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Suns come home after enjoying life on road

April 14, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Suns would rather be in Oz right now.

They aren’t yet sure if there is no place like home. So far, following the yellow brick road has been successful.

Still, the Suns will be tapping the ruby spikes three times and returning to Municipal Stadium to kick off the home portion of the 2011 schedule against the Lakewood BlueClaws today at 6:35 p.m.

It’s not that the Suns don’t want to come home — the team has only spent three days in town so far and hasn’t played here yet — but there aren’t many times a team posts a 6-2 record while on the road.

“We haven’t lost too many times yet, but we want to get back,” said Suns manager Brian Daubach.

When the Suns do show up, they will come in a far different team than fans are used to seeing.

In the past, Hagerstown has been saddled with a sub-.500 record and barely caused a stir. Now, the quick start and the first home game of Bryce Harper should kick the anticipation up a notch. The Suns were one of the last two teams in baseball to carry an undefeated record until losing in the nightcap of Wednesday’s doubleheader with the Lexington Legends.

Harper, the Washington Nationals’ top prospect, was thought by some to be all the Suns would have to offer. Thus far, he has been just one of a number of parts.

Pitching, not hitting, has stolen the show for the Suns.

“Things are going quite well,” Daubach said. “Our pitching has been better than good. We have gone once through the rotation and it couldn’t be much better.”

Suns starters were 4-1 with a 2.02 ERA through Wednesday. They had allowed eight earned runs on 28 hits while walking nine and striking out 31 in 35 2/3 innings. Opening-day starter Cameron Selik is 1-0 in his two starts and carries a 0.00 ERA.

Chris McKenzie, today’s projected starter, was a 3-2 winner over Rome on Saturday, allowing one run on one hit through five innings.

The outstanding pitching has given the Suns some wiggle room on offense. Hagerstown was hitting .216 as a team, ranked 13th in the 16-team South Atlantic League, through Wednesday. Harper was hitting .240, which rated as fourth-best on the team. The 18-year-old hit his first home run on Wednesday and had five RBIs on the season.

“We are in a little funk right now,” Daubach said. “Some of the guys are a little overanxious, but they will come out of it. With the rain we have had, we haven’t been able to get much live batting practice. We have been doing little things right by stealing bases and moving runners and our defense has been outstanding.”

One pleasant surprise has been outfielder Randolph Oduber, who has shared leadoff duties with Blake Kelso. Oduber was hitting .308 through Wednesday with five stolen bases, while Kelso had a team-best .348 average.

“We weren’t sure if Randolph could be a leadoff hitter, but he has been a big part of our offense so far.” Daubach said. “He has handled it very well.

“We had some high hopes for the offense, but we have also gone out and won four one-run games so far. We are making all the plays. We need a game where we score eight, 10 runs with 13, 14 hits to really get going.”

Defensively, the Suns have been sound up the middle with Jason Martinson at short and Adrian Sanchez at second. Hagerstown has committed just three errors in the first seven games.

Things have been good so far for the Suns, but they still could be better. Coming home to Hagerstown might be like reaching the Emerald City.

“We want to get back to Hagerstown,” Daubach said. “The fans want to see the team play and it is an exciting time with all the changes and the new ownership. We have been scoring first in a lot of games and putting the pressure on teams. It will be nice to sit back and have a chance to bat last for once.”

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