The Dust Devils have concluded their first series and home stand of the 2011 season and there were plenty of good signs pointing in the direction of the team having a better season than last year. Here are a few thoughts from the opening series with Everett and the road opener against Boise that show, thus far, that the Dust Devils are headed for success this season.
1. The Average Margin of Each Dust Devils Defeat
In their two losses this season against Everett, the Dust Devils lost 5-4 and lead at various points of each game. Being in games and staying focused throughout the entirety of the game is something that is sometimes lost and could give the Dust Devils a winning edge before the game even starts.
In the first loss, the season opening game, the Dust Devils blew a 3-0 first inning lead by allowing five runs in the fifth. They then battled back for a run in the ninth and had the tying run in scoring position but failed to bring him home.
In the second loss, Tri-City trailed 2-1 for a large majority of the game and had just three hits going into the ninth inning. They then battled to tie the game to send it into extra innings where they would once again make a comeback attempt, but come up short in a 5-4 loss.
The Dust Devils continued to show that they can stay in games in the series opener with Boise as well on Wednesday night. In their first road game of the season Tri-City fell 3-2 to the Hawks in what was also each team’s first division game of the season. Although the Dust Devils are now just 1-3 in these one-run games, the advantages of gaining this experience early in the season will, hopefully, come to fruition come August and September.
2. Bullpen Pitching
The Dust Devils’ pitching staff, overall, did a great job in the season opening series. The staff has the second lowest earned run average (2.73) in the Northwest League, allowing 17 earned runs in their first six games. The trio of lefty relievers in Kenneth Roberts, Stephen Head and Craig Bennigson were the bullpen stalwarts of the opening series. They combined for 10.1 shutout innings and allowed four hits while striking out nine and walking just one. Fellow left-hander Isaiah Froneberger has also got off to a good start, earning two saves in his two appearances this season.
While the bullpen has been great, the starting pitching hasn’t been too shabby either. Specifically starters Nelson Gonzalez, Tyler Gagnon and Vianney Mayo all have earned run averages below 2.50 after their first starts and have given up just three earned runs combined in their 15.1 total innings pitched.
3. Solid Hitting from Returning Players
In the initial roster for the 2011 season the Dust Devils had eight players return that played for Tri-City in the 2010 season. Of those players infielder David Hernandez and outfielders Jared Simon and Leo Reyes have garnered most of the playing time and have shown improvement over their 2010 performances.
Playing in right field for the majority of the time, 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft sixth round pick of the Rockies Jared Simon has held down the cleanup spot in the lineup for the Dust Devils pretty well this season. He’s played in all six games in 2011, leading the team with 23 at-bats, and has a .304 batting average with a .385 on-base percentage and two runs batted in.
Fellow Tri-City “veteran” outfielder Leo Reyes has also stepped up his production at the plate in his first five games of the 2011 season. After starting the year hitless in his first six at-bats, Reyes has a modest three game hit streak and has boosted his average to .316. He is also tied for second on the team in runs batted in with three.
Despite the superb play of the two players mentioned above, middle-infielder David Hernandez, who had a short 18 game stint in Tri-City last season, has gotten off to the hottest start of any Dust Devil. He’s played in four of the Dust Devils’ six games this season and has hit safely in each game, including a 3-for-4 game against Everett on June 20. His fantastic start has him batting a team-high .538 with three runs batted in. He’s also stolen a team-high two bases and has yet to commit an error this season.
These initial signs are positive notes to take in when trying to figure out what type of team the 2011 Tri-City Dust Devils will be. Although the wins and losses are what matters, finding out how the team works and looking for positive, or negative, trends are often what dictates how their season goes. These signs show that, while 3-3 on the year, the Dust Devils could be headed for a playoff spot come September.