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Little hits are starting to mean a lot to Suns

August 07, 2005|By BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Suns' season has been like a downsized cell phone plan.

For the first three months, the Suns dialed long distance freely. Roaming charges didn't matter while they were circling the bases after hitting home runs almost at will. It vaulted Hagerstown to the South Atlantic League North Division's first-half title.

But now, the Suns have been forced to stay local. The home run hitters have been promoted to St. Lucie where they are now challenging for the Florida State League's second-half title.

The Suns unveiled a drastically different style of play Wednesday, using bunts as a major offensive weapon. The old 450-foot blasts were traded in for 45-foot blips.

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"We had to do something," mnager Gene Richards said after the Suns' 5-0 victory over Lake County. "For the last month or so, we haven't done much. I said we were going to play basic baseball. We were going to start playing for one run at a time instead of three- or four-run innings."

It is a dramatic change for the Suns, who have struggled for an identity and a winning formula in the second half. The majority of ingredients in the first-half recipe are out of whack. The players who had hit 60 percent of the team's home runs are no longer playing in Hagerstown.

There was a huge need for an adjustment, especially after falling to 12-23 in the second half.

The long and short of it was to go for the short game.

"I'm not a wall-banger," said Suns second baseman Matt Fisher, whose two bunts led to three of Hagerstown's runs Wednesday. "Not as much as I'd like to be, but we needed to do something after losing Dante (Brinkley) and Psomie (Grant Psomas) ... something until we get back on track."

Richards turned the bunting game in the middle innings to force the issue for the Suns. Lake County was forced to honor the bunt and brought the defense in, allowing some openings for other balls to become hits which probably would have been groundouts.

"When you look at this team, it's much different than the one we had at the onset (of the season)," Richards said. "That team could pop it. I'm not saying this team can't, but they can't do it with the regularity of the other one. We have to be more fundamentally sound. I thought I would bring them back to the basics."

The Suns had sacrifice bunts in the third, fourth and sixth innings, a suicide squeeze by Carlos Gomez in the eighth and a bunt for a hit to open the fifth. Farmer tried a sacrifice bunt in the eighth that turned into a single and throwing error.

In all, bunts set up four of Hagerstown's five runs ... and might be the start of a new way of life as the Suns struggle to get back in the South Atlantic League race.

"The way we played (Wednesday) is the way I'd love to do for a long time," Richards said.

Suns spots


Since starting the season 9-0, Jose Sanchez is 2-4 with a 5.29 ERA. Sanchez started the season by winning nine of his first 11 starts while posting a 2.29 ERA. He allowed 14 earned runs, 49 hits and 14 walks while striking out 36 in his first 55 innings. But in his last 11 starts covering 47 2/3 innings, he has allowed 28 earned runs with 56 hits. He has improved in strikeouts and walks. He has fanned 40 while walking just 15.

Until Carlos Gomez hit a home run to lead off Thursday's 7-4 loss to Lake County, the Suns had gone 12 days (eight games) without hitting one out of the park. Before Thursday, the Suns' last home run was hit by Ambiorix Concepcion on July 22 in the eighth inning against Lake County, a span of 69 innings.

Milestones


New faces - The revolving door on the Suns clubhouse continued to spin this week as two new additions.

Joe Williams became Hagerstown's first left-handed starter of the season when he took Municipal Stadium's mound against Lake County on Tuesday. Williams, the Mets' 17th selection in the 2004 amateur draft, was 5-4 with a 2.28 ERA at Brooklyn last year. He started this season at Brooklyn with three starts and no record, despite allowing no runs on five hits in eight innings.

Kyle Brown started in left field for the Suns on Thursday, going 2-for-3 with an RBI on a sacrifice fly and a run scored in the 11-inning loss to Lake County. Brown, the Mets' 18th pick in the 2004 draft, started the season at half-season Kingsport, hitting .279 with four RBI in 15 games. From there, he went to Brooklyn for 17 games, where he hit .264.

Promoted - Derran Watts was promoted to Double A Binghamton on Thursday.

Activated - Edgar Alfonso came off of the disabled list and pitched a scoreless inning against Lake County on Wednesday. Alfonzo was placed on the DL on July 18.

Disabled - The Suns placed starter Blake Eager on the disabled list July 30 with a tender elbow. Meanwhile, reliever Jason Weintrab was placed on the DL on July 26 with a tired arm. Mike Carp was placed on the DL on Thursday with a fracture in his right hand.

The week ahead


The Suns are playing in the longest road trip of the season and are scheduled to play eight games in nine days.

The Suns will play the final three games of a four-game set with Lexington (Astros) beginning today before heading for a four-game series with Greensboro (Marlins) starting Wednesday.

Hagerstown returns to town Aug. 15 to start the longest homestand of the sesaon, 10 games against Hickory, Asheville and Lexington.

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