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Clubhouse Chatter

August 19, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

The Hagerstown Suns have been a good team from beginning to end.

It's just the four months in the middle which have kept them from being a great team.

It has been a long rocky ride so far, but Suns manager Mike Ramsey is feeling easier about the season considering how the Suns have played thus far in August.

"I think the club has got it's confidence back," Ramsey said. "We were 5-20 to start the second half and that was tough to deal with and recover. The offense is starting to come around and we have been able to patchwork together some pitching. Now we have to carry it through the rest of the season."

The Suns started the season with all the promise in the world and are ending it like that of a team with vast improvement. It's been the four months in between that caused problems.

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It has been a rocky road for the Suns since the end of April. Hagerstown was 12-12 on April 28 and haven't seen the .500 level since. A four-game losing streak at the end of the first month, including a three-game sweep by Lexington, sent Suns into a scramble to keep their heads about water.

Injuries and a collective three-week batting slump killed the first half and a total breakdown ruined the start of the second half.

But since the start of August, the Suns have posted a 11-5 record through Friday and are showing some signs of life.

Injuries have slowed the pitching staff, but the offense has kicked into gear.

Miguel Miranda was inserted into the lineup as shortstop at the start of the last homestand and has been on fire, hitting over .400. Tyler Von Schell while starting a long hitting streak while Branden Florence continues to produce multiple-hit games. Robbie Meyer, Kevin Alexander and Keith Anderson have contributed out of difficult roles.

All totaled, the Suns have outscored their opponents 100-72 in August (through Thursday).

And almost miraculously, the Suns are in a position that if they could win 11 of their last 16 heading into Saturday's game at Savannah, they could finish with a .500 record for the second half.

"We are swinging the bats well," Ramsey said. "We've hit a whole lot in the homestand. That's a big turnaround from a month ago. The kids are starting to believe in themselves going into the final month."

MIND(LESS) GAME


Brian Burres has been a lifesaver out of the bullpen for the Suns recently.

Don't ask him about his success though ... he hasn't thought about it.

He might not remember what he's done either. That's because he doesn't, say, use his head while he's out on the mound.

"I try to think as little as possible," Burres said after getting the Suns out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam to win a 15-12 decision over Macon on Monday. "I let my catcher do all the thinking."

Burres, who was the Suns' opening-day starter, was placed on the disabled list from June 25-July 5. Once he returned, he was placed in the bullpen as another valuable left-hander. Out of the bullpen, Burres is 2-1 and a save with a 3.48 ERA in 13 appearances. He has allowed 12 earned runs on 22 hits while walking 13 and striking out 36.

Erase the worse of the outings - allowing four runs in 1 1/3 innings in a loss to Macon on Aug. 10 - and Burres is carrying a 2.43 ERA. He has dropped his overall ERA by .57 runs since coming joining the bullpen.

He may have come into his own this week with his last two outings - 6 2/3 innings, four hits, four runs (all earned), four walks and nine strikeouts, good for a win and a save.

CLEAN(UP) SLATE


First baseman Tyler Von Schell is back from his vacation and is refreshed and ready to go.

Von Schell, one of the players caught in the Suns' mid-season tailspin, was taken out of his customary clean up slot - No. 4 in the batting order - and dropped to fifth behind Julian Benavidez.

"It gave me a different look," Von Schell said. "Ben was swinging the bat well while I was struggling and then we switched back. It wasn't a big deal. It gave us two guys who could hit there and it didn't matter if I was hitting behind him or he was behind me."

The rejuvenated Von Schell is riding a team-high 13-game hitting streak through Friday, going 17-for-51 (.333), including two home runs.

"Anytime he stays on the ball and drives it, he's dangerous," Ramsey said.

Bob Parasiliti covers the Hagerstown Suns for The Herald-Mail. He can be contacted at 301-733-5131 ext. 2310 or at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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