Home opener is nothing but the beginning for Suns

April 11, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

On the schedule, the Hagerstown Suns will play their home opener today at 6:35 at Municipal Stadium.

As far as manager Darnell Coles is concerned, this game with the Lake County Captains could be billed as a hopeful preview of coming attractions.

"As the summer progresses and we start to become a better team, my hope is that this will lead to bigger crowds," Coles said Thursday from Lakewood, N.J., before the Suns completed their six-game, eight-day season-opening roadtrip. "And hopefully that will lead to a playoff run that Hagerstown will be proud of."

Coles has definite plans for the Suns. The manager has a blueprint of what he wants the players to accomplish and if the players follow the script, Coles believes they will be successful.


The Suns have shown some good signs through the first two series of the season. Hagerstown return home with a 3-3 record, which included a 14-inning victory and a come-from-behind win in the season's first two games at Delmarva. Two losses were by one run and the other was by two.

"I think we've played pretty well so far," Coles said. "We still have a couple of defensive issues. We need more communication, but it's early. You work on the same things you do in spring training, but on the road, it's tough because of field availability. Once we get past those issues, we will be better."

The Suns have only committed six errors through the first six games - but errors are part of Single-A baseball. Coles said before the season he was more worried about how the team and the defense interacted on the field.

So far, the Suns' offense and pitching have been relatively solid.

At the plate, Hagerstown is led by first baseman Bill Rhinehart and left fielder Aaron Seuss, who both hit in the heart of the order.

Rhinehart, a left-handed hitting first baseman, is hitting .318 with seven hits - including three doubles and a home run - while driving in six runs. Seuss, a left fielder whom Coles has called the best hitter on the team, is hitting .304.

Right fielder Michael Burgess, a 19-year-old who is considered the Washington Nationals' fourth-best prospect, has connected for two home runs and has two RBIs, but also has struck out nine times. Stephen Englund, Washington's second-round pick in 2006, starts in center field and has driven in two runs.

The Suns pitching staff, under Paul Menhart for the second season, entered Thursday's game with a 3.38 ERA. Opening-day starter Jeff Mandel, who pitched Thursday, returns from last season along with relievers Erik Arnesen and Edulin Abreu.

The gem of the staff is probably right-hander Colton Willems, who will start in tonight's home opener. Williems is one of the Nationals' two first-round picks in 2006, along with Chris Marrero, who played here last year.

The Nationals are taking their time with the 19-year-old right-hander, allowing him to develop slowly. He is 0-0 with a 7.20 ERA entering this start.

"He is a tremendous talent. It's just a matter of time," Coles said. "Colton needs to work through some mechanical issues, it's just a matter of him finding it. He has to go out and concentrate on attacking the strike zone with his fastball and everything else will take care of itself."

And that is pretty much the outlook for the Suns. Playing at home is another case of playing to Coles' plan.

"I think (the home opener is) huge for me. No. 1, obviously because we have never played at home," Coles said. "Secondly, it will give the guys a chance to see what it feels like to play before a home crowd and enjoy every minute of that."

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