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Suns have the tools for second half

June 22, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

From Day One, it was obvious that the 2006 Hagerstown Suns were a work in progress.

They were a group of young, untested players heading into their first experience of full-season baseball. To them, MP3s meant more than DPs and hip-hop was hotter than bad hops.

Still the Suns trudged along. They learned lessons the hard way, going 27-42 in the first half of the South Atlantic League and finishing last in the North Division. There were flashes of brilliance, but they were tempered by inconsistency.

The up-and-down nature of the first half was tolerated. It's because the New York Mets were busy building something for the future.

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"We are out here trying to teach them the skills they will need to use as tools when they go into battle," Suns manager Frank Cacciatore said after Sunday's 6-3 win over Delmarva to end the first half. "We say that we are trying to give them a toolbelt to be ready for anything."

Today, a new day is dawning. The Suns have their "toolbelts" tightened and are ready to go back to work, taking the next step to a finished product - a second-half title and a berth in the SAL playoffs.

Everyone starts at 0-0 again today at 7:05 p.m., as the Suns host Lakewood for their first game of the second half. There is an air of anticipation because Hagerstown has shown marked improvement in June, meaning the Suns just might be grasping the concept of hanging curves and learning curves.

Offensively, the averages aren't eye-popping, yet players are starting to put together what Cacciatore categorized as consistent at-bats more often.

With Fernando Martinez on two lengthy stays on the disabled list, outfielders Joe Holden, Jonel Pacheco and Elvis Cruz have filled in admirably.

Holden's speed in center field has enhanced the defense, and he's hitting .320 with five homers and 24 RBI in 34 games. Pacheco has been making consistent contact and could find himself hitting higher in the batting order while Cruz has added some clutch hits.

First baseman Nick Evans and right fielder Jonathan Sanchez have been more dangerous in run-scoring positions.

"Nick has come a long way over the last month," Cacciatore said. "His swing is more consistent and he is laying off of pitches. He is much better at doing that ... that is an encouraging sign. Sanchez has come a long way. He didn't hit a home run in the beginning of the season. Now he's hit eight in the last 110 at bats. He's done one heck of a job, but he has a long way to go."

On the mound, the Suns are still looking for a solid five starters, but have had some consistency with Jonathan Niese and Jeff Landing. The bullpen has shown marked improvement as Eric Brown, Brandon Nall and Kevin Tomasiewicz are turning into mainstays.

And it means the second half will be the time to prove if the Suns actually have the tools for the job.

"I feel like we have shown a tremendous amount of improvement. Now it has to translate into performance," Cacciatore said. "I am cautiously optimistic about the second half ... but it will all come down how our pitching does."

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