It had been more than a year since Matthew Skole had last visited Hickory's L.P. Frans Stadium. His brother, Rangers outfield prospect Jake Skole, was playing for the Crawdads when Skole made the two-and-a-half-hour trek up from Clemson University, where he had a game for Georgia Tech.
"It was one of those times when I found out what it's really like to be in pro ball," he said.
The Hagerstown third baseman had just as memorable an experience Tuesday.
Skole went 4-for-4 with two home runs, five RBIs and four runs scored as the Class A Suns trounced the Crawdads, 12-4. His home run, RBI and runs totals each set career highs for the 22-year-old left-hander.
Despite the gaudy stat line, Skole, who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2011 Draft, had a difficult time putting his performance into his perspective.
"I'm sure it's up there," he said. "It's a little bittersweet, though, because my brother played here in Hickory a year ago. So I have some ties with some of the guys over there. There are a lot of great people. But I would still say it's an awesome night. I don't know where I would put it."
The former Yellow Jackets star hit a two-run homer in the first inning and added a solo blast in the seventh. The second home run, his eighth of the season, formed the first half of back-to-back shots with right fielder Steven Souza. Skole also contributed an RBI single in the third and a run-scoring double in the eighth. He fell just a triple short of the first cycle of his professional career.
The lefty slugger had undergone a minor slump before Tuesday's breakout. After his average sat a season-high .375 on April 24, it dipped to .277 -- its lowest mark of the 2012 campaign since the second game of the season -- by May 14. The third baseman was 10-for-56 (.179) over that 17-game stretch. Following Tuesday's game, Skole's average rebounded to .302, its first time over .300 since May 4.
However, the lefty slugger noted none of that may have happened had it not been for the longball in the second frame.
"I had been struggling lately, and I was trying to get my way out of it," Skole said. "So I tried slowing the game down a bit, simplifying everything as best as I can. After the first inning -- the first home run -- something just clicked, and I felt in a groove the whole game."
Despite the minor slump, Skole's 40 RBIs through 34 games rank first in the South Atlantic League and third among all Minor Leaguers. He also ranks first on the circuit in walks (34), second in home runs (eight) and second in OPS (1.017). Because of those numbers, Skole is pleased with how he has taken to Class A ball thus far.
"I think it's been a successful one," he said. "I've been learning new things about my game and how the game as a whole is played. In that sense, I've been pleased for the most part. But it's still early. It's still a grind every day and for the rest of the season."
Souza finished 3-for-5 with a home run, two doubles, three RBIs and two runs scored for the Suns.
Nationals' No. 17 prospect Kylin Turnbill (1-2) allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out four over five innings.
Luis Sardinas, the Rangers' No. 15 prospect , went 2-for-5 with a double and a run.