Lately for the South Bend Silver Hawks, things have been pretty simple: prevent the opposition from scoring or lose. Since the start of a four-game series against the Lansing Lugnuts on August 5th, the Silver Hawks have gone 8-0 when limiting their opponent to fewer than three runs and 0-6 when allowing them to plate thee or more.
"Pitching's been the key to our turnaround," said manager Mark Haley, referring to the team's rebound from a 19-30 start to go 50-28 since. "There's not one guy on this team that can carry us. There are a lot of guys you've seen throughout the year that are kind of overachieving, understanding how to play, and learning how to execute."
Team defense has been a problem of late, with the Hawks having committed 12 errors over their past five contests. On the other hand, they also made several outstanding, clutch plays in this four-game series against the West Michigan Whitecaps.
"They've been great all year," Josh Collmenter said of the team's defense prior to his allowing two unearned runs and seven overall on Tuesday. "It's been coming in spurts the last few days. The last field we played at (Fort Wayne) had some tricky hops to it. They'll get over that soon. For the most part, you're going to get plays like yesterday in the first inning: a diving catch from the centerfielder (Ollie Linton). So they pick us up whenever we do bad, and we do the same for them."
Part of the issue could also be the team not putting the same effort into their infield practice that they did earlier in the season. Haley says that the team isn't falling into the trap of looking ahead to the playoffs, but rather, that the team is wearing down in their first long season and cutting down on their preparation time to save strength.
"We've got a great coaching staff, and we work hard on preparing them everyday," he said. "That's part of development. When it comes down to August and September, you've got to reach down and find something, because that's how you win championships. And they will. I have all the faith in the world that they'll grind. Every once in a while, you've got to point it out to them."
Infielder Matt Oxendine and relief pitcher Jordan Norberto are the only players on the roster that have played an entire year at full-season ball prior to this year. Jo Jo Batten had a cup of coffee with the Silver Hawks in 2006 before returning to extended spring training.
A Taylor Harbin RBI double was all the pitching staff would need on Saturday. Jarrod Parker, on a strict five-inning limit to preserve his 19-year old arm for the postseason, worked out of jams without allowing a run to score before Bryan Shaw and William Spottiswood completely shut the Whitecaps down for the final four.
Christian Beltre surrendered three long home runs in the first two innings, and the Silver Hawks could never catch up. Sean Coughlin, who belted a three-run homer, and Elijah Rumler, who lined an RBI single, were the only Silver Hawks with multiple hits Sunday. Harbin added another double and made an incredibly high-leaping catch to strand two runners in the first.
Leadoff hitter Joey Batten set the table in the first by scoring on Derrick Walker's single, then cleared the table in the eighth by blasting a two-run homer to left field. Bryan Henry made just his fifth spot start this year, although his five shutout innings would lead you to believe that he'd been doing it all year long. Sidearmer Jeff Dietz, first-round pick Daniel Schlereth, and former Independent Leaguer Clay Zavada were flawless in relief. Zavada's scoreless inning streak is now at 21.1.
Taylor Harbin single-handedly kept the Silver Hawks in this game by smacking five hits and driving in six runs. His three doubles gave him 36 for the season, which ties him for first in the Midwest League. The combination of Shaw and Spottiswood that worked so well Saturday could not pick up Collmenter today.
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