppers manager Todd Pratt has to look beyond the numbers.
His club fell to Delmarva for the third straight game Saturday, 7-3. Overall, it was the Hoppers' fifth straight loss, their ninth straight at First National Bank Field and their 18th in 23 games in August.
One reason, of course, is the youth of the position players. At the beginning of August, the Miami Marlins promoted three players who were drafted out of high school in June. While they've done some good things, at times they are overmatched. On Saturday, Connor Scott, Osiris Johnson and Will Banfield were a combined 0-for-12.
"I understand that people in the stands would say 'this team stinks' if they look at the numbers," Pratt said. "We're getting outplayed but we're not playing bad. It would be a different story if we were. They're still hustling and playing hard.
"We'll let them play and as long as they're learning, they're developing."
Defense is an area that tends to show if a team is just going through the motions. Saturday, the Hoppers turned a pair of double plays and made some fine plays in the field. Left fielder Jhonny Santos made an excellent running catch of a drive into the corner and also cut off a base hit that held a probable double to a single. Johnson made an excellent throw from deep at shortstop to get the runner at first by an eyelash.
The offense continues to struggle and in particular is unable to score early. In each of the three games against the Shorebirds, the Hoppers have fallen behind 5-0 and that hole has been too deep for a team that hasn't scored more than three runs in seven straight games. Greensboro has generated just 14 hits in the series.
Delmarva's offense Saturday was carried by three players - Branden Becker, Ryan Ripken and Ben Breazeale - who combined for nine hits, six RBIs and five runs scored.
The big blow was a three-run homer by Ripken in the fourth inning off starter Colton Hock. Late in the game, when the Hoppers crept to within 5-3, Breazeale put it out of reach with a two-run homer off Steven Farnworth.
Hock gave up five runs in his stint, but gave the Hoppers seven innings.
"He had a good breaking ball early, lost it in the fourth and fifth innings and found it again," said pitching coach Mark DiFelice. "He finished with two good innings and that shows what he can do when he has his secondary stuff."
Delmarva starter Luis Perez, using a sinking fastball and good changeup, cruised early on and retired the first 16 Hoppers hitters. He lost the perfect game when he walked Sam Castro on a 3-and-2 pitch. Garvis Lara followed with a single that ruined the no-hitter. And Thomas Jones smashed a two-run triple off the wall in center field that spoiled the shutout.
Other than that, and an RBI double by Denis Karas, the Hoppers offered no threats.
The series wraps up Sunday at 4 p.m. with Sean Guenther starting for the Hoppers. Guenther pitched a seven-inning shutout against Kannapolis in his last start.
NOTES: Ripken - yes, he's Cal's son but hits and throws left-handed - is 7-for-13 in the series with six RBIs and five runs scored … Michael Mertz pitched a scoreless ninth and in his last three outings has allowed one hit and no runs in four innings with one walk and seven strikeouts … The Hoppers are using a six-man rotation for the rest of the season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.