Hops reload, win sixth in a row
HILLSBORO — Despite losing Kristian Robinson, who leads the team in nearly every offensive category, the Hillsboro Hops were able to defeat the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 7-6 Saturday in an early-inning offensive showcase at Ron Tonkin Field.
Robinson, the Arizona Diamondbacks' No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com, was promoted to the Single-A Kane County Cougars (Geneva, Illinois) before the game.
The Northwest League All-Star and potential league MVP was leading the Hops with a .319 batting average, 52 hits, 10 doubles, nine home runs, 35 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, a .407 on-base percentage and a .558 slugging percentage.
The Hops hope other players can replace that production as they try to win the NWL South Division second-half title.
"Of course we miss Kristian," Hillsboro manager Javier Colina said. "He's special, but this team is never going to depend on one guy … I think we have the right guys here to compete and win the second half."
Although Saturday's game was a very small sample size, the Hops showed the crowd of 3,565 that they have the firepower to make a playoff push.
And their sixth win in a row gave them a two-game division lead over the Eugene Emeralds and put them three ahead of first-half champion Salem-Keizer and the Boise Hawks. Hillsboro is 9-3 in the second half, Eugene 7-5, Salem-Keizer and Boise 6-6.
Jesus Marriaga, also a NWL All-Star, replaced Robinson as the center fielder and cleanup hitter. Ryan January filled Robinson's roster spot and hit third in the order.
"It's going to be good for (Marriaga) to develop as a center fielder," Colina said. "He's doing a phenomenal job in center field. He won't have any problem hitting fourth. I told him you don't have to change anything, just go day by day and do your best."
Marriaga (1 for 3 with a triple, walk and two RBIs), David Garza Jr. (1 for 3 with a home run, two runs and three RBIs) and Andy Yerzy (1 for 4 with a home run and two RBIs) knocked in all seven runs.
After Salem-Keizer took a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning, Garza reached on a one-out error and January was walked. Marriaga then lined a ball past center fielder Hunter Bishop's dive for a two-run triple.
Yerzy, whose 2019 struggles have dropped him from Arizona's top-30 prospect list, fouled off three pitches before hitting a 1-2 fastball for a game-tying two-run home run.
"I was looking for a pitch out over the plate," Yerzy said. "He threw me a good fastball in, and I didn't miss it. … For me to be able to tie the game on that swing, it was pretty awesome."
The Hops took their first lead in the bottom of the second after starting pitcher Tyler Holton had surrendered a fifth Volcanoes run on an Alexander Canario RBI double.
A Nick Grande walk and Ricky Martinez hit-by-pitch set up Garza, who lined his first home run of the season over the left field wall, giving the Hops a 7-5 second-inning lead.
"He said he was looking for that pitch (a high slider), and he took a good swing at it," Colina said. "It was good to see his approach at the plate. He's been solid the last few weeks."
Both teams' starting pitchers struggled mightily.
Salem-Keizer starting pitcher Conner Nurse went 3.2 innings and had six earned runs (one unearned) on four hits while striking out five.
Holton pitched two innings, allowing five runs on five hits. His ERA jumped from 1.00 to 4.91.
"I feel bad for Holton, who struggled with command," Colina said. "He has unbelievable stuff, and he's going to be a great pitcher."
Canario (4 for 4 with a home run and two doubles) and Harrison Freed (3 for 3 with a home run, a double and a walk) each had three RBIs for the Volcanoes.
While the starters were ineffective, the bullpens were impressive.
Salem-Keizer's Tyler Schimpf and Israel Cruz pitched 4.1 hitless innings to hold the deficit.
Hillsboro's bullpen limited the league's top hitting team to one run (Freed's sixth-inning homer off Sam Lewis) over seven innings.
Lewis, Jacob Stevens (3-0) and Bryan Menendez each pitched two innings to set up Eduardo Herrera, who earned his fourth save of the season.
"Our bullpen is incredible," Colina said. "They always come in and do their job."
The first-place Hops and Volcanoes will play their final game of a three-game series at 4 p.m.. Sunday. It's the final game before the All-Star break.
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