Class A Hickory got off to a torrid start, winning eight of its first 10 games. Then the grind began to set in and hitters were having tough luck.
The tide may be turning again.
Sam Huff homered in his fourth straight game as the Crawdads broke out for 13 hits in a 6-2 triumph over Lakewood on Friday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. It was their seventh win in 11 contests.
Gameday box score
No. 18 Rangers prospect Jonathan Ornelas went 4-for-5 with a run scored and a stolen base in his first four-hit game in the Minor Leagues.
Huff, ranked 21st in the Texas system, scored twice and drove in two runs. He's 10-for-21 with six homers in his last seven games.
Crawdads hitting coach Jared Goedert noted consistency is the key to Huff's recent success.
"He's getting in a position to drive the fastball," Goedert said. "He's in a better position to recognize the off-speed pitches. He's just hammering the zone."
The ebb and flow of the season is apparent in the stats. In the South Atlantic League, Hickory is eighth in hitting (.229) and 11th in OBP (.293) but leads the circuit in home runs (28 -- including Huff's league-leading 10) and slugging (.421).
"It was really nice to see tonight," said Goedert, who played in the Minors from 2006-14. "The last handful of games, it hasn't come easy. We've faced some good arms, we've had some tough luck, and some guys have had rough patches, as you do in baseball.
"The lineup is very special. It has the potential to be a threat. The guys are playing up to their capabilities with high expectations -- that's a lot of fun."
Hickory wasted no time getting to Lakewood starter Tyler McKay. In the bottom of the first, Ornelas hit a 2-2 offering from the right-hander into right field for a double. A wild pitch moved him to third and he scored on a single to right by Matt Whatley. Huff followed by drilling a 2-0 pitch over the right field wall for a two-run homer and a 3-0 lead.
"Ornelas has that rare ability to get the barrel to the baseball," Goedert said. "A lot of good hitters don't have it, but Ornelas will make adjustments during the at-bat. He does a lot of 'hitter-ish' things."
In addition to the leadoff double, Ornelas singled to left in the second, added a base hit to right in the fourth and reached on an infield single in the sixth. He struck out to end the eighth.
2019 MiLB include
After the BlueClaws scratched across a run in the second, the Crawdads posted another three-spot in the third. Reliever Gilmael Troya walked Huff on four pitches before Sherten Apostel, the Rangers' 22nd-ranked prospect, doubled to left. Jose Almonte singled home Huff and Apostel came home on a groundout by Chad Smith before Almonte scored on another wild pitch to make it 6-1.
"Sherten has a good problem to have: a rare, unique mix to put bat to ball for home runs plus a line-drive stroke," Goedert said. "He has been a touch out of sync. His numbers right now might not be great, but our analytics show he's been the victim of bad luck."
Apostel finished 3-for-4 with a run scored, while Whatley ended an 0-for-21 skid by chipping in three hits, an RBI and a run scored.
"Matt has been so close so many times," Goedert said of Whatley's seven-game hitless streak that dated to April 17. "It's worn on him, like it would anyone. Our manager [Matt Hagen] said, 'If Matt didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all.' A couple of balls, he's been legitimately robbed over the wall."
Whatley returned to the dugout after scoring on Huff's homer and "there was more celebration for Matt than Sam," Goedert said.
Crawdads starter Jean Casanova allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out five in four innings. Wes Robertson (1-0) earned the win with 3 1/3 innings of one-hit relief, fanning three.
Top Phillies prospect Alec Bohm had two hits for Lakewood and is 17-for-38 (.447) in his last 10 games. He's third in the South Atlantic League with a .373 average.
McKay (0-2) took the loss after surrendering three runs on seven hits with two strikeouts in two innings.