Suns try to solve puzzle of winning

Season opens Thursday night at Delmarva

Season opens Thursday night at Delmarva

April 02, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

You'd have to figure that new Hagerstown Suns manager Darnell Coles is probably a master at Sudoku.

His approach to running the Single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals sounds like finding the solution to the popular number puzzle game - get positions one through nine to work together across the field while finding the right combination up and down the lineup.

"I want them to play well together," Coles said on Tuesday while standing outside of the home clubhouse during media day at Municipal Stadium. "We probably have the most high-priced team in the league, but we have to get them to play together.

"I have a game plan. We have to keep them motivated for 140 games. I have to present the right package so they buy into what we are doing and then get them in position to expand their games."


It becomes an interesting - maybe puzzling - concept for the Suns, who begin their second season with the Nationals. It's a whole new attitude and atmosphere for the Suns, the Nationals and the entire organization.

Starting with the new Nationals Park and the reconstruction of the overall organization, this season is all about winning and development. And for the Suns, Coles represents the sparkplug with drive to push the Suns forward.

"We want fundamentally sound baseball," said Coles, a 14-year major league veteran who played for eight organizations. "We have to be able to catch, hit and throw strikes but then we have to be good two-strike hitters. If all that happens, it's easy to manage. I have to give the most opportunities to succeed."

It all starts on Thursday when the Suns open the season with a 7 p.m. game at Delmarva. Hagerstown opens at home against Lake County on April 11.

Coles' contained enthusiasm has been infectious with the Suns, who practiced for the first time at Municipal Stadium on Tuesday. The Suns feature seven players from last year along with a wealth of upper echelon talent, including two of the top three selections in the 2006 draft and an outfielder rated as the Nationals' No. 4 prospect.

Colton Willems is one of the Nationals prize pitching prospects as one of Washington's two first-round picks from two years ago. The other was Chris Marrero, who played for the Suns the first half of last season.

"Willems is in the mix," said Suns pitching coach Paul Menhart. "We have a staff of prospects. What he does well is he throws strikes. He has a fastball, slider and mixes in a change, but he throws strikes. We have a staff of prospects. We just have to give them the chance to pitch."

Starting center fielder Stephen Englund was Washington's second-round pick in 2006, who has a .387 on-base percentage in his two seasons, playing mostly with the GCL Nationals and Vermont in the New York-Penn League.

The most dramatic player may be Michael Burgess, an outfielder who was drafted in the 49th round in the 2007 draft and has become a top-five prospect for the Nationals. He hit 11 homers and drove in 42 runs last season.

Returning to the Suns are pitchers Jeff Mandel, Edulin Abreu and Erik Arnesen, catcher Jhontan Solano, infielders Stephen King and Trevor Lawhorn and outfielder Francisco Plasencia. Mandel will be the opening-day starter.

They are all parts of the puzzle for Coles to field a talented team that needs to play well as a unit and, hopefully, win in the process.

"Come Thursday, if everyone does the things they are supposed to, we should be ready," Coles said. "I'm not buying the idea of being young. They are prepared. I hope they can do it all right away, but I'd like to see a good gel. This is a good group that plays hard. The city will be happy with this team."

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