Midland Notebook: Rockhounds Back In First

Despite losing on Sunday, the Midland Rockhounds are still off to a strong start to the 2007 season. Looking to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Rockhounds are 26-13 and are holding on to a 1.5 game lead in the Southern Division. We take a closer look at the A's Double-A affiliate inside...

Overall

In April, the Midland Rockhounds' most difficult opponent was the weather. Six of the team's first 12 games were postponed due to rain, cold or snow. Despite the inconsistent schedule, the Rockhounds managed to go 13-8 in April. Midland continued its hot play in May. The Rockhounds began the month with six straight wins and through Sunday are 13-5 in May.

The Rockhounds have had a good balance between strong hitting and strong pitching this season. Midland currently leads the Texas League in hitting with a .278 team batting average and a team OPS of 801. True to the A's organizational philosophy, the Rockhounds lead the Texas League in walks with 147 and extra-base hits with 145.

Midland is also setting the pace on the mound in the Texas League. The Rockhounds' staff has a league-leading 3.48 ERA. In 344 innings, the Rockhounds have allowed 332 hits and 119 walks. The team is tied for the league lead in shut-outs with four.

Offense

The Rockhounds' infield has been filled with hitting stars this season. Gregorio Petit is leading the team regulars with a .324 batting average. The slick-fielding shortstop is batting .344 with a 945 OPS in 61 at-bats in May. His regular double-play partner, Brian Snyder, has also been a solid presence in the line-up. After struggling in Double-A last season, Snyder is hitting .309 with a team-leading 949 OPS. Snyder has made the transition from third base to second base rather seamlessly, as well. He has committed only two errors thus far this season.

Third baseman Jeff Baisley, first baseman Brant Colamarino and infielder/DH Vasili Spanos have also been offensive stars for Midland. Baisley made the difficult jump from Low-A to Double-A this season, but he has handled the advanced competition well. He has a 795 OPS overall, but he is hitting .304 with an 884 OPS in May. Spanos, back in Midland for a third season, earned Texas League Player of the Week honors for the first week of May. He is hitting .294 with a 856 OPS in 126 at-bats.

Colamarino joined the team in late April from extended spring training, but after a slow first two weeks, he has picked up right where he left off last season with Midland, when he hit 17 homers and posted an 855 OPS. Colamarino has an 801 OPS in 77 at-bats this season and he has walked more than he has struck out (9 walks against 8 strikeouts).

The Rockhounds' outfield was very productive early in the season, although that production has taken a hit with the promotions of Danny Putnam and Jason Perry. Putnam hit .327 with a 1001 OPS in 52 at-bats before being promoted to Oakland, where he spent nearly a month before being sent down to Triple-A. Perry hit only .256 in 78 at-bats for Midland, but he posted a 928 OPS and he had five homers and 17 RBI in only 21 games before being promoted to Triple-A, where he has been red-hot.

The Rockhounds' remaining outfielders, Myron Leslie, Richie Robnett and Vince Faison, have yet to kick into high gear. Leslie has had the most success, posting a 778 OPS in 119 at-bats, although he has only one homer after hitting 17 for Stockton last season. He has seen time at first and in the corner outfield positions. Robnett has been struggling with his plate control this season. Although he leads the team with 26 RBI, he has 50 strikeouts against only seven walks and is hitting only .233. Faison was expected to be the Rockhounds' lead-off hitter this season, but he has struggled to get on-base regularly with a .289 on-base percentage.

Starting catcher Landon Powell has had his struggles at the plate, as well. He has managed only two homers and seven RBI through 31 games. His plate patience has been good, however, as he has 21 walks against 20 strikeouts. He has also continued to impress on defense.

The Rockhounds have had strong contributions offensively from two bench players, as well. Infielder Eddie Cornejo struggled at Double-A last season, but he has been a strong offensive player when given the opportunity to play this season. Cornejo has a .340 batting average and a .411 on-base percentage in 50 at-bats this season. He has played at second and short this season.

Back-up catcher Casey Myers, a long-time minor league veteran, missed much of last season with injury, but he is healthy this year and has been a valuable member of the Midland bench. Myers is batting .303 with a .429 on-base percentage in 33 at-bats spread over 10 games this season.

Pitching

The Rockhounds have had a strong starting rotation all season, even though the team has lost three of its top starters to promotion. Left-hander Dallas Braden was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts for Midland before he was promoted to Triple-A. Right-hander Brad Knox had a 2.19 ERA in four starts before he, too, was sent to Triple-A. Recently, the Rockhounds lost right-hander Kazuhito Tadano, who threw 6.2 scoreless innings in his Triple-A debut this weekend. He had a 4.14 ERA in seven starts for Midland and he struck out 49 batters in only 41.1 innings.

The Rockhounds have been able to survive this promotions thanks to some recent contributions from pitchers promoted from Single-A Stockton. Right-hander Mike Madsen has been the team ace since being sent-up from Stockton on April 28. Madsen is 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA in five starts for the Rockhounds. He is holding Texas League hitters to a .158 batting average and he has 38 strikeouts against only 11 walks in 31 innings.

Right-hander Luis Ramirez has been a strong presence in the rotation since arriving from Stockton in early May, as well. Ramirez has a 3.45 ERA in three starts and he has struck out 17 batters in 15.2 innings. Ryan Webb also recently joined the Midland rotation from Stockton.

The Rockhounds' rotation has had one steady presence all season: right-hander Ben Fritz, who is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in eight starts for Midland. Right-hander Andrew Shipman recently moved from the bullpen to the rotation and he has a 2.79 ERA in 11 appearances (three starts).

The Midland bullpen has been solid, as well. Midland veteran Brad Ziegler has been the ace of the bullpen. He was converted from the starting rotation to the bullpen this off-season and he has changed his throwing motion from over-the-top to submarine style with great success. Ziegler is leading the team with four wins and he has a 1.17 ERA in 14 appearances, all in relief. Left-hander Brad Kilby has been solid for Midland, as well, posting a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 innings since arriving from Stockton in late-April. Kilby has 14 strikeouts and only two walks.

Steve Sharpe has served as the Rockhounds' closer since Jeff Gray was promoted to Triple-A in late-April. Sharpe leads the team with seven saves and he has a 1.98 ERA in 13.2 innings. Travis Foley, who was acquired by Oakland from the Cleveland chain in late-April, has been one of Sharpe's top set-up men. He has a 2.92 ERA and a 2-0 record with one save in 10 appearances for Midland.

Relievers Dan Denham, Michael Rogers, Mario Ramos and Steven Bondurant have all had their ups-and-downs thus far this season. Denham was acquired in a trade with Cleveland in late-April and he has a 5.79 ERA in 9.1 innings for Midland. Rogers has been a swingman for Midland, starting two games and pitching as a long reliever in eight other games. He has had success at times, but he has struggled with his command, walking 22 against only 13 strikeouts and his ERA is at 6.85. Ramos has been on-and-off the disabled list and has appeared in only three games. Bondurant has a 4.70 ERA in 7.2 innings for Midland. He is working to regain his top form after missing almost all of last season recovering from shoulder surgery.


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