It surely has not been pretty, but the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have grinded their way to 11 wins in the first 17 games of the season for the best start in franchise history.
The reason for the success certainly cannot be pinned on the offense. Although not as offensive as the parent club, the struggles of the IronPig batters are obvious.
In the 14-team International League, Lehigh Valley ranks 13th in hits, 14th in doubles, and has registered only two triples and eight home runs in the first 17 games. While their average Is slowly increasing, it sits at .229, the runs have been hard to come by as well. They rank 12th in RBI (52) and are dead last in walks (53).
With many of the IronPigs struggling with consistency at the plate, Derrick Mitchell had more working against him than working for him. In his first season at Triple-A, it was more than one more step to the big leagues that Mitchell had to deal with.
"The weather's been a little rough," Mitchell said. "It's a little tough to go out there when the winds blowing 30 miles per hour. I think it was 36-degrees with a little drizzle (in Sunday's 3-2 loss to Rochester)."
When the IronPigs left for the recent road trip, the right-handed Mitchell boasted a 1-for-16 mark. At the plate, he was uneasy and did not have the comfort level that he had last season at Reading where he batted .265 with 19 homers and 79 RBI.
"These first two weeks or so have been a little rough partly due to some of the good pitching and I had to make some adjustments."
Yet it was on this six-game road trip that Mitchell finally found a way for his bat to come to life having hit safely in four of his last five games.
"I've been in the cage every day working hard and trying to get the feeling right," said Mitchell, a self-admitted slow starter. "I'm trying to get my routine down to start the season."
This past Friday, Mitchell found some long awaited power in Rochester. Leading off the third inning Mitchell sent Red Wing starter P.J. Walter's first pitch over the left field wall for his first Triple-A home run. He also tied his career high with four RBI at Buffalo on April 16.
"I'm starting to feel good now and starting to get my preparation down. I'm starting to get a feel of these pitchers and what they are trying to do to me," Mitchell said.
The trend for Mitchell is that his home run output has increased in each of his seven pro seasons. If he is able to continue that, then the goal of reaching the next level may very well be achieved.
POWER OUTAGE ... Manager Ryne Sandberg is not too concerned with the lack of IronPig offense.
"We just had what ended up as a six-game road trip with hitting balls on the nose and not getting anything out of it," Sandberg said.
It was feast or famine for Lehigh Valley on their last road trip. During the four game series against Buffalo, LV had a pair of eight-run games where the Pig offense combined for 22 hits sandwiched around a pair of one-run games where they combined for just 10 hits.
Despite going 2-4 on the road, Lehigh still has an 11-6 record.
"In a lot of ways it's taking what our opponent gives us, some base-on-balls, some base hits, and we have some guys coming up to the plate that can be that big bat," Sandberg said. "If we do that multiple times during a game good things will happen."
There are some indicators that the offense could emerge from the cool spring weather to being potent. The power in the Lehigh Valley lineup, Cody Overbeck, Domonic Brown, and Eric Kratz have just one home run each. The team leads the IL with the fewest strikeouts which means the ball is being put in play.
"I think those two things are good for us in April and I think those are the things that have helped with our record up till now," Sandberg concluded.
Veteran Addition ... The Phillies activated Mike Fontenot from the Temporarily Inactive list. Signed to a minor league free agent contract on April 13, the veteran infielder was sent to Florida for extended spring training.
The left-handed hitter played 85 games last season for the San Francisco Giants and has a career .263 average in 535 Major League games. In 2008, Fontenot had a career best .305 average.