Some players might feel rusty at the plate after a month between games.
But not Connor Kaiser Thursday night. He was activated off the injured list and inserted in the lineup at shortstop, then went out and collected four extra base hits and five RBIs as the Hoppers held on for an 11-10 win over Lakewood.
"It's nice to be back and playing again," Kaiser said. "You can't take it for granted."
Kaiser's last game was on April 30 and he had a .188 batting average when he was placed on the injured list with an oblique injury. His 4-for-5 night against the BlueClaws lifted his average 42 points, to .230.
Kaiser doubled his first at-bat, hit a three-run homer his second time up, added a two-run double in his third trip, was finally retired on a diving catch by the center fielder, then capped his night with a triple in his final plate appearance. The effort left him a single short of the cycle.
"Yeah, they were talking to me about that," Kaiser said with a laugh about his teammates.
It was the best game of his pro career, but not his best game ever. Last year with Vanderbilt, in an NCAA playoff game against Clemson, he hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs. That helped convince Pittsburgh to make him its third-round draft pick.
Kaiser was excited to rejoin his teammates, although he wasn't away from them too long. He received treatment in Greensboro, then was sent to the Pirates' minor-league camp in Bradenton. There he rehabbed some more and played in five extended spring games before rejoining the Hoppers after they returned from a road trip.
"At first it was frustrating not playing," Kaiser said, "but you get over that pretty quickly and take things day by day, trying to get better."
Manager Miguel Perez said Kaiser went to Bradenton "on a mission" and accomplished it.
"I'm glad to see him back, especially that way," Perez said. "You respect that because he's a pro and knows how to go about his business."
While Kaiser was out, Rodolfo Castro moved from second base to shortstop for most of the month. Perez praised Castro for the way he filled in and said he has earned more time at shortstop. In fact, with Ji-hwan Bae recently activated and Kaiser now back, the Hoppers have an excess of riches at shortstop and Perez will have to figure out ways to rotate them and keep their bats in the lineup.
"It's a good problem to have," the manager conceded.
It was a big night for other hitters, too. Castro had four RBIs, three coming on a bases-loaded double in a six-run third inning. Bae had three hits and scored three runs. Justin Harrer hit his first homer with the Hoppers and Mason Martin had a sacrifice fly for his league-leading 53rd RBI.
And the Hoppers needed everything they got from the hitters because the pitchers had a mostly forgettable night. Staked to an 11-4 lead, the bullpen gave up six runs that shaved the lead to one. John O'Reilly shook off giving up a grand slam in the seventh inning and put a zero on the board in the eighth.
Braedon Ogle gave up an infield hit to start the ninth, then struck out two hitters and got the last out on a line drive, appropriately enough to Kaiser at shortstop. It was Ogle's second save.
The win boosted the Hoppers' record to 35-17. But first-place Delmarva also won, improving to 41-11 and remaining six games ahead of Greensboro.
"I told the guys we have to take care of our business and not worry about what Delmarva does," Perez said. "We want them to be looking down here to see what we've done."
NOTES: The Hoppers lost another bullpen member when Joe Jaques was promoted to Bradenton … That leaves them with 12 pitchers instead of the usual 13 and Perez doesn't know if another will be added … New to the roster is outfielder Jack Herman … He takes the spot of Brett Kinneman, sent back to extended spring training.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.