The Lakewood BlueClaws took the field to an ovation during pregame ceremonies for their home opener at FirstEnergy Park on Thursday night.
Beyond the applause, however, there was not much more to cheer about as Lakewood fell to the Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers 7-4 in front of an announced crowd of 6,869 patrons.
The Blue Claws, losers of four straight games, dropped to 1-7 and into last place in the South Atlantic League Northern Division. The Philadelphia Phillies’ low Class A farm club, Lakewood entered the game tied for last with the Grasshoppers (Miami Marlins). Greensboro (2-7) snapped its six-game losing streak. Lakewood has lost four straight.
Left fielder Cornelius Randolph, drafted last June out of a Georgia high school by the Phillies, staked Lakewood to a 2-0 lead with a two-run double to left center field with two out in the first inning, connecting on a 2-1 pitch.
“It was a fastball down and away,” he said. “I was looking for a fastball–something I could drive.”
Randolph was productive in his first trip to the plate at FirstEnergy Park.
“I like it a lot here,” he said. “It is a lot different from what I was used to in rookie ball. This is a big adjustment. I will hit a lot of oppo (opposite field) doubles to left center. I will put the barrel to the ball and hit a lot of line drives.”
Randolph, who is hitting .100, went 1-for-2, drove in two runs, drew three walks and stole his third base of the season.
“I am seeing the ball better,” he said. “I am comfortable in the box all of the time. I am starting to get good results. This is a big learning curve. I am taking it day by day. You just have to play and take it day by day.”
Lakewood manager Shawn Williams said he was impressed with Randolph’s first at-bat.
“He absolutely smoked it (the ball),” Williams said. “It was a real good at-bat. He hit a big double that got us going.”
“I am keeping my same stroke,” Randolph said. “I am making sure I am getting my front foot down for the most part.”
Randolph’s signing bonus was $3,231,300–the full value of the 10th slot in the draft. He’s the eighth first-round selection to play for 16th-year Lakewood. He joined Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels, Greg Golson, Kyle Drabek, Anthony Hewitt, Jesse Biddle and J.P. Crawford. Randolph turned down numerous schools, including Clemson, Georgia Tech, The Citadel and Kennesaw State, to sign with the Phillies.
“There is no pressure on me at all,” said Randolph, 18. “Not at all. It is a business. I put the money away. I don’t want to focus too much on the money. I want to focus on playing and not let it overcome what I am trying to do and that is get to the big leagues.”
Randolph said he sees better things ahead for Lakewood.
“We have a good team here,” the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder said. “We will take off. It’s a matter of time. It’s a long season. We have a lot of good talent here. It is early. It is just early. Nobody starts 8-0. It takes a little bit of time.”
Lakewood second baseman Josh Tobias hit four singles in five at-bats to push his average to .333. He scored one run.
“Josh is the definition of a baseball player,” Williams said. “He always gives 100 percent no matter the score. It’s just who he is–a baseball player. He’s fun to watch and he does everything.”
Lakewood shaved its deficit to 7-4 in the ninth on a one-out, two-run single to left by center fielder Jiandido Tromp, who leads the team in hitting at .353. The game ended when shortstop Emmanuel Marrero flied to left on a 1-0 pitch with the bases loaded.
The Grasshoppers swung ahead to stay with four runs in the fifth.
Greensboro pulled to within 2-1 on a one-out RBI single to right by third baseman Kris Goodman. A two-out balk by losing pitcher Tyler Gilbert, selected in the sixth round by the Phillies out of the University of Southern California last June, tied the game at two. First baseman Angel Reyes put Greensboro ahead to stay, 4-2, capping a four-run outburst.
With one out in the sixth, center fielder Zach Sullivan doubled home two runs for a 6-2 lead. Right fielder Alex Fernandez capped Greensboro’s scoring with a one-out RBI double in the seventh.
ON THE HILL: The probable pitchers for the remainder of the series: Lakewood’s Shane Watson (0-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. Kevin Guzman (0-1, 1.93) Friday night at 7:05, Lakewood’s Luke Leftwich (0-0, 6.75) vs. Chuck Weaver (0-1, 0.00) on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. and Lakewood’s Harold Arauz (0-0, 5.40) vs. Justin Jacome on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
SEEING STARS: Lakewood has seven players on its roster who were All-Stars last year in the New York-Penn League, a short-season Class A circuit. They are right-handed pitchers Alejandro Arteaga, Mitch Gueller and Robert Tasin, catcher Austin Bossart, first baseman Brendon Hayden, Jose Tobias and outfielder Zach Coppola.
GREEENSBORO 000 042 100–7 10 1
LAKEWOOD 200 000 002 –4 10 0
W: Castellanos (1-0). L: Gilbert (0-1). 3B: Fernandez (G). 2B: Sullivan (G) 2 (4); Randolph (L) (1), Hayden (L) (1). WP: Beltre (G) B: Gilbert. LOB: Greensboro (7), Lakewood (11). SB: Fernandez (G); Coppola (L) (2), Randolph (L) (3)