- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
This is a much different-looking Southern Maryland Blue Crabs team from the one that opened the season and remained mostly together through most of May.
Beginning on May 27 when the club returned home to Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium following a 1-7 road trip, the Blue Crabs underwent a facelift that lasted through the first day of June.
Six new players were added to the roster during that five-day span, while the Blue Crabs said goodbye to seven faces via releases, trades or the inactive list. Four of those former players were starters on opening day.
In fact, only three opening day starters are still active on the Blue Crabs roster. Just four faces in the opening day lineup remain with the team, which had slumped to an Atlantic League-worst 11-19 on May 27 while being 7 1/2 games out in the Freedom Division when the domino effect of changes started.
“My job is to put out there a team that’s going to compete and win,” Blue Crabs first-year manager Lance Burkhart said after Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss in Camden after his club won Tuesday’s series opener, 5-4. “[The changes] have got everything to do with trying to win games. All the decisions I make are tough but are in the best interest of the ballclub.”
Despite Wednesday’s shortcoming — which saw the Blue Crabs get outhit, 13-5, but nearly rally from 4-2 hole in the ninth inning with a Jake Opitz two-out RBI single to get within one run of Camden before stranding runners at the corners on a game-ending strikeout — Burkhart and company entered Thursday’s day-night doubleheader to conclude the four-game series having won five of their previous eight games with hopes of winning their third straight series.
The Thursday doubleheader, featuring a pair of nine-inning contests, finished too late for inclusion into this edition.
Prior to the face-lifted Blue Crabs (16-22) finally showing signs of heating up through eight games entering Thursday, they had dropped 12 of 14 contests mainly due to an inept offense.
“I’m not going to start to indulge in that right now,” Burkhart said about the many moves jumpstarting the team back to its consistently winning ways from the beginning of the season. “You just try and make decisions based on what your needs are.”
Among the headline moves by the Blue Crabs involved placing outfielder Cyle Hankerd on the inactive list on May 27 because he signed with a team in Mexico, where salaries are considerably higher for a player of his ilk.
Hankerd was not released by the Blue Crabs so he could return to Southern Maryland before the end of the season once his Mexican League is done.
Hankerd, the league’s best player a year ago before being signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization and assigned to their Double-A affiliate Arkansas, was not putting up those same Herculean numbers this season despite have a solid Blue Crabs campaign with a .275 average, two home runs, 10 RBIs and 21 walks in his 29 games.
Two other starters of major impact during their Blue Crabs tenures saw their days with the organization come to an end as first baseman Jose Julio-Ruiz, an all-star last year, and outfielder Brian Barton, among the top offensive contributors all time with the club since arriving to Southern Maryland in 2011, are now with other clubs in the league.
Julio-Ruiz was released by the Blue Crabs on May 29 while toting the team’s second-best batting average of .280 with three homers and 10 RBIs. He was signed two days later by Camden and is off to a 4-for-12 start (.333) with his new ballclub. Julio-Ruiz went 3 for 7, including a pair of hits Wednesday, during the first two games of the series against his old team.
Barton, who began the season as the Blue Crabs’ leadoff man, struggled immensely after collecting four hits through his first three games. The former major leaguer was batting just .131 (14 for 107) when he got traded to Sugar Land on Sunday for future considerations.
Barton managed just 10 more hits his final 27 games in a Blue Crabs uniform.
In 2010, Barton was the league’s batting champion with a .348 mark for Newark and Bridgeport. He batted over .300 his first two seasons with the Blue Crabs in 2011 and 2012.
“Sometimes, you have to make moves involving good people and people you respect,” Burkhart said. “But it’s your job.”
Highlighting the six new faces to join the club since May 27 is Southern Maryland native Daryl Thompson, a 2003 La Plata High School graduate and former major leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds.
Thompson, an all-star last year with the Blue Crabs with a 10-5 pitching tab and 3.18 ERA, was suspended for 50 games to start the season by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment program, according to a Major League Baseball press release Jan. 16. It was Thompson’s second violation for drug abuse, the press release disclosed.
Thompson was signed by the New York Mets’ Triple-A Las Vegas club in August last year. Though he was a free agent at the time of his suspension, Burkhart said Thompson was eligible to be signed by the Blue Crabs once his former Las Vegas team had played 50 games.
Thompson, slated to start the day game of Thursday’s twin bill, tossed three shutout innings in his first start this season with the Blue Crabs on May 28 while on a pitch count with two hits and two walks allowed on three strikeouts. The Blue Crabs lost that game at home to Camden, 4-3.
“We can still win the first half [in the Freedom Division],” Burkhart said, his Blue Crabs six games behind first-place York and Lancaster (each 23-17) going into Thursday with 32 contests left in the first half. “We’re chasing three teams but we have a lot of games inside the division with those teams left.
“Of course [Thursday’s doubleheader] is big. We have two games in one day. We’re not losing sight of the fact that [we can win the first half].”