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Sizzling offence, splendid pitching hallmarks of early success for Goldeyes

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WInnipeg starter Mark Hardy fires a heater at Lincoln batter Dennis Rabin Thursday night. Hardy gave up one run, five hits and struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings.

GREG GALLINGER Enlarge Image

WInnipeg starter Mark Hardy fires a heater at Lincoln batter Dennis Rabin Thursday night. Hardy gave up one run, five hits and struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Winnipeg Goldeyes rolled into their hotel on the edge of the Nebraska state capital early Thursday morning, just in time for continental breakfast, spoonfuls of cereal passing under eyes still bleary from a long overnight haul from Amarillo, Texas.

Then the 23 baseball players headed to their rooms for a late-morning snooze and as their heads hit stationary beds, maybe the snippet of a song floated between their ears: "I don't want to wait, for my life to be over..."

This is the warbling chorus to the theme song from 1990s teen drama Dawson's Creek, its lyrics dripping in carpe diem romance.

It is also, of late, the Goldeyes' victory song, and when outfielder Ryan Scoma admitted that he couldn't even keep a straight face.

"It is interesting," Scoma said with a laugh as he sat at a picnic table on the edge of Lincoln's perfectly manicured Haymarket Park. "I don't know how that came about... but it's a lot of fun, it keeps the clubhouse light. I would sing it for you, but... I'll let you YouTube it instead."

The Fish have been hearing that anthem a lot already in the 2013 American Association season, after sweeping the Grand Prairie AirHogs and rolling up the Amarillo Sox in three games, including a Wednesday doubleheader.

That was six wins in their first six games. Add those to the wins that carried Winnipeg to the championship last season and the Goldeyes had won their last 12 games coming into Thursday evening's tilt with the Lincoln Saltdogs.

When asked about that hot start, Scoma grinned, but spoke less about jubilation, more about focus. The season is only just over a week old and the Fish haven't even played a game at home yet.

"It would be nice if we could finish 100 and zero, but odds are it's not going to happen," he said. "We're happy with where we're at. But there are so many games, in the grand scheme of things six is nothing."

Here's the metaphorical fist-pump Scoma held back from giving: This is, officially, the hottest start in franchise history, beating the 2009 record of five season-starting wins. It is the first time the Goldeyes have swept back-to-back series since 2009. When they dispatched Grand Prairie with a 5-0 shutout May 18, they became the first team in the league to notch a shutout. They whipped up the same score again May 22 in Amarillo.

What worked for the Fish over those six games? Pretty much everything. The bats came up big, with a batting average that led the league. Scoma is on fire, batting .600 and driving in seven scores. Five batters walloped a home run and Nate Samson and Fehlandt Lentini each knocked one out in the same Grand Prairie game on May 19.

The pitchers, meanwhile, threw it over the plate -- "superb," is how Goldeyes manager Rick Forney described them, and the numbers held that up. The pitching staff only allowed 10 walks in those first six games, the fewest of any team in the league, but they struck out 56.

Their collective earned-run average stood at 1.77 before starting the Saltdogs series. On Wednesday night in Amarillo, Alex Capaul got his first start as a Goldeye and gave up only four hits in five innings before Brendan Lafferty and Wes Alsup relieved him.

"(Capaul) gave us way more than we anticipated," said Forney Thursday. "It was hard to take him out."

Now, with the season settling in, Forney will have to look at taking someone else out -- for good. While the Goldeyes pitching rotation looks to be set for now, there are 11 position players on the roster and someone has to be cut to reach the American Association roster limit of 22 by Sunday.

"I'm not smart enough or creative enough to find at-bats for people every day to keep people happy and doing what they're doing," Forney said.

Forney has an idea what that final cut might look like -- "I have one of two ways I might go," he said, but he's not relishing the move, not with the season rolling on the way it is.

"If I felt like we didn't have good players, they'd be easy to make. We do have good players, but unfortunately we don't have enough time to let players continue to battle for jobs."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2013 C1

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