Through the first ten games of the Second Half, scoring has been difficult for the Jackson Generals, who have only 4 wins in that span. Even with a 13-1 drubbing of the Birmingham Barons last Thursday, Jackson is averaging just 4.1 runs per game since the All-Star Break, and 2.8 if you remove that one offensive outburst. The team’s runs-per-game mark has declined consistently from their April high of 5.6 to just 4.3 in the month of June. We’ve talked in the past about how injuries really hamstrung the Generals in the First Half, but they may have to account for another form of adversity in July: fatigue.
The Generals have done 79 slightly variations of the same thing in different cities over the last three months. This thing they’ve been doing is, collectively, their favorite thing in the world (or a variation of it), and for the most part, they’ve done it quite well. But in doing it well, some of the teams around them who didn’t do well at first have now caught up, found some footholds. They’re hitting their stride while the Generals struggled – Jackson finished below .500 in June for the second straight month. So: How do you respond? How do you find a way to make sure you’re staying as ready as possible, mentally fresh and competitive on a daily basis? What alternatives can you find when something that was working suddenly no longer applies or suffices?
Take Josh Prince. He’s 30 years old, a former Milwaukee Brewer and 2014 Southern League All-Star. He batted .172 over his last eight games in the First Half, stealing only one base. He doesn’t quite have the speed of the player that swiped a league-high 37 bases in 2014, and he’s in a minor slump heading into the All-Star Break. At that age, having seen those heights, you might guess that motivation becomes difficult. And maybe it does, but you’ve discounted one thing: Guys who play for as long as Josh Prince have found all kinds of ways to motivate themselves and correct their missteps over the years.
Two weeks later, Josh Prince is the Generals’ hottest hitter. He carried the Generals’ offense on Sunday in a 4-3 victory over 11 innings, homering in the second inning and driving in the go-ahead run in the 11th. He’s batting .400 since the end of the All-Star Break, and he’s played all four corner positions and DH. In terms of letting your play do the talking, Prince is as good an example of tacking back in a positive direction as the Generals currently have. He was the only man to hit over .300 in June.
Of course, if you’re already doing well, the challenge becomes: What’s good enough? How long can I keep performing like this? How can I impress others (and myself, in some measure) again today? Enter Kevin Ginkel.
Back in April, the Generals were fortunate to have Colin Poche on their Opening Day roster. How good was Poche? He won the Southern League’s Relief Pitcher of the Month award (presented by BC Powder) after striking out 23 batters over 11.0 scoreless innings in his Double-A debut. Now with the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization, Poche is being called by some “the most unhittable arm in the minors.” But Kevin Ginkel, quiet as it’s kept, has already outpaced Poche’s stretch of 11.0 scoreless innings with Jackson, tossing 14.1 frames of run-free baseball through July 1 to begin his Double-A career. Ginkel got the win in Sunday’s victory over Birmingham, holding the Barons without a run in the 10th and 11th innings, both of which started (by rule) with a runner on second base. That’s pretty strong. Ginkel pitched 12.1 innings in 10 June relief appearances, both marks tying for the most on the staff. His 34% strikeout percentage doesn’t touch Poche’s just yet—at 60.4%, nobody else has come within 20 points of Poche—but it’s been a great boon to the Generals’ late-game efforts, especially with the offense struggling to score.
Ginkel’s a recent call-up from High-A. Prince was drafted the same year Ginkel had his 14th birthday. Young? Old? It’s irrelevant. Neither player has allowed fatigue to hamper a re-doubling of their efforts, continuing to prove they can do what the Generals’ coaching staff needs (and more). To shovel out of a 4-6 hole, Jackson will need more hands like those on the spades.