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Suns Notebook: Suns must find new ways to win

July 09, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

The departure of Bryce Harper was inevitable.

So are some of the questions that follow.

For better or worse, Harper was the face of the Suns for the first half. He caught everyone’s attention. By reputation alone, opposing teams and pitchers tried to find ways to avoid him. He made the Suns seem more dangerous by his mere presence.

Now, Harper has left the stadium. The Washington Nationals top prospect was sent to Double-A Harrisburg on Monday, pushing Hagerstown into a new era.

Question: Can the Suns win without Harper?

Answer: Definitely, but they will have to make some adjustments.
Harper was a fixture at the No. 3 hitter in the order. Now the Suns have to shake up the batting order to find a new successful formula. Right now, David Freitas has moved from fourth to third and Kevin Keyes has been elevated from sixth to fourth on the lineup card.

The Suns are loaded with a number of Washington’s elite prospects and highly selected players from the 2010 draft. Washington officials have watched this version of the Suns intently because its promise.

Hagerstown has the pitching. From day one, it has had a strong staff as proven by the third-best team ERA in the South Atlantic League.

It will come down to scoring runs and that, at times, has been challenging with or without Harper in the lineup. The Suns have had more than one situation of bases loaded and less than two outs where they have come away empty.

But, by the numbers, Hagerstown is almost as good without Harper’s .318 average, 14 homers and 46 RBIs. The Suns have played 85 games, but 13 without Harper in the lineup at all. Eleven of those games are in the last month, including seven because of a thumb injury. Four others have come after Harper’s promotion heading into Saturday’s doubleheader. Two other games are included in the without column: June 4 when Harper was used as a pinch hitter and June 5 when he left the game after the first inning after being hit by a pitch.

Category    With    Without        Total
Record    42-28    7-8        49-36
Average    .269    .248        .265
Avg.Hits    8.81    8.53        8.76
Avg. Runs    5.14    3.93        4.81
HR Ratio*    44.9    39.7        43.6

*  Average number of at-bats between home runs. Harper homered once in every 18.4 at-bats.

There’s an old saying that you can make numbers prove anything you want. This might be an example of that case.

The Suns have played only 18 percent of their games without Harper’s considerable presence, so there is only a small fraction of evidence. When teams are forced to adjust to major change, it takes time to get comfortable. Harper’s promotion is no different.

The Suns should be fine after they get used to playing without Harper every day. In fact, since Harper’s thumb injury, they are 6-5. At that pace, Hagerstown would be 38-32, only two games off its first-half record.

Bob Parasiliti covers the Hagerstown Suns for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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