Fast start sought: Lookouts have struggled to open recent seasons

Fast start sought: Lookouts have struggled to open recent seasons

April 6th, 2011 in Sports - Professional

Lookouts owner Frank Burke laughs as he prepares to pose for a team photograph with manager Carlos Subero, pitching coach Chuck Crim and hitting coach Franklin Stubbs as the 2011 Chattanooga Lookouts participate in warmups and media day at AT&T Field on Tuesday. Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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Lookouts edge Chattanooga State, 3-2

The Chattanooga Lookouts scored three runs in the first inning and needed all of them in outlasting Chattanooga State 3-2 in a seven-inning exhibition Tuesday night at AT&T Field.

Pedro Baez's two-out single to left scored two runs and capped Chattanooga's opening surge, and Nate Eovaldi snuffed out hopes of a Chattanooga State rally by working three hitless innings in relief and striking out six. The Lookouts threw two wild pitches, committed one error and in the sixth inning had a base-running gaffe at third with nobody out.

Chattanooga State, the No. 2 ranked team in the NJCAA, hung close by belting four doubles off Lookouts starter Steven Jackson. Gabe Herman had two of the doubles for the Tigers, with Tyler Roach and Zach Zarzour adding one apiece.

Herman led off the game with a double into the right-field corner and scored on the two wild pitches.

Tuesday was by far the closest of the five exhibitions between the Lookouts and Tigers. The Lookouts won last year's meeting 11-1 and were 20-0 winners in 2007.

April is always the opening month for the Chattanooga Lookouts.

If only it would be kind.

The Lookouts are hoping their third year as Class AA affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers will be accompanied by a quicker start. They have opened 3-7 each of the past two seasons on their way to identical 65-74 overall finishes.

"We talked in spring training about wanting to have a winning attitude right away and playing 27 outs, and that's something we will not negotiate," Lookouts second-year manager Carlos Subero said Tuesday afternoon before the team held its first practice at AT&T Field. "At the same time, these guys understand that there are developmental moves and that you have to execute them in there. If a pitcher needs to work out of a jam, he has to do it, and that can take precedent over winning.

"I think fans will see a team playing the game the right way, and hopefully this will be a team that can bring a championship to Chattanooga."

The Lookouts will begin their quest for a first Southern League title since 1988 on Thursday night when they host the Tennessee Smokies. Chattanooga has not played in the championship series since 1996 and hasn't reached the playoffs since 2006, when Huntsville administered a three-game sweep.

Chattanooga had a youthful team a year ago filled with prospects such as Dee Gordon, Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands. This year's squad has just two of Baseball America's top 10 organizational talents, pitchers Rubby de la Rosa and Chris Withrow, but a wealth of experience as all 12 position players have competed at the Double-A level.

Infielders Corey Smith and Jaime Pedroza were opening day Lookouts a year ago, with Smith compiling a 2010 season that included a career-best .275 average and a team-high 86 RBIs. The first-round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1990 is the oldest position player on this year's Lookouts, turning 29 next week.

"I feel like I kind of opened up some eyes last year," Smith said. "Having Dee and Trayvon in front of me most of the year really helps you out. I'm just hoping to keep getting better and hopefully taste that dream of playing in the big leagues."

Smith has played in only 12 Triple-A games during his career but has proven to be quite the Double-A force, amassing 60 home runs and 258 RBIs the past three seasons. He and outfielders Kyle Russell and Scott Van Slyke are expected to produce a majority of the punch for the 2011 Lookouts, but Pedroza said the team will be able to play small ball, too.

The Lookouts host the Smokies through Monday night before embarking on a five-game set in Birmingham. A third straight 3-7 start is not the objective.

"We've played together in spring these past few weeks, and we looked good," Pedroza said. "We can swing the bat, and our pitchers are great. It's looking like a good year for us, but obviously it's a long season and we're going to have to play it game by game.

"It's very important to get some good team chemistry early. Last year was a roller-coaster, and we always had guys moving in and out."