Chattanooga Lookouts show progress through first half

Chattanooga Lookouts show progress through first half

June 18th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Chattanooga Lookouts right fielder Yasiel Puig walks to the dugout after striking out on his first at-bat during their season opener.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

The Chattanooga Lookouts endured bullpen struggles, assembled a 10-game winning streak and had a productive performer in center fielder Joc Pederson during a busy first half in the Southern League season.

Overshadowing it all was Yasiel Puig.

Puig was mesmerizing for the Lookouts, hitting .313 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 40 games before leaving AT&T Field for the majors on June 2. The 22-year-old Cuban defector is hitting .479 in his first 13 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he hit .517 with them in 27 spring-training games.

The Dodgers assigned the right fielder to Chattanooga a week before the start of the season, which led to a challenging dynamic for first-year manager Jody Reed.

"He wasn't happy showing up in Chattanooga, and that led to a difficult initiation period of a week to 10 days," Reed said. "He didn't want to be here, and you kind of had to let him work his way through that. He's a young player who's clearly very excitable, and we had to let him work through it.

"There were some times when we, quite honestly, had to be very stern with him, and I'll be shocked if the same things that popped up here pop up in L.A."

The Lookouts finished a 35-35 first half Monday night with a 3-1 win at Huntsville. They open the second half Wednesday night at AT&T Field against the Tennessee Smokies.

Before his departure, Puig committed multiple baserunning gaffes, got benched twice and was arrested April 28 for driving 97 mph on Amnicola Highway. His talents, however, easily were outweighing his troubles when the promotion occurred.

"We felt like he made positive strides in the areas we were trying to address with him," Dodgers player development director DeJon Watson said.

Chattanooga's bullpen woes were problematic in April and were never more evident than on May 5, when the Lookouts took a 10-5 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning at Birmingham and lost 16-14. A 9-2 loss to visiting Tennessee on May 20 left the Lookouts with a 16-27 record, but then they suddenly reeled off 10 victories in a row.

It was as if the pitching had never been an issue, as Chattanooga allowed just 16 runs during its 10-game tear.

"Our guys rose to the occasion, and they understood how to go out there and compete and how to attack hitters," Reed said. "It really has been fun to watch since the start of that stretch, and we went from wondering who to put in a game to putting whoever out there because we knew he would do the job.

"You can see it in their faces now, because they are enjoying going out there and competing. They are confident they are going to do the job."

Pederson, who turned 21 after the season's first couple of weeks, had a stellar first half that included a .302 average with a league-leading 127 total bases. He is rated by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in the Dodgers organization.

Starting pitcher Zach Lee, the No. 5 organizational prospect, assembled a solid first half as well with a 5-4 record and a 2.65 earned run average. Lee has 65 strikeouts in 71 innings.

"We didn't win as much as we would have liked," catcher Griff Erickson said. "It seemed like either the pitching was doing its part and the hitting wasn't or that the hitting was and the pitching wasn't. We have kind of started to put it together. We have learned how to play together and put the pitching and the hitting into the game and have it be effective.

"I think the first half was a big learning period for us, because a lot of guys had not played together."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.