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2007 Erie Seawolves Diary/Blog

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I didn't say that's all he'd be, but it's the easiest way to break in. If Shelton were to start next season Larish could potentially be a very useful reserve if he could handle third and first, but there isn't a lot of room for a guy who can only play first on a major league bench, particularly since Leyland's always going to have a twelve man bullpen.

He has played in the OF in the past.

I am not fully convinced which one between Shelton and Larish will end up with the job even next season.

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Larish would have to be lights-out to get the job next year, IMO, but anything's possible. I certainly don't think Shelton's guaranteed the job either, and I'm not convinced that a free agent isn't the most likely outcome (please not Casey please not Casey please not Casey). I wasn't aware he'd played the outfield. Obviously the spacious outfield in Detroit would make it tough, but if we can toss Kevin Witt out there.... Then again, Magglio's not looking too much better than Witt this week.

I don't think third is much of a stretch. Even if we had an incumbent firmly entrenched at first next year or the year after Larish could work his way into 350 at bats or so if he could play all four corners passably. I don't imagine Walbeck's eager to move him around during the season but perhaps it's something to toy around with next spring, especially since he'll probably get a chance in the major league camp.

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Larish would have to be lights-out to get the job next year, IMO, but anything's possible. I certainly don't think Shelton's guaranteed the job either, and I'm not convinced that a free agent isn't the most likely outcome (please not Casey please not Casey please not Casey). I wasn't aware he'd played the outfield. Obviously the spacious outfield in Detroit would make it tough, but if we can toss Kevin Witt out there.... Then again, Magglio's not looking too much better than Witt this week.

I don't think third is much of a stretch. Even if we had an incumbent firmly entrenched at first next year or the year after Larish could work his way into 350 at bats or so if he could play all four corners passably. I don't imagine Walbeck's eager to move him around during the season but perhaps it's something to toy around with next spring, especially since he'll probably get a chance in the major league camp.

He would have to be lights out. But he does have one thing over Shelton if all things are considered equal.... he bats left handed. I am not sure about the free agent route because I don't think there will be a good free agent 1B available.

You can certainly try third out. I have visions of Eric Munson but they can certainly give it a try.

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Worth the wait

After 3 snowouts, SeaWolves open season with easy win

BY RON LEONARDI

ron.leonardi@timesnews.com [more details]

Published: April 10. 2007 6:00AM

First baseman Jeff Larish is one of the top young power-hitting prospects in the Detroit Tigers' organization, a patient hitter who can drive the ball to all fields.

The three-run homer he drove over the center-field wall in the second inning highlighted his 3-for-4 performance in the SeaWolves' season-opening 8-0 win over the Binghamton Mets on Monday. The game was played before a Buck Night crowd of 2,741 at Jerry Uht Park.

After having their season-opening three-game home series against Altoona snowed out, the SeaWolves weren't bothered by a 36-degree gametime temperature or 12 mph winds that dropped the wind-chill temperatures into the 20s after sunset.

"The cold was something to get used to, but I was looking to get a good pitch to hit," Larish said. "We were able to practice out here and kind of get a feel for the cold weather."

Incorporating elements of small ball and the long ball, the SeaWolves jumped to a 7-0 lead in the first two innings and made it easy for Matt Walbeck in his managerial debut with the club.

"This feels really good personally and as a team," Walbeck said. "It's nice to know that the team's confidence showed. They were prepared and went out and played a good game. We were right where we wanted to be. We knew the weather was out of our control with the snow. Our guys weren't anxious. They were ready."

A lack of snow at Uht Park was reason enough to rejoice.

"This weather is something you have to deal with," said Larish, who accounted for Erie's final run with a sixth-inning RBI single. "You have to respond. It starts with our manager. He gets us in a good mindset and I think everybody feeds off that."

Despite having to wait an extra five days to make the SeaWolves' opening-day start, right-hander and Double-A rookie Dallas Trahern looked in midseason form, throwing six shutout innings of six-hit ball.

"I came ready to pitch today," Trahern said. "I tried to stay mentally tough through these snowouts. I know we came in to this game not letting the weather be a factor and not making excuses for anything."

Staying mentally sharp was Trahern's biggest challenge.

"Just waiting around was the toughest thing," he said. "This was my first Double-A start. I've been wanting to get out there and it was tough to wait. To kill time, I tried to find a place to live and played a lot of PlayStation. I waited it out."

Erie's offense made it easy for Trahern, 21, a sinkerball pitcher who was 6-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 25 starts at high Single-A Lakeland last season.

"He was on his game, getting his ground balls, getting ahead in the count," Walbeck said. "That's probably the best I've seen him throw. It goes to show you he was prepared. It would have been really tough for me if I were pitcher to have to wait that long. He was ready and went out there and threw a gem."

The SeaWolves scored four runs in the first and broke it open on Larish's three-run homer in the second, all against right-hander Kevin Mulvey, the New York Mets' second-round draft pick last season.

Mulvey lasted just 1 1/3 innings.

"When you get that kind of run support, you don't have to worry about anything," said Trahern, who's in his fourth season of pro ball. "I've never had a winning record in pro ball, so it was unbelievable to get that run support and get out of the gate with a good start. I was just thrilled to death."

Larish, a 6-foot 2-inch, 200-pound left-handed hitter, provided the bulk of Erie's offense, finishing with a homer, two singles, a walk, two runs scored and four RBIs.

"When he's seeing he ball well, good things are going to happen," Walbeck said.

Erie right-hander P.J. Finigan came on to start the seventh inning and threw two scoreless innings of relief, striking out five of the six hitters he faced. He struck out the side in the eighth.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070410/BASEBALL01/704100425/-1/SPORTS

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I don't see why Larish would neccessarily resemble Munson at third. After all, he did play the position for several years in college and he's actually a good defensive first-baseman, unlike Munson. I don't think he'd even be average over there, but he wouldn't need to be if he were only playing there once a week (or less). It'd be nice to have someone with some power backing up third rather than backup middle infielders.

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I don't see why Larish would neccessarily resemble Munson at third. After all, he did play the position for several years in college and he's actually a good defensive first-baseman, unlike Munson. I don't think he'd even be average over there, but he wouldn't need to be if he were only playing there once a week (or less). It'd be nice to have someone with some power backing up third rather than backup middle infielders.

Larish played 3B in college for 1 year I think... But you are right that he might be able to handle it.

I still think that he could win the 1B job.

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Error finishes 'Wolves

BY RON LEONARDI

ron.leonardi@timesnews.com [more details]

Published: April 11. 2007 6:00 am

Kody Kirkland's return to the Erie lineup Tuesday had its ups and downs.

The SeaWolves third baseman had two hits and scored a run, but his throwing error in the 11th inning led to two unearned runs and a 4-2 Erie loss to the Binghamton Mets before 1,092 fans at Jerry Uht Park.

"I have no excuses," said Kirkland, who sat out Monday's season opener because of a left ankle injury he suffered March 30 in spring training. "It's just one of those things. It's part of the game; it's going to happen, so I have to put it behind me."

The SeaWolves, an 8-0 winner over Binghamton on Monday, dropped to 1-1. The teams are scheduled to wrap up their three-game series today at 6:35 p.m. at Uht Park.

With one out in the 11th, Kirkland fielded a routine grounder off the bat of Binghamton catcher Mike Nickeas and had plenty of time to get the runner, but his throw bounced 10 feet in front of first baseman Jeff Larish and skipped past him.

Nickeas went to second on the two-base throwing error. After Erie right-hander Kevin Ardoin intentionally walked Binghamton left fielder Nic Jackson, second baseman Mark Kiger lined a double down the left-field line, scoring Nickeas. Jackson, who went to third on the hit, then scored on Corey Ragsdale's sacrifice fly.

Interactive Graphic:

http://www.goerie.com/extra/jerryuhtpark

"When you make errors, especially when it sets up the go-ahead runs, it's never fun, but it's part of the game and you can't let it get to you too much," Kirkland said.

"That's not a play, I'm sure, he wants to remember, but those things happen," Erie manager Matt Walbeck said. "Physical mistakes happen. It's tough to throw when it's cold out, but that's part of the game."

Ardoin, the SeaWolves' closer was summoned to pitch in the 11th inning after Erie reliever Kyle Sleeth was struck on the left foot by a line drive hit by Binghamton designated hitter Brett Harper leading off the inning. Harper was retired on the play.

Sleeth, making his first appearance this season, pitched a scoreless 10th inning. The right-hander, who was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the 2003 draft, limped off the field.

Sleeth underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in 2005 and is pitching in Double-A for the first time since 2004. He had his ankle taped and was able to walk in the clubhouse after the game.

"It's encouraging that I went out there and pitched well, but it's very frustrating to have this happen the first outing." Sleeth said. "It hit me right on the big toe. At first my foot was numb. I didn't know if it was hurt or not until I stepped on it and I kind of went down after that.

"I don't think it's broken," Sleeth said. "I think it's something I bruised. I think in a couple days I'll be back and ready to go. We're going to see how it feels (today) and if I feel like we need to do an X-ray, we'll do something then."

Binghamton's bullpen shut down the SeaWolves, allowing just two hits after the fourth inning.

Erie scored twice in the fourth inning, but the Mets (1-1) chipped away and tied the game with single runs in the sixth and eighth innings.

Binghamton center fielder Fernando Martinez tripled and scored the first Mets run in the sixth on Mike Carp's single. The run, allowed by Erie reliever Andrew Kown, ended a string of 14 straight scoreless innings by Erie pitching to start the season.

Martinez, a left-handed hitter, tied the game in the eighth, greeting Erie lefty Danny Zell with a line-drive homer to right-center. Martinez is ranked the New York Mets' second-best minor league prospect by Baseball America.

Martinez, 18, was the youngest player in the history of the Arizona Fall League and is the first teenager to play for Binghamton since 19-year-old Jose Reyes in 2002. He played at high Single-A St. Lucie last season.

"We've got a lot of games left," Walbeck said. "We had a few mental lapses, but overall, the guys gave a good effort and that's all you can ask for."

RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070411/BASEBALL01/704110465/-1/SPORTS

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Hate to lose one late like that, but, those things do happen and adjustments will be made. Martinez must be one heck of a player to dominate for 2 nights like has at ONLY 18 years of age!!

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I must say I'm relieved it was "just" a toe for Sleeth.

Me too. Listening to it last night, they first mentioned his face, then his knee, then his ankle. Needless to say, it happened fast and the announcers were just reacting to what they Thought they saw before the replay was viewed.

Hopefully, it is just a bruise at worst.

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'Wolves weather Mets, elements in rout

BY RON LEONARDI

ron.leonardi@timesnews.com [more details]

Published: April 12. 2007 7:00AM

wind-driven rain and wind gusts exceeding 40 mph made infield popups and outfield fly balls an adventure.

A piece of tarp enveloped Erie reliever Ian Ostlund as he warmed up in the bullpen during the middle innings.

Erie third baseman Kody Kirkland, who went 2-for-4, watched his fourth-inning pop fly along the first-base line drop on the pitching mound for an RBI single.

SeaWolves first baseman Jeff Larish lofted a fly ball to medium left-center in the sixth inning that carried over the fence for a homer in Erie's 12-4 win over the Binghamton Mets on Wednesday before 777 fans at Jerry Uht Park.

"Not even in Florida in storms are the winds that bad," SeaWolves center fielder and Florida resident Clete Thomas said. "It was real cold. Your face was frozen from the wind and it was making the balls do all kinds of crazy things."

If the elements weren't enough of a daunting challenge for Binghamton's pitching staff, Erie's bats definitely were.

The SeaWolves (2-1) collected 16 hits, built a 9-1 lead through four innings and had at least one hit from every starter in the rout.

"Our whole lineup has been swinging the bat real well and the confidence should be growing right now," SeaWolves manager Matt Walbeck said.

Erie's leadoff through No. 4 hitters - Thomas, second baseman Michael Hollimon, Larish and right fielder Matt Joyce - did the most damage, combining to go 7-for-14 with seven RBIs and eight runs scored.

Thomas broke out of an 0-for-9 start with three hits, including a triple, and three runs scored.

Hollimon, a Double-A rookie who hits second in the lineup, has been an on-base catalyst in three games. He had a single, sacrifice fly, reached base on a hit-by-pitch and scored three runs.

"I saw the ball good," Thomas said. "Hollimon and I try to get on base. He's got power, so if I get on base, he has the potential to hit a two-run bomb. It's our job to get on base and make something happen for the big guys down the lineup."

"My mentality is to do whatever I can to help the team," Hollimon said. "We have guys like Larish, Joyce and Jackson Melian who can drive in people. I'm looking for pitches to hit and if they're there, I'm going to take a swing at it."

Larish, who hits third, had two hits, two RBIs and two runs.

Joyce, who bats cleanup, drove in four runs.

"Hollimon's on-base percentage is skyrocketing," Walbeck said. "His approach at the plate has been really good. He's been seeing the ball really well and it certainly helps to be surrounded by Clete Thomas and Jeff Larish. Hitting between those two guys has to be a treat."

Notes: As the top of the sixth inning was about to start, about 30 individual lights in several light banks flickered and went off. After team officials and umpires conferred for a few minutes, all of the Uht Park lights were turned off and turned on again. All the banks functioned properly once they were reset, causing a 19-minute delay. ... Detroit Tigers backup catcher Mike Rabelo, who played with the SeaWolves the past two seasons, is scheduled to make his first major league start tonight. The Tigers meet the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of a four-game series in Toronto. The Tigers recalled Rabelo from Triple-A Toledo on March 30, the same day they placed backup catcher Vance Wilson on the 15-day disabled list with a sore right elbow.

RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/BASEBALL01/704120500/-1/SPORTS

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Sleeth catches break

BY RON LEONARDI

ron.leonardi@timesnews.com [more details]

Published: April 12. 2007 7:00AM

Erie SeaWolves reliever Kyle Sleeth is expected to be sidelined a few days after suffering a bruised left toe in Erie's 4-2, 11-inning loss to Binghamton on Tuesday at Jerry Uht Park.

Sleeth, the Detroit Tigers No. 1 draft pick in 2003, was struck in the left foot by a line drive in the 11th inning and had to leave the game. He came on to start the 10th and threw 11/3 scoreless innings before the injury.

X-rays Wednesday morning revealed no break.

"It feels a lot better today, but it's still sore," Sleeth said. "A couple days off, I'll be ready to go."

After undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in June 2005, Sleeth rehabbed and began pitching competitively last season with the Gulf Coast Rookie League Tigers and at high Single-A Lakeland.

"I'm pitching healthy and that's all I can ask for this year," Sleeth said. "I don't have any goals as far as starting or relieving, but just getting out there in games and getting outs. My arm feels healthy."

Right-hander Jeremy Johnson's promotion to Triple-A Toledo on Monday and Sleeth's injury leave the Erie bullpen with just five pitchers heading into the club's first road trip. Erie begins a four-game series at Harrisburg today. The SeaWolves complete the trip with a three-game series at Akron beginning Monday.

SeaWolves manager Matt Walbeck said he might get a pitcher assigned to Erie today.

"We're going to wait and find out," Walbeck said. "By (today) we should know more about that. I think they're going to send us someone. I wouldn't think any other way about it. I think (today) we should be covered. I don't exactly know who or what, but we should be all right."

RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.

http://goerie.com/baseball

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Erie SeaWolves watch

Published: April 12. 2007 7:00AM

Erie SeaWolves (2-1) at Harrisburg Senators (0-6)

Pitching matchups:

Today, 6:35 p.m.: Erie RH Eddie Bonine (0-0, 0.00) vs. Harrisburg RH Collin Balester (0-0, 3.60)

Friday, 6:05 p.m.: Erie LH Jon Connolly (0-0, 0.00) vs. Harrisburg LH Mike Hinckley (0-1, 7.20)

Saturday, 6:05 p.m.: Erie RH Dallas Trahern (1-0, 0.00) vs. Harrisburg RH Beltran Perez (0-0, 3.60)

Sunday, 1:05 p.m.: Erie RH Jair Jurrjens (0-0, 0.00) vs. TBA

Erie notes: The SeaWolves' season-opening six-game homestand was shortened to three games because of three snowouts last week against the Altoona Curve. Erie won two of three games against Binghamton on Monday through Wednesday. ... Erie starts a seven-game road trip tonight in the opener of a four-game series at Harrisburg. The SeaWolves visit the Akron Aeros for a three-game series Monday through Wednesday at Canal Park. ... Bonine and Connolly are scheduled to make their first starts this season.

Harrisburg notes: The Senators opened the season 0-6 after losing a three-game series at Reading and a three-game series at Trenton. ... Right-hander Collin Balester is the No. 1-ranked Washington Nationals' minor league prospect, according to Baseball America. ... Scott Little resumes his career as a manager with Harrisburg after serving last season as the Washington Nationals' minor league coordinator. ... Little managed the SeaWolves to a 34-41 record in 1995, when Erie was the Pittsburgh Pirates' short-season New York-Penn League affiliate. ... Little played for Harrisburg in 1988 and was the team's most valuable player that season.

-- Ron Leonardi

http://goerie.com/baseball

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'Wolves start road series with loss

Published: April 13. 2007 7:00AM

HARRISBURG -- The Erie SeaWolves' first road game resulted in the Harrisburg Senators' first win.

The Senators' John Suomi broke a 2-all score with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Josh Whitesell added another solo homer in the bottom of the seventh en route to Harrisburg's 6-2 win in front of 2,943 at Commerce Bank Park on Thursday.

Erie dropped to 2-2 in its first game away from Jerry Uht Park. Harrisburg (1-6) entered the game as the Eastern League's only winless team.

Suomi's first homer of the season came off Erie's Eddie Bonine (0-1). Whitesell hit his homer off reliever Matt Rusch, who made his Erie debut.

Rusch was promoted from Single-A Lakeland to replenish Erie's thin bullpen. The right-hander pitched 21/3 innings, gave up six hits and Harrisburg's last three runs.

Collin Balester (1-0) pitched the first five innings for Harrisburg.

Balester allowed RBI infield singles to Jeff Larish and Jackson Melian in the top of the third, which gave Erie a 2-0 lead.

The 'Wolves' Clete Thomas and Mike Hollimon each had two hits.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070413/BASEBALL01/704130433/-1/SPORTS

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SeaWolves' quick lead vanishes vs. Senators

Published: April 14. 2007 6:00AM

HARRISBURG -- Josh Whitesell went 5-for-5, including three extra-base hits, and drove in five runs to lead the Harrisburg Senators to a 16-3 Eastern League rout of the Erie SeaWolves on Friday night.

Erie (2-3) got out to an early 1-0 lead on a Jeff Larish RBI single, but was then outscored 9-1 in the next three innings. Kody Kirkland went deep for Erie, but that was the only bright spot for the struggling offense. The 'Wolves had nine hits but could not get one when it counted. Erie had the bases loaded in the seventhinning but Kirkland struck out to end the threat.

Harrisburg (2-6) earned its second straight win after losing six straight to start the season. Whitesell started the scoring for the Senators with a two-run homer in the second inning, then added a two-run double in the third.

The Senators' Tony Blanco had two hits, including a grand slam in the eighth inning.

Jonathan Connolly lost his first game of the year for Erie.

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SeaWolves bounce back, get first road win of season

Published: April 15. 2007 6:00AM

HARRISBURG -- One day after giving up 16 runs to the Harrisburg Senators, the Erie SeaWolves got a strong pitching performance.

The SeaWolves (3-3) beat the Senators 6-1 Saturday in front of 2,713 fans at Commerce Bank Park.

Dallas Trahern (2-0) picked up the win in his second strong start.

Erie took an early 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Matt Joyce doubled and later scored after two wild pitches.

The Senators (2-7) rallied in the bottom of the fourth with an RBI double by Dan DeMent to tie the score 1-1.

Joyce put the SeaWolves ahead for good, driving in a run in the sixth inning with a single.

The SeaWolves broke open the game in the eighth inning with four runs. Kody Kirkland and Jackson Melian had back-to-back two-run hits to give the SeaWolves the insurance runs.

Joyce finished with two hits, two runs and an RBI. Michael Hollimon finished with three hits for Erie and two runs scored. Hollimon raised his batting average to .381.

Dan Dement had an RBI double for Harrisburg.

Trahern gave up one run in 61/3 innings.

He has an 0.73 earned-run average. Trahern has allowed just one run in 121/3 innings.

Josh Hall (0-1) took the loss for the Senators, giving up a run in one inning of relief

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070415/BASEBALL01/704150512/-1/SPORTS

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SeaWolves notebook

Published: April 15. 2007 6:00AM

Michael Hollimon led the Midwest League last season with 13 triples and ranked in the league's top five in extra-base hits, walks, total bases and slugging percentage.

Making the jump to Double-A from low Single-A hasn't been a problem so far for the Erie SeaWolves' switch-hitting second baseman.

The Dallas native, 24, has been an offensive catalyst from his No. 2 spot in the lineup. In Erie's first four games, Hollimon reached base 10 times, going 4-for-13 with four walks, a pair of hit by pitches and seven runs scored.

The Tigers believed that Hollimon's age and knowledge of the game (he played four years of college baseball) would enable him to bypass high Single-A Lakeland and make a smooth jump to Double-A.

Part of Hollimon's transition has included moving from shortstop, the position he played his first two pro seasons.

At West Michigan last season, Hollimon hit .278 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 128 games.

From Monday through Thursday, the 12-team Eastern League was able to play 22 of its scheduled 24 games.

That was a significant improvement over the first week, when snow, cold and poor field conditions forced officials to postpone 13 of 20 league games over the first four days of the season April 5-8.

After 6 inches of snow fell at MerchantsAuto.com Stadium in Manchester, N.H., April 4-5, Fisher Cats' officials attempted to clear their field of snow with a Zamboni. It didn't work. The Fisher Cats postponed their first two games.

A trend that emerged in the SeaWolves' first three games is aggressive baserunning. Erie manager Matt Walbeck is a proponent of small ball and when his team grabs an early lead, expect the SeaWolves to apply pressure with a running game, taking extra bases when they can, moving runners with productive outs and manufacturing runs.

"You can't overlook the baserunning," Walbeck said. "I think the baserunning stuff is overlooked. You don't read about it in the box score, but it's certainly something that will help get us runs."

The Bowie Baysox's new manager is Bien Figueroa, a shortstop on the 1986 Erie Cardinals team that played in the short-season New York-Penn League.

Figueroa, 43, is in his 11th season of coaching in the Baltimore Orioles' organization. The Dominican Republic native managed the high Single-A Frederick Keys the past two seasons. His 2005 Frederick team won the Carolina League championship with a franchise-best 79-61 record.

SeaWolves right-hander P.J. Finigan was a four-year starter at shortstop at Southern Illinois, where he also spent three seasons as a relief pitcher and one in the starting rotation. As a senior, he won the 2005 Missouri Valley Conference batting title with a .388 average.

But after the Tigers selected him in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, they told him his future was better as a pitcher. He opens the season as the SeaWolves' set-up man after splitting last season primarily as a reliever between Single-A Lakeland and Erie.

The Trenton Thunder had the league's most successful opening homestand at the gate, attracting 25,839 fans in their first six home dates, an average of 4,006 per game.

Akron averaged 4,021 fans in its first three games. The four other league teams who opened the season with homestands were Reading (3,504 average in six dates), Portland (3,192 in three dates), New Hampshire (2,994 in four dates) and the SeaWolves (1,536 in three dates).

Former Wolves: Juan Tejeda, who played with Erie in 2004-05, is a first baseman with the Reading Phillies. Second baseman Juan Francia, who spent parts of the last two seasons with the SeaWolves, is playing for the Trenton Thunder. Pitcher Mike Nannini is on the Altoona Curve's inactive list. He made 23 appearances for Erie last season.

-- Ron Leonardi

http://goerie.com/baseball

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Reliever Ardoin wants the mound with game online

BY RON LEONARDI

ron.leonardi@timesnews.com [more details]

Published: April 15. 2007 6:00AM

SeaWolves manager Matt Walbeck didn't lose any sleep determining his closer.

One day in spring training, right-hander Kevin Ardoin asked Walbeck if he could have the opportunity to be Erie's go-to guy with the game on the line.

That was good enough for Walbeck.

"That's kind of the way when you manage a team, you get information from players," Walbeck said. "Someone will say, 'Hey, I hit well against this guy,' and you play him. A guy asks you he wants a job, you give it to him until something changes. It's good to hear from a player that he wants to do something. You give him a chance. Kevin is the only guy who came up to me and said he wanted to close."

Ardoin, 24, a native of Eunice, La., hasn't handled a closing role since early in his college career at NCAA Division I Louisiana-Lafayette, but says he wants to once again experience the adrenaline rush and "that-game-is-on-the-line feeling" synonymous with closing.

"I would prefer closing over anything," Ardoin said. "It's something that I feed off of. I'll take that and run with it."

His professional closing debut began inauspiciously Tuesday. He took over with one out in the 11th inning of a 2-2 game and took the loss in a 4-2 decision to the Binghamton Mets at Jerry Uht Park, though the two runs he allowed were unearned.

He returned the next night against Binghamton and pitched two scoreless innings in a 12-4 Erie win.

"We really don't have a closer, a guy who's done it in the past," pitching coach A.J. Sager said. "That's OK. I've been in that situation before and somebody always emerges. Sometimes you have one or two who can do it."

Ardoin, 6 feet 1 inch and 167 pounds, is not a traditional hard-throwing closer who will overpower hitters with a blazing fastball. He's a sinker, slider and change-up pitcher who relies on putting the ball in play and allowing his defense to work behind him.

At low Single-A West Michigan in 2005, his first season in pro ball, Ardoin pitched mostly in a set-up role, finishing 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 22 appearances.

Promoted to high Single-A Lakeland last season, Ardoin moved to the Flying Tigers' starting rotation and went 9-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 26 starts.

"Starting and relieving is two different worlds," Ardoin said. "When you're a starter, you have more time to work on your pitches and refine some of those little things. When you're a reliever, it's good because you get more time each day to throw the ball. It keeps you sharper."

Ardoin allowed a Florida State League-high 176 hits and 16 home runs in 2006, but led all pitchers by averaging just 1.1 walks per nine innings. He struck out 86 and walked 22 last season in 1551/3 innings.

"He throws strikes and when you throw strikes, you're going to give up hits and homers," Sager said. "He competes very well. He mixes and matches his pitches well. I've seen him throw his fastball at 86 mph and at 92 mph, so he can change speeds on it. The nice thing I like about Kevin is he stands on the mound and he'll use his stuff in the strike zone and more times than not, it works out for him."

And, unlike the outs, the job was his for the asking.

RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.

http://goerie.com/baseball

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Erie SeaWolves watch

Published: April 16. 2007 6:00AM

Erie SeaWolves (3-3) at Akron Aeros (3-3)

Canal Park

Today-Tuesday, 7:05 p.m., Wednesday: 10:35 a.m.

Pitching matchups:

Today: Erie RH Jair Jurrjens (0-0, 0.00) vs. Akron RH J.D. Martin (1-0, 0.00)

Tuesday: Erie RH Eulogio De La Cruz (1-0, 7.20) vs. Akron LH Aaron Laffey (0-0, 1.50)

Wednesday: Erie RH Eddie Bonine (0-1, 5.40) vs. Akron LH Scott Lewis (0-0, 4.91)

Erie notes: After winning two of three games in their season-opening home series against the Binghamton Mets, the SeaWolves lost two of three games at Harrisburg over the weekend. ... Erie's game against the Senators on Sunday was postponed by officials because of rain and rescheduled as part of a doubleheader May 22, at 5:35 p.m. at Commerce Bank Park. ... Erie is scheduled to play Akron 28 games this season: 14 at home and 14 on the road. ... Jurrjens got a no-decision in his first appearance, working four scoreless innings in Erie's 4-2, 11-inning home loss to Binghamton on Tuesday. ... De La Cruz earned a win in his first outing in the SeaWolves' 12-4 home victory over Binghamton on Wednesday. De La Cruz gave up two homers and allowed four runs in five innings. ... Bonine lost his first outing, a 6-2 decision at Harrisburg on Thursday. He worked five innings, allowing three runs and four hits with three strikeouts and no walks.

Akron notes: The Aeros won the Southern Division last season with an 87-55 record and lost to Portland three games to two in the championship series. ...Akron lost two of three games over the weekend at Bowie and had its Sunday game against the Baysox postponed because of rain. ... Tonight's scheduled starter, right-hander J.D. Martin, is rated the Cleveland Indians' 13th-best minor league prospect by Baseball America. ... Lefty Scott Lewis is rated the Indians' seventh-best prospect and Laffey the 22nd-best prospect. ... Some of Akron's top returning players from 2006 are outfielders Trevor Crowe, Brian Barton and Brad Snyder, who rank third and fifth, respectively, among the Indians' minor league prospects. ... Akron's top-rated prospect is left-hander Chuck Lofgren, whom Baseball America rates No. 2 on Cleveland's list of top 30 minor league prospects. Lofgren was 17-5 with a 2.82 earned-run average in 140 innings at Class A Kinston last season and was selected the Carolina League pitcher of the year.

-- Ron Leonardi

http://goerie.com/baseball

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Pieces start to fit in Erie's 'pen puzzle

'Wolves relievers finding roles

BY RON LEONARDI

ron.leonardi@timesnews.com [more details]

Published: April 17. 2007 6:00AM

Kevin Ardoin is the closer, P.J. Finigan looks comfortable in a set-up role and Andrew Kown has long-relief duty.

After that, Erie SeaWolves pitching coach A.J. Sager is confident the rest of his bullpen will work itself out.

"Guys will show you by how they perform where they should be pitching," Sager said. "We'll see how it goes."

So far, pretty good. In the SeaWolves' season-opening three-game series against Binghamton, Erie relievers combined to throw 14 innings, allowing only two earned runs and nine hits. Only Friday's 22-hit debacle at Harrisburg - a 16-3 loss that included Finigan's six-hit, five-run eighth inning and Danny Zell's three-hit, two-run seventh - has stung so far.

Erie's bullpen includes right-hander Kyle Sleeth, lefties Ian Ostlund and Zell, and newcomer Matt Rusch, a right-hander promoted to the SeaWolves from Single-A Lakeland on Thursday.

The SeaWolves' seven-man bullpen was operating two pitchers short for a few days this past week after the promotion of right-hander Jeremy Johnson to Triple-A Toledo and a minor foot injury to Sleeth. Sleeth has been sidelined since taking a line drive off his left foot April 10. He is expected to resume pitching as early as today.

How long Johnson remains with Toledo is uncertain. His Triple-A promotion was prompted by the Mud Hens putting right-hander Jordan Tata on the disabled list April 5 because of a sore right shoulder.

"A.J. and I will go ahead and give some of them the opportunity early on not knowing what kind of role they're going to have, and then as the season goes on, the roles kind of uncover themselves," SeaWolves manager Matt Walbeck said.

Finigan's role appears set as the team's set-up reliever. The 24-year-old right-hander was promoted to Erie last season after going 9-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 33 appearances with Single-A Lakeland. With Erie, he made 11 appearances, including three starts, and finished 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA.

"Hopefully this year I'll be set in a role and kind of know when my number is going to be called, which makes it easier," Finigan said. "When you know you're going to pitch, it's easier to prepare. I've pitched set-up before and I like the chance to pitch in every game, especially when the game is on the line."

One of his early season goals is to regain his velocity after suffering an elbow injury in spring training.

Finigan normally throws his fastball in the 88-92 mph range, but lately it's been just 84-86 mph.

"It's coming back and it's feeling better," Finigan said. "I'm really just using my slider to set up my change-up. That's really been kind of my putaway pitch so far. It's been working well.

The Tigers are hoping this is the season Sleeth can stay healthy and pitch himself back into their long-terms plans.

Sleeth, 25, underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in June 2005 and began pitching competitively last season with the Gulf Coast League rookie Tigers and at high Single-A Lakeland. He inherits a relief role to start the season and will work on shorter pitch counts until the Tigers deem him ready to resume a starting role.

Sleeth was selected by the Tigers in the first round of the 2003 draft and is making his first Double-A appearance since finishing his 2004 season with Erie.

"He'll be a one- to three-inning guy," Sager said. "He's on his way back. He's healthy, his frame of mind looks good and I'm excited to see where he'll go with it."

Sleeth's season was put on hold temporarily when he suffered a bruised left foot after being struck by a line drive in the 11th inning of Erie's 4-2 home loss to Binghamton on April 10. It was Sleeth's first appearance this season. X-rays the next day revealed no broken bones.

Kown has a long-relief role locked up, while Rusch should provide depth until Johnson returns. Rusch was 9-3 with a 1.79 ERA in 39 games at low Single-A West Michigan last season.

Ardoin asked for and received the closer's job in spring training. In his most recent appearance, he walked two but didn't allow a hit in one inning of Erie's 6-1 victory Saturday at Harrisburg.

Ostlund led all Erie pitchers with 53 appearances last season and was used effectively in a situational role, going 9-5 with a 4.43 ERA.

Zell returns to the SeaWolves after splitting his 2006 season with Single-A Lakeland. Last season, the Texas native began dropping his arm angle to about a three-quarters delivery to be more deceptive and effective against left-handed hitters.

"Those guys, sometimes if they get it, they last about 15 or 20 years in the big leagues," Sager said. "It's a little bit of a transition for him, but he's been doing it about a year now, so we won't expect newness as an excuse anymore. We'll expect execution and hold him accountable."

RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070417/BASEBALL01/704170382/-1/SPORTS

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SeaWolves outlast Aeros, rain delays

Published: April 17. 2007 6:00AM

AKRON, Ohio -- The Erie SeaWolves withstood two long rain delays on a cold and windy night, and the bullpen came through in a 6-4 win over the Akron Aeros in the only Eastern League game played Monday night.

The SeaWolves (4-3) won their second straight road game in topping the Aeros (3-4) before 8,026 shivering fans at Canal Park.

The game ended at 11:35 p.m.

Right-handers Matthew Rusch (1-0) and P.J. Finigan, who got his first save, came into the game with 11.57 and 15.00 ERAs respectively.

But the pair combined for five shutout innings in the win.

After a lengthy rain delay before the start, the SeaWolves struck for three runs in the top of the first off of starter J.D. Martin (1-1), with Kody Kirkland and Brent Dlugach getting RBI singles.

Michael Hollimon had an RBI double in the fourth off of Kyle Collins, who relieved Martin after another long rain delay in the bottom of the third. In the fifth, Erie scored a run on a wild pitch and Steve Torrealba's RBI double for a 6-0 lead.

Kyle Sleeth took over for starter Jair Jurrjens in the third and cruised for two innings, but then hit a rough spot in the bottom of the fifth.

Sleeth allowed three singles and walked three to start the inning, cutting Erie's lead to 6-3. Rusch came in and induced a double play and a line-drive out to stifle the threat, and Finigan struck out three of the five batters he faced to preserve the win.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070417/BASEBALL01/704170408/-1/SPORTS

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Aeros shut down SeaWolves on 3 hits

Published: April 18. 2007 6:00AM

AKRON, Ohio -- Three Akron pitchers combined on a three-hitter in a 5-1 Aeros win over the Erie SeaWolves on Tuesday before 2,137 fans at Canal Park.

Akron, a 6-4 loser to Erie on Monday, snapped a three-game losing streak. The SeaWolves (4-4), who committed five errors, saw their two-game win streak end.

Aeros left-hander Aaron Laffey (1-0) worked the first six innings, allowing one run and two hits.

He struck out six and walked one. Aeros lefty Reid Santos pitched two scoreless innings of hitless relief before right-hander Jensen Lewis threw a scoreless ninth inning, allowing a two-out triple.

The Aeros (4-4) jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against SeaWolves right-hander Eulogio De La Cruz, who took the loss and dropped to 1-1. De La Cruz gave up three earned runs and five hits in four innings.

Akron's Jordan Brown drew a leadoff walk and scored on outfielder Brian Barton's triple to center field. Barton scored on outfielder Ryan Goleski's bloop single to right.

The Aeros padded their lead with two more runs in the third inning. Again, Brown was the catalyst, drawing a leadoff walk. Goleski then hit a grounder that SeaWolves third baseman Kody Kirkland booted. On the same play, Kirkland picked up a second error when his throw sailed past first, allowing Brown to reach third and Goleski second.

Akron's Pat Osborn followed with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Brown. Asdrubal Cabrera made it 4-0 with an RBI single to center, scoring Goleski.

Erie scored its lone run in the fifth off of Laffey. SeaWolves right fielder Matt Joyce led off with a line-drive double to right and scored one out later on shortstop Brent Dlugach's single to center.

The teams will meet in the rubber game of the three-game series today at 10:35 a.m.

The SeaWolves open a season-high eight-game homestand Thursday, hosting the Bowie Baysox at 6:35 p.m. in the opener of a four-game series at Jerry Uht Park.

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070418/BASEBALL01/704180448/-1/SPORTS

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'Wolves limp home with loss

Published: April 19. 2007 7:00AM

AKRON, Ohio -- The Akron Aeros left 13 runners on base and were just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

That one hit, however, proved to be the difference Wednesday. Designated hitter Asdrubal Cabrera's one-out single in the 10th inning scored Ryan Goleski from second base and lifted the Aeros to a 2-1 win over the Erie SeaWolves before 3,081 fans at Canal Park.

Akron (5-4) won two of three games from the SeaWolves (4-5), who begin a season-long eight-game homestand today at 6:35 p.m. against the Bowie Baysox at Jerry Uht Park.

Cabrera's winning hit came off of Erie lefty Danny Zell (0-1). Goleski opened the 11th with a flyball single to left field and advanced to second on John Van Every's sacrifice bunt.

Zell intentionally walked Akron third baseman Pat Osborn before Cabrera ended the game with a flyball single to right field.

Akron right-hander Bubbie Buzachero earned the win with one inning of scoreless relief.

Erie right-hander Eddie Bonine started and worked six innings, allowing one run and six hits. Akron broke a scoreless tie in the sixth on first baseman Jordan Brown's leadoff homer to right-center.

Akron's starter, left-hander Scott Lewis, held the SeaWolves to two hits and did not allow a runner past first base over six scoreless innings.

The SeaWolves tied the game in the seventh against Akron reliever Mariano Gomez.

SeaWolves second baseman Michael Hollimon opened the inning with a double to left field and scored on right fielder Matt Joyce's one-out triple to center

http://goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070419/BASEBALL01/704190461/-1/SPORTS

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Erie SeaWolves watch

Published: April 19. 2007 7:00AM

Bowie Baysox (6-6) at Erie SeaWolves (4-5)

Jerry Uht Park

Today-Saturday, 6:35 p.m.

Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

Pitching matchups:

Today: Erie LH Jon Connolly (0-1, 14.73) vs. Bowie LH Chris Waters (0-2, 10.80)

Friday: Erie RH Dallas Trahern (2-0, 0.73) vs. Bowie RH Radhames Liz (1-0, 4.50)

Saturday: Erie RH Jair Jurrjens (0-0, 0.00) vs. Bowie LH Oscar Alvarez (2-0, 2.45)

Sunday: Erie RH Eulogio De La Cruz (1-1, 7.00) vs. Bowie RH Beau Hale (1-1, 2.20)

Erie notes: The SeaWolves completed a six-game road trip Wednesday with a 2-1, 10-inning loss at Akron. ... The SeaWolves begin an eight-game homestand today with the opener of a four-game series against the Baysox. Erie hosts the Akron Aeros in a four-game series beginning Monday. ... The homestand is Erie's longest this season. ... Erie and Bowie will meet 23 times this season, with eight games at Uht Park and 15 games at Bowie. ... Erie won two of three games against Binghamton on its opening homestand, which was shortened to three games from six games due to inclement weather. ... In his first start this season, Connolly was roughed up in Erie's 16-3 loss to the Harrisburg Senators on Friday. The lefty surrendered 10 hits and six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. ... Jurrjens has thrown a combined six scoreless innings in his two starts.

Bowie notes: Outfielder Nolan Reimold was Bowie's leading hitter with a .351 average (13-for-37) in 10 games prior to Bowie's game against Altoona on Wednesday night. Baseball America rates Reimold is the third-best prospect in the Baltimore Orioles' organization. Reimold hit .255 with 19 homers, 26 doubles and 75 RBIs in 119 games at Single-A Frederick in 2006. ... Right-hander Radhames Liz pitched in the 2006 Futures Game, then made his Double-A debut with the Baysox last season. He's given up nine walks in his two starts this season. ... Seven Bowie players are ranked among the Baltimore Orioles' top 30 minor league prospects, including Liz (5), right-hander James Hoey (8), outfielder Jeff Fiorentino (9), outfielder Val Majewski (17), infielder Luis Hernandez (22) and right-hander Beau Hale (23). ... The Baysox finished 67-74 last season.

-- Ron Leonardi

http://goerie.com/baseball

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