By Joe McGehee
The Rockford RiverHawks return home to Road Ranger Stadium tonight (Friday, June 11) fresh off a series sweep at the hands of the Gary RailCats. The RiverHawks dropped both games of the rain-induced doubleheader Wednesday, June 9, in Loves Park before making the trip south down I-90, where they would drop the third and final game 5-4.
Overall, the RiverHawks have dropped eight of their last 10 games, including their last four in a row. The Schaumburg Flyers, also losers of eight of their last 10, and the Lake County Fielders are all that separate Rockford from the Northern League basement.
Rockford finds themselves 7-12, and 6 1/2 games behind the league-leading Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks June 11. It’s not an insurmountable gap to close by any stretch; but their early-season successes and failings beg a bit of examination.
Much to no one’s surprise, CF Jason James is leading the team in every important offensive category, including: batting average (.333); runs batted in (RBI) (13); hits (26); and he is tied with 3B Jake Eigsti for the team lead in home runs (HR) (3). James’ switch to center this year has shown no ill effects at the plate for a hitter seemingly capable of batting .300 no matter what league he plays in.
However, to the surprise of some, SS Jono Brooks is batting a strong .316, all while leading the team in stolen bases with 8. Brooks, known primarily for his steady defense in 2009, has turned into a respectable force in the bottom of the RiverHawks’ line-up, while continuing to provide the steady glove at short he was previously known best for.
Rounding out the pleasant surprises on the offensive side is LF Kevin House. House has provided speed and patience from the lead-off spot in the order thus far, and is a more-than-capable fielder in left. He is hitting at a respectable .276 clip, and his nine doubles lead the team.
And now for the bad news: 1B Randall Simon is hitting a somewhat surprising .190 with 2 HR and 9 RBI. Rockford’s clean-up hitter, DH/1B Patrick O’Sullivan, is hitting a paltry .195 with 7 driven in. Clearly, the RiverHawks could benefit from better production out of the four and five spots in the order.
RF/Coach Rich Austin has yet to fully show all his promise, hitting for an average of .243 with 1 HR and 10 RBI. Austin is also tied with O’Sullivan for the team lead in strikeouts with 20.
As for the Rockford pitching staff, right-hander Brett Durand has set the pace thus far. Durand is tied for second in the Northern League with three victories and leads his team in strikeouts with 18. He also sports a 3.81 earned run average (ERA).
Kyle Wright has been his usually steady self, going 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA through his first 19 2/3 innings pitched (IP). Both Wright and Durand—10-game winners, respectively, for the RiverHawks in 2009—have adjusted well to the batters they are now facing in the Northern League.
However, starters Kyle Ruwe and Mike Wood have faired worse in the Rockford rotation. Wood, the victim of poor run support, is 0-2 with a 3.16 ERA, which leads all of Rockford’s starters, through his first four starts.
Ruwe is 0-3 with a 5.92 ERA in his first four starts. But, perhaps more telling are his 12 walks versus only five strikeouts in 24 1/3 IP. To further compound matters, Ruwe has also surrendered 22 hits. In essence, he is taking the mound each inning with two runners aboard.
Just as with the RiverHawks’ four and five hitters, better production is needed from these two starters to stop their current slide.
What became of the team that came out of the 2010 gates swinging the bats well and pitching well enough to keep themselves in games? Was the team that started off 5-4 merely a sophisticated hologram on the field at Road Ranger Stadium?
Well, fans, the answers to these and other questions can only be answered on the field of play as the 2010 Northern League season continues to wind down the tracks headed for the postseason.
News like the current state of the RiverHawks can at least claim a silver lining—even on a gray, dreary day such as this Friday in early June.
Realistically, Rockford is only a few players away from hitting on all cylinders, and the season is still in its first full month of play, which leaves ample time for improvement and ground-gaining in the standings.
Rockford will welcome the Joliet JackHammers back to the Rock River Valley for a quick three-game series before heading off to Schaumburg and back to Gary, Ind., with an exhibition fast-pitch softball game against the Chicago Bandits sandwiched in between Thursday, June 17.
The three-game series with Joliet will open tonight with Upper Iowa University and Metro Medical “Big Hurt” Bobblehead Doll Night, Friday Fish Fry and Free Gas Friday.
Saturday’s game will feature Illinois Railway Logo Baseball Night, Family Campout #1, Sycamore Youth Baseball Night, Liver Life Walk, and another Roxy Carmichael Ladies’ Night.
Both games are scheduled for 7:05 p.m. First pitches.
Sunday’s game is scheduled for 4:05 p.m., and will feature another Cost Cutters Family Night.
See you at the ballpark.