Saturday, July 26, 2014

RailRiders start up slowly

Team’s lack of clutch hitting is early cause for concern.

April 10. 2013 11:53PM

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MOOSIC - One season-opening homestand wasn’t enough time to tell much about the type of team the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders will field this season.

But it did do enough to cause some early concern in their clubhouse.

With projected sluggers Cody Johnson and Dan Johnson and prospect Zoilo Almonte all batting below .150, the RailRiders have struggled to score runs while falling to a 1-5 start.

Maybe it was fortunate their game against Rochester was rained out Wednesday.

“We’ve got to get our main guys going,” said RailRiders manager Dave Miley, whose team headed out of town to begin an eight-game road trip, starting tonight in Buffalo then next week in Rochester — where Scranton/Wilkes-Barre played the majority of its home games while PNC Field was being rebuilt last season.

“Opportunities have been there,” Miley continued, “not from hits, from walks. We’re 4-for-21 with a man on third base and less than two outs.

“We’ve got to have someone to knock them in.”

That’s not necessarily a sign the team will struggle. It got off to a 2-5 start playing as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees last season, and Miley still guided the club to 84 victories and the International League North Division title. But at this point, the manager cares more about performance than the final score.

“We’ve been close in games,” said Miley, now in his seventh season managing Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s Triple-A baseball team. “We’ve got some guys who have gotten off to slow starts (hitting) in quite a few games. We’ve given up some runs late.”

The bright spot so far has been Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s starting pitching.

Lefthander Vidal Nuno held Rochester to one run and struck out six without no walks over seven strong innings, but left with a no-decision before the bullpen was tagged with a 2-1 loss. That was right after righthander Chris Bootcheck pitched five shutout innings with four strikeouts against Rochester while setting up the RailRiders for their only win. And tonight’s starter, Dellin Betances, worked three promising innings before faltering in the fourth against Pawtucket.

“Starters have been good,” Miley said. “They’re finally getting stretched out just now. Nuno was outstanding, Bootcheck threw well, Dellin pitched well until he lost it a little after a few innings.”

But the offensive struggles aren’t lost on the RailRiders.

Although they’ve drawn an International League-leading 37 walks, they’re hitting just .209 as a team. Their only home run of the season came off the bat of leadoff hitter Melky Mesa, who has struck out 13 times. Cody Johnson, who hit cleanup Tuesday, has nine strikeouts on a team that carries the second-highest strikeout total in the league.

“A lot of strikeouts,” Miley said.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s 17 runs scored through six games is last in the league. But that’s not surprising, considering the RailRiders have just two players hitting above .250 - infielder Addison Maruszak at .364 and catcher Austin Romine, who leads the club with a .389 batting average.

“Maruszak’s swung the bat pretty well, Romine has swung it well over the last few games,” Miley said.

The rest, he hopes, will come around.

“It’s too early (to tell),” Miley said. “We’ve got to get our bats going. (But) it’s six games. We’ve got 138 to play.”

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