It doesn't take too much statistical digging to figure out where the Chattanooga Lookouts must improve to become a Southern League second-half contender.
The Lookouts hit just .235 in the first 70 games, ranking eighth in the 10-member league. That average sinks to .229 when Yasiel Puig's .313, Joc Pederson's .302 and Brian Cavazos-Galvez's .294 are removed from the equation.
"The key, and it's what we're probably focusing on the most, is trying to get this offense jump-started," first-year Lookouts manager Jody Reed said. "We just need to get ready to hit the fastball. The bottom line is that we're late getting to our launch position, and we're not hitting the fastball. If you do anything in professional baseball as a hitter, you better be able to hit the fastball.
"If you can't do that, then you're going nowhere. We're really trying to harp on that and address it, and that's for our hitters from the top to bottom of the lineup."
The Lookouts finished the first half with a 35-35 record, winning 19 of their last 27 games behind stout pitching, and they begin the second half tonight at 7:15 against the Tennessee Smokies at AT&T Field.
Puig hasn't been with the Lookouts since his June 2 promotion to Los Angeles, but Pederson and Cavazos-Galvez will be expected to continue their productivity. Pederson has been consistent from the start in his first full Class AA season, while Cavazos-Galvez has been a bit harder to track. He batted .277 in 116 games with the Lookouts in 2011 but hit just .167 in 20 games last year before being sent down to high-Single-A.
"I guess I've been back and forth these three years, and I seem to take up different roles each time," he said. "Right now, I have more of a starting role than I did earlier this season, when Puig and the other outfielders were as hot as they were. I just try to understand my role and be good at whatever it is."
Among the Lookouts who struggled at the plate during the first half were outfielder Blake Smith (.231), shortstop Miguel Rojas (.217) and catcher Griff Erickson (.196). First baseman Chris Jacobs was hitting .188 when he was sent down to high-Single-A, and Omar Luna, the 2012 Southern League batting champion, was hitting .170 when he was released.
Smith hit .267 last year with the Lookouts and was a Southern League all-star, and Erickson isn't matching the .234 he hit in Chattanooga last year.
"I think the biggest thing is that we haven't faced most of these teams but just one time, and a lot of these teams have different pitching philosophies," Erickson said. "I know every guy on this team can hit the fastball, and I think it's just a matter of getting to know these teams. A couple of the teams we've faced twice, and the second time around we stuck it to them pretty good, but the first time around is a learning period.
"A lot of these guys have tricky pitches, and they're not throwing 88 miles per hour. They're throwing 95, and when they can throw a 95-mile-an-hour cutter, you're going to swing at it like it's a fastball."
Reed is not expecting any significant roster shakeups at the midway mark of the season.
"That is so not my call, but I would be surprised," he said. "Things happen with an injury here or there, but I really wouldn't anticipate anything major."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.