By Ken Jackson
This week has been a snapshot of the season, particularly the second half of the Florida State League, for the Florida Fire Frogs.
On Tuesday, Ian Anderson threw five innings of one-hit ball and gave up only an unearned run, but he got little run support and the Frogs fell, 8-1, to the West Palm Beach Cardinals.
On Wednesday, Florida pounded out 10 runs and 12 hits, but a 12-run Cardinals second inning set the tone for a 16-10 loss that sewed up a West Palm Beach series sweep.
Thursday, they couldn’t hold a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning and fell, 4-3, to the Fort Myers Miracle.
So, after briefly sitting at .500 (9-9) in the second half, the team dropped 13 of 14 games heading into the weekend’s series against the Fort Myers Miracle, and were 15-27 coming out of Thursday, all but assuring missing the FSL playoffs without a drastic change of fortunes.
That would have to come without some of the players responsible for the success the Fire Frogs have seen earlier in the year. In the past two weeks, the Class AA Mississippi Braves have called up catcher Brett Cumberland (who was traded to the Baltimore Orioles at the MLB trade deadline), center fielder and leadoff hitter Christian Pache, and starting pitchers Kyle Muller and Ian Anderson, who started on Wednesday.
The Frogs are 4-16 at home in the second half, and Manager Luis Salazar is feeling it.
“We haven’t had a lot go in our favor,” he said after Wednesday’s slugfest. “We’ve lost a lot of close games, have haven’t been getting the big hits, and when we do we haven’t gotten the pitching.”
Both Tuesday and Wednesday’s games started well. Drew Waters and Riley Delgado began Tuesday’s bottom of the first with a leadoff double and RBI single for a 1-0 lead. But the Fire Frogs notched just four hits the rest of the night.
And Anderson, who pitched 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball Sunday in a 1-0 losing effort, gave up only an unearned run in the third inning and gave up three hits, left Tuesday’s game with runners on who later scored off Justin Kelly to make the righty and the Atlanta Braves’ No. 3-ranked prospect the hard-luck loser.
But, after posting a 2.52 ERA that offset a 2-6 record, Anderson got the call to Mississippi on Wednesday morning. In his last six starts for Florida he gave up three earned runs in 35 innings (an 0.77 ERA) but was just 1-1 in that stretch.
“I’m really happy for Ian,” Salazar said. “He just didn’t get the run support here. He’s a battler. He’ll do well.”
On Wednesday, after Huascar Ynoa worked a 1-2-3 inning, Waters again led off with a triple. But he did not score and, 20 minutes later, Florida trailed 12-0 after surrendering the biggest inning of the franchise’s two seasons.
To their credit, the Fire Frogs clawed back and made it 12-9 in the seventh thanks to a pair of two-run home runs by Braxton Davidson and long balls by Kurt Hoekstra and Lucas Herbert, and catcher William Contreras added two hits.
“I’m happy to see the guys trying to climb back in it. It was hot out and they could have just packed it in,” Salazar said. “They still fought, and it’s like the rest of the season. They’ve got to keep playing.”
Salazar said the season that Davidson has pieced together — his 18 home runs and 58 RBI, but also 169 strikeouts, lead the team and are among the FSL leaders — has been one of the few bright offensive spots.
“It’s the best offensive season of his career,” the skipper said. “But this is a good pitching league and we play in big ball parks. We’re last in the league in hitting (.234 team average, and its near the bottom in on-base percentage and slugging). At this level, you have to learn to adjust, because the pitchers are adjusting to you.”
The current home stand finishes tonight at 6:31 p.m. — it’s Back to School and Bark in the Park Night — and Sunday at 11 a.m., when brunch, mimosas and Bloody Marys starting at 10 a.m. are free for ladies.