HWB: Place Struggling, James' ERA Rising

Argenis Diaz isn't the only Red Sox farmhand struggling at the plate as the Hawaii Winter Baseball season draws to a conclusion.

Jason Place, who played with Diaz this season at Single-A Greenville, snapped a three-game hitless streak by going 1-for-4 as the Honolulu Sharks fell to West Oahu, 4-3, in HWB action Wednesday. But Place struck out three times Wednesday—the fourth straight game he's whiffed multiple times.

Since his last two-hit game Nov. 2, Place is 3-for-20 (.150) over six games. Since Oct. 20, he has as many hits in 14 games (eight) as he did in a seven-game hitting streak from Oct. 12-19.

In addition, Place has struck out at least once in each of his last 10 games, during which he's whiffed 19 times in 35 at-bats. Overall, Place has more than one at-bat in a game 21 times and has struck out twice or more in 11 of those contests. He has struck out 36 times this season—tied for most on the Sharks with Yankees farmhand Austin Jackson and tied for third-most in the HWB. Strikeouts were also a problem for Place this season at Greenville, where he whiffed 160 times in 459 at-bats, but such struggles were expected by the Sox given that Place is still a teenager.

Place is batting .219 with four homers—tops on the Sharks—and eight RBI. He's also swiped two bases. Place, whom the Sox selected in the first round of the 2006 draft out of a South Carolina high school, hit .214 with 12 homers and 55 RBI this season for Greenville. He was ranked 11th in Diehard's 2007 prospect issue.

Three other Sox farmhands are playing for the Sox this fall—pitchers Jimmy James and Daniel Bard and shortstop Argenis Diaz. James started and took the loss for the Sharks last Sunday, when he gave up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out a season-high eight over 4 2/3 innings as the Sharks fell to West Oahu, 3-0.

It was the fourth time in his last five starts James has allowed exactly three earned runs. Prior to that, he'd allowed just one unearned run in his first two starts, a span of eight innings. His ERA in his last five starts is 4.94 and James has recorded a decision in each of his last four outings (1-3).

However, his strikeout ratio—37 whiffs in 31 2/3 innings overall, an average of 10.52 strikeouts every nine innings—is encouraging considering he struck out 48 batters in 65 2/3 innings between Greenville and short-season single-A Lowell this season. He recorded 19 of those whiffs in 19 innings at Lowell, so to experience a spike in strikeouts against the higher competition of the HWB—where most players have at least one season of A-ball under their belts—is noteworthy.

James is 2-3 with a 3.69 ERA in seven starts overall for the Sharks. He has allowed 29 hits and 10 walks while limiting opposing batters to a .244 average. James, whom the Sox signed as an undrafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2002, was not ranked in Diehard's 2007 prospect issue.

For more on Diaz and Bard and their pursuit of the HWB batting and ERA crown, respectively, please read our Friday recap: CLICK HERE

The Sharks (16-19) lost to Waikiki, 5-2, Friday fall fell 1 ½ games behind Waikiki (18-18) in the two-team Eastern Division with two games to play. The Sharks must beat Waikiki today and tomorrow win both games in order to win the Eastern Division championship. The East winner advances to the championship game Monday against West Division champ North Shore (24-12).

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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