Tuesday, April 27, 2010

GreenJackets leadoff man counts on early exits

Staff Writer

A leadoff man’s job can be a bit more demanding than the others in a professional baseball lineup. Augusta GreenJackets second baseman Ryan Cavan knows his responsibility not only involves getting on base, but also making the opposing pitcher throw as many pitches as possible.

“I’m just trying to wear them out,” he said. “You can’t teach that.”

In the GreenJackets’ most recent homestand, Cavan took pride in his ability to do just that. The 22-year-old switch hitter averaged 5.6 pitches per trip to the plate in the final two games against Savannah last week.

The increased number of pitches typically results in elevated pitch counts and an early exit for starting pitchers. Cavan said his goal is to knock out the starter as soon as possible and get to the bullpen.

That happened Friday night, when Savannah starter Armando Rodriguez was pulled with one out in the sixth inning after 84 pitches. The GreenJackets scored four runs on the first five at-bats facing a relief pitcher. Cavan drove in a run on an RBI triple after fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches. His drive off the base of the right field wall came on the sixth pitch of the at-bat.

“He’s our catalyst,” GreenJackets manager Dave Machemer said. “When he gets on, that gets us started. And the more pitches you see, it gives you more of a chance to get on base.”

Cavan posted a .600 on-base percentage in the final two games of the homestand. He entered the week leading the team with nine walks and six stolen bases in seven attempts.

WHATEVER IT TAKES: A pair of velcro handcuffs strung together by a bungie cord have transformed Luke Anders from a struggling batter into one of the top offensive threats on the GreenJackets roster.

The relatively unknown piece of equipment that Anders called the “Power Swing Plus” is put to work each batting practice, when the San Francisco Giants’ 2009 32nd-round pick steps in the cage.

The left-handed batter fastens one velcro cuff to his left wrist and the other to his right elbow. The cord keeps Anders’ hands from moving away from his body, a bad habit called “casting.”

“It keeps you from casting your hands away from your body,” Machemer said, making a motion similar to casting a fishing pole. “I like it. It works. You see a lot of young kids do exactly that, and this helps.”

Machemer said Giants vice president of personnel Dick Tidrow came across the device in the offseason and gave it to GreenJackets hitting coach Lipso Nava . Anders said he has made it a part of his daily routine at batting practice.

“It helps a lot. It gives a little, but you can tell exactly when you take a bad swing,” Anders said. “I’ve never heard of it before this year.

“The first time it felt pretty foreign, but I’m glad I have it now.”

Anders, who hit just .268 with 18 strikeouts and no home runs in the team’s first 11 games, has posted a .421 batting average with three homers and just three strikeouts over the past week, including a two-homer night in the second game of a double-header sweep Sunday in Asheville, N.C.

TRANSACTIONS: Right-handed pitcher Hector Correa was placed on the seven-day disabled list Monday with a bicep strain and infielder Kyle Mach was moved to extended spring training.

The moves made room for a pair of Giants prospects from the Double-A squad in Richmond who were sent down to Augusta. Shortstop Sharlon Schoop and right-handed reliever Mitch Lively joined the team Monday.

TAKE ME OUT: The first homestand of the 2010 season saw a little more than 27,000 fans show up at Lake Olmstead Stadium in the eight games, an increase of 24.9 percent compared to athe first eight home games of 2009.

The GreenJackets have averaged 3,446 fans per game this season, which ranks sixth out of 14 teams in the South Atlantic League. The Lakewood BlueClaws have drawn a league-best 6,232 fans-per-game average, while the Hagerstown Suns sit at the bottom with 1,226 fans per game.