Q&A with Clippers' Manager John Stearns

John Stearns, manager of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, took some time out of his pre-game routine to sit down with us and answer a few questions. Stearns shares his opinions about the current team, who has had the biggest impact, the organizations' expectations and why he is so excited for the remainder of the 2007 season.

CapitolDugout.com: With almost two-thirds of the season complete, what does this team need to do in order to be in contention for the playoffs down the stretch?

John Stearns: Our roster is changing and we have gotten younger. We have some young prospects now, especially on the pitching staff. When you look at our rotation of Emiliano Fruto, Joel Hanrahan, Brandon Claussen, and John Lannan, they are all in their early or mid-20's. We have some young arms that throw good baseball and it is exciting because we are developing as an organization and developing our players for the big league club. We talked today about having a good time; we talked about having fun and coming out with positive energy. The difference between winning and losing is you are having fun when you're winning, but feel like it is a job when you are losing. We are all ready to come out and give a good effort for the last 54 games.

CapitolDugout: After getting a few days off from each other over the All-Star break, what is the attitude of this team as it begins their uphill climb?

Stearns: The All-Star break is good because you play a ridiculously hard schedule in the minor leagues. The bus trips and lack of off days make it difficult to come out and play five straight months of baseball almost every day. Most of these guys have been in this situation before as they grind out each season. The dog days of July and August are here and if we are professionals, we are going to give a good effort and look to start having more fun after wins.

CapitolDugout: The first part of this season, the teams' play was inconsistent. How much of the inconsistency is a matter of players' inexperience at this level with so many young athletes on the club?

Stearns: We weren't as young in the first half of the season. We were much older and our veteran pitchers have made the jump up to the majors. Currently Billy Traber, Tim Redding and Mike Bacsik are all up with Washington. We have replaced those guys with these younger guys. It is very exciting to have these young arms such as Fruto, Lannan and others in our starting rotation. If I am sitting upstairs in Washington, I am feeling real good about things right now.

CapitolDugout: One reason for the inconsistency is the many changes which had to be made due to injuries, trades and other transactions within the Nationals organization. How have those setbacks affected this team?

Stearns: When you go into the season, we know we will get raided like crazy at the Triple-A level. We want to win, but we are really here as an insurance policy to the big league team. If someone goes down up there, they will take our best player. If another player goes down, they will then take our next best athlete. We try to get as deep as we can coming out of spring training because we know the roster is going to change. The key is getting the guys from below (Double-A) to step up and fill the holes we need. We are deeper than we were a year ago and I see more players coming up here that can make the step up the ladder and produce right away.

CapitolDugout: Who has made the biggest impact both at the plate and defensively?

Stearns: Offensively, some of our best hitters are gone. D'Angelo Jimenez had a great two months here hitting .360. Darnell McDonald was outstanding in the first half, hitting .320 before being traded to Minnesota. Those two guys made a huge impact on our team. Now since we have lost those guys, our lineup has been different. We haven't scored as many runs but we have guys turning the corner. Kory Casto is close to busting out and getting his average up, Michael Restovich is starting to hit, and Brandon Watson is now back with us after his 43-game hitting streak. We have some guys that are capable of having some good years and it will be an interesting second half of the season.

CapitolDugout: In your opinion, who has been the most consistent player overall day-in and day-out?

Stearns: Brandon Watson right now with his 43-game hitting streak and batting .300. He finds a way to get on the base paths and is always reliable. We don't have a lot of guys that are having a real good year, but we do have players which have a chance to succeed in Columbus.

CapitolDugout: Now that Brandon Watson has returned to the team, do you think he will provide a spark at the leadoff spot?

Stearns: He should provide a spark because he gets on base more times than not. Watson will play a lot throughout the rest of the season and he brings so much to this team with his speed and ability to get on base from the leadoff spot.

CapitolDugout: After earning a trip to the IL All-Star game, Chris Booker now sets his sights on breaking the Columbus record for most saves in a season. How has he impressed you throughout the first half of the season?

Stearns: The thing that impresses me about him is when he comes into the game, it's always in a pressure situation. It is pretty easy to pitch when you are already down in the game but when you come in at the end of the game and are holding a slim lead, that takes a lot of guts to get out on the mound and challenge guys with the pressure on. He has excelled at that and has had an outstanding year with those 23 saves.

CapitolDugout.com: What areas need to be turned around and what is your outlook for the rest of the season? 

Stearns: We need to play better on defense. We haven't played very well all year. We have committed a lot of errors on routine balls which I can't understand why. The face of our pitching staff has changed so much by getting younger and it is exciting to see these guys perform. Those two areas, defense and pitching, are the keys to a good second half. We didn't pitch that well overall but we can certainly improve in that area. If we can make the routine play, we should be able to turn this thing around and get back in the hunt for the playoffs.

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