Todd Hankins showcased two of the things his skipper wants to see this season in the Carolina Mudcats’ season-opening 6-3 win Thursday against Potomac: speed and the ability to deliver potent line drives.
His two-run double, roped down the left-field line, keyed a four-run outburst that sparked the Mudcats to a four-run lead and a win against the Washington Nationals’ Class A farm club.
“Hankins’ hit was huge,” said Carolina manager Scooter Tucker. “He brings so much to the table. If he can just hit the ball, line drives, consistently and get on base, he can put together a really big year.”
Hankins, 23, who hit leadoff, has stolen 64 bases in the past two seasons after being drafted by the Indians in the 15th round of the 2011 draft. He reached on an error in the first but was thrown out by Nationals catcher Pedro Severino.
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“I got caught my first time running but that’s going to happen, you have to keep running,” Hankins said.
If Carolina bounces back from a 2013 season when it went 57-83 despite showcasing a slew of top Cleveland prospects, speed – both on the base paths and in the field – will play a big role.
“We’re capable of being a team that uses a lot of speed,” said LeVon Washington, who started in right field and went 2-for-4 with an RBI. “And we’ve got some guys who can hit and throw the ball over the plate. You have to have all of that to be a good team. Tonight was a good start.”
Starting left-hander Shawn Morimando gave up two runs in five innings before giving way to Carolina relievers Josh Martin, Jacob Lee and Louis Head, who held Potomac to two hits over the final four innings.
Head worked the ninth for the save; Martin got the win, his first in the minor leagues in 20 appearances.
After Mudcats center fielder Logan Vick ran down a ball about 395 feet away from home plate only to have it glance off of his glove and fall in, Carolina played error-free ball. That’s the biggest key to winning these days for Tucker and Hankins.
“Our game’s evolving backwards,” Tucker said. “It’s going back to more of the early 1980s game, pitching and defense and team speed. Now you’re using your speed and aggressiveness. The days of waiting around for somebody to hit a three-run home run are over.”
Hankins likes what he sees defensively from his teammates.
“In the infield, it’s more about agility, being able to move to your left and right to get to balls,” Hankins said. “Outfield speed is more straight line speed, being able to get to balls in the gap. It’s going to help your pitchers get out of innings quicker.”
Notable: Carolina third baseman Yandy Diaz left the game in the second inning after jamming his wrist while sliding into base on a steal. Tucker wasn’t sure of his status after the game. … Former Duke standout Will Piwnica-Worms went 1-for-4 for Potomac, playing left field. … The “other” Harper in the Nationals’ system — left-handed reliever Bryan Harper — worked a scoreless eighth inning. He’s the older brother of Washington All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper.