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Major Ownage

By Steve Uhlmann

The structure of the South Atlantic League schedule gives divisional foes plenty of time to get to know one another.

The Shorebirds played some opponents in the Northern Division 20+ times during the 2015 season, which leaves lots of time to get used to the competition. Trends emerge, and it becomes clear that some players simply own another team.

For example, let’s take a look at how Delmarva pitcher Josh Walker has fared against the Lakewood BlueClaws this year.

Walker vs. Lakewood

He doesn’t need any papers, because the stats speak for themselves. He owns Lakewood.

Walker isn’t the only Shorebirds player to have success against our rivals from the Jersey Shore. The trio of Yermin Mercedes, along with all-stars Steve Wilkerson and Jomar Reyes, have feasted on BlueClaws pitching all season.

In 11 games against Lakewood this season, Mercedes has posted a .350 average along with three homers and 12 RBIs. Wilkerson, meanwhile, has hit .351 in 10 contests against the BlueClaws while Reyes has slashed an impressive .389/.436/.639 in as many games.

After seeing stats like that, it’s no wonder why Delmarva has seen so much success against Lakewood in 2015.

There are other teams that Delmarva players have feasted on this year. Remember T.J. Olesczuk’s insane Shorebirds debut against Kannapolis? He’s hit .394 in eight games against the Intimidators with one home run and 11 RBIs while posting a 1.051 OPS.

A pair of pitchers have dominated the Greensboro Grasshoppers throughout 2015. Brian Gonzalez has gone 2-0 with a 1.73 ERA in five starts against the ‘Hoppers along with 23 strikeouts. Recent Frederick call-up John Means also went 2-0 in three starts with a 1.80 ERA.

With the season wrapping up, it’ll be interesting to see if these trends continue as these players move up through the Minors in the coming years.

Alumni Update: Chance Sisco

By Steve Uhlmann

Ask anybody in baseball what the toughest position to play is, and the near-unanimous answer will be catcher.

Besides having to carefully call pitches and be familiar with every pitcher on a staff, they often take a beating behind the plate as well.

Sisco (3)

Photo courtesy of the Frederick Keys

Despite being just 20 years old, former Shorebird Chance Sisco has already taken his fair share of bumps and bruises, but it hasn’t slowed him down. As of August 3, Sisco is hitting .306 with three home runs for High-A Frederick in 2015.

The key to Sisco’s success has been his ability to take care of himself.

“I spend a lot of time in the trainer’s room,” Sisco said. “As a catcher you get to know your body, what it can take and what it can’t take. From there, you learn what you need to do to keep your body in shape to do the job.”

Even Sisco’s veteran-type ability to take care of himself couldn’t keep him off the disabled list with a fractured finger back in April.

An injury like that could have easily derailed a young player’s season, but missing a month was no problem for Chance. He has come back stronger, and is catching more games than ever.

“Coming in I wanted this to be a year where I caught more games and improved at the position,” he said. “There were some setbacks there early, but I’ve just stayed focused and worked hard at overcoming those obstacles.”

Sisco entered the season as the No. 4 prospect in the entire Orioles’ system after winning the South Atlantic League batting title with Delmarva in 2014. The heighted expectations (which were already high heading into the season) could rattle a player so young, but not Sisco.

“I haven’t thought of thought of what hype people put on me,” Sisco explained. “I don’t need that extra pressure on myself. When you do that, you start thinking too much and the mistakes follow.”

A number of fellow Shorebirds standouts from 2014 are with Sisco in Frederick this year, which has provided a great experience. The familiarity between pitchers and catcher have led to an easy transition at a higher level.

“It helps knowing what all of the guys throw and go through out in the field,” Sisco said. “The communication has been smooth. We don’t have to have a lot of mound visits. We know what we’re doing out there.”

Sisco says that he is still learning plenty each and every day. He has found a great mentor in Frederick manager Orlando Gomez, who is a former catcher.

With all of this going for him, it appears that Sisco is ready to block whatever curveballs are thrown his way during his rise through the farm system.

The Mighty ‘Pen

By Steve Uhlmann

Despite a flurry of injuries and mid-season call-ups, the Delmarva Shorebirds are still well within striking distance of their first winning season since 2009.

The bullpen, without question, has been one of the most consistent parts of the roster in 2015. It hasn’t mattered who has taken the ball from manager Ryan Minor in the latter innings. Everyone in the ‘pen is capable of getting the big outs.

This has especially been true with the closer role, as the Shorebirds have already had two make the move to High-A Frederick without seeing a drop in production.

Closing Time

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t win here.

Donnie Hart held the role heading into the season and did not disappoint, racking up 10 saves and not allowing a run in his first 16 appearances. After earning Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month honors for May, he received a call-up and was replaced by Garrett Cortright.

Cortright picked up where Hart left off, as he didn’t allow a single earned run for over two months while earning a selection to the SAL All-Star Game.

With Cortright recently called up to the Keys as well, some new faces are taking over in the bullpen. The first person to get a shot at closing games was Ivan Hernandez, who wiggled his way out of a jam to record a two-inning save against Hickory on Tuesday. Hernandez, 24, hasn’t allowed a run in nine of 12 appearances with Delmarva and relies on a fastball capable of reaching the mid 90s.

Another player that will be sure to get more late-game reps is Stefan Crichton, who has served well as the set-up man for the better part of the season. He boasts a 2.80 ERA, and he has gone more than one inning in 25 of his 27 appearances.

The bullpen also boasts a pair of intriguing lefty arms in Max Schuh and Tanner Scott, and both figure to be intriguing options down the stretch. Schuh has been lights out since the All-Star Break, posting a 0.82 ERA and a .237 opponents batting average. Scott, meanwhile, turned heads with his first appearance with the Shorebirds, as his fastball that routinely reaches the high 90s is a handful for opposing hitters.

Finally, it’s important to not forget the depth this bullpen has, as Nigel Nootbaar, Caleb Kellogg and Mike Burke have all shown they can be capable of getting the big outs when it matters.

Shortening games is a huge asset for any team making a push at the end of the season. With a staff like this, the Shorebirds certainly have the personnel to keep any lead from slipping away.

The Most Interesting Man In The Clubhouse

By Doug Newton

Photo by Joey Gardner/Delmarva Shorebirds

Photo by Joey Gardner/Delmarva Shorebirds

Nearly every professional baseball player grows up with the game of baseball. The love of the game starts with pickup games in backyards, streets or the local park. For Shorebirds’ first baseman Derek Peterson, growing up in the game of baseball meant something a little different than most kids.

His father, Rick Peterson, is currently Director of Pitching Development for the Baltimore Orioles and a longtime pitching coach for several MLB teams. When Derek was growing up, Rick Peterson served as the pitching coach of the Oakland Athletics from 1998 to 2003, renowned for his work with Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. Peterson then joined the New York Mets from 2004 to 2008, and additionally served another season as the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. Derek’s grandfather, Pete, was the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1976 to 1985.

In the Shorebirds’ clubhouse though, that isn’t Peterson’s claim to fame. Several Shorebirds have named Peterson as their funniest teammate, quick with a joke to lighten the mood.

“I don’t really do practical jokes or pranks, my style involves a lot of accents,” Peterson revealed. “I have a few alter-egos or personalities that I’ll break out. One of them is a WWE wrestler, and I’m still looking to take the title back from Vince McMahon.”

When asked if he felt any pressure to succeed in baseball because of the family connection, Peterson jokingly answered “originally I had planned to play for Gordon Bombay and the Mighty Ducks.”

Turns out that was a fictional hockey team from a movie. His next choice?

“Then I made up my mind to play with Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls,” Peterson said. “But he retired before I got to the NBA, so all that was left was baseball.”

With his off-the-wall personality, how would Derek Peterson spend his free time during road trips?

“I try to work in a one-to-seven hour meditation to really find my inner self,” he said. “I often find myself doing active meditation during batting practice or even during this interview.”

On a more serious note, Peterson is an incredible teammate. He’s exactly the sort of person you want in your clubhouse. While Peterson was down in Florida for extended spring training, he listened to Shorebirds’ radio broadcasts online to hear how his teammates fared.

“Max Schuh is one of my good buddies on the team,” Peterson said. “I remember listening to his debut. I actually tuned in to a bunch of games, I can remember the call of Jomar’s first home run. I liked to envision what it would be like to be up in Delmarva, and now I’m glad I’m on the field rather than up in the booth.”

A lot of people, whether it’s his teammates, coaches or the fans, are glad Peterson is here too.

 

Route 50 Rundown: July 21

By Steve Uhlmann

Holy smokes! The Shorebirds just wrapped up an exciting homestand, going 5-2 while providing walk-off homerscomeback wins and holiday cheer.

Delmarva now enters a six-game Southern Division swing with a 14-11 record in the second half and a 46-45 mark for the entire season. Let’s take a look at what’s been going right for the ‘Birds in the last few weeks.

#YERMINBOMBS

With the rash of injuries the Shorebirds have experienced at catcher, Yermin Mercedes has filled in and has been a pleasant surprise at the dish both offensively and defensively. He currently leads Delmarva with five home runs since the All-Star Break.

Photo by Joey Gardner/Delmarva Shorebirds

Photo by Joey Gardner/Delmarva Shorebirds

His jaw-dropping power was on full display during this recent homestand when he clubbed a 451-foot home run on July 15 against Lexington. Not to be outdone, he then followed that up by hitting a grand slam in the ninth inning the very next day. Finally, he was clutch in the series finale against Greensboro on July 20 when he hit a two-run triple in the ninth inning that was instrumental in the Shorebirds’ 3-2 win.

All in all, Mercedes knocked in 13 runs during this past homestand while hitting three home runs and posting a .300 average. Since the All-Star Break, he’s raised his batting average from .190 to .283.

Mercedes has also proven himself to be valuable in nabbing would-be basestealers. Yermin leads the Shorebirds with 13 runners caught stealing, and his caught stealing percentage of .382 would lead the South Atlantic League if he had enough games to qualify.

His well-rounded game has certainly been key in helping the Shorebirds win ballgames in the second half.

Home is Where the Runs Are

While it’s known that Arthur W. Perdue Stadium isn’t a very easy place to score runs or hit homers, the Shorebirds have made it look simple since the All-Star Break.

Delmarva has scored 104 runs in its last 16 home games for an average of 6.5 runs per game. For the entire season, Delmarva is averaging 4.7 runs per game, which would be their highest mark since 2007 when they averaged 4.8 runs per game.

Fans who came out to Perdue Stadium this past homestand were treated to some outrageous offensive displays, as the ‘Birds dropped 18 runs on the Lexington Legends on July 14 before pouring 11 more on them the next night. The Greensboro Grasshoppers were the next victims, as they helplessly watched Delmarva score 16 runs on July 19.

While it’s impossible to keep this pace up the rest of the year, the Shorebirds have certainly helped themselves these past few weeks by picking up wins thanks to these performances.

The Bee’s Knee(land)

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Photo by Joey Gardner/Delmarva Shorebirds

One of the most consistent Shorebirds since the All-Star Break has been Cam Kneeland.

While manning five different positions for Delmarva at various points this season, Kneeland has been a steady force at the plate. He has posted a .325 average since June 25 while hitting two home runs and knocking in 21 RBIs. He set a career high with four RBIs on July 14 against Lexington only to tie that mark the very next night.

It’s been a long road for Kneeland, who began the year as a utility player, but he has become a key cog in the lineup due to the high number of injuries the Shorebirds have suffered. No matter where he has played on the field, he has brought a steady approach to the plate.

Kneeland is often one of the first players to arrive for games, and he is always working on his swing in the cage. It’s been fun to see him rewarded for his efforts this past month.

The Shorebirds begin a road trip with a three-game set against the Charleston RiverDogs on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Stay tuned to theshorebirds.com for full coverage and listen live to the games on Fox Sports 960 AM.

Alumni Update: Zach Davies

Photo by Les Treagus/Norfolk Tides

Photo by Les Treagus/Norfolk Tides

By Steve Uhlmann

While the first part of the Shorebirds’ 2012 season was swept up in the wave of excitement surrounding Dylan Bundy’s impressive pro debut, another pitcher quietly put together a solid year and began a rapid rise through the Baltimore system.

Zach Davies, who was just 19 years old when he played for Delmarva that season, posted an impressive 3.86 ERA while pitching in Salisbury and hasn’t looked back since.

Davies has made the jump to a new level in the Orioles’ farm system in every season he’s played, and he is currently enjoying success with Triple-A Norfolk in 2015.

“[This season] has been a great opportunity for me,” Davies said. “I’m learning from a lot of guys who knows what it takes to perform at the highest level. It’s just been a great experience.”

Rather than be intimidated by the wealth of experience he faces, Davies tackles it head-on. He entered the season as the fifth-youngest player in the International League, and his age of 22 is five years younger than the average player in Triple-A.

The age difference hasn’t mattered. Davies has looked dominant at times, posting a 3.15 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) as of June 19.

“For me, I’ve always played at a higher level than my age so I’m used to it,” Davies said. “Guys here always give you their best and it’s a challenge to bring your best stuff every pitch. I’ve learned more and more how to do that while here.”

While he hasn’t gotten the call to the Major League club yet, Davies got a taste of Big League competition when he made three appearances (two starts) with the Orioles during Spring Training.

“It was a lot of fun for me to get the chance to do that in Spring Training,” Davies said. “It gave me the chance to play against some big names and against guys I’ve followed for a while. It also showed me what it’s like to go against some of the best hitters there are.”

Davies looks back fondly on his time with the Shorebirds, as he feels it was a big reason why he’s been able to improve as a pitcher. It was his first time playing a full 140-game schedule and realizing how hard it can be to play Minor League Baseball.

“I went straight to Delmarva without any short-season ball, so it was definitely an adjustment,” Davies said. “I never played in a league that played six or seven days a week, so I grew alongside my teammates. We all really helped each other out.”

Every time he takes the hill, he shows that Baltimore found a gem by taking him in the 26th round of the 2011 draft. While Davies hasn’t had the chance to make his Major League debut yet, he could very well be with the Orioles sooner rather than later.

Route 50 Rundown: June 10

By Steve Uhlmann

The Shorebirds have caught fire in recent days, winning four of their last five games. There are many reasons why they have been able to get the job done, and we figured that the Route 50 Rundown would be a good way to show what’s been going right.

Not Bad, New Kid

T.J. Olesczuk joined the Shorebirds on June 4 and has already be contributing at an absurd rate. In five games, T.J. is hitting .526 (10-for-19) with two home runs and 10 RBIs. For a team that has been decimated by injuries, his bat has been a welcomed addition to the lineup. Olesczuk also showed flashes of his speed and big arm with an impressive outfield assist to throw out a Hagerstown baserunner on Tuesday night.

He may be one of the newest faces on the Shorebirds’ roster, but he has arguably been one of the most important players during this stretch.

Jay Gonzalez: On-Base Machine

The key to being a good lead-off hitter is having the ability to get on base. Shorebirds center fielder Jay Gonzalez may have figured that out. Check out these numbers.

Jay Gonzalez On Base Machine

Yes, you read those correctly. To put his play into perspective, no player in all of Minor League Baseball has reached base at a better rate since June 4. If you’re wondering where the improved team offensive numbers are coming from, you may want to start at the top of the lineup.

Ways and Means

Delmarva starter John Means won his third straight start on Tuesday night, shutting out the Hagerstown Suns over six innings. Means has posted a 2.00 ERA during this impressive stretch while striking out 11, and his five wins on the season are tops among Shorebirds pitchers.

The key for Means’s success is getting deep into games. He’s gone exactly six innings in every victory he’s picked up so far this year.

Bird Bits

-Conor Bierfeldt, Jomar Reyes and Steve Wilkerson were named to the SAL All-Star Game on Tuesday, making it two years in a row where the Shorebirds have had multiple players selected.
-Speaking of Bierfeldt, he hasn’t slowed down one bit since his red-hot May. He has six doubles and a triple in his last five games.

-The Shorebirds have welcomed back Wilkerson, who was activated off the disabled list on Tuesday after being on the shelf since May 24. Delmarva is a solid 18-13 when he’s in the lineup.

The Shorebirds are home through Monday, giving you plenty of chances to see these hot streaks continue in person.

Grimes Enjoying Health, Success With Shorebirds

Grimes Blog

Photo By Joey Gardner

By Doug Newton

One of the most difficult obstacles for any athlete to overcome is dealing with a significant injury. Health is the absolute top requirement from any athlete, especially one trying to perform at a professional
level.

A pitcher cannot tap into hispeak potential if his body does not cooperate. Shorebirds’ starter Matthew Grimes has dealt with all of those challenges and become a better pitcher for it. Fans wouldn’t know it from watching him this season, but for a couple years, getting back on the field was a big accomplishment for Grimes.

While at Georgia Tech, Grimes missed one and a half seasons with an arm injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery.

“I wasn’t game ready for a year and two months,” he said. “Last year was my first season back after surgery. And I hadn’t played in two years.”

The challenge of returning after a serious injury can be as much mental as it is physical. That perhaps is the most frustrating aspect of being injured. To know that the amazing displays which were once easily within your capabilities, now they are just out of your reach.

“Mentally, it takes a toll on you. You start to wonder, ‘Will I still be the same pitcher? How will this affect me in the MLB draft? Will I have a career in baseball beyond college?” Grimes says.

After drafting Grimes in the 18th round last year, the Orioles organization adopted a cautious approach, limiting his innings while at Aberdeen in 2014. In 10 appearances with the IronBirds, Grimes only threw 22 innings, maxing out at three innings in a single outing.

“This year is the first season in which I’m fully healthy,” Grimes said.

Grimes has been a steady force in the Shorebirds’ rotation, improving incrementally since the start of the season. As of June 4, Grimes is tied for the team lead in wins (3), having won three of four starts from April 28th to May 15th.

Photo By Joey Gardner

            Photo By Joey Gardner

After a slow start to the year, Grimes really had all the pieces fall into place on a road trip to his home state of Georgia. At Savannah, Grimes pitched a complete game shutout in a rain-shortened contest on April 28th, allowing just one hit in five innings as Delmarva romped the Sand Gnats, 12-0. In that game, Grimes struck out 11 batters, the most by a Shorebird since Parker Bridwell during the 2013 season.

On May 3rd, Grimes continued his strong performances as he earned another win against the Augusta GreenJackets. Perhaps the most important development from that start? Grimes worked into the sixth inning for the first time in his career, signaling his return to peak form and health after years sidelined by injury.

“There was definitely a lot of doubt. But at the end of the day, I think I grew as person throughout it all,” Grimes said.

Now, Delmarva fans can witness the fruits of his hard labor, and Grimes can once again enjoy his incredible talent

Alumni Update: Drew Dosch

By Steve Uhlmann

After an incredible season with the Shorebirds in 2014, one would think that there was nothing that could stop Drew Dosch.

He set a Delmarva single-season record with 157 hits, breaking the mark that was ironically held by his manager, Ryan Minor, since 1997.

Photo by Patrick Cavey/MiLB.com

Photo by Patrick Cavey/MiLB.com

But nothing comes easy in baseball, and Dosch found out why at the beginning of the 2015 season with High-A Frederick. He scuffled out of the gate to a 4-for-32 start at the plate, but has since rebounded with a blistering stretch. From April 17 to April 24, he hit .519 (14-for-27) with 11 RBIs in eight games.

Getting back on track was as much of a mental task for Dosch as it was physical.

“It’s been crazy,” a relieved Dosch said. “Everybody wants to get off to a hot start, but it doesn’t always happen that way. It got to the point where I was pressing so much. It was really a matter of collecting myself and just focusing on having good at-bats.”

This turnaround is just another example Dosch’s resilience. He learned how to battle adversity early in his career after a knee injury in 2013 delayed his pro debut. After a lengthy rehab, he then made the jump to Delmarva to start the 2014 season, where he played 128 games while performing at a high level.

The way Dosch has been able to handle the curveballs life has thrown at him comes from a mindset taught to him for years.

“For me, it’s about controlling what you can control,” Dosch said. “For me, as long as I compete and give it my all in what I can control, the results follow.

This past offseason was an important one for Dosch, as he worked hard on fine-tuning other aspects of his game. He played in an instructional league in Florida and spent much of his time off working on his defense, which has shown early on in 2015.

“I feel like I’ve taken some big strides forward with my defense,” Dosch said. “It was my biggest focus this offseason, and I like with what I’ve been able to accomplish.”

Dosch is still adjusting to playing at a higher level of the system, as he feels there is a noticeable jump in competition in the Carolina League. Each day, it is more apparent that he and his teammates have found their rhythm and are adjusting to life on a bigger stage.

“The game is a lot faster here,” Dosch said. “Guys are coming down the line faster, the pitches are quicker with more movement. It’s just a matter of getting acclimated, and it starts to slow down for you.”

While the game is slowing down for Dosch, the results aren’t. He and the Keys are poised to make a run at a Carolina League title, and have already turned in a number of stellar efforts over the season’s opening weeks.

There still will be plenty of obstacles to overcome, but that will be no problem for Dosch. He’s already cleared each one with ease.

Murphy Turning Heads

Alex Murphy has had a breakout 2015 season. Photo by Joey Gardner

Alex Murphy has had a breakout 2015 season, leading the SAL in RBIs. Photo by Joey Gardner

By Doug Newton

It’s the dream of every kid who ever picked up a bat and glove. Playing for the fans, when you used to be one of those cheering from the stands. Hopefully, in a few years, that will be the case for Alex Murphy.

The Shorebirds’ catcher hails from Mount Airy, Md. near Frederick, attending plenty of baseball games as a kid.

“I grew up as an Orioles fan, and I went to a bunch of Keys games,” Murphy recalls. “I lived about 15 minutes from their stadium. That was the thing to do when we were younger.”

Murphy’s father was a season-ticket holder for the Orioles, so trips to Camden Yards were frequent as well.

Murphy went to high school at Calvert Hall in Baltimore, leading his team to back-to-back MIAA titles. At Calvert Hall, Murphy was named the Gatorade Maryland Baseball Player of the Year for 2012-13 after batting .476 with 46 RBIs in his senior season. But that was just the beginning of his connection to Baltimore baseball.

In June of that year, the Baltimore Orioles gave Murphy a phone call on draft day. The O’s had selected him with their sixth round pick of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft.

“I had an idea going in that Baltimore was interested,” Murphy said. “I didn’t know whether another team might pick me earlier. I can’t really put words to that experience. It was a dream come true.”

Shortly thereafter, Murphy signed his contract with Baltimore, forgoing his commitment to play college baseball at Wake Forest University.

“It’s every kid’s dream to play professional baseball. It’s what I wanted to do, and as a family, we decided it was the right path,” Murphy said.

FJ3_1700In the Orioles’ organization, Murphy hasn’t had to travel far from home. Other than a few stints in Florida in spring training and the Gulf Coast League, Orioles’ farmhands don’t have to travel more than a few hours to each affiliate. For a local kid like Murphy, it’s a perfect situation. Murphy has already played for Aberdeen and Delmarva, and Frederick and Bowie are likely in his future.

“My mom works in Baltimore, so they came a lot when I was in Aberdeen,” said Murphy. “It’s a little further away now, but they’ve still made down here. And my family attended every game when we visited Hagerstown.”

To start the season, Murphy’s production has been otherworldly. Through the first 29 games of the season, Murphy collected 27 RBIs, leading the South Atlantic League and tied for seventh in all of minor league baseball. But you won’t hear him pumping up those stats.

“It’s really the guys in front of me,” Murphy said. If they don’t get on base, then I can’t knock them in. It’s a team effort.”

It might not mean much to him, but if he keeps putting up those ridiculous numbers, it might earn his way to Frederick. And this time, he’ll be playing at Harry Grove Stadium instead of watching from the bleachers.

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