Timber Rattlers Notebook: Key Bats Heating Up

APPLETON, Wisc. – My, how things have changed around the Fox Valley. After a surging first half, the Rattlers find themselves near the bottom of the standings looking up. And while the M's Midwest League affiliate still relies on first-half stars such as Matt Tuiasosopo, Rob Johnson and Marshall Hubbard, there are a few rising stars starting to carry the load.

Outfielders Mike Wilson and Brent Johnson, as well as infielder Brandon Green, are turning things around in this second half. All three struggled mightily in the first half and became lost in the woodwork with the rest of the team. Wilson is starting to look like the player the Mariners saw when they took him in the second round of the 2001 draft. And while they were not highly touted draft picks, both Green and Johnson had very productive seasons with Everett last season, each making the Northwest League All-Star team. But neither could replicate last summer's success during 2005's first 72 games.

"We expected them to come in and hit quite well for us this year early in the season and be middle of the lineup type guys, and they just scuffled a bit," said Wisconsin manager Scott Steinmann. "And to their credit they never gave up working"

The Rattlers looked for Johnson to be a versatile player capable of playing several positions. But Johnson's struggles at the plate early on made it difficult for him to find any playing time. His recent hot streak at the plate, however, and smart base running, have changed things for the Las Vegas native.

The success Johnson is having at the plate has come from a tweaked approach and a drive to be a more consistent player. The results have been good for the former 14th round pick, who has seen his average rise to .271 as of July 19. He is also finding ways to both get on base - and make his way around them.

"The biggest thing is being as consistent as you can and right now it's working," said Johnson. "I kind of changed the spot of my hands and put them a little higher. I tried to get a more of a downward angle and get a better backspin. Trying to see the ball better, hit that outside pitch a bit better and not just reacting."

The story has been similar for Green. The Oklahoma native excelled in Everett last season, hitting .272 with seven home runs and 55 RBI. The Rattlers hoped he would display the same power that made him a Northwest League All-Star last season, but he struggled early on and saw his playing time dwindle. Green's numbers were not as bad as they seemed, due to some bad luck and several hard-hit outs.

But during the second half he looks like the old Brandon Green. The Wichita State product appears very confident at the plate and his average is rising steadily. Green is hitting .225 through games of July 19, a vast improvement over the first half when his average regularly dipped below .200. The biggest change for the switch-hitter has been a more focused approach at the plate.

"I feel like my swing's pretty much where it needs to be and I'm just trying to focus on seeing the ball and not think too much about anything else," said Green. "I've cleared my mind of a lot of things from on and off the field. That's probably been the biggest thing."

While Johnson and Green had a more difficult time staying on the field, Wilson remained a fixture in right field, despite his struggles at the plate. The consistent at-bats helped Wilson find his swing. Wilson credits his success to slowing down and being more patient in the batter's box. This plate patience has paid off for the slugger, who has seen his average and power numbers rise rapidly. He's up to .263 through July 19 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI.

Canada Eh?: The Rattlers filled the Casey Abrams void with left-handed pitcher and Toronto native Jon Lockwood. He comes to the Rattlers from Everett, where he was lights out going 16 scoreless innings, striking out 19 and walking just one. He is the second Canadian player for Wisconsin this season. The other was Sebastien Boucher, who was called up to Inland Empire in June.

Not the Swing Again: Wisconsin had the Quad Cities number early in the season, going 6-1 against the Swing in the first half. Since then, the tides have turned and the Rattlers are just 2-8 in the second half against Quad Cities, 1-6 at home.

Loosing It: The Rattlers are yet to see the sunny side of .500 in the second half. That's a sharp contrast from the first half, when they came out swinging and never fell below .500 or lower than third place in the standings.

Not-so Happy Birthday: Yung-Chi Chen had a rough birthday last Wednesday night. The 22-year-old infielder couldn't get anything going at the plate, finishing 0-4 with a strikeout. With the strikeout, which came in the bottom of the fifth inning of the 7-1 loss to the Quad Cities, Chen also stranded Brent Johnson on third base in the bottom of the fifth.

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