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Suns hit road for opener

April 03, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

If the Hagerstown Suns were a patch of mushrooms or a contract proposal, there would be some real excitement today.

In the dark and on paper, the 2003 version of the Single-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants looks bountiful and in order.

But the Suns play baseball and no matter how the advance billing looks, everything changes once they take the field - beginning tonight at 7 on the road against the Greensboro Bats in the opening night of the 100th year of the South Atlantic League.

"I think we will be better," said manager Mike Ramsey, who returns for his second season. "But we have to see how we do with the lights on. If we stay healthy and the players are able to stay focused for 140 games - most of them have never played that many - we can be pretty good."

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The Suns have a college-laden roster with some experienced players. Starters like shortstop Jake Wald (George Washington), third baseman Kevin Kelly (Duke) and Karl Jernigan (Florida State) have tasted playing in extended seasons.

But Ramsey and the Suns, who trained in Arizona, don't know much about their SAL competition, since 11 of the 13 other teams train on the East Coast. Add to the mix a talented but untested starting rotation and a bullpen which needs to establish its pecking order and Hagerstown has much to overcome before it can lay claim to any playoff berths.

"I think we are going to be better because our defense is going to be better," Ramsey said. "I think our starting pitching will be strong, but we have to see how we handle the middle and final innings. I think we have more power than speed, but we do have a number of guys who can run."

The starting pitching will debut with Merkin Valdez , a 21-year-old right-hander with high credentials who came to the Giants as part of the Russ Ortiz-Damian Moss trade with Atlanta.

"He's been throwing the heck out of the ball," Ramsey said. "He has a heck of an arm and has good possibilities. He throws the ball in the mid-90s (mph)."

The Suns lineup is dotted with some running ability at the top and bottom and what could be some formadable power in the middle.

Ramsey spoke of Travis Ishikawa and Jason Columbus, a pair who will share first base and designated hitter duties, to be power hitters. They will bat fifth and sixth tonight.

Second baseman Aaron Hornostaj and Kelly will fall into the third and cleanup roles.

Jernigan, the center fielder, and Wald will take the top two slots. Outfielders Carlos Sosa and Randy Walter will bat at the bottom of the order.

"We are going to see how things go, but I'd like to be more aggressive (on the bases)," Ramsey said. "Last year, we struck out too much and that made it tough to hit and run. The whole organization struck out too much last year. This year, we are going to try to pull back and try to make things happen."

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