Potomac pitchers went 72 starts this season without throwing a complete game, until last week, when Patrick Coogan and Finley Woodward each went the distance for the first times in their careers.
That's just two of many glaring differences that have surfaced in the box scores in the first week of the second half of the Carolina League season. Not only are there two new regulars in the lineup -- shortstop Jack Wilson and center fielder Jason Lee -- but players previously entrenched at other positions have been benched, given a rest or moved.
Left fielder David Kim, a .270 hitter with 35 RBI, has sat out three of the past six games. Brad Freeman moved to third from shortstop but did not play either Thursday or Friday. All-Star designated hitter Andy Bevins sat out a game and played left field in three others. Taber Maier has played both second and third. Right fielder William Ortega started a game in center.
"I'm just mixing it up a little bit," Manager Joe Cunningham said. "Whoever's doing the job, that's who's going to play. In my opinion, unless something's handed to me on a table, when I get in there I'm going to do something to keep myself in there."
With the steady parade of arm problems among the pitchers, Cunningham doesn't have the luxury of making many staff changes. But he won't have to if there are more performances like the ones right-handers Coogan and Woodward turned in during a three-game span this week.
It was the first complete game for each, in 30 starts for Coogan and 33 for Woodward. Neither was in Potomac's starting rotation at the beginning of the season. And neither walked a batter in their gems.
Coogan, still rounding into form after offseason shoulder surgery, struck out five and gave up six hits Monday in a 5-1 win at Salem.
"It's the start of the second half, kind of like a new season," said Coogan, 23. "I'm just trying to build on this. I'm gaining confidence back in my fastball, and I'm going right at the hitters instead of trying to hit the perfect spot."
Woodward, 23, fanned four and gave up one earned run in a 2-1 loss Friday at Winston-Salem.
Cunningham often cites Maier as a self-made Cannon who played his way into a starting position and kept it. Lately, though, the manager literally has had a hand in Maier's success -- the infielder has been wearing Cunning-ham's glove.
"He let me wear it and ever since
it's been working well for me," Maier said. "It's a little bit bigger and has
a deeper pocket."
What happens come September when Cunningham goes home to Missouri and Maier goes home to California? A long-distance glove affair?
"He lent it to me," Maier said. "I won't walk away with it at the end of the season."
Words to Live By
When the Cannons began the second half of the season last week, someone had scrawled some inspirational thoughts on a message board in the clubhouse:
"Soup of the day: bowl of confidence.
Words of the day: new beginning.
Words for rest of year: play every game like it's your last."
It's that third nugget that's often a sticking point with the manager.
"Sometimes players take it for granted and don't realize the unbelievable opportunity that they have doing what they're doing," said Cunningham, who played in the Cardinals organization from 1984 to 1988 before he began coaching. "If you start taking it for granted, then this game will catch up with you and bite you.
"A chance to play in the big leagues? Make that kind of money? To be in the spotlight? I'd like to do it right now. It'd be nice to be a utility guy sitting on the bench making $3 million a year. You can do a lot with $3 million a year."
THE WEEK AHEAD
at Myrtle Beach
at Myrtle Beach
at Myrtle Beach
CAPTION: Potomac pitcher Finley Woodward had his first complete game of his career in a 2-1 loss to Winston-Salem on Friday.