Lookouts' stars stumble into break

Lookouts' stars stumble into break

June 18th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher Blake Smith warms up after relieving Jon Michael Redding in the sixth inning of the Lookouts' final game of their series against the Birmingham Barons in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Thursday. The Lookouts won 9-2.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Several members of the Chattanooga Lookouts produced better-than-expected performances in the Southern League's first half, but many of the bigger names faltered.

Outfielder Kyle Russell, rated by Baseball America as the top power-hitting prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, hit .253 for the half after hitting .306 in April and hit just .111 during a seven-game stint in Triple-A Albuquerque. Two of the top seven organizational prospects, starting pitchers Allen Webster and Chris Withrow, combined for just two victories.

Webster finished the half with a 1-7 record and a 5.24 earned run average, while Withrow went 1-1 with a 5.71 ERA before going on the disabled list June 4 with lower-back issues.

"You can never project baseball, and you can never bet on it," Lookouts pitching coach Chuck Crim said. "It's just one of those things where it's up to the player to dictate his career. For Allen, the ball just hasn't bounced his way, and I think he's throwing the ball better than his numbers would show. You expected Withrow to have a big year, but you never know.

"You can't project it, but it always shows out between the lines."

The Lookouts finished the first half with a 32-36 record after losing at Jackson, 7-5, on Sunday. They open the second half Thursday night against league newcomer Pensacola at AT&T Field, but not before seven members of the team compete in Tuesday night's All-Star Game in Kodak, Tenn.

Outfielder Blake Smith, who leads the Lookouts with a .298 average, 39 RBIs and 108 total bases, is among the team's three position players who received all-star invitations. The other two are first baseman J.T. Wise, who is hitting .268 and leads the team with 21 doubles, and third baseman Pedro Baez, who has lived up to his billing as the organization's top defensive infielder.

Chattanooga, which began this season looking to replace the one-two plate punch of Scott Van Slyke and Alfredo Silverio, leads the league with 316 runs scored.

"I've seen some good things with these guys, and I've seen these guys get better," hitting coach Franklin Stubbs said. "They're starting to see it faster. Overall I would probably give it a C, but I may be a little harder than most people because I expect more. Getting these guys to be more consistent would be my biggest goal of the second half."

Representing the Lookouts on the mound Tuesday will be starters Ethan Martin (6-3, 3.35 ERA) and Matt Magill (5-3, 4.10) and relievers Steven Ames (0-2, 2.59) and Red Patterson (3-1, 2.08). Chattanooga led the league with a 3.66 ERA and with 1,103 strikeouts last season, and the Lookouts have a 3.95 ERA with 585 strikeouts through the first half this season.

The Lookouts were 16-22 slightly past the midway mark of the half before winning nine of 10 to get to 25-23 and within three games of Jackson for the North Division lead. Chattanooga had 10 of its last 15 games of the half against Jackson but beat the Generals only three times.

"I think we have played a lot better than what our record is, to be honest with you," Smith said. "We should have been in first place, to be honest. Jackson is a great team, but I think we're right there with them. They have a good staff, and we have a good staff. We both have some big hitters.

"We've just lost a lot of one-run games and pulled the short stick."

Close calls weren't kind to the Lookouts, who were 10-17 in one-run games and 19-30 in contests decided by three runs or fewer.