Timber Rattlers Notebook: Blues Come in Twos

APPLETON, Wisc. - Superstition is a huge big part of sports and that's especially true with baseball. One part of this superstion is the sophomore slump. We have all seen players start out hot in their first season in the pros and fail to replicate that in their second year. This has unfortunately been the case this season for two promising young Timber Rattlers.

First basemen Brandon Green and utility man Brent Johnson have had trouble finding their swing so far this season. Green and Johnson came to Wisconsin after very impressive stints with the Everett AquaSox in 2004, when both of them played in the Northwest League All-star Game.

"Sometimes you're going to start out slow and you're going to start out hot," said Green. "Last year I came from college and I was pretty hot all season and it continued over. This year I've got in a funk early and I hit some balls hard but things aren't working out."

Green came to the Mariners organization as a 19th round pick out of Wichita State University in 2004. He had a very successful college career, leading the Missouri Valley Conference with a .412 batting average and 23 doubles, and was named to the all-conference team and co-conference player of the year. Green didn't skip a beat when he joined Everett in June of last year. He hit .272 and was third in the league in with 55 RBI and four triples.

This season has been a different story, as Green has struggled to find his swing for any length of time. He is hitting a cool .205 with just 15 runs batted in and 25 strikeouts.

Johnson has had a similar story. He came to the Mariners as a 14th round selection out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where as a junior he hit .370 with 69 RBI for the Running Rebels. He joined the AquaSox along with Green, where he too excelled. He was a clutch hitter for Everett, hitting .296 and .343 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

But things have taken a turn for the worse for the Las Vegas native. Johnson hasn't found his swing yet this season and he has been sporting a .219 average as of June 8. He also hasn't shown the clutch hitting ability, grounding into a team-leading six double plays.

Often no one can explain exactly what causes a player to get stuck in a hitting, but there is definitely a mental aspect to it. Both Green and Johnson admit trying to not think about a hitting slump is much easier said than done. While this is very difficult for players to do, it is probably the most important ingredient towards ending a slump.

"When you start thinking about all these mechanics and all this other stuff you're doing wrong, what you're not doing, it gets in your head and causes you to fail more," said Green. "I'm just trying to keep all that stuff out of my head as much as I can and hopefully that works."

Along the same lines, it is important for a player to keep his confidence level up, despite any failures at the plate. This can also be a delicate process, especially when players are not used to failing.

"I think both of them went through a stretch, where they doubted a little bit," said Steinmann. "And now they're coming out of it. Time will tell when they start coming around getting warmer; they'll start getting some hits."

While mechanics can be a problem for slumping players, it is not a theory the Rattlers subscribe to. Both Johnson and Green feel their mechanics are pretty solid and it's more a matter of catching some breaks.

"Little things here and there, they're not catching some breaks," said manager Scott Steinmann. "Mentally, they just have to be ready everyday and give it a good run."

The final thing problem for slumping players like Green and Johnson is playing time. Getting playing time for struggling hitters can be a Catch22. Because the hitters need the at-bats to get out of the slump, but at the same time other players who are performing deserve playing time as well.

"When you don't have much playing time it's hard to go in there and do what you're capable of doing," said Rattlers' hitting coach Tommy Cruz.

While this can be a tricky situation, it helps to have two versatile players like Brent Johnson and Brandon Green. Green has seen action at both corner infield positions and as the designated hitter. And Johnson's versatility has allowed him to enter the game in a variety of situations, his flexibility allowing him to play many positions. While he has seen most of his time in the outfield, he has appeared at every position except pitcher, catcher, second base and shortstop.

"He's done many things for me off the bench, which gives him a couple more AB's a couple more innings to play, said Steinmann. "It allows me a little more freedom to get him into the lineup."

All is not lost for these two young Rattlers. They both seem to have a good understanding of what they need to do to get things done and a good coaching staff to help them.

"I don't think my average is going to be .219 at the end of the year," said Johnson. "I just have to keep my confidence level up and take what you can get, one day at a time.

"It's kind of frustrating but just but it's just something you've got to deal with. You're not going to always have great years, but you just have to stick with it."


First Time: Rattlers reliever and part time closer Craig James gave up his first run of the season in a 4-3 loss to Cedar Rapids, on June 1. It was also his first loss of the season. James has been lights out this season, going 23 innings with a 0.78 ERA.

Moving On: Pitcher Mumba Rivera was called up to Inland Empire last week. The left-hander was one of the Rattlers most dominating pitchers, leaving with a perfect 7-0 record and a stingy 3.22 ERA. He unfortunately did not start out well for the 66ers. In his first start at Inland, Rivera went 4.2 innings and allowed five runs on five hits and five walks.

Road Trip: The Rattlers played very well on their longest road trip of the season. On their 12-game trip, the Rattlers went 8-4. They swept the Kane County Cougars, won three out of four in the Quad Cities and took one of four against the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Coming Up: After the long road trip the Rattlers are ready for some home cooking. The Rattlers will look for revenge in their four-game series with Cedar Rapids.

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