It’s another Saturday, and another edition of Coaches Corner, with HarbourCats head coach Graig Merritt. I chatted with Graig during the most recent home stand to get his thoughts of the past couple of weeks…
Last time we chatted, we talked about the team goal of winning series, and getting back to .500. It hasn’t happened that way, so is that still the goal, or is there something shorter term you’re aiming for?
That’s still the goal. Short term goal is still to get to .500, once we get to that we can reevaluate and make some new goals, but we just hit the half-way point of the season, and we figure if we can play 16 and 8 baseball and get to .500, it will be a successful summer for us.
Ac couple weeks ago it was all about pitching, and we were giving up too many runs in key situations. It seems that as really come around in the last couple of weeks.
It has. Our pitchers are all giving us a great effort. Last time we talked (Matt) Blaise and (Austin) Dondanville were fresh into town. The have really solidified our entire pitching staff. Throwing them in as starters allows us to focus on a strong bullpen, and when we can put guys like Kennedy, O’Toole, and Walker in the pen – guys who we had starting earlier in the season – they’re much better out of the pen. We have so much more depth now than we did.
The pitching staff gives us a chance to win every night, but offensively, we just don’t have the bats. I looked at the stats last week, and our best hitter is 21st in the league, our second best was 25th, and our third best was 41st – where a team like Bend has 1, 2, and 3 in the league.
So what’s happened offensively? Early in the season they seemed ok, we seemed to be holding our own, but as the season goes on, it seems everyone is in a slump.
We were ok early, but at no point this summer have anyone’s numbers really stood out. Collard was big early on, but pitchers have kind of figured him out. He’s a young hitter and he’s learning every day, and this summer is huge for his development. Even if he doesn’t realize it right now, as a scout I can see how he’s evolving and getting better every day. Guys like (Michael) Gretler and (Nick) Meyer have given us good at bats all summer. Gretler leads us in walks and he battles in there every at-bat. Meyer is only hitting .150 or something, but he has some of the hardest contacts… As a coaching staff we look at who’s hitting the ball hard, and man he’s hit the ball on the nose a lot of times the summer and has had no success to show for it.
How does attitude play into it? Do you see a change in it as the season grinds on? Has the excitement of playing summer ball worn off these guys somewhat?
I see the exact opposite actually. I saw a lot of excitement early on, then about two weeks ago they sort of flat-lined. Then on the road trip to Corvallis – both there and back – you could really se the guys come together, and you saw it in the games this week. This isn’t a college schedule where they practice all week and maybe play a couple games on the weekend – and we have three high-school guys in the positional lineup too in Collard, (Jake) Pries, and Meyer. This is every single day, ten weeks of the summer, and these guys aren’t used to that. It’s taxing, and it’s hard on these guys. It’s a lot of baseball.
We had a reader question about platooning, and how it impacts a players ability to get in a groove – but given the grind, it sounds like it’s actually a good thing…
It absolutely does. It gives us the ability to match up against pitching, and it gives us a chance to get fresh legs in the lineup. We sat a couple guys in Corvallis knowing they would be fresh coming home here, and it really paid off this week.
Talk a bit about how the coaching staff works. With four coaches, how do the responsibilities get spread around on gameday?
Alec (Adame) runs the pitching staff, and he calls every pitch to the catcher, every game. Jerry (Pena) handles the defense, positioning guys and moving the outfielders and infielders to match each hitter. Joe (Meggs) does the hitting, and has been great with the hitters, working with them in the cage, setting up the at-bats. And I oversee it all. If I see something, I’ll tell Alec to try a certain pitch here or there, and sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t, and that’s fine with me. Same with the infield, I’ll talk to Jerry about moving a fielder, or Joe about a hitter. I run the bullpen, so I say who comes in or who goes out, and it’s my decision to say a guy is done and lets bring someone else in. We all work together – it’s four great baseball minds working together. There’s no ego with us, and it’s just so great to come to work each day.
You mentioned that Alec calls every pitch of every game? Is that usual at this level, or unique to our staff here? Did you plan to do that, or has it just worked out that way?
It’s something Alec and I talked about in the off season and Alec had a bunch of good points for it. We had a couple exhibition games and a couple early games where we didn’t, and it just doesn’t work. These guys are young and inexperienced, and rather than having to yell and scream when we want something specific, it’s just easier to call the whole game. It’s usually only once you get to the pros that you call your own game. These guys in college and university, their coaches call the game, so it’s easier to do that here.
What about the day-to-day lineup. Lots of movement around positions, batting order, trying to get playing time for everyone. Anything changing with that as the season goes on?
It’s tough for us. We have 8 outfielders, and I wish three of them were pitchers and we only had 5 outfielders. Balancing the lineup and trying to get everyone playing time and keeping everyone happy has been such a challenge for us. We’re trying to keep guys ready to come in – baseball is hard when you are only playing once every three or four days. We’re doing the best we can that way.
It seems like you yourself are more active out there. The first couple series you were less involved, if you will, but now you seem to have your personnel figured out, there’s more moves to make, more action as the games go on…
Yeah for sure. We didn’t know our personnel early on. It takes two or three outings for a pitcher to see what role they are going to fill, and if they are going to be able to perform in pressure situations. We’ve given every one of our guys the opportunity to prove they can. Some have been able to, so perform better when the pressure is not there. It’s our job to put them into comfortable situations. It that’s an 8-0 lead, or a 4-3 lead, that’s our job – and it took us two or three weeks to figure that out. We know exactly who’s in what role now, and our bullpen now is awesome – one of the strongest points of the whole summer.
And the current roadtrip? Anything we need to know?
We are running out our 1, 2, and 3 staff on this trip. We’re looking to win some games , build on our comradery, and have a successful road trip.