As the Lowell Spinners neared the mid-point of the 2012 season with the worst record in the New York-Penn League, manager Bruce Crabbe said he thought youth and inexperience were the primary reasons for the team’s lack of success.
“I’ve never been around a group that practices as well as they do and then go into games and not play as well as they practice,” he said. “But that’s a sign it is there. It’s a matter of working through nerves or inability to make the routine plays at times. They play a little uptight, and I think that’s youth and not a lot of experience. We do have some collegiate pitchers, but the position players, most of them are pretty young.
“A lot of times the stats aren’t telling,” the manager added. “But they don’t lie either. We’re last in hitting and we’re last in pitching, and usually that results in last in the league.”
Well, the Spinners are still last in hitting with a .233 team average and near the bottom of the league in runs scored. But the pitching staff has suddenly begun to click.
Heading into Tuesday’s off-day in the schedule, the Spinners had won seven of nine games. Lowell’s pitchers forged a 1.54 ERA in that stretch, lowering the staff ERA from 4.79 to 4.15. They threw a club-record three consecutive shutouts – the first time a Lowell minor-league team had done that since the 1915 Lowell Grays of the old Class B New England League – and a record 30 straight scoreless innings. Spinners pitchers even ended a stretch of 136 games in which they had issued at least one walk, a streak that dated back to Aug. 11, 2010.
They shut out Williamsport 7-0, a good-hitting State College club 1-0 and 2-0, and then swept the series from State College with a 2-1 victory on Monday in which the scoreless streak ended on a squeeze bunt.
“The new guys that signed are finally starting to get comfortable here,” pitching coach Paul Abbott said. “The professional routine is starting to show. They’re throwing strikes, and they’re throwing quality strikes, using both sides of the plate instead of just trying to nibble. They’re more aggressive, using their secondary pitches, and the results are showing.”
Congratulations to outfielder Lew Ford, the 1999 Spinner who made it back to the major leagues on Sunday after a five-year absence when the Baltimore Orioles selected his contract from Triple-A Norfolk. Ford hadn’t played in the majors since 2007 when the Minnesota Twins let him go. At the time Ford was having problems with one of his knees and went to play in Japan but lasted only 47 games. The Colorado Rockies brought him to camp in 2009 but released him at the end of spring training. He latched on with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League and finished second in the batting race with a .330 average. The Cincinnati Reds purchased his contract in September and put him at Triple-A Louisville, but he wasn’t re-signed after the season.
Ford played 39 games in the Mexican League in 2010 and then re-signed with the Ducks last year, hitting .318 and slugging .531. He was off to a terrific start with the Ducks this season, hitting .333 and slugging .643 when the Orioles purchased his contract and sent him to Class AAA Norfolk in mid-May. He proved to the Orioles he could still play at the age of 35 by hitting .331 with 14 doubles, 3 triples, 11 homers, 40 RBI, eight steals, and 35 runs in 62 games while slugging .550 and posting a .390 on-base percentage. Ford notched his first major-league hit since 2007 with a double in the Orioles’ 11-5 squashing of the New York Yankees on Tuesday night.
The Spinners, who were leading the NY-PL in homers with 19 on July 20, have not connected for one in their last 10 games. The club record for consecutive games without a homer is 12, set in 2000 … The Red Sox are fond of saying that player development at this level is more important than winning games, and right now Spinners righthander Braden Kapteyn just might be the newest poster boy for that philosophy. Kapteyn, who played first base and pitched irregularly at the University of Kentucky, did not become a full-time pitcher until the Red Sox drafted him in the 15th round last year and gave him a $125,000 signing bonus. His 2011 season with the Spinners was nothing short of disastrous as he walked 22 batters and threw 18 wild pitches in 14 innings while compiling a 12.21 ERA, although he did strike out 22 batters. After he walked six batters in four innings in his first two outings this year, things finally began clicking for Kapteyn. In his last 10 outings, Kapteyn has posted a 1.71 ERA in 15 2/3 innings while cutting his walks to eight in that stretch, allowing five hits, and fanning 14 while earning two saves … Catcher Oscar Perez has picked five runners off base so far this season … Red Sox brass had to be holding their breath when Brian Johnson, their $1.575 million investment who was taken in the first round of the June draft, took a line drive off a shin just 16 pitches into his pro debut on Sunday. Johnson was removed from the game as a precaution and is expected to make his next start as scheduled. “It stung a little bit, but I was good to go,” Johnson said afterward. “I was begging them to let me stay in.” But Crabbe wasn’t listening. “There’s no chance of taking any chances with that guy,” the manager said.