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Suns notebook - Strategy a work of art

August 02, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

The Hagerstown Suns proved there's still some artistry left in baseball.

After all, the Suns' defense and pitching practically turned Capital City's perpetual motion into a still life.

The Bombers came to Hagerstown last week with 225 stolen bases to their credit and were the top hitting team in the South Atlantic League. And even though Capital City left town with a split, it certainly didn't run away with any victories.

The reason was a little pre-series planning.

"We got prepared for them before they came in here," Suns pitching coach Hector Berrios said. "We wanted the pitcher to change speeds with their moves to the plate because we knew they were going to run. It was just a matter of preparation."

Capital City managed only four steals, far below the Bombers' 2.3 steals per game average. The Suns set the tone for the series in the first game.

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Suns starter John Sneed slowed the game's tempo down with a combination of different windups and slidestep deliveries with a few throws over to first base to keep Bombers runners off balance.

The key was altering the timing of Sneed's moves to the plate.

"Throwing the ball over to first does no purpose," Berrios said. "Instead, you want to vary the amount of time it takes to go to the plate."

Suns manager Marty Pevey, a former catcher, said all teams use stopwatches to gauge how quickly pitchers come to the plate.

"If it takes a pitcher 1.3 seconds or more to the plate, teams will run," he said. "But if he delivers his pitch in 1.1, then 1.7 and then 1.3 seconds the next time, it makes it harder for them to get a pattern."

The Suns held Capital City to 12 runs in the series, but eight of them came in Sunday's loss. Of the four stolen bases, only one of those runners scored.

Two other weapons Pevey employed to eliminate Capital City's speed advantage: pitchouts and offensive defense by catchers Bobby Cripps and Josh Phelps.

The Suns deliberately threw balls wide of the plate in attempts to catch Bombers straying off base while trying to make runners apprehensive of taking the big lead.

"You can't be afraid to show the other manager that you are willing to pitch out," Pevey said.

Or to throw the ball to any base at anytime. Suns catchers managed to throw out three of seven potential base stealers to help make the Bombers tentative.

Then the catchers went a step further in grounding the Bombers. They showed the strength of their throwing arms.

Cripps and Phelps used snap throws to various bases after random pitches. On four occasions, they picked off runners to all but glue Capital City to the bases.

"It's a lot different story when you're pitching ahead of hitters," Pevey said. "Then you are forcing their hand and you can pitch your own game."

And with a 3.14 team earned run average, the Suns have been able to pitch "their own game" the majority of the time.

Jesse's journey

It was the most fun a player could have while playing a game that didn't count for anything.

Jesse Zepeda came to Municipal Stadium on Tuesday after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game he played the day before and was still able to smile about it.

It was pretty easy since he accumulated those numbers as a one-day member of the Toronto Blue Jays in the annual Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"It was unbelievable," Zepeda said. "It was quite a blast. I didn't know the role I was going to play up there. I didn't have high expectations. I was just going to do whatever they asked."

Zepeda was selected on July 25 to play in last Monday's game against Baltimore. The Orioles won 7-1, but it didn't matter to Zepeda.

He didn't have to wait long to have his role in the game defined, either.

"(Toronto manager) Tim Johnson told me that Ed Sprague would start and get one at-bat, then I'd go in," the Suns third baseman said. "But when Sprague was in the on-deck circle in the first inning, he looked over to me and said, "I don't feel like hitting. Go ahead."

Sprague took himself out of the game, allowing Zepeda to have a field day in the field. He came up in the second against Baltimore starter John Parrish and hit a drive to left field, forcing Baltimore outfielder B.J. Surhoff to the wall to make the catch.

But Zepeda made his biggest impression and memories with his glove.

"I got to play the field with (shortstop) Alex Gonzalez and (second baseman) Tony Fernandez, so I got to work with the big guys," he said.

He made the opportunity count.

Zepeda first made a diving stop on a Lenny Webster grounder in the second and threw it to Fernandez to start a 5-4-3 double play. He followed it up in the sixth with another diving grab, this time robbing Lyle Mouton of a hit.

"I played some outstanding defense," Zepeda said. "All the coaches came up and shook my hand and told me I did a good job."

The experience was like a little boy's dream come true. Zepeda got the chance to meet and rub elbows with some of the brightest stars in the majors.

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