- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Monday was an off day on the schedule for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
A valid case can be made that most of this young season has produced off days on the field for the Blue Crabs, who tumbled to a 3-8 record Sunday following their first homestand this year that produced just one win in five games.
The Blue Crabs were swept by Somerset in a weekend series at Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium, losing by three runs in each game with an 8-5 setback in 10 innings Friday followed by 7-4 and 4-1 defeats the next two days, respectively.
Somerset boasts a commanding 6-1 mark against the Blue Crabs already this season.
The only silver lining concerning their struggling record is the Blue Crabs’ Liberty Division has mostly been as inept through the first couple weeks of the season.
Entering Tuesday’s action, which finished too late for inclusion into this edition, the Blue Crabs somehow managed to remain in second place in the division, 3 1/2 games behind Bridgeport (6-4) while being a half game up on defending Atlantic League champion Long Island and Camden, each 2-8.
A critical six-game road trip began Tuesday for the Blue Crabs with three contests in Bridgeport followed by three more in Camden.
“We haven’t pitched well, we haven’t hit,” Blue Crabs manager Patrick Osborn diagnosed in a nutshell for his team’s inability to string together any wins. “When we’ve pitched well, the few games we have like [Sunday], we just didn’t hit. So we have a lot of work to do. The thing is, I know [major potential] is in [this clubhouse]. I look at the roster and say it’s there, it’s just a matter of when it’s going to come out.
“There are some holes in the pitching staff that I’ve begun to fill.”
The Blue Crabs are in uncharted territory on the mound. Always among the top pitching staffs in years past, the sixth-year club was last in the league on the mound entering Tuesday’s action with an ERA of 5.72, much of the pitching struggles due to the starters’ struggles.
No other team in the league had an ERA in the five-run range entering Tuesday.
So the Blue Crabs signed southpaw Michael Ballard, who was activated Tuesday and is slated to be the starting pitcher Thursday in the series finale at Bridgeport. Ballard pitched in the Baltimore Orioles and most recently the Washington Nationals minor-league affiliates the last two years.
Osborn has also brought in reliever Kyle Zaleski, who was 5-3 in 49 games for Bridgeport last year. In 2011, he pitched for Bridgeport and York. And Zaleski spent a brief two-game stint with the Blue Crabs three years ago.
To make room for the two new faces in the pitching staff, the Blue Crabs were looking to trade reliever Tommy Mendoza, the losing pitcher Friday after he yielded three runs on four hits and a walk in the 10th, and they released reliever Deinys Suarez.
In two games coming out of the bullpen, Suarez was ineffective with a 17.18 ERA in just 3 2/3 innings. Mendoza was 0-2 with the Blue Crabs with a 24.75 ERA in four innings during two games, including a start.
Sub-par pitching is just half the problem for the Blue Crabs.
Their offense is also plummeting, owning the league’s second-worst batting average at .218 entering Tuesday. The Blue Crabs’ yearly bugaboo of high strikeouts is a constant theme again this season as they led the league with 89 entering Tuesday.
Coming through with runners in scoring position and less than two outs has been the Blue Crabs Achilles’ heel all season, epitomized in agonizing form Friday when they seemed destined for a ninth-inning, walk-off win in front of a season-high 5,312 fans at Regency Furniture Stadium.
Player/coach Jeremy Owens reached second base with one out in the ninth and, later in that frame, the Blue Crabs loaded the bases with two away with their hottest hitter in Ryan Mulhern at the plate, but they were unable to plate the winning run. A half inning later in the 10th, Somerset responded to win the game.
“Well, it’s early [in the season] but it’s frustrating,” said Mulhern, who had hit in all but one of the Blue Crabs’ games entering Tuesday. “It’s not a sense that we’re just getting dominated. Some of it is kind of on us. We’re getting guys on and not getting that base hit or not getting guys over.
“Sometimes, we’re trying to do too much with guys on. It’s frustrating because you don’t like to lose.”
Owens added, “We haven’t been swinging the bats like we know we can. We’re not making all the right adjustments. It’s still a little early. We just have to get back after it Tuesday.”
“Now, it’s just a matter of getting this offense going,” Osborn echoed. “I look at the lineup and it’s a strong lineup, especially for the Atlantic League. But it just hasn’t shown up yet. I know there’s a good group in [this clubhouse], and I’m just waiting on them to click, offense especially. I look at the offense and say, ‘Gosh, that’s a nice lineup to have.’
“Their track record [is impressive]. This is a good lineup and you want to see them succeed because you know what they’re capable of.”