If Chattanooga's Darnell Sweeney never plays center field in professional baseball again, his career offensive averages at that position will be hard to top.
The Chattanooga Lookouts completed a suspended game from Sunday on Monday at AT&T Field before also playing the Birmingham Barons in a seven-inning Southern League baseball game. The Barons won the game that had to be completed 12-10, but not without Sweeney registering 12 total bases.
Back at his customary second-base position in the regularly scheduled game, Sweeney proved it doesn't matter where he plays when it comes to batting. He homered leading off the bottom of the first and Chattanooga went on and won 5-3 in front of a crowd of 4,145.
In the game that took two days to play and despite playing a position as a member of the Lookouts for the first time, the left-handed-batting Sweeney went 4-for-5 from the leadoff spot with four RBIs and three runs scored. He said separating offense from defense is something he learned about as a youth and he has continued to try to develop as that kind of player as he has matured.
"Leading off, I know my game as a hitter," Sweeney said. "I've got to get on base, score runs and see some pitches for the rest of the team."
He hit himself into scoring position twice with doubles. The other two hits by the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder cleared the fence.
"I've got some power," Sweeney said. "It's not like it's foreign to me."
He did, however, encounter some struggles in center as a result of balls hit over his head by Jared Mitchell and Jeremy Farrell.
Sweeney had trouble locating Mitchell's straight-away drive in the fifth, which hit the wall and took a high bounce off the warning track. By the time he found it and fired it toward the infield, Birmingham's leadoff batter was able to complete an inside-the-park home run standing up.
Sweeney had a similar problem with Farrell's shot to right-center, which ended up a two-run triple during the Barons' five-run ninth. In both instances Sweeney sped toward the wall, leaped at the warning track with his back to home plate and extended his glove upward only to come up empty.
Sweeney was drafted out of Central Florida by Los Angeles in the 13th round of the MLB June amateur draft in 2012. He said he played both infield and outfield as an amateur, including at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla.
"All you try to do his take a good route and go get the ball," Sweeney said of playing the outfield. "Those hard-board walls can make you pretty timid."
Lookouts manager Razor Shines said the team will continue to experiment with Sweeney in center field throughout the rest of the season. The key is keeping his bat in the lineup.
"He's a talented kid," Shines said. "I can't tell you why. He's just a talented kid."
Jhan Marinez (1-0) was the winning pitcher in relief for Chattanooga (32-50) and Robert Carson notched his first save. Scott Schebler, who homered Sunday in the first game, went 3-for-3 with a double and scored two runs in the Lookouts' victory. Daniel Mayora was 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and the tiebreaking RBI single in the sixth.
Nestor Molina (3-2) was the Barons' winning pitcher, and fellow reliever Kevin Vance earned his fourth save.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.