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On the bubble - Suns regroup for run at playoffs

June 21, 2000|By BOB PARASILITI

Rolando Pino has a gut feeling.

You'd think it was indigestion, especially after the way the Hagerstown Suns gave away another game in the final inning, this one a 6-3 loss to the Capital City Bombers on Sunday to end the first half of the South Atlantic League Northern Division season.

cont. from sports page

Yes, the Suns' manager choked that one down, like he was forced to do a number of times during Hagerstown's first 70 games.

No, the feeling didn't make him reach for antacid. Instead, Pino was reaching for the future.

"I really feel like we are a better team right now overall," Pino said. "It's just a gut feeling. We have been hitting better for the last couple of weeks. I just feel like things will be a lot better in the second half."

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That future is now. The Suns open the second half of the season today at 7:05 p.m. when they face the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs at Municipal Stadium. It will be a half of renewed hope and new faces as Hagerstown attempts to win its way into the league playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Something had to change after Hagerstown finished with a 34-36 record and in sixth place in the seven-team Northern Division, 12 games behind Piedmont. Hagerstown showed little power or consistency. It also had problems hitting with runners in scoring position and holding the leads. The Suns were 8-11 in one-run games and 2-9 in extra innings.

The Toronto Blue Jays organization, the parent team of the Suns, made a concerted effort to change the complexion of the team with eight moves in a two-week span. Gone is some of the youth that was projected to be ready for championship play, replaced with a combination of experience and leadership:

* Toronto's No. 1 selection in the 1999 draft, outfielder Alex Rios.

* A pair of Suns from the 1999 campaign, catcher Ryan Bundy and reliever Eric Place.

* Free agent closer Hugo Castellanos.

With the pieces in the box, it's up to Pino to fit them together, but he admits he needs to find the right glue.

"My main concern is our defense," Pino said. "We've had some problems in some situations. All you can do is give them repetition and lead them in the right direction, though. They have to make the plays themselves."

The Suns averaged 1 1/2 errors per game - 103 in 70 games - but Pino is concerned about the errors that don't get on the scoreboard.

"Somewhere along the line, they have to have the desire to do the job right," Pino said. "We can only show them how to do it."

After that, Pino can only hope for a change of luck. The Suns never enjoyed more than a three-game winning streak in the first half, but never suffered more than a three-game losing streak.

"We can't get past three (straight)," Pino said. "Maybe I should start playing the lottery using that number. It might change our luck. We've played a lot of close games and that can only help us. We'll see if everything changes for us in the second half."

Charleston RiverDogs

at Hagerstown Suns

Promotion: Reduced price beverages throughout the park

Time: 7

Radio: WHAG 1410

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