Lennerton Trying to Keep LFT on Upswing

Some would call it a roller coaster, others would say it's the nature of the game. Either way, the Lakeland Flying Tigers have endured a season of ups and downs. From a dawdling start to a swift rise into contention followed by a second-half plunge to the division cellar, there have been days where they couldn't seem to lose and weeks they couldn't find ways to win.

Now they're just trying to peak at the right time.

"Obviously, the clubhouse is a little more upbeat than we have been in the past," first baseman Jordan Lennerton said. "In June, we struggled with the mentality that we're a struggling team trying to climb out of the cellar. But we had a few days of good practice, and our coaching staff won't let up on us."

At the beginning of June, the Flying Tigers sat at 29-21 and seemed poised to make a run at the Dunedin Blue Jays for the first-half division crown.

Then they fell off.

After finishing the first half four games out of first place, Lakeland barely courted mediocrity in June, finishing the month 9-16 and starting the second half 5-12 and at the bottom of the Florida State League North Division, the rest of the division barely in sight.

Proliferating their struggles, their top three hitters, Rawley Bishop, Kody Kaiser and Alden Carrithers, were all called up to Double-A Erie on June 23, ripping the team of the majority of its offense. Consequently, July was also a struggle, as they finished the month 13-16, searching for an offensive identity.

But the same day the three stars were lifted from Lakeland, Lennerton was promoted from West Michigan, and he's been steadily contributing to the Flying Tigers' success ever since.

"He can swing that bat really well," teammate Patrick McKenna said. "I just think he's a good hitter in general. He doesn't give up an at-bat. He doesn't let down just because he had a bad at-bat. He just wants to go out and get another hit. He takes it one at-bat at a time."

McKenna, along with 2010 sixth-round draft pick Bryan Holaday, also contributed to the team's early August surge. Though both have been slumping as of late, they were among the hottest hitters in the league early in the month, both hitting over .350 with an OPS over 1.000.

Lennerton has not faltered, still hitting .316. His .398 OBP, .532 slugging percentage and .929 OPS are among the team's best, and slowly getting better, as he is hitting .400 with a .489 OPB, an .850 slugging percentage and a 1.339 OPS in his last 10 games, including a game-winning solo home run in the 14th inning of a marathon against the Clearwater Threshers last week.

He attributes much of his success in August to those ahead of him in the lineup, particularly McKenna and Holaday.

"I see Pat and Bryan as table-setters," Lennerton said. "They both handle the bat well and move runners well. I see myself as someone who's trying to clean it up a little bit. They give me opportunities to drive in runs, and my job is to drive them in. Obviously, they're going to get their RBIs and what not with balls in the gap, but they handle the bat really well. Just smart players. They understand the game and help the team win every single day."

Lennerton has 29 RBI in 49 games in Lakeland and 12 in his last 10 games, in which the Flying Tigers are 7-3.

"It's nice to hit behind guys like that that are going to get on base and move runners for you, especially in my role as a RBI guy," Lennerton added. "And when they're setting the table for me, it makes my just a lot easier."

"Those guys make things happen, and that's what you have to do," Lakeland manager Andy Barkett said of his young trio. "You've got to put the ball in play. You've got to try to hit the ball on the barrel of the bat. Make things happen. Move the ball, move runners around. That's how we score runs. Those guys have been doing it, and it's translating."

The rest of the lineup has also contributed, with Francisco Martinez, Brent Wyatt and John Murrian all hitting close to .300 for most of August.

Wyatt and Murrian were promoted to Double-A Erie on Friday, so the Flying Tigers enter a five-game series with the division-leading Tampa Yankees this weekend without two of their most reliable bats. Even without Wyatt and Murrian, the Flying Tigers are still eager to get back into the playoff picture.

"I think guys are still up," McKenna said. "Guys are still going out and playing as hard as they can. They take it one day at a time still. I haven't seen anybody slipping. I actually think guys are playing harder now that we've won a few games, and they know what we can do. They know that if we can put something together we can keep winning games."

The Flying Tigers trail the Yankees by 6.5 games and have an opportunity to close quickly with back-to-back double-headers against Tampa on Sunday and Monday.

If Lennerton and company can keep the offense rolling through the series with Tampa, the Flying Tigers could find themselves right in the thick of the FSL North race my early next week, primed to end their roller coaster season on an upswing.

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