Clouds loomed prior to the game between Hickory and Asheville as impending showers threatened to cancel the affair between the two Single-A clubs. Perhaps sensing the eventual downpour, starter Zach Jemiola pitched effectively, needing just 57 pitches to work through six shutout innings, leading Asheville to a 7-0 rain-shortened victory.
Flying under the radar to start the 2015 season, the right-hander struggled out of the gate in 2014, throwing for a 6.47 first-half ERA. Zach faced an uphill climb the rest of the year, but finished the season strong with a 3.55 second-half ERA, capped by a 8.1 inning, one-run winning effort in the SAL championship series.
When I spoke to Zach at the end of last season, he indicated a change in grip helped to control his slider and provided some bite for his changeup. Both weapons were on display Tuesday night as he breezed through a strong lineup of Rangers prospects.
Working backwards after the second inning, Jemiola found quick success as the free swinging Crawdads grounded out six times and struck out three more. In the fourth inning, Jemiola leaned on his slider to strike out shortstop Michael De Leon, the No. 17 ranked Rangers prospect by John Sickels.
Jemiola ran into trouble in the sixth when Dominican standout Jairo Beras (No. 20, Sickels) laced a grounder into left field to lead off the inning. Jemiola quickly erased the threat however, inducing a 3-6-3 double play and dispatching the next batter with a groundball out to complete the unconventional 1-2-3 inning.
In addition to the double play, the right-handed pitcher relied on his defense several times as left fielder Drew Weeks put on a show, running down balls to his left, right, and over his head at the wall. Showing a knack for making good reads, Weeks used his talent to put himself in position to run down the only well-struck balls allowed by Jemiola in the game.
Ranked the Rockies No. 9 prospect by Purple Row, Forrest Wall opened the floodgates in the seventh as he launched a grand slam line drive over the right field wall. The Crawdad's pitchers had effectively worked away from the second baseman all night, but challenged Wall with a 95 mph fastball that he quickly deposited over the fence. Wall is batting .294 through five games with a .957 OPS.
The Tourists tacked on three runs in the ninth as a heavy downpour led to sloppy play and two runs to score off a throwing error. By then the umpires had seen enough and chose to call of the remainder of the game without allowing Hickory to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Asheville improved to 4-2, maintaining their lead in the south division of the South Atlantic League.