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The Crushers Notebook: 6/18/13 to 6/24/2013

The Crushers Notebook: 6/18/13 to 6/24/2013
June 25, 2013
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By sweeping the Normal CornBelters to start the week, and taking two of three from the Schuamberg Boomers, the Crushers recorded their best week long record of the season, going 5-1. They also won a season high five straight games, beginning with the final game against the Rockford Aviators on June 16th.

The offense is finally putting together quality at bats on a consistent basis, and it’s paying off as they averaged four runs a game on the week. Nobody has been consistently hot, but each week different guys are heating up and carrying the load.

The starting pitching has been as good as it has all season, and almost as good as Manager Jeff Isom could ask for. In the team’s five victories, the starters accumulated a 1.64 ERA over 36 innings pitched. The only exception to this week’s brilliance came from a Crushers’ newcomer who will be talked about later.

While the Crushers did get solid offense and great starting pitching, four of their five victories were by two runs or less (three of them were one run games). They couldn’t have been so successful if not for the bullpen, which is finally finding its groove behind closer Dale Dickerson, and returnees Mickey Jannis and Ben Klafczynski. Overall, this was easily the best stretch of baseball the Crushers have played all season, and they hope to prolong it as they climb their way up the standings in the East.

Who’s Crushing it

Dave Middendorf
15 IP, 1.80 ERA, 2-0, .173 BAA, 10 K, 0.73 WHIP

Middendorf started the first and last games of the week and earned the victory in both. He set the tone by pitching eight strong innings in game one against Normal last Tuesday, giving up just two runs, one earned. Middendorf had more strike outs (10), than hits allowed (9), and only two of every 10 batters reached base against him. His phenomenal effort set an example for the rest of the starters to follow in a week full of brilliant pitching performances.

Mickey Jannis
5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2-0, .067 BAA, 7 K, 1 Hit allowed

Jannis was reacquired from Bridgeport in what was just one of the flurry of roster moves the Crushers made two weeks ago. Since then, he has stabilized the middle relief corps, playing the role of long man for manager Jeff Isom. In three games this week, he pitched five scoreless innings and picked up two wins. The knuckle-baller aims to be a starter, but he is providing a fantastic relief option for the team right now.

Ricardo Lizcano
4 G, 4-13, .308 BA, .785 OPS, 1 BB, 1 2B, 2 RBI

Two weeks ago Lizcano was one of the guys who wasn’t playing, and seemed to be running out of chances with Isom. Now he’s the team’s hottest outfielder, and the one not named Daniel Bowman getting the most playing time. The Crushers have four outfielders to rotate in center and left field in Lizcano, Seth Granger, Kevin Berard, and Guantlett Eldemire, and Isom is content to ride the hot hand from week to week. This week it was certainly Lizcano, as he put up quality at bats from start to finish.

Who’s Getting Crushed

Andrew Davis
6 G, 5-24, .208 BA, .296 OBP, 6 K, 1 E

Davis saw an 18 game hitting streak snapped by going 0-4 with a walk on Wednesday night, and that appeared to stick with him mentally as he only got four hits the rest of the week. Davis still managed to be productive, as two of his five hits were home runs, and he had a respectable OPS of .754. Regardless, the Crushers slugger can’t let a poor performance stick in his head too much. He let a bad call in the first inning of Wednesday’s game bother him all night, as he was seen pleading his case later on in the tenth inning. To get out of this spot in the column, Davis needs to let little things like that go.

Michael Jahns
1.1IP, 20.25 ERA, 0-0, .500 BAA, 2 BB, 1 WP

The bullpen has been receiving a lot of praise lately for the way the group has turned things around, but Michael Jahns has not been a part of that success. He had an ERA over 15 when he was placed on the disabled list, and continues struggle since being reactivated. The only game he pitched was the 11-4 blowout loss to Schaumburg, and his days on the team could be numbered as he continues to have problems getting hitters out while his teammates are starting to find a groove.

Kevin Berard
4 G, 3-12, .250 BA, .250 OBP, 3 K, 1 CS

After having his moment in the sun, Berard is starting to go through a rough patch. His raw numbers this week weren’t terrible, as a .250 average is solid, and two of his three hits went for extra bases (a home run and a double), but the struggles have accompanied Berard in the field as well. He was benched for two games by Isom after allowing a routine fly ball to drop in center field, and failing to chase it down at a speed acceptable to his manager. Berard didn’t have a bad week, but it was one that cost him his role at the top of the team’s lineup, and relegated him back to his speedy super-sub position.

Comings and Goings via I-90

With starter Devyn Rivera headed to the disabled list for the second time this season, the Crushers needed to find another starting pitcher. Enter lefty Kyle Shaw. The former Toledo Rocket joins the team for his first experience in the Frontier League. His first start ended in the only loss on the week, as he managed to pitch just 4.2 innings, giving up six runs on nine hits. As long as Rivera remains on the disabled list, Shaw will likely receive another start this coming week, likely on Friday.

Locally, Max Casper drove his way to the top of the Crushers lineup as he went through a stretch as the Crushers hottest hitter. He only hit .240 this past week, but will likely remain atop the lineup unless somebody else steps up to steal the spot from him.

There’s also been a lot of moving traffic in the outfield, as the four outfielders previously mentioned, Lizcano, Granger, Berard, and Eldemire, all played at least three games in center and left field.

Notable Numbers

2.68: That’s the difference in the bullpen’s ERA for the week when factoring out Michael Jahns ERA of 20.25. With Jahns the bullpen ERA is 4.18. Without him, it is just 1.50

10: Matt Rein struck out 11 batters in his nine-inning, dominant start against Normal on Thursday. That’s 10 strike outs than hits allowed, as Rein gave up just one single, facing only 28 batters and turning the team’s best pitching performance of the season.

8: Behind Rein and Middendorf, the rotation is starting to figure itself out, but the Crushers have already used eight different starting pitchers this season, including newly acquired Kyle Shaw. Six of those starters are still with the club, the exceptions being Spencer Cliftt, and opening day starter Trevor Longfellow.

Speaking of Longfellow, it is odd to see a team’s Opening Day starter released at any point in the season, but especially so early. Longfellow wasn’t pitching up to expectations, and wasn’t providing the kind of leadership expected out of an ace, hence his dismissal.

Muscle MoldenPower

Two weeks ago, Crushers first baseman Russ Moldenhauer was referred to as Muscle Moldenhauer in this space. Later, it was changed to Russ MoldePpower, and then combined as one. He was announced as such for an at bat in the series finale against Normal, and quickly explained to the catcher and home plate umpire that it was not his doing. He admitted it was “different, but funny.” His calling it funny is all the permission needed for the nickname to continue, but as the creator of the nickname, I’m putting my creative foot down to say the nickname is Russ MoldenPower. Russell the Muscle is just too cliché.

What’s Next

The Crushers look to stay hot as they welcome the Frontier League’s nomads, the Frontier Grays to All-Pro Freight Stadium. Following that series the Crushers will hit the road to take on the Traverse City Beach Bums for the second time this season. They previously lost two of three on their last visit from June 4th through June 6th. Matt Smith will be on the mound to kick off the series against the Grays.

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June 27, 2013 - 9:19 AM EDT
Rockford’s Rucinski a thorn for ThunderBolts

By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media June 23, 2013 11:00PM

Like most teams in the Frontier League, the Windy City ThunderBolts have had success against the Rockford Aviators.
That all changes, however, when Drew Rucinski is on the mound.
Rucinski shut the T-Bolts down for the second time this season Sunday and Rockford salvaged the final contest of a three-game series with a 2-1 win at Standard Bank Stadium at Crestwood.
Rucinski, who is 2-5 despite a 2.81 ERA, allowed just three hits, walked none and struck out nine in seven innings to help the Aviators (7-25) snap a six-game losing streak.
His other win also came against Windy City (13-21), when he tossed 81/3 scoreless innings on June 7. The T-Bolts, who have finished the season series with Rockford, went 4-0 against the Aviators in games not started by Rucinski.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” T-Bolts manager Ron Biga said. “He can throw four pitches for strikes. He’s a tough guy to hit.”

Ryan Soares was the only Windy City hitter to solve Rucinski. He had all three hits off him, all singles.
“I just try to drive the ball and get on base,” Soares said. “I’ve always been an aggressive hitter. I like going after first-pitch fastballs.”
Windy City broke the shutout when Zach Aakhus crushed his third home run of the season to left field off Rockford closer Nick Cicio with one out in the ninth.
Cicio then struck out Soares and Andrew Brauer for his fourth save.
The T-Bolts struck out 13 times in the game. Besides Aakus’ homer and Soares’ three hits, Miles Walding had the team’s only other hit with a double in the eighth.
Travis Strong (1-4) was the tough-luck loser for Windy City. He allowed one run — on a solo homer to Matt Greener in the second — on just three hits in 61/3 innings before leaving with shoulder stiffness.
“His fastball dropped to 78 (mph) so we had to get him out,” Biga said. “He just had some stiffness in the back of his shoulder.
“He was very good (before the injury). That home run was wind-blown. He did a great job.”
An error on catcher Doug Joyce proved costly in the eighth as Rockford added an unearned run thanks to the miscue and three walks to make it 2-0.
After an off day Monday, the T-Bolts will finish their 15-game homestand with a three-game set against Normal beginning Tuesday.
“We won the series (against Rockford),” Biga said. “We wanted the sweep, but we play well against Normal and we’ll be ready for that series.”

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