Stockton Notebook: Sinking Ship?

May hasn't been kind to the Stockton Ports, who didn't earn their first win of the month until late this week. Stockton correspondent Chris Kusiolek brings us up to speed on the Ports.

Team Overview

The 2011 campaign brought glorious results for the Stockton Ports and the Banner Island ballpark faithful who witnessed their hometown squad surge to a 75-65 overall record and claim the Northern Division championship, highlighted by an unprecedented 17 consecutive victories from mid-June to the beginning of July. Now, fully within the thick of the 2012 season, Stockton's revamped roster has experienced a rapid descent following a Ryan Pineda walk-off home run that secured the Ports a victorious series on April 13th. Since that series, the Ports have plummeted down the California League standings, just recently ending a streak of 16 straight losses that nearly matched their consecutive wins mark in 2011. Before winning on Wednesday, the Ports had dropped 22 out of 23 and even with two straight wins on Wednesday and Thursday, they had lost 24 out of 28. Suffering from stagnant offensive support and inconsistent production on the mound, Stockton finds itself in dire need of a turnaround.

The 16-game losing streak began following an 11-4 thrashing of Lancaster in Southern California, a game in which the Ports were paced by blasts from Rashun Dixon and Miles Head. It would prove to be the final winning result for Stockton until May 16th, as Stockton would lose the deciding contest in the road set, 5-4. They would then travel to San Jose to combat the Giants, and were successful in only mustering up four runs cumulatively during the three game series. In that series, Ryan Doolittle, in his first game with the Ports after a promotion from Burlington, allowed a walk-off hit to San Jose.

Faced with a four-game losing streak, the Ports returned to the 209 to battle Lancaster once again. Despite acquiring a lead in the opening two contests, Stockton could not retain their advantages, ultimately faltering while plating the first run. The Ports did successfully mount a five-run rally in the second game, but couldn't recover from a disastrous performance from Anthony Capra. They would yet again be swept, losing the final game of the series, 6-2.

Stockton's stumbling then morphed into a freefall as they were swiftly bested by the Visalia Rawhide in a series where the Ports managed only six runs of support for their pitching staff. Now having lost 10 straight, the Ports attempted to get back on-track versus their rivals, the Modesto Nuts. That series began with the Ports pitted against a major league pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie, who was on a rehab assignment for the Colorado Rockies. Guthrie carved up the Ports en route to a 13-3 defeat. Stockton would proceed to drop the remaining two contests and found themselves being swept for the fourth consecutive series and producing six total runs for the second consecutive series.

The bunch then traveled to Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield. After a loss in the opening set, Stockton was faced with a doubleheader featuring two seven inning contests to make up a rain-out earlier in April. The Ports would drop both on the day, stretching their losing streak to 16 games. In the series finale the following day, Stockton's streak would finally end, led by a red-hot A.J. Kirby-Jones who knotted up the contest with a homerun and drove-in the deciding run in a long-awaited 5-4 victory. In the first game of their current series with Modesto on Thursday, the Ports won a second straight game, routing the Nuts by a score of 13-1.

This 16 game slide has thrust Stockton towards the cellar of most statistical team averages in the California League and has thrown them towards the bottom of the standings. It remains to be seen whether these two recent wins will catapult them back to the level of play they demonstrated during the first 10 games of the season, when they went 7-3.

Comings and Goings

There were numerous roster moves made during the Ports' losing streak, beginning with the organization's release of former Arizona State backstop and 2008 third-round selection, Petey Paramore. After a brief stint with Triple-A Sacramento, Paramore returned to Stockton but hit only .217/.308/.261 in six contests before his release. His playing time behind the plate was taken by 2011 fifth-round selection Beau Taylor. Replacing Paramore on the roster was left-handed pitcher Anthony Capra, who was assigned to the Ports' bullpen from extended spring training. Capra has struggled in brief stint with the Ports, throwing 6.2 innings while surrendering eight runs (two unearned), nine walks, and two homeruns in five appearances. On the plus side, he has struck-out nine batters.

Starting pitcher Blake Hassebrock landed on the disabled list and he was replaced on the roster with reliever Ryan Doolittle, who had been with Burlington. The Ports began the year with a six-man starting rotation, but with Hassebrock's DL stint, the team adopted a traditional five man rotation. Following a short stay in Iowa where he amassed 9.2 IP while balancing a 0.93 ERA, Doolittle has been relatively efficient in filling the void left by his older brother Sean. Since joining the Ports, Ryan has pitched seven innings with eight strike-outs, one walk, six hits, zero homers and two earned runs.

Outfielder Eliezer Mesa was sent down to Low-A Burlington and outfielder Chad Oberacker, collegiate teammate of A.J. Kirby-Jones, was promoted to Stockton to replace Mesa. The lefty speedster tore through the Midwest League league with a .317 average and a .403 OBP in 16 contests. Oberacker's numbers have somewhat declined while adjusting to the California League, as he is hitting .224/.309/.306 in 13 games thus far. Mesa, in Burlington, remains inconsistent, hitting .219 with the Bees.

Shortstop Yordy Cabrera recently joined the team from extended spring training, where he was rehabbing a back injury. His arrival has come at the expense of Ryan Pineda, who hit .180/.250/.295 with the Ports. He was sent back to Burlington. Cabrera has participated in a mere four contests for Stockton thus far, going 2-15 and committing three errors at shortstop already.

After 15.1 IP with Stockton, reliever Arnold Leon was promoted to Midland despite a 5.28 ERA. Leon did strike-out 25 and he only walked five. Stockton essentially served as a rehabilitation site for Leon, who was recovering from Tommy John surgery. To replace Leon's arm, the Ports received a Stockton native, Justin Souza, who made his Stockton debut in the 13-1 dismantling of Modesto and went an inning pitched with a strikeout and permitting a lone single. Souza originally began with Sacramento, appearing in 10 contests including one start, but allowed 30 baserunners in 17 1/3 IP that included recording a higher amount of walks than strikeouts.

On Friday, the Ports' outfield saw one more change, as Dusty Robinson was promoted from Burlington, replacing Rashun Dixon. Robinson hit nine homeruns in 38 games for the Bees. Dixon was batting only .206 in 30 games.

Who's Hot

The Ports' struggles haven't dampened the efforts of sluggers A.J. Kirby-Jones and Miles Head, who have completely decimated California League pitching in the previous eight contests in which they have participated. Kirby-Jones, who was previously in the midst of the discouraging drought, broke out of his slump, hitting .416/.588/.917 with four homeruns over the last eight games. He now owns the second-highest OBP in the California League at .418 and has delivered in clutch situations.

His fellow corner infielder and batting mate in the order, Miles Head, has hit .444/.545/.555 in his last eight despite one XBH over that duration. He's also showcased phenomenal plate discipline to complement his superb offensive statistics, only striking out twice in his previous 27 ABs. Head now reigns as the frontrunner in batting average, SLG%, and OPS while slotting at third in OBP in the league (.366/.415/.648/1.067).

On the mound, Jake Brown has moved back into the starting rotation. In three appearances and two starts, Brown has thrown together a resume of 13.1 IP while recording 15 strike-outs, zero walks, three earned runs and 14 hits allowed. Brown has proven to be a valuable commodity amongst a struggling Stockton squad.

In the bullpen, Conner Hoehn has shined in the bullpen, going 7.2 IP while allowing one earned run, three hits, four walks and eight strike-outs in five trips to the mound.

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