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Suns set for this evening's home opener vs. Crawdads

April 12, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

You could say the Hagerstown Suns have hit the ground running in 2004.

If the South Atlantic League baseball season is like two, 70-game minimarathons, like manager Mike Ramsey said, the Suns left the starting gate in a dead sprint.

Hagerstown has found an early stride, kicking out to a 2-2 record in the season-opening series at Lexington, Ky., behind a some potent hitting and relief pitching. The Suns will attempt to keep up the pace today at 6:35 p.m., when they host the Hickory Crawdads in the home opener at Municipal Stadium.

The Suns got out of the blocks quickly in convincing wins over Lexington. The offense provided clutch hits, including two home runs in each of the first two games, while the bullpen allowed just two runs in the first three games to keep the Legends at bay.

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"We have got off to a good start. That's what I had looked for," Ramsey said. "The hitting has been good - the best we have seen in two years - and the bullpen has been good. The starting pitchers have been walking too many, but it's been a good start."

The biggest story for the Suns, though, has been the offense.

Ramsey's first two seasons in Hagerstown have been with basically all-pitch, little-hit teams. Those teams featured No. 1 draft picks and highly touted prospects on the pitching staff. Meanwhile, the offense needed to play for single-run rallies by moving runners and relying on a hit-and-run style to create opportunities.

Thus far, third baseman Nate Schierholtz, San Francisco's second-round pick in 2003, and the outfield contingent of Jon Armitage, Jon Coutlangus, Jesse Schmidt and Mike Wagner have been in or converted a number of rallies for the Suns. Schierholtz drove in six runs in the first three games and owns a homer along with Amitage, Wagner and catcher Dayton Buller.

"I think all through the lineup we have a chance to do some damage," Ramsey said. "That has been something we have lacked in my first two years and something I hope we can maintain. It's no question that it's where we have struggled in the past. So far, we have been put in a lot of RBI situations and we have come through nearly every time while moving runners."

The Suns will open the home season with Bryan Millikan getting the start. Millikan is slated as Hagerstown's fifth starter after going 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA last season in the Arizona Rookie League.

"He's a young guy with good control," Ramsey said. "He has a good feel for pitching. I look forward to see him pitch."

The Suns will be in Hagerstown for a seven-game homestand with Hickory and the Charleston (W.Va.) Alley Cats. The quick start adds more anticipation to the season for Ramsey, but it is still tempered with reality.

"I'd much rather be 2-0 than 0-2 right now," he said Saturday. "We still have 138 games left to go and there is a lot that could happen. We are just trying to build on each game and try to have a nice April."

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