Kyle Russell and Scott Van Slyke were Chattanooga's only position players selected to Tuesday night's Southern League All-Star Game, and now they will be asked to lead the way as the Lookouts begin second-half play.
"It's the second time around in the league for both of them, even though they were only here for half the year last year," Lookouts manager Carlos Subero said. "It's time for them to keep executing after a great first half, and we see them getting better for the sake of their careers. Seeing guys like Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon go up gets them excited, and hopefully they can keep feeding from that."
The Lookouts, who finished the first half with a 35-35 record, open the second half tonight at AT&T Field against the Jacksonville Suns.
Van Slyke ended the half sixth in the league in hitting with a .320 average and was Tuesday's all-star game MVP. Russell hit .280 and capped the first half with a three-run home run to right that catapulted the Lookouts to an 11-6 win last Sunday at Tennessee.
Russell's homer was his 14th this season, which ranks third in the league.
"We need to start doing a lot better in situational hitting," Russell said. "If we just do that, more wins will come. We've got to stick with what we're doing and the fundamentals that we know. Stuff will fall into place. That's just the way the game works."
Things fell into place late in the half for Alfredo Silverio, whose average has rocketed to fourth in the league at .324. Russell, Silverio and Van Slyke each have 22 doubles, but the outfielders are not entering the second half feeling any more pressure to produce.
"We've won 2-1 ballgames and lost 7-6 ballgames," Van Slyke said. "It just depends on the night and how guys are hitting and how they're throwing."
Hoping to pick up the pace at the plate are infielders Jaime Pedroza (.247), Elian Herrera (.243), Wilberto Ortiz (.214) and Ivan Ochoa (.209).
The Lookouts struggled immediately after the May big-league promotions of late-inning pitching standouts Javy Guerra and Josh Lindblom. During the last 10 games of the half, however, Shawn Tolleson and Steven Ames showed signs of filling the void.
Tolleson is 0-1 with a 0.73 earned run average and two saves in his 10 appearances, while Ames is 0-1 with a 1.69 ERA and four saves in his 13 games.
"We have the arms to finish these games off, but they're learning," pitching coach Chuck Crim said. "They were successful in A-ball, but this is a little different because it's more advanced, so we're going to learn along the way."
The biggest improvement the Lookouts must make in the second half is on defense. Chattanooga committed 85 errors during the first 70 games, nearly twice as many as the 44 by Mobile, the league's most efficient team.
"Our defense is where we struggled the whole first half," Subero said. "There is no other way around it, and that is one thing we definitely have to pick up. We're based off good pitching, and good defense can give a starting pitcher that extra inning."