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Suns can't start what they finish

May 15, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

The Hagerstown Suns seem to have the end of games figured out. Now if only they could solve the beginning.

A slow start left the Suns battling from behind - a common trait for them this season - and though they scored three runs late, it wasn't enough as Lakewood finished off a three-game sweep of Hagerstown with a 5-3 win on Mother's Day. The Suns have lost six of their last seven games.

"We couldn't get anything going early," Suns manager Frank Cacciatore said. "But like this team has always done, we got back in it and gave ourselves a chance. ... We could have just folded the tents, but we didn't."

BlueClaws starter Maximo De La Cruz (2-1) held Hagerstown (15-20) hitless through four innings and scoreless until the bottom of the seventh, at which point Lakewood led, 5-0. The Suns came into Sunday ranked 14th out of 16 South Atlantic League teams in hitting.

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"We have to keep working and keep teaching," Cacciatore said. "We're not dealing with experienced big-league hitters who can make adjustments and figure it out the next time up. Here, it takes some time.

"Everybody tends to get apprehensive when things aren't going good. They have to learn it's a long season, and all they have to do is peck away, and before you know it, you've had a good season and the team has had a good season."

Lakewood (18-18) took a 1-0 lead in the first. Leadoff hitter Greg Golson reached on shortstop Jon Schemmel's throwing error, stole second and scored on John Urick's two-out single that fell just out of the reach of diving left fielder Jonel Pacheco.

Suns starter Jonathan Niese (5-1) pitched well through four innings, giving up just the unearned run in the first, walking one and striking out four.

Niese gave up Aaron Cheesman's leadoff double down the left-field line to start the fifth, then got two outs to nearly escape without any damage. But he walked Golson, and the BlueClaws got three straight RBI singles from Julian Williams, Avelino Asprilla and Urick to make it 4-0.

"Jonathan just had that one series where he had two outs and was in control and then (gave up) successive hits," Cacciatore said. "He got the ball up in the zone and they hit it, and that happens sometimes. ... A dry spell affects both sides. When you're not getting any runs, you feel like you have to make the perfect pitch."

Urick's RBI double deep to the left-field gap off Suns reliever Grady Hinchman scored Williams with Lakewood's final run in the seventh. It's the only run Hinchman has given up in 10 1/3 innings this season.

The Suns finally got to De La Cruz in the seventh. Matt Anderson laced a single and Tony Piazza drilled a ground-rule double to left to start the inning. Joe Holden's groundout to first scored Anderson, and Hector Pellot's bad-hop single over third baseman Welinson Baez scored Piazza and chased De La Cruz.

BlueClaws reliever Michael Zagurski walked Schemmel, but got Jonathan Sanchez to pound a high chopper off the plate back to the mound for an out, then struck out Nick Evans to end the threat.

Piazza capped a 3-for-4 day with another double in the eighth, a shot to the right-field gap that scored Anderson to make it 5-3.

"We're really blessed with three great catchers," Cacciatore said. "Drew (Butera) is the front-line guy and the other two guys back him up, and it's difficult to find playing time for those two. I'm very happy for him, that when he got the chance, he performed and did his job. Unfortunately, we don't have 10 or 11 spots in the lineup."

Brett Harker came in to strike out Pellot with two men aboard to end the eighth, then pitched a scoreless ninth, getting a double play to end it.

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