With shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and second baseman Tyler Bortnick — they stole 76 bases combined last year — atop the batting order, many expected the Montgomery Biscuits (2-4) to manufacture runs by way of "small ball."
After all, third baseman Cole Figueroa, who bats third for the team, has belted a total of 17 home runs in more than 1,300 professional at-bats.
Figueroa, however, is also a career .294 hitter who has spearheaded the Biscuits' offense through the team's first six games of 2012. So far the Biscuits lead the Southern League in total bases, 94, home runs, five, OPS, .789, RBIs, 28 and hits, 58. After the five-game series on the road against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (4-2), Figueroa entered Tuesday night's game against the Mississippi Braves (1-5) as the league-leader in slugging percentage with two home runs as well.
But what had contributed to the Biscuits' 1-4 start was their inability to succeed with runners in scoring position and two outs: they were 2-17 in those chances coming into Tuesday's game. In an effort to turn that statistic around, Bortnick plated a pair and Lee also drove in a run with two outs in the 7-3 win against the Braves. Figueroa was responsible for one of the team's season-high 13 hits. He saw his average drop to .385 in the young season.
Shane Dyer (1-0) did not have his second solid outing spoiled by the Biscuits' bullpen on Tuesday like he did on opening day when his five innings of one-run ball went for naught.
Alex Koronis and Adam Liberatore (0-1) combined to pitch three innings and allowed one run to secure Dyer's first win. In the Pensecola series, however, the Biscuits' bullpen lost three games and had a 6.27 ERA, despite Jim Paduch's (0-1) three scoreless frames in the team's first win — earned by top-prospect Alex Colome — on April 6.
Scott Shuman has pitched the worst out of the group; he surrendered four runs on three hits and issued three walks in two innings in the loss on April 8. Shuman, who said he tried to learn how to pitch to contact in spring training, did not record a strikeout in his lone appearance so far this season. In 147.2 minor league innings coming into 2012, he averaged 13.96 K/9, but a 6.58 BB/9 as well.
"I'm here for a reason," Shuman said, "and that's to work on my tools and get better at my craft every day. Power pitchers try to overthrow sometimes and I have to learn that less is more."
What a Catch(er)
Regarded as the "best defensive catcher" in the Rays' minor league system, Mark Thomas has already thrown out three runners who had tried to steal on him and has allowed only two stolen bases in five games.
Thomas threw out 48 percent of base runners last season for High-A Charlotte in 88 games.
The starting catcher hit 13 home runs last year and after starting the 2012 season 1-15, he recorded three hits on Tuesday.
The Biscuits will remain on the road until they conclude their five-game series against the Braves on April 14. Manager Billy Gardner said that catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, who is highly regarded in the Braves' system, presents a challenge to the Biscuits' running game.
The home-opener is set for April 15 at 5:35 p.m. against the Mobile BayBears, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the 2011 Southern League Championship. BayBears starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, who battled for a spot in the Diamondbacks' starting rotation in spring training, threw an even 100 pitches in 5.2 innings of work, fanned 11 batters, gave up just two hits and kept Pensacola off the run column on Tuesday. The first home series is scheduled to conclude after an April 19 night game.
Will Sammon is the Montgomery Biscuits beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @WillSammon.
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