Postponed Again Sunday, Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats Hope to Make Break Work for Them

With pitching coach on hand, infield assignments streamlined, head coach notes, again will try to play at Nevada Monday (June 28)

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T/LCL Sports Editor

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Chillicothe Mudcats got rained out Sunday – and Saturday – and last Friday and Thursday, too.

Given that the deadline for filing this article for this print edition was Monday at 2 p.m., who knows, they might even have been unable to make up Sunday’s unplayed game at Nevada on Monday night, too.

Whether the stretch of rainy weather prevented Monday’s rescheduled action – or even last night’s planned home game against streaking, runaway MINK League North Division leader Clarinda (Iowa), the lag between contests is the longest in the Mudcats’ 19-years history.

If the Fish and Nevada went at it Monday – a night after they were due to play, but couldn’t because the Lyons Stadium field was too wet, the Chillicothe college-level, wood-bat baseball team were on the diamond for game play after six idle evenings.

That surpassed its previous longest wait to play again – five days, a gap which occurred during the first week of July in 2006. That 2006 lapse in game action had been scheduled that way, not a result of inclement weather.

With the Mudcats not having been slated to play on Tuesday or Wednesday of last week, if they did manage to get the Nevada rainout made up 24 hours later, that leaves them “only” three games – all at home – to make up during the regular season’s final 3-plus weeks.

The pair of games against South Division-leading Joplin washed out last Thursday and Friday are reset for a twinbill on one of the league schedule’s built-in “rain dates” – Monday, July 19, Doug Doughty, Chillicothe general manager, has announced.

Having already hosted Sedalia once (at Trenton), last Saturday’s postponement against the Bombers will cause a single-game night – presumably either this Friday (July 2), Wednesday, July 14, or Sunday, July 25, another set-aside “rain date” one day after the league’s regular-season is set to end and one day before the start of its playoffs. Those are the only current coincidental “open” dates the two teams share on their remaining schedules, since the Mudcats already used the July 19 “rain date” for the Joplin games.

The rain-stalled schedule hit with the Mudcats looking to escape the undertow of a 1-7 stretch which plummeted their league record to 4-10 and their overall mark to 5-10.

Not surprisingly, Chillicothe head coach Tyler Hudlow believes the break can serve as a fortuitously-timed turnaround point.

“I think the extended layoff will (have) guys fresh and excited to play again,” he shared with the C-T Sunday evening.

“We were able to have a practice today (after the trip to Nevada was canceled). We had some fly balls hit, along with ground balls for the infield. I think it was a positive workout and needed after the long break.

“We had hit in the indoor cages on Thursday and pitchers were able to throw then and again (Sunday) at the field.”

While the Fish attack had tailed off a bit the latter portion of the 8-games slump, pitching – along with some perhaps-related defensive faux pas – likely ranked as the primary culprit in the downturn. Even with a 4-2 win and 1-0 loss mixed in, the Mudcats allowed an average of virtually 10 runs a game in that stretch, including three “run-rule” losses in their last five contests in which foes scored 16, 16, and 15 times.

Personal-life circumstances which precluded the season’s projected pitching coach/assistant for Hudlow from being able to fill that role left the head coach – an infielder during his playing career – without anyone with a pitching background to counsel and refine the team’s hurlers who got off-track.

Hudlow and Doughty hope the late hiring of former (2016) Mudcats pitcher Pablo Ortiz, who made it to town last week, will generate some improvement in the hill work, which has been undermined by a significant lack of strike-throwing. In 36 innings as a Mudcat in ’16, the righthander walked only 13 batters, although he did have a staff-high six hit batters while going 3-3 with a 4.75 earned run average in nine appearances (five starts).

“I think coach Ortiz is going to be an awesome addition to the staff,” commented Hudlow Sunday. “His pitching knowledge will be a big help to our pitchers that have been struggling.”

Another new, yet familiar, face also will be looked to for help on the hill.

Having been involved in meeting some National Guard obligations during the season’s first 3-plus weeks, Chillicothean Tristen Sewell is expected to be available beginning this week, perhaps as early as Monday.

A 4-years letterman with the Chillicothe High School team during his secondary-education days, he also has pitched at North Central Missouri College (where Hudlow is an assistant coach), Missouri Western State University, and Missouri Valley College in his post-secondary years.

He made 16 pitching appearances for the 2018 Mudcats, second-most on the team, although with inconsistent results. He had his best results then in shorter outings, usually having difficulty with opposing batters the second time he faced them.

Hudlow is looking forward to getting the local lefthander out of military garb and into a baseball uniform.

“I see him being a solid lefty out of the ’pen and then (as he rebuilds arm strength) also another spot starter,” the head coach shared with the C-T.

In order to further deepen the mound staff, which got stretched rather thin during the week-long “road trip” that coincided with the results slump, Hudlow indicated some position players – perhaps even beyond the four utilized during recent games – might find themselves toeing the rubber.

“We had some position guys throw off the mound (during Sunday’s practice) and coach Ortiz liked what he saw from those guys,” Hudlow related. “I think they will help out pitching depth.”

As referenced previously, some of the pitching problems have been related to needing to throw extra pitches and get “extra” outs, due to errors behind them. By the same token, the many long counts and walks handed out by the moundsmen likely have contributed to the lack of crispness on the part of fielders waiting for balls to be put in play.

Hudlow affirms the “which comes first – the chicken or the egg” sense of the situation.

“I think it’s a combination of pitchers throwing too many balls that put our defense to sleep,” he observed when asked about misplayed ground balls or errant throws, “but (the fielders) have to gain the trust of our pitchers, as well, because of all the errors.

“When (starting pitchers Koby) Linder and (Jake) Young pitched their last outings, they worked quick and threw strikes. That helped our defense. I think coach Ortiz (being available) will help our pitchers’ confidence and continue that (strike-throwing) theme on a more-routine basis.”

However, the head coach is looking to take other steps, as well, to solidify the infield defense.

Because of their versatility and to get a feel for their capabilities at the middle-infield spots and third base, Hudlow has utilized about a half-dozen players at two or even all three of those spots. With the unplanned week-long hiatus from game action providing a natural reset point, he reported he plans to utilize players mostly at a single position from this point forward.

“I think our defense will shore up on the infield. Guys will start getting more-constant playing time at (their primary) positions and the familiarity will help them there,” he explained.

“The infield group is way too talented to keep making errors like they have been. I think the work we did (Sunday) will help. … Errors will still be made, but I think they will be cut down quite a bit.”

Expected to return to action gradually this week after missing time with leg muscle injuries is outfielder Braedyn Brewer, Hudlow confirmed Sunday. The right-handed hitter and outstanding defender last played June 12.

In seven games to date entering this week, Brewer owned a .324 batting average, .441 slugging percentage, and five runs batted in, including three in the last game he played. His two triples share the team lead.

“Brewer was able to test his hamstring out Sunday and he was moving around pretty good. We will continue to ease him back into the outfield” as a precaution against likely soft, wet conditions as games resume, Hudlow confirmed.

“He is eager to get back out and help the team, but we won’t rush things. … He will serve as DH and play some outfield this week. … He’s going to be a big part of a turnaround that I see coming down the stretch.”

In terms of pitching plans, the Mudcats head coach said righthander Mitch Alba was the choice to face Nevada Monday, if that game was able to be played.

Regardless of whether that game happens or not, Tuesday’s home clash with the rampaging Clarinda A’s will be started by Young. The righthander held St. Joseph to a single run in going the distance in a 1-0 home loss June 20.

If the Nevada game had to be postponed again, Alba would slide back to tonight’s game at Sedalia, the coach reports with Scott Duensing definitely to go at home against St. Joseph tomorrow night.

Logan Snow is slated to start the Saturday game, but Hudlow and Ortiz plan to spot him in a relief outing earlier in the week to get in some game work as a tuneup for the start.

Who would start at Sedalia if Alba pitches Monday at Nevada and who might start if Friday’s mutual open date results in the make-up of last Saturday’s Sedalia rainout remains to be determined.

Interestingly, Hudlow disclosed that Linder, who held Jefferson City to one run in eight innings in the Mudcats’ only win in their 7-of-8 skid, mostly will throw out of the bullpen – presumably in a late-innings role, perhaps as a multi-innings closer, for the foreseeable future “because he bounces back so well,” the coach said.

“He might make another ‘spot’ start,” Hudlow noted, “but right now the plan is to throw him out of the ’pen for multiple appearances this week and weekend,” as the team seeks to reenergize its season.