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Offense may be big hit for Suns

April 07, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

It's getting to be almost routine for Mike Ramsey.

For the third straight year, Ramsey is the Hagerstown Suns manager putting his team through the "getting to know you" paces at Municipal Stadium. But on Tuesday, while much was the same, it felt a lot different.

Ramsey will be in control of a different style of Suns team in 2004. In his first two seasons, Hagerstown was a pitching-enriched team. But when the new season starts on Thursday in Lexington, the Suns will be on the offensive.

"The third time could be the charm," Ramsey said Tuesday during the team's media day. "I think we will be a good team, but it's a different team. We are going to have a better chance to score runs on a nightly basis."

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The San Francisco Giants had sent top pitching prospects to the Suns in the organization's first two seasons in Hagerstown. The strong arms shined, but were lost in a shuffle of low-run production.

This year's team appears to be the opposite and will open up a whole new style of managing for Ramsey.

"We have some power and we have some left-handed bats who can take advantage of the short wall in right field," Ramsey said. "We won't have to play 'little ball' this year. There won't be as much bunting and hit- and-runs like we have had to do in the past."

The Suns were forced to play for single-run rallies on many occasions last year. In fact, Hagerstown scored two runs or less in 55 of its 135 games last season.

"This year, we might be able to sit back and play for the big inning," Ramsey said.

Two key components to Hagerstown's offense will be third baseman Nate Schierholtz and center fielder Jon Coutlangus.

Schierholtz was San Francisco's second pick in the 2003 amateur draft and will hit third in the batting order, while Coutlangus is a late addition to the Suns' roster but will play center field and be the leadoff hitter.

The Suns also will have two power hitters who will be looking for better seasons in their second stint in Hagerstown.

First baseman Travis Ishikawa, rated the seventh best prospect in the Giants' farm system, returns after struggling here last season before being sent to Salem-Keizer for the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Jason Columbus will be out to erase a season tarnished by injuries.

"We are looking for both of them to have better numbers this year," Ramsey said. "Travis struggled here last year but hit pretty well after going to Salem-Keizer. Columbus has to stay healthy to have a good year."

Joining Coutlangus in the outfield will be Jon Armitage, Jesse Schmidt and Mike Wagner, who will rotate through games while the fourth member of the group shares designated hitter duties with Columbus.

The Suns catching is in good hands as both Brian Munhall and Dayton Buller return from last season. Tim Hutting will start at shortstop while Pat Dobson, a converted outfielder, will start at second base.

How well the Suns do may depend on how well they start the season.

"If the guys in the lineup do what we think they can and all hold their own, we could get off to a great start," Ramsey said. "It's one of those things that I don't know what will happen. We have to remember this is two 70-game mini-marathons we are running. I'm not going to panic. Our goal is to help players improve and move them up to the major league."

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