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Suns don't get anything without putting up a fight

April 30, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

If baseball uniforms had collars, the Hagerstown Suns would be wearing blue ones.

It has nothing to do with the team’s newly adopted team colors. It’s more about the style they play.

Like the city they play in, the Suns have to work hard to get ahead. Hagerstown isn’t flashy, but it is always looking for a fight ... we’re talking about the baseball team, not the city.

The Suns exit April with a 13-11 record and sit just one game out of first place in the South Atlantic League Northern Division, trailing Hickory after Monday morning’s rainout. Hagerstown was off Tuesday, traveling to start a seven-game southern swing through Augusta and Rome, Ga.

So, when the Suns take the field tonight, nothing will have changed. They will still be a middle-of-the-pack team — at least statistically — that has to establish a gritty identity in order to win.

And if anyone needs proof, all you need to do is take a look at Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Hickory. It was a wet and rainy day with a raw wind that made the game uncomfortable.

The Suns made that feeling go even deeper for the Crawdads.

Hagerstown pitching collected 18 of the 27 outs via strikeout. And the Suns scored runs by getting on base and applying pressure, rather than swinging for the fences.

“We’ve got to be aggressive,” said manager Tripp Keister. “We don’t hit a lot of home runs, so we have to do other things to score runs.”

That means positioning. Getting hitters on and moving them into scoring position so the next guy in the order drives him in. It’s sacrifice bunts, it’s hit-and-run plays, it’s stealing bases and it’s taking extra bases when they can because small rallies are better than no rallies at all.

In baseball terms, it’s called small ball. In Hagerstown, it’s called competitive survival.

Statistically, the Suns are in the middle of the pack in the league. They sit right on the fold when it comes to runs scored (119), triples (5), home runs (11), RBIs (100) and strikeouts (195).

They are below halfway on the list for hits (184) and total bases (275).

The two categories they sit near the top are in walks (101) and stolen bases (39 in 47 tries).

Hagerstown has only scored four or more runs in an inning five times this season. In 10 of their 24 games, the Suns have scored three runs or less, and four runs or less in 14 of them.

For the most part, the Suns take games one run, one inning at a time and are very patient offensively. Only five Suns players have hit home runs this season, led by Brandon Miller with four.

Once they get on base, they are daredevils. And once they get a one-run lead, it all becomes a matter of using defense and pitching to defend it.

It was the style of game the Suns used Sunday against Hickory, a game that was played in constant drizzle that completely changed the conditions. The Crawdads are built for power with a league-leading 39 homers, while the Suns play a more calculated game.

“One thing we are trying to establish in the entire organization is to be aggressive,” Keister said. “We are going to make mistakes — ones that make people wondering why we did that — but I’m OK with it because they are being aggressive. This is where they learn and learn when it’s the right time and wrong time to do things. I’m very happy with the way they are playing.”

The Suns took three risks on Sunday and two of them paid off. It’s all they needed while Ivan Pineyro and David Fischer combined to pitch a shutout.

On both occasions, Suns runners got huge jumps on attempted steals/hit-and-run plays. The movement forced the Crawdads’ defense to react, opening gaps for Hagerstown hitters.

The Suns took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Wander Ramos drew a two-out walk and circled the bases when Shawn Pleffner’s fly fell just out of the reach of Crawdads left fielder Jordan Akins for an RBI double.

They iced the game with two runs in the sixth, the first coming as Will Piwnica-Worms hit a one-out single to left. Later he broke for second and circled the bases on Pedro Severino’s single, a bloop that fell between three Hickory players, scoring easily.

Baseball purists might come to love the 2013 Suns, who are comfortable playing strong defense up the middle, pitching to make teams put the ball in play and running with a purpose. There would seem to be many low-scoring, one-run games in the future.

“All we want to do is be in it so that we have a chance to win the game in the end,” Keister said earlier this season.

And so far, the Suns have had the collar for it.

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