When the American Association season was fresh, the Winnipeg Goldeyes went on a tear to start the year and launch championship-repeat hopes anew.
Realistically, every fan and player knew, they wouldn't go 100-0. So it should be no surprise they would come home and stumble: winning two, dropping four, then heading out on the road and losing -- as of late -- a couple more.
Heading into Thursday night's tilt against the Sioux Falls Canaries -- the final of a four-game series -- the Fish had lost six of their previous seven games.
Really, the little slump owes not to any single thing. It's just both phases of the game never manage to get on the same page. "The times that we do pitch well, we won't hit," Goldeyes pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea said, before working his guys out at Sioux Falls Stadium on Thursday.
'I think guys just maybe start worrying about ERAs a little bit and start trying to pinpoint more than they should instead of just being aggressive in the zone'
"Or we hit, but don't pitch. That'll come. It's nice that we're going through that phase early. I hope we can get that out of the way."
He pointed, for instance, to Wednesday's 10-7 loss to the Canaries, where the team's bats came up big. Outfielder Ryan Scoma notched three hits on five tries at the plate, driving in two runs and scoring two of his own.
First baseman Casey Haerther, one of the brawniest hitters on the Goldeyes roster, drove in two runs. Fehlandt Lentini earned three hits in five tries. You see what Vermilyea means: The swings were searing.
But they weren't big enough to overcome a hole -- a pit really -- left after hurler Alex Capaul was torched for all 10 Canaries runs before his 4 2/3 innings were done.
With that, Capaul -- a genial right-hander from Idaho -- fell to 1-3 on the season, still looking to regain the success of his first start, when he pitched a 5-0 shutout in Amarillo last month.
What allows things can change so quickly, that a team that began the year more-or-less firing on all cylinders now falls a out of sync?
At the start of the season, Verimilyea agreed, pitchers may have a slight advantage, flinging balls towards batters shaking off off-season rust on timing. And then maybe a stumble happens, or even a fall, and maybe a pitcher starts to force the ball...
"I think guys just maybe start worrying about ERAs a little bit and start trying to pinpoint more than they should instead of just being aggressive in the zone," Vermilyea said, making it clear he stands by his pitching corps. "
I don't perceive that being a problem much longer."
To restart the Goldeyes' engine, the Fish turn now to the top of their rotation: Rusch was slated to start Thursday's game, with Mark Hardy tackling the first of a three-game series in Fargo today and Justin Garcia first on the mound a day after that.
These three are the rock on which the rotation has turned already. Hardy is 3-0 in four games -- his last appearance, Sunday's loss to the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, fell on reliever Chris Kissock's shoulders -- and has struck out 27 batters against 18 hits and seven walks. Rusch, the only veteran-classified pitcher on the roster, is 3-1 with a solid 2.34 ERA.
Garcia, also 3-1 on the season, carried the Goldeyes to a 5-1 win pitching seven innings against the Canaries on Monday.
"We're hoping to get some great starts out of them," Vermilyea said of the one-two-three punch he hopes carry the Fish close to the end of the roadie.
Meanwhile, Vermilyea and Goldeyes manager Rick Forney are also looking for a little help, specifically a rookie-classification pitcher.
They've tried three so far. All are gone after the Fish released pick-up Wes Alsup last week. There were just not enough strikes, not enough consistency to give the bullpen the best chance to help the team win.
"With only five guys in the bullpen, our starters definitely need to go deeper into games," Vermilyea said of a group that regularly pitches seven innings. "We'll add another arm down the road... a guy that can come in and consistently throw strikes and turn the lineup over."