Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Forney's Fish all arms and legs

Goldeyes have strong pitching, speed, but can't hit worth a lick

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Well before the scheduled batting practice, say an hour or so before, several members of Winnipeg Goldeyes were taking their hacks in the cage at Shaw Park.

It was a scene of a struggling offence looking for answers.

Heading into Saturday night's game with the visiting Kansas City T-Bones, the Winnipeg bats were on a collective .270 clip, a mark that was near the bottom of the 14-member American Association. The Fish are tied for second in the league with 34 stolen bases, but outside of a few bright spots, the sticks have struggled mightily; a depression that is starting to have a negative impact on a pitching staff that manager Rick Forney feels "is the best it's been in a long time."

Forney is a patient man, but how patient he'll remain is where this good-pitch/bad-bat relationship sits right now.

A combined 3.83 ERA (near the top of the AA) had paced Winnipeg to a 15-13 record entering Saturday's game, but imagine if the offence was 20 points higher or if the Goldeyes could blow the doors off an opposition staff once in a while.

The skipper has. So have some of the players.

"People are pressing at the plate at times because we don't want to let the pitchers down," infielder Price Kendall said. "It gets in your head in a negative way. Those guys have carried us through the first part of this season and we're trying to match that. Some guys may be over-pressing -- I know I have been at times.

"You can't hit a three-run homer if there's nobody on base."

For the record, Kendall was hitting .299 coming into Saturday.

But he's in a small group of players who have found a consistent stroke through the first month of the summer. Others haven't produced, which has led to growing concerns about how much can be asked of an injury-riddled pitching staff day in and day out.

"We're certainly taxing our guys by playing in these one-run ball games," Forney said. "It's starting to penalize our pitching. Our bullpen is getting a little tired."

Arms were so stretched in Winnipeg that Forney gave a few of his pitchers Saturday off. Among those told to sit were trusted right-handers Aaron Hartsock (12 games played, 1.29 ERA) and William Jackel (14 GP, 2.35) -- two players who have logged long hours of late thanks to low-scoring battles or situations where the bullpen is activated from the fifth inning on.

"It catches up to your pitching," Forney said. "It's frustrating. You watch us offensively, every stinking game -- late in the game when we need to bear down on offence and make (something) happen, we usually do it. Why don't we do that more often? It's a young team; a work in progress."

The Fish as a group are a relatively green team, true, but it's two of the more experienced players who are guilty in bringing down the team average.

Coming into Saturday, shortstop Wes Long was hitting a paltry .197 with just four extra-base hits. The 26-year-old missed the first 10 games of the season with a wrist injury, so a case can be made that he's still finding his way.

But veteran catcher Alan Rick is even lower than Long, batting .131 with four home runs and 10 RBI. The 27-year-old, who spent three years in Fargo before coming to Winnipeg as a key free agent signing in the winter, carried an on-base percentage of just .189 Saturday -- well below the team average of .346.

Forney indicated he's not going to make any personnel changes -- at least not yet. His hope is that the warmer weather and the lighter travel schedule in the second half of the season will prove to be the turning point for his offence.

Can he wait that long, though? That's the big question.

"I know people are capable of more," he said. "They don't need to hear me tell them or read about how I'm losing my patience. Those guys know."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2011 B7

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