Nick Gonzales' walk-off grand slam lifts Hoppers to key win
GREENSBORO ― From May through August, player development is Job One in the minor leagues and far more important than the final scores of games. But with September coming on and time getting short, it's all about winning. It's all about steady nerves, big pitches and clutch hits. Hits like
GREENSBORO ― From May through August, player development is Job One in the minor leagues and far more important than the final scores of games.
But with September coming on and time getting short, it's all about winning.
It's all about steady nerves, big pitches and clutch hits.
Hits like the one Nick Gonzales sent high into the night sky on the last day of August in the thick of a pennant race, a ball that landed at least 440 feet away, beyond the back fence separating First National Bank Field from the apartment complex past the hill in left-center field.
Gonzales hit a grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning ― his second home run of the game ― to lift the Greensboro Grasshoppers to a crucial 9-7 victory over the Hudson Valley Renegades on Tuesday night.
With the win, the Hoppers (65-38) moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Renegades (63-39) in the race for the second-best record it the High-A East and a spot in the 12-team league's championship series.
Gonzales led the way, driving in seven runs. The 22-year-old second basemen, who is rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 prospect in Pittsburgh's farm system, went 3-for-5 with his game-winning grand slam, a two-run home run and an RBI single.
The seventh overall pick in the 2020 draft, Gonzales is 7-for-12 with five home runs ― two of them grand slams ― and 15 RBIs in his last two games. He has hit safely in 18 of his last 20 games to raise his batting average to .303, which ranks third in the High-A East among players with enough plate appearances to qualify.
Gonzales broke a finger in May and went on the injured list, and he was batting just .214 on July 15. In 37 games since then, he has hit .369 (59-for-160) with 12 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. He's second in the league with a .936 OPS, trailing only his former teammate Matt Fraizer, who was promoted to Class-AA Altoona on Aug. 5.
Gonzales' grand slam continued a magical summer for these Grasshoppers.
This team has nine walk-off victories this season, with seven different players driving in the winning runs in those games: Gonzales twice, Will Matthiessen twice, Chase Murray, Jared Triolo, Matthew Fraizer, Matt Gorski and Lolo Sanchez.
Matthiessen hit a solo home run Tuesday night, and Sanchez had an RBI single that tied the score 5-5 through five innings.
Hudson Valley hit six home runs in the game, two of them in the top of the ninth inning.
But the Hoppers rallied in their last at-bats. With two outs and Matthiessen at first base on a walk, Hudson Valley pitcher Derek Craft (1-3, 4.85 ERA) struck out
Jonah Davis swinging on an 0-2 pitch. But the ball squirted away from catcher Austin Wells and Davis was safe at first on the dropped third strike.
If not for the passed ball, the game would've been over. Instead it ended two batters later.
Liover Peguero, a 20-year-old shortstop rated as the Pirates' No. 5 prospect, drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, setting the stage for Gonzales.
He hit the second pitch he saw out of the ballpark to set off a wild celebration at home plate.
Greensboro is in second place in the High-A East's South Division, 4 1/2 games behind the Bowling Green Hot Rods (69-33), who were rained out Tuesday.
Just 17 games remain in the regular season, and Greensboro plays North Division leader Hudson Valley in 11 of them ― five to close out this final homestand and six in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to close the season.
The teams with the top two records, regardless of division, qualify for the 12-team league's championship series.
- Right-handed reliever Enmanuel Mejia (1-0, 1.93 ERA) gave up two solo home runs in the top of the ninth, his first two earned runs allowed in six games with the Hoppers. But he picked up the win Greensboro rallied. Set-up man Bear Bellomy was brilliant, striking out three and allowed just one baserunner in three scoreless innings.
- Hoppers starting pitcher Santiago Florez worked four scoreless innings, then gave up four home runs in the top of the fifth inning.
- The Hoppers have won or split 16 of their 17 six-game series this season. Since splitting their first five series of the season, the Grasshoppers are 50-23 (.685 win percentage).
- Third baseman Jared Triolo leads the High-A East with 110 hits, and he ranks second with 72 RBIs and a .304 batting average. Triolo was batting just .217 on June 2, but in 71 games since then he has batted .330 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs, 57 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.
- The Hoppers have the top three hitters in the High-A East among players with enough plate appearances to qualify: No. 1 Matt Fraizer at .314; No. 2 Jared Triolo at .304; and No. 3 Nick Gonzales at .303. Fraizer, who was promoted to Class-AA Altoona on Aug. 5, has batted .321 with 12 extra-base hits in 22 games with the Curve.
- Outfielder Matt Gorski is batting .300 (24-for-80) with 16 runs scored in his last 20 games.
- Outfielder Lolo Sanchez leads the league with 50 walks and 28 stolen bases. In his last 18 games, Sanchez has batted .368 (25-for-68) with 17 runs scored.
- Center fielder Jonah Davis was sent down from Class-AA Altoona on Aug. 5 and went just 2-for-25 in his first eight games. But in 11 games since then, Davis is 11-for-31 (.355) with four home runs, two doubles, eight walks and 11 RBIs.
In his career at the News & Record, journalist Jeff Mills won 10 national and 12 state writing awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, the Society for Features Journalism, and the N.C. Press Association.