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Suns' short hits could take team a long way

April 17, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

To Gene Richards, an inch is as good as a mile.

Home runs are great to watch and important to the game of baseball, but bunts are more functional, especially to minor league players like those playing for the Hagerstown Suns.

Richards has presented an agenda for the Suns this season. He wants them to win while learning the ropes to make it to the Major Leagues. In most cases, home runs grab headlines, but bunts make headway.

"Almost all of these guys will probably be a No. 7-8-9 hitter if they make it to the majors," Richards said. "That means they have to know how to play the entire game and how to use all the fundamentals. That means they know how to bunt and how to do the things they need to do."

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Bunting, running and taking extra bases are major components to Richards' game plan thus far in the Suns' 2005 season. Each game has had its own distinct factors leading to the outcome, but aggressive running and situational hitting, like bunting, have been a recurring theme.

The bunt came into play April 8 in Hagerstown's 3-2 win over West Virginia Power, leading to two runs - and ultimately the winning run - in the sixth inning.

On the suggestion from Richards, Dante Brinkley went to the plate with bunting in the front of his mind. He survived the situation, and pushed a bunt past the left side of the mound to beat out a single in a 1-0 game. Carlos Gomez laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Brinkley and was safe when West Virginia's first baseman dropped the ball, allowing Brinkley to move to third.

After Gomez stole second, Ambiorix Concepcion and Mike Carp followed with sacrifice flies to complete the manufacturing of the two runs.

It all started with Brinkley making a short hit go a long way.

"I'm more of a leadoff hitter or a second or nine hole guy," Brinkley said. "I'm just trying to find ways to get on and to move runners. The bunt may not seem like much, but in baseball, most of the time one thing starts it all snowballing. The snowball went our way."

Suns spots

n The Suns' starting pitching has been the unsung hero in the team's fast start. Heading into Saturday's game, the starters own a combined 2.80 ERA, but that's up from how they started the sesaon. Hagerstown's starters went 22 1/3 innings - the first five starts - before allowing an earned run. In the second turn through the rotation, they have allowed 13 runs in 19 1/3 innings, a 6.05 composite ERA.

n Grant Psomas has asserted himself as a cornerstone. The third baseman has a hit in eight of the Suns' first nine games and has moved from the No. 8 slot to fifth in the batting order. He has 15 hits for the season, with five multihit games in nine starts. Eight of the 15 hits have been for extra bases.

n Brinkley was given Tuesday off because Richards said he felt the outfielder/designated hitter was being passive at the plate. In his three games since returning to the lineup, Brinkley is 7-for-11 (.636) with five RBI and four runs scored. It's good enough to raise his season average to .500 -second best in the SAL heading into Saturday's game.

n The Suns have proven they will be aggressive on the bases this season, even at times when aggression is ill advised. Still, the 2005 Suns have swiped 11 bases in 21 tries this season, only a 52.3 percent rate. The 2004 version of the Suns - a San Francisco Giants' affiliate - was 81-for-128 in base theivery last year, a 63.3 percent success rate. While the ratio heavily favors the 2004 team, the 2005 team isn't dying for trying. This year's Suns are averaging 2.3 attempts per game while last year's version tried to steal a base less than one time (.93) per game.

n Mike Carp is the prototypical power hitter. He might strike out more than he hits, but when he hits it's memorable. And that's what makes him dangerous. The first baseman has struck out 11 times in 22 at-bats, but he has seven hits, including a double and four home runs, good for 10 RBI. Nine of his 10 RBI have come off the long ball.

Milestones

n Suns second baseman Ryan Coultas will be celebrating his 24th birthday on April 24.

n The Suns have a hold on a number of statistical categories in the South Atlantic League so far this season.

Firsts

l Carp - home runs (4)

l Team batting average - .290 (35 points better than Augusta, the Giants' affiliate)

l Brinkley - on-base percentage (.621), slugging percentage (.955).

l Psomas - extra-base hits (8).

Seconds

l Brinkley - batting average (.500)

Week ahead

The Suns finish their first road trip with a final game against West Virginia today before heading to Lakewood for a three-game series. After their first off day, Hagerstown returns home Friday to open a four-game homestand against Delmarva (Orioles). On tap for the homestand is a fireworks show, a schedule poster giveaway and Eskimo Night.


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

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