Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mazzola starting to sizzle

Fish outfielder swinging hot bat as club enters 6-game homestand

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There's nothing you could tell Josh Mazzola about his game the Goldeyes outfielder hasn't already told himself.

That's why Fish fans dig the guy, right? Ever since he arrived in 2012, he's played with fire, thrown off some heat. So when a big opportunity falls flat, sure, he's been known to slam a few bats. And this season, there's been a little more of that than last.

"Sometimes it gets the best of me, I'm human," Mazzola said on Monday, before the Goldeyes' annual golf tourney. "I've really been trying to control that lately, and get more positive."

Quick facts: Through the first 24 games of the year, Mazzola's stats trail his production of the recent past. His average (.200), slugging average (.337) and on-base percentage (.252) all sit dead last on the team. Contrast that to last season, when he batted .293 and led the team in hits, runs, triples and homers. Or to the year before, when he slugged his way to Goldeyes MVP, and was a .400-swingin' playoff beast.

Well, Mazzola could be poised to turn that slow start around, after finishing the Goldeyes' recent road trip off right.

It started in Sioux Falls June 4, when he snapped a four-game hitless streak. He finished the trip by delivering two solid games against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, finishing each with the same stat line: two hits in four tries, with a triple and an RBI.

"I'm starting to play a little more comfortable," he said. "Sometimes baseball's a rough game, and you gotta live through the highs and the lows."

This week, Mazzola has a chance to get things firing at home. The Fish kick off a six-game homestand tonight with the first of three against the Grand Prairie Airhogs. And after going 5-2 on their recent road trip, including a four-game sweep of the Sioux Falls Canaries, the Fish seem pointed in the right direction.

Straight up, there were some bright performances on that trip. One of the best came from catcher Luis Alen, who batted .500 through the roadie, smacked at least one hit in every game, and pounded nine RBI. For that, he was named the American Association player of the week on Monday, the second Goldeye to earn that honour this season. (Shortstop Tyler Kuhn did it in the first week.)

The road also brought some changes. The Goldeyes bid farewell to starting hurler Jason Jarvis, whose 9.94 ERA through four games fell far below expectations. With highly touted pitcher Ethan Hollingsworth expected back from injury in the coming week, "somebody was going to have to go," pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea said. "He was just scuffling at the wrong time."

In the meantime, manager Rick Forney grabbed indie-league regular Chandler Barnard from the United League's San Angelo Colts.

Beyond that shakeup, though, it was business as usual for the Fish pitching staff -- and business was good. Chris Salamida was stellar in his start against the Canaries. Young hurler Kyle Anderson held the RedHawks scoreless through seven innings on Friday, allowing only two hits in that time. The Goldeyes would ultimately squander that work, falling 4-3 to Fargo in a ninth-inning stumble. But Anderson lowered his ERA to a glistening 0.91, the best in the league.

Then, of course, there was that glorious evening in Sioux Falls last Wednesday, when five Fish relievers combined to toss the franchise's first no-hitter. We'll talk about the bullpen more later this week, but, man, that was a show.

"It was real fun," said Mazzola, noting it was the first no-hitter he'd played in. "A lot of people didn't realize it was a no-hitter, because the scoreboard was broken. I think that took some of the tension out of it."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2014 D4

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