West Mich. MLN: 'Caps Get Out Slowly

As is typically the case in low-A ball, ff one word had to be chosen to describe the 2010 Whitecaps, there's little to no debate that it would be "youthful." The team's oldest player, RHP Nolan Cain, is a mere 24 years old. Could the lack of experience be contributing to the slow start?

Either way, it's not the primary concern of manager Joe DePastino. DePastino doesn't think that the team's record of 1-4 reflects the way that the team has been playing.

"This team could very easily be 4-1 right now," DePastino said after a 5-4 loss to the Fort Wayne Tin Caps on Monday. "I think that, for the most part, we've actually played some pretty good ball."

The 'Caps came out of the gate firing on all cylinders on the road in the season opener against the Lake County Captains last Thursday—at least for the first half of the game. Whitecaps RHP Trevor Feeney was on fire, utilizing 69 pitches to throw six scoreless innings. Combine that with a two-run home run by LF Michael Rockett and an RBI-single by DH Jordan Lennerton, and you have the makings for a disappointed home crowd at Classic Park. But the 3-0 lead was short lived, as excellent relief pitching and relentless hitting for the Captains resulted in four unanswered runs, leading to a 4-3 Whitecaps loss in 10 innings.

The following day proved to be even worse for West Michigan, as the 'Caps could only muster up five singles en route to a 7-1 loss at the hands of the Captains.

One of the centerpieces of the Whitecaps youth, Tigers 2009 first-round pick, RHP Jacob Turner, debuted in the finale of the three game series against Lake County. He did not disappoint. Retiring 15 of the 17 batters he faced, Turner only gave up two hits in five innings of shutout baseball. Offensively, the 'Caps got on the board in the second inning on an RBI single by C Eric Roof. An inning later, 3B Wade Gaynor hit a two-run homer to give West Michigan a 3-0 lead in the third inning. But, the lead was short lived, as a three-run sixth combined with home runs in the seventh and eighth innings gave the Captains a 6-3 lead. Lake County went on to complete the sweep with a 6-4 win.

After an 0-3 start, the Whitecaps finally found serenity in their home opener against the Tin Caps. 18-year-old LHP Giovanni Soto was lights out in his Fifth Third Ballpark debut, accruing 10 strikeouts while giving up just one run in five innings to earn the team's first win of the season. The offense helped Soto's cause, as well. CF Jamie Johnson knocked in a two RBI triple in the second inning, and RF Avisail Garcia hit a two RBI single in the seventh. The Tin Caps staged an eighth inning surge to cut the Whitecaps lead to 4-3, but it wasn't enough, and closer Melvin Mercedes recorded his first save to give West Michigan their first win of the season.

Yesterday's game featured a mediocre pitching performance at best by Whitecaps RHP Ramon Lebron. However, despite walking four batters, getting behind in many of the counts, and using up many pitches early, Lebron was able to keep his team in the game, although he only pitched in three innings. After falling behind 2-0, the 'Caps were able to mount a comeback after RBI-singles by Johnson and SS Hernan Perez, tying the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth. After a three run ninth by the Tin Caps, West Michigan was almost able to tie the game, but C Billy Alvino was thrown out at home plate to end the game with a loss, 5-4.

DePastino, however, held an optimistic look about Lebron's pitching performance, as well as the team's performance in general.

"He needs to have more confidence in the location of his fastball, and he'll get that in time," DePastino said. "The one thing you want to do as a team, obviously, is win games. But your number one priority is developing the players. The wins will come as the players develop."

Although the Whitecaps record may not reflect it, the team is doing statistically well compared to the rest of the Midwest League. They are currently fifth in team batting average (.256) and hits (44). However, they also have one of the worst team ERAs (3.98) in the league.

The Whitecaps will finish their three game series against the Fort Wayne Tin Caps on Tuesday, April 13. The game starts at noon, and will feature the 'Caps Feeney (0-0, 0.00) against Tin Caps LHP Nick Greenwood (1-0, 0.00). West Michigan will then play a three game road series against the Bowling Green Hot Rods before returning to Comstock Park on April 17 to face the Great Lakes Loons.

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