Midland Notebook: Playing Out The String

The Midland Rockhounds have scored 20 runs over their past two games, but it is likely too little, too late to save their 2012 season. They are 8.5 games out of a playoff spot with 18 games left to play. Edward Isaacs brings us an update on the Rockhounds.

Team Overview

Entering the final stretch of the season, the Midland Rockhounds hoped to make an improbable comeback from fourth to first in the Texas League South Division. So far, the team is far from accomplishing that feat. Entering Wednesday's game, Midland was sitting in the basement at 22-28, 8.5 games back of first place Corpus Christi (31-20). The team is 7-10 in its last 16 games and has continued to struggle at home in the second half (10-14). They have had a slow August with a record of 7-7 for the month.

The Rockhounds finished up July with two losses to Corpus Christi and one loss to Frisco. The team ended up taking one of three games from the RoughRiders. The ‘Hounds then came home for a very short four-game home-stand against the Hooks in which they split the series. Following that, a six-game road-trip proved too tough for the team to come out with a winning record. They went 2-4 despite averaging 4.8 runs per game during the trip. Midland lost two out of three from both Northwest Arkansas and Tulsa in the six games.

After a day off on Tuesday, the Rockhounds headed back to the field at Citibank Ballpark to face the Naturals again on Wednesday. The game was a tight one until the ‘Hounds pulled away in the bottom of the sixth by rallying across five runs on four hits including a solo home run by Matt Rizzotti (his fourth) and a three-run bomb by Dusty Coleman (his 14th). Closer Jonathan Ortiz was able to end the ballgame with two strikeouts even though he allowed three singles and a run in the ninth. Midland won 7-5. They followed up that effort with a blow-out victory over the Naturals on Thursday. Behind three homeruns from lead-off hitter Conner Crumbliss and a grandslam from Jeremy Barfield, the ‘Hounds won 13-3.

Despite the team's record, the club has remained consistent. Before Thursday's game, the team batting average sat at .252, their collective on-base percentage was .341 and they were averaging 4.8 runs per game. The batting average is third-lowest in the Texas League but the OBP and run total is the third-highest. The Rockhounds have clubbed 17 home runs in their last 17 games for a total of 94 on the season. Through Wednesday, Midland led the league in walks by a large margin (503 compared to 429 by Springfield).

Pitching has been part of the problem for the ‘Hounds during their most recent struggles. The team ERA has jumped from 4.18 on July 30 to 4.36 through Wednesday. The team is not giving up as many home runs as the rest of the division (87, second-lowest); however, walks continue to haunt the Rockhounds. They have allowed 415 free passes this year, second-highest in the Texas League.

Midland has one more game against the Naturals before the Drillers come to town for a three-game series.

Comings and Goings

A's 2007 first-round pick James Simmons was called up to Sacramento (Triple-A) on July 30, the same day third baseman Miles Head was placed on the 7-Day disabled list after being struck in the head by a pitch. Head was officially activated from the DL (concussion) on August 8th. Simmons was 1-2 with a 3.35 ERA in 48.1 innings pitched for the ‘Hounds before his promotion. He was used out of the pen during his stay in Midland.

Catcher David Freitas was acquired from the Washington Nationals and assigned to Midland on August 3rd. He was traded for veteran Kurt Suzuki. Freitas went to the University of Hawaii and was selected in the 15th round of the 2010 draft by Washington. He led the Low-A South Atlantic League with 82 walks and ranked second with a .409 OBP last season. Before the trade, he had spent the entire 2012 season with High-A Potomac of the Carolina League, where he had a 780 OPS.

Catcher Ryan Lipkin was placed on the 7-Day disabled list on August 7th to make room for Ian Krol. Krol came over from High-A Stockton and has been pitching out of the bullpen. The left-hander is normally a starter but the coaching staff wants to keep his inning totals down after he missed nearly the entire 2011 season. Krol had a 5.21 ERA in 86.1 innings for the Ports with an impressive 79:24 K:BB ratio. On Monday, Lipkin was promoted to the River Cats, where he replaced Josh Donaldson on the River Cats' roster. Lipkin was hitting only .204 in 191 at-bats with the Rockhounds, and he had 17 RBI, four home runs and a .227 OBP.

Who's Hot

Rizzotti has continued to impress at the Double-A level. He is leading the team in batting average through 25 games played (.337). He has four home runs and 18 RBI to go along with a .388 OBP. The first baseman is hitting .371 (992 OPS) in his last 10 games. He has a .421 OBP during that span.

In their short time with the Rockhounds, centerfielder Eliezer Mesa and Freitas have not shown any regression from the jump to Double-A. Mesa is batting .316 with a .333 OBP in 19 at-bats. He also has one stolen base. Freitas has a .308 average and four walks in 26 plate appearances.

First baseman Anthony Aliotti has been an RBI machine in his last 11 games played. He has knocked 10 teammates in. Aliotti has five doubles, one triple and four walks. On August 4th, he went four for four with two doubles and two RBI against the Hooks. For the season, Aliotti has an 816 OPS with nine homers in 395 at-bats.

Infielder Leonardo Gil has heated up in the last week and a half. He is batting .294 with five runs scored, one home run and four RBI. Gil has raised his average to .286 on the season and his OBP to .357.

Third baseman Josh Horton has been the hottest player on the team for the past two weeks. He is batting .333 with six RBI and three triples. Four of his 15 hits during this span have gone for extra bases.

Crumbliss' huge night on Thursday brought his season homer total up to eight, establishing a new career-high. Oddly enough, those homers were his first at home this season despite the fact that he is batting more than .150 points higher at home than on the road. Crumbliss had seven RBIs on Thursday and now has 43 on the season.

Barfield's Thursday grandslam was his third homer in his last 10 games. He has a 929 OPS over that stretch. For the season, Barfield is second on the team with 12 homeruns and he has 58 RBIs.

Starter Carlos Hernandez is 5-1 with a 3.46 ERA in his last 10 starts. In those starts, he has struck-out 44 batters in 52.0 innings. Hernandez is 6-4 on the year, which is tied for the second-most wins on the team, despite the fact that he began the year in Triple-A.

Reliever Brett Hunter has been striking out nearly a hitter per inning over his past 10 appearances. He is 1-3 with a 3.00 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 12.0 innings. Opponents are batting only .146 against him during this time period.

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