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Maxwell takes lead as leadoff

Maxwell takes lead as leadoff

May 21, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

For a while, Justin Maxwell was in stitches.

It wasn't very funny.

But now, as Maxwell heals, it's opposing pitching that is starting to come apart at the seams ... and they aren't laughing either.

Maxwell is all but healed after suffering a nasty gash on his left knee. And in the same way the eight stitches have helped put his knee together, it might have been a circumstance which helped sew his game together.

The Hagerstown Suns outfielder suffered a deep cut just above his right knee when he was spiked by second baseman Mike Martinez while making a play on a short fly ball to right on May 2 against West Virginia.

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After missing a few games, Maxwell has returned with a vengence, becoming one of the hottest Hagerstown hitters, especially since moving to the leadoff slot in the order.

"I don't think the stitches had anything to do with it," Maxwell said. "They told me I could play, just no head-first slides. After eight days, they took the stitches out and then I slid and busted it open again. They put more stitches in to let it heal from the inside out. It's almost there."

Still, the cut - and the move to leadoff - has helped Maxwell raise his average 27 points.

"Baseball is a funny game," he said. "I have been doing all the extra work to get things going. You get in a rhythm and feel like you can do no wrong."

If anyone needs proof, just look at the three home runs Maxwell hit in the two weekend games - two in a rain-shortened contest - against Delmarva last week.

Maxwell has become one of the reasons for the Suns' climb in team offensive categories. After Friday, he is hitting .294 with five homers and nine RBI since moving to the top of the order. He also spent three games in the second slot, going 4-for-9.

In his last 10 games - since returning to the lineup after the stitches - Maxwell is hitting .351 with five home runs, 10 RBI and 14 runs scored.

In turn, the Suns are 7-5 since elevating Maxwell and are one of the highest scoring teams in the South Atlantic League, while moving up from last place to a tie for fifth in the Northern Division.

The move to the top of the order has added some stability to the top five slots in the batting order while giving the 6-foot-5, 225-pound outfielder a real chance to hit in fastball situations.

"I like hitting leadoff," Maxwell said. "I'm able to get up there and work the count and see pitches. And then, at the end of the game, some of the guys in the bottom of the order get on to give me a chance to drive in runs."

Maxwell was a perfect candidate for the leadoff slot on a team which really didn't have a leadoff hitter. Mike Daniel started the season in the No. 1 slot, but was moved to third when he started to show power. After shuffling the lineup around, Maxwell's name came to the top.

"We made the move to shake up the offense," Suns manager Tommy Herr said at the time of Maxwell's new deployment. "We don't really have a good leadoff and we thought it would get him more fastballs. When he gets on, he's got speed and can steal a base. His on-base percentage is good and he gets deep in the counts, which gives other batters a good look at pitchers."

And Maxwell's move up the order is becoming the cruelest cut of all to Suns' opponents.

Coming and goings

Suns catcher Erick San Pedro made a quantum leap in his career on Tuesday when he was promoted from Hagerstown to Triple-A Columbus.

San Pedro was second in the SAL in throwing out base stealers before being promoted, setting down 16 out of 30 attempts (53 percent). He was hitting .230 in 20 games in Hagerstown.

San Pedro is no stranger to Triple A ball, playing for New Orleans last season and hitting .115.

Washington promoted catcher Patrick Nichols from extended spring training to Hagerstown's open roster spot.

Top dogs

The Suns swept South Atlantic League player of the week honors for May 7-13.

Maxwell was named player of the week for hitting .450 with four home runs, seven RBI, 10 runs scored and a 1.100 slugging percentage.

Justin Jones, one of the Suns' newest acquisitions, was named pitcher of the week for going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA over 12 2/3 innings and two starts since being added from extended spring training. He has allowed six hits and no walks. Jones was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday.

Suns Spots

The Suns lead the South Atlantic League in home runs. Hagerstown has hit 44, one better than Greensboro. The Suns are also third in the league in slugging percentage (.434).

On the pitching side, the Suns lead the SAL in complete games with two - both by Jhonny Nunez. Hagerstown also leads the league in hit batters with 28.

Chris Marrero has been hot. In his last 11 games, the outfielder/designated hitter is hitting .353 with five of his nine home runs and 20 RBI.

In the Suns' recently competed eight-game homestand, Marrero hit .408 (11-of-27) with four homers and 14 RBI.

Marrero has hit eight of his nine home runs at Municipal Stadium. His only blast on the road came Thursday in the fourth inning of Hagerstown's 3-2 win over Lake County. He has three home runs in his last five games and six in his last seven.

Strikeouts have been part of the Suns' problem this season. Shortstop Stephen King has whiffed 51 times in 128 at-bats this season while hitting .180. Out of the 105 outs King has made, 48.6 percent have been by Ks. Maxwell has struck out 38 times and Mike Daniel has gone down swinging 36 times.

The Suns continued to play an abundance of one-run games. They are 8-10 when it comes to the nailbiters. Hagerstown is 1-3 in two-run games, too, meaning the Suns have been in 13 of their 23 losses to the very end.

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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