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Suns hope to demote division-leading Captains

June 04, 2003|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

Even a team of ducks would have run for cover as Tuesday's rain forced postponement of Hagerstown's opener of a four-game series against the Lake County Captains.

The teams will try to square off for the first time this year in a doubleheader tonight starting at 6:05 at Municipal Stadium, if Mother Nature puts a cork on the water-cooler lids.

The Suns (32-23) certainly don't want undue time off, with 14 wins in their last 16 outings.

The same can be said for the Northern Division-leading Captains (40-18), who have put together an eight-game winning streak to hold a 6 1/2-game lead over the Suns as the first half nears completion.

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The Suns have picked up five games in the standings over the last six weeks but have been at a standstill lately with Lake County on its current binge.

However, Suns manager Mike Ramsey is certainly encouraged.

"We're excited about the prospects toward the end of the first half with eight games against Lake County," Ramsey said. "We're in a much better position now. The kids are focused and ready. It's a good atmosphere for them to be in."

Ramsey said Merkin Valdez (3-2, 2.60 ERA) would go in the opener tonight and Brian Stirm (4-0, 2.25) will toe the rubber in the nightcap.

Josh Habel (3-2, 2.43, 2 saves) is slated for a spot start Thursday, followed Friday by Glenn Woolard (5-1, 2.48).

"Habel has done a nice job in previous spot starts, in middle innings and with some saves," Ramsey said. "He's done good stuff in each role."

While the Suns have built a pretty good pitching staff, Lake county has one of its own, which owns a 2.83 earned run average as a staff.

Fausto Carmona has an 8-2 record (1.64 ERA), Dan Eisentrager is 6-1 (1.54) and Keith Ramsey is 6-3 (3.20). Tonight's first-game starter, Sean Smith, is 4-2 with a 4.62 ERA.

The Suns' staff is not far behind with a 3.08 ERA.

"They have some pretty good lefties," Ramsey said. "This will be an interesting series for us."

Offensively, Lake County averages five runs per game while the Suns bring across four, a vast improvement since the early stages of the season when two runs per game were the norm.

How the Suns represent themselves over the next two weeks could bode well heading into the second half of the campaign, regardless of whether they catch Lake County by the end of the first half or not.

"These players have experienced some success and they have all gotten better," Ramsey said. "They've plugged away and put in the effort."

Ramsey's players have done it without much flexibility in the dugout, a result of injuries.

Kevin Kelly and Kevin Alexander, both hitting .300 before suffering injuries, are still mending and Ramsey expects it will be some time into the second half before they return.

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