Montgomery Notebook: Biscuits Stepping Up

Despite the promotions of 3B Cole Figueroa, 1B Henry Wrigley and opening day starter Shane Dyer the Montgomery Biscuits are 10-7 in May. After slugging in April, the Biscuits have used their speed to rack up wins in May. Inside pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein and hitting instructor Ozzie Timmons discuss some of the players who have since stepped up and the keys to their performances.

Dyer need of pitching

Shane Dyer pitched his way onto the Durham Bulls with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a fine-tuned cutter from his stint with the Arizona Fall League, according to his former pitching coach.

Dyer was promoted to Triple-A Durham Thursday after he won four games and had a 2.02 ERA in 40 innings pitched for the Montgomery Biscuits. Not known as a strikeout artist, the right-hander fanned 18 but only issued 13 walks, which helped him post a 1.07 WHIP.

"Dyer came into spring training wanting to prove, whether he went back to Montgomery or whether he had a chance to make that Triple-A team, that he was ready for that next step in his career," said R.C. Lichtenstein, Biscuits pitching coach.

Last season, in his first Double-A stint, Dyer experienced success early but faltered down the stretch and finished with a 7-11 record and a 4.47 ERA. His learning experience last autumn in the Arizona Fall league helped him finesse his cutter, work in a changeup, pitch low in the zone and work both sides of the plate.

"He understands a lot better now where the cutter fits in," Lichtenstein said. "He was like a kid at Christmas when he got his cutter and it got to the point where he was trying to do everything with his cutter. The ability to locate his fastball and use his changeup now gives him weapons."

Merrill Kelly (1-0 4.57 ERA) has been announced as Dyer's replacement in the rotation and will start on Saturday. His stay in the rotation may be a short one however, as top prospect Alex Colome is rehabbing an oblique injury in extended spring training and is on his way back. The Biscuits, who are last in the Southern League in team ERA (4.72), will now look to right-hander Matt Buschmann to fill the void as stopper for the time being.

Buschmann, a Rule-V pick of the Nationals last off-season who was traded to the Rays on April 16th, seemingly came out of nowhere and was named the Southern League's Pitcher of the Week for May 7-13. In that span, Buschmann allowed only one earned run and three hits in 12.2 innings pitched. On May 11, against the Jacksonville Suns, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and struck out 12 over 6.2 innings.

After beginning his time with the Biscuits with two relief appearances, the 28- year-old moved into the rotation and has quickly turned heads.

"He has a power sinker and throws between 90-94 mph," Lichtenstein said. "For him, it has a lot to do with his arm slot. Hitters don't know whether it's a fastball or slider until it is way too late."

King Kang

After hitting .213 in April while fighting for playing time, outfielder Kyeong Kang opened his month of May by being named the Southern League's Hitter of the Week.

In the month's first week, Kang cranked four home runs in six games. His eight home runs are second to the Mobile BayBears' Matt Davidson's nine. Davidson, however, has had 35 at-bats more than Kang, who leads the league in slugging.

"He's been hitting the ball in the gaps and down the lines. He's a big strong kid and when he makes contact he can drive the ball pretty far," said Biscuits hitting instructor Ozzie Timmons.

Kang, who also struggled to find playing time last season with the Biscuits, his three shy of tying his career-high home run total in a single season.

"I think he can maintain this the rest of the season," Timmons said.

The Biscuits, who have scored at least five runs in nine of the month's first 14 games, added six-year MLB veteran Ryan Garko to the team Wednesday and have slotted him in the cleanup spot; right behind Kang.

In two games, Garko, playing first base, is 3-8 with a double and two runs scored.

Bortnick dropped but surging…and still stealing

Once speedy outfielder Ty Morrison was promoted to the Biscuits from High-A Charlotte on May 11, he was slotted in the two-hole of manager Billy Gardner's lineup card — a spot previously occupied all season by second baseman Tyler Bortnick.

After a productive 2011 season with High-A Charlotte, where he batted .306, had an OBP of .428 and stole 43 bases, Bortnick struggled to hit consistently in the early- going of this year.

However, since being dropped in the order, Bortnick is 7-18 with one home run (his first) and five RBI. He has raised his average to .224.

"He had a really good season last year and you can't just give up on a kid right away," Timmons said. "I trust and I know he is going to hit."

Bortnick's speed has been consistent despite his hitting struggles. He has a dozen steals on the year and has only been caught once. While he leads the team in stolen bases, infielder Omar Luna has 11 and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and outfielder Brad Coon each have 10. The Biscuits lead the Southern League in stolen bases with 54.

Morrison stole 11 bases with Charlotte and has already stolen a base in his first week with the Biscuits.

Due up

After the Biscuits (20-22) finish their five-game series with the Birmingham Barons (22-20), they will experience back-to-back days off before coming home to start a five-game set with the Jackson Generals (24-17).

Will Sammon is the Montgomery Biscuits beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @WillSammon.


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