Bill on Baseball: Mottice Leads Barrage in Series Finale

By Bill Hass / Greensboro Grasshoppers | July 15, 2019 9:09 AM

Kyle Mottice is one of those hitters who just has a knack for finding the open spaces in a defense.

"I just try to hit the ball hard and I've been lucky enough to find some holes," he said, deflecting any praise.

Well, there's a bit more to it than that, of course. He was at at again Sunday, getting two hits, drawing two walks, stealing two bases, driving in two runs and scoring three times in the Hoppers' 12-9 win over West Virginia.

In the 33 games in which he's played, Mottice has scored 32 runs and is hitting .409.

That's right - .409.

"I try not to think about stats," he said. Then he added, with a smile, "but I've seen the batting average on the scoreboard a couple of times."

Sunday's game was typical - batting second in the lineup, he walked and scored in the first inning, beat out an infield hit and scored in the third inning, walked and scored in the fifth, flied out in the seventh and singled up the middle to drive in two runs in the eighth.

That hit capped a five-run rally and pushed the Hoppers to a three-run lead. The insurance runs were big for reliever Cody Smith, who closed out the game in the top of the ninth. The Hoppers salvaged the final game of the crazy three-game series with the Power in which the teams combined for 55 runs.

Smith became the first Greensboro reliever not to surrender a lead in the series. The starters weren't very good and the bullpen was worse.

"We had a similar stretch about a month ago," said pitching coach Stan Kyles. "We made some corrections and got back to understanding what we have to do."

Kyles saw two things that were getting his pitchers in trouble in this series - elevating the ball and not pitching well inside.

"Guys had been going out and getting balls on the ground," he said. "But this park is unforgiving if you get the ball up. And you've got to pitch well inside. That's a must. Getting the ball down in the zone and pitching inside are things that are a mindset.

"I think we're going to bounce back. The real sample size is the first 3 1/2 months of the season when our guys battled and made pitches when they needed to."

While it could have been frustrating for the offense to keep putting runs on the board only to see the pitchers give up leads, it didn't bother Mottice.

"I can't complain because the pitching staff has been good all year," he said. "They've given us a lift many times, so today we were able to give them one."

Mottice sees his job as producing runs, and getting on base is what he does. He's tough to strike out - only 16 times so far, the same number of times he's walked. He rarely swings at bad pitches.

"That's something I've developed," he said of patience at the plate. "I wait for good pitches in the zone. If it's out of the zone, it's harder to do anything with it."

It's a bit hard to understand how a hitter as good as Mottice went undrafted. After a good career at Cincinnati, his name wasn't called through 40 rounds last summer. Minnesota contacted him after the draft but they couldn't work anything out. About a week later he heard from the Pirates and signed on.

Mottice played 35 games in the Gulf Coast League and hit .283 with 24 walks against just 12 strikeouts and 16 stolen bases in 16 attempts. He's 16-of-21 in stolen bases this season. He's mostly a singles hitter but no one has found a way to keep him off the bases and getting in position for teammates to drive him in. He currently has an eight-game hitting streak.

"He's short to the ball with small movements," said hitting coach Chris Petersen of Mottice's swing. "He covers the entire strike zone. He's been very clutch for us lately."

Manager Miguel Perez rotates five players among second base, third base and shortstop. Ji-Hwan Bae, Connor Kaiser, Michael Gretler, Zack Kone and Mottice all get their share of games. One may occasionally be the DH.

The perception is that players who were drafted (everyone except Mottice) or signed for a lot of money (Bae) will get playing time preference over a non-drafted free agent. But Mottice is hitting so well that he has forced his way into the mix. And he doesn't feel extra pressure to show what he can do.

"I can't complain if I get a day off," he said. "I just try to stay locked in. Once you put that jersey on, there's no difference in the players. Everyone has something to prove."

Plenty of other hitters joined in Sunday's effort. Fabricio Macias had three hits and scored three runs, Luke Mangieri drove in three runs with two singles and a sacrifice fly, Bae had the biggest hit in the eighth inning with a two-run double, Jonah Davis drove in two runs and Zac Susi added two hits.

"It's been a collective effort," Petersen said. "I'm proud of this group. We don't stop competing."

Hagerstown moves in for a three-game series that begins Monday at 7 p.m.

NOTES: The Hoppers moved to 13-10 in the second half and 57-35 overall … Greensboro has won 11 of the 14 games against the Power this year … Macias finished the series 9-for-15 … West Virginia's David Scheaffer, a Mount Airy native, finished the series 7-for-15 with three doubles, three runs scored and three RBIs … There was a tense moment in the seventh inning when the Power's Onil Pena took exception to being hit by Hoppers reliever John O'Reilly … As they moved toward each other, the home plate umpire moved between Pena and the mound and the base umpire stepped between O'Reilly and the plate … The incident prompted warnings to both benches from the home plate umpire … As Pena continued to stew, he strayed too far off first base and was easily picked off by O'Reilly.

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

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