by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Sometimes one of the best things in life is a second chance, and the Carolina Mudcats get one starting tonight.
But the second half begins tonight with the opener of a five-game home series with the Huntsville Stars.
Huntsville was the Mudcats’ worst tormentor in the first half, winning all five games in the series in Alabama.
Tonight will mark the Mudcats debut of catcher Yasmani Grandal, the first-round pick out of Miami last year who spent the first half of this season at Bakersfield. Grandal, a member of Team USA’s World Baseball Challenge champions in 2009, hit .296 with 10 homers and 40 RBI in 56 games in the California League. Chris Coddington was sent down to Bakersfield.
And joining the club from Louisville is former Mudcat closer Chris Mobley, while Jason Braun goes to the temporarily inactive list.
Ace Matt Klinker (3-4, 3.60) will start the game for Carolina, while Michael Fiers (3-2, 3.27) goes for the visitors.
This half will start on the right foot, as the Mudcats score the first three runs and hang on for a 3-2 victory.
The Mudcats strike in the first inning, as Denis Phipps leads off with a double to right, steals third and then continues home on a throwing error from catcher Martin Maldonado.
Carolina makes it 2-0 with one out in the fourth, as Cody Puckett launches a 3-1 pitch over the wall in center.
And the score goes to 3-0 with one out in the sixth, when Neftali Soto takes his first pitch over the wall in left center.
Huntsville cuts the difference to a run in the seventh. Steffan Wilson leads off with a single to left, followed by Erik Komatsu’s single to center. Angel Gonzalez walks, and then Maldonado singles past third baseman Mike Costanzo for the first run to chase Klinker and bring on Justin Freeman. Hainley Statia then reaches on a fielder’s choice to second to score the second run.
After James Adkins gets out of the inning, Tim Hamulack and Brad Boxberger pitch the eighth and ninth, respectively, and allow just one base runner.
The Mudcats outhit the Stars 10-7 and have four players with multiple-hit games. Puckett homers and doubles while Soto homers and singles.
Klinker goes six plus innings and allows the two runs on seven hits, striking out four with two walks.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “I think it was important to keep playing like we had in Jackson (winning four of five.) And the win is what it’s all about. I think our team has improved, mainly because of guys getting better. We’ve made some changes, but the big difference is that we’ve gotten better. It was just a matter of time before Grandal got here. He’s a mature player and everybody thought he was ready for this jump. And the bullpen did a great job tonight.”
Klinker: “We had finished the first half with a lot of momentum, and if we came out flat to start this half then what we did the first half might carry over. But we wanted to keep that momentum going from the series in Jackson. We’ve made some moves, and not that the personnel is the key, but maybe shaking things up can make a difference. I was commanding my fastball well in the zone, but I got a little cutter-happy in the seventh inning. It was good to get an outing with Grandal behind the dish. He was in big-league camp, so I had thrown some to him in spring training. He’s good.”
Grandal: “I thought I had a pretty good game. I kind of grade myself on defense more than hitting. We had the pitching to get through. I think catching at this level will be easier. They’ll be more around the zone and throw more strikes. In Bakersfield we had some good guys with good command, but sometimes they would just lose it. I’ll be able to save my energy with more strikes around the zone. I think it can be a better second half here.”
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats get to celebrate a little, then see if they can keep the momentum going.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Huntsville leads 5-1.
Mudcats: Won 3.
Huntsville: Lost 2.
Mudcats (James Avery 4-7, 4.89) vs. Huntsville (Wily Peralta 5-6, 4.33), Friday, 7:15 p.m.