Erie MLN: SeaWolves Start Hot, Trail Off

The SeaWolves got off to a red-hot start to begin the 2009 season, but have cooled off as of late.

"You can't go 142-0 without sweeping the first one" –Ryan Strieby

Ryan Strieby did it all the first series of the season against Altoona, right down to throwing out a Berra-ism of his own after fourth game of the series. Why not? This team was flying high. They rang up 18 runs on the Curve in the first two games, and Strieby put any doubts about his ailing hamate bone to rest by hammering two homers in the first game of the season.

"When I got to Erie and saw the short leftfield fence I thought that it was a joke," Strieby explained of his first impressions of the short 314 foot leftfield wall. "I was like, are you serious?"

Just as quickly as they burst out of the gates, the SeaWolves came crashing back down to earth. In the next four games Erie failed to score more than two runs, got swept by Bowie, and then after winning two against Altoona, they dropped the next two in which they scored a combined nine runs.

Of course, some of this can be attributed to the cold weather they have been forced to endure. The average temperature in Erie last week during the singing of the National Anthem was 44 degrees. In fact, it was so cold that seven bats broke on contact during the opening series against Altoona.

Then, of course, there were the injuries. In a three day span, Erie saw Brandon Wise hit the seven-day disabled list with stiffness in his shoulder, Casper Wells fall victim to a broken hamate, and Michael Hollimon became unavailable after injuring his left knee while pursing foul ball.

That's not to say there aren't some bright spots. Offensively Strieby and Scott Sizemore have proved early on to be two of the most productive offensive players in the Eastern League.

With a .324/.444/.595 batting line, Strieby has shown that he was more than deserving of the organization's Minor League Player of the Year award last season. Along with the two home runs in the season opener, through the first 11 games he has record four doubles, seven RBI, and has walked 10 times against just six strikeouts.

He has also looked excellent with two strikes on him, showing the discipline and patience of a veteran player.

"He's not a guy that is going to strikeout a lot so he's going to put the ball in play with two strikes on him," manager Tom Brookens explained.

Another new player in Erie, Scott Sizemore, has been a key component for this club early on.

Sizemore, whose .364 average places him seventh in the league, has provided the spark at the top of the order that the SeaWolves need. Every time he comes to the plate he's battling, sometimes making a pitcher throw ten, 12, pitches before he moves from the batter's box. Through the first 12 games he has done it all, recording two doubles, two triples, seven RBI, and two steals.

Unfortunately, he hasn't been quite as impressive on the other side of the ball, at times displaying the limited range that has been the knock on him since joining the Tigers organization in 2006. There have been times when he has provided glimmers of hope by making ridiculously athletic catches, but far too often he ends up out of position and fails to covert on routine plays. Because of this, he has already picked up four errors.

As good as Sizemore and Strieby have been, as a whole Erie's offense has been nothing more than average since the opening series. As a unit they are hitting .246 and lead the league in strikeouts with 89, and have recorded only 36 walks, placing them just eight out of the cellar.

Two of the more highly touted prospects in the Tigers' organization, Brennan Boesch and Cale Iorg, have been at the forefront of this struggle.

Boesch has taken a step backwards after impressing everyone in the organization with his bat during spring training. After the first three series he's hitting a meager .163/.178/.273 and has stuck out 16 times against just one walk.

"Boesch is pressing himself right now like most guys do when they get off to a slow start. His big thing right now is that he's swinging at too many pitches over the plate that aren't strikes. That's why he's getting himself in trouble," manager Tom Brookens said. "You know what though, he's big, he's strong, and he's got a great arm. Boesch is a big prospect for this organization."

More worrisome, however, has been the production of Cale Iorg, Tigs Town's number three prospect in the organization.

Many people have been worried about Iorg's ability to shake off the rust that built up while he was out of baseball for two years on a Mormon mission to Portugal, and things looked promising in his first full season back with Lakeland last year, but he has done little to build on that progress early on in Erie. Through his first 43 at-bats he's hitting .163 and has recorded 16 strikeouts. Maybe more telling is that he is yet to take a walk.

After the Altoona series Brookens decided to drop Iorg from the second spot in the order all the way down to the eight hole, and he moved Boesch out of the three spot to the fifth.

"I'm hoping that it will take the pressure off them and they can start to produce without having to worry about it," Brookens explained. "Maybe we'll get a little more chemistry like this."

The offense has started to show signs of coming back to life after ringing up nine runs over the weekend against Altoona, although they lost both games.

"Guys are starting to hit," Jeff Frazier explained. "At least everyone has an average now, so that's big."

Like the hitting, some nights the pitching has been outstanding, on others, not so much.

Alfredo Figaro is unquestionably the star of this rotation right now. In his first start of the season he went 5.2 innings against Altoona and struck out four while walking one. In his second, he pitched seven innings of no-hit ball and struck out five, and captured the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week award with his performance.

"Figaro has been throwing the ball outstanding. He's still working on his change, sometimes he needs to get some better arm action on it," Brookens said. "He's got a good live fastball and the rest of the stuff is coming along little by little. He hasn't really pitched all that long, so it's pretty big jump for him but I think he's up to it."

Brooks Brown has been equally as strong. In his first appearance in the Tigers organization, after going 6-15 last year with a 4.18 ERA with the Diamondback's AA affiliate, he threw 5 scoreless innings while walking two and striking out three. He was just as impressive in his follow up, this time going seven innings without allowing a run.

Out of the bullpen Brett Jensen and Cody Satterwhite have been an imposing duo at the end of games. Jensen, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, has pitched four scoreless innings and has recorder three saves. Satterwhite has two saves and 3.1 scoreless innings to his credit.

The rest of the staff hasn't been so great. Jon Kibler got rocked in both of his starts and currently has an 8.38 ERA. Jonah Nickerson has allowed 13 runs over his first 14.1 innings. Out of the bullpen Josh Rainwater has struggled with his command, getting thrown out of his last appearance after beaning the first two batters he faced, and then hitting a third in the head. Zach Simons has also been ineffective in the early going, allowing three runs in his first 5.1 innings.

The Seawolves will try to get it back on track this week with a series in Bowie, and then will return back to Jerry Uht to host Harrisburg.

They aren't going to go 142-0, but as Ryan Strieby would say, you can't go 137-5 without losing five.

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