As the Billings Mustangs get ready to begin a 6-game, 5-day road trip tonight with a game in Great Falls, they are probably happy to be away from Dehler Park.
Following a three-game sweep at the hands of the Helena Brewers, the Mustangs are 1-4 at home. Conversely, the team is 3-0 so far on the road.
But the Mustangs aren’t alone: Only Grand Junction (3-0) and Ogden (5-1) are off to significantly better starts playing in their own stadiums.
Mustangs manager Pat Kelly said there is a reason teams like the Mustangs have their troubles at home early in the season.
“I think it’s the work load,” he said following Friday night’s 3-0 loss to the Brewers. “We work extremely hard at home. We’re on the field for 2 ½ hours before the game. That pays off eventually. Physically, it may be a little demanding, but eventually that does pay off. You can see when the work load goes down a little bit on the road, obviously we perform better.
“On the road, you don’t have access to the field like you do at home. But in the long run, I think we’ve proven that our players have gotten better. This first month is really important to get them used to that work schedule and a lot of the pre-game stuff.”
Look who’s here
Walt Jocketty, the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, and Dick Williams, the vice president of baseball operations, spent Thursday and Friday in Billings to get a first-hand look at the young players in their system.
While Kelly said he didn’t think the high-ranking duo’s presence affected the team’s play on the field – the Mustangs lost both games, as well as Thursday’s early game, the completion of a suspended contest – Kelly could see some of the players had a different demeanor during their pre-game workouts.
Kelly said it was clear some of the players were trying to do a little extra in an attempt to impress Jocketty and Williams.
“It’s only human nature for a young kid,” Kelly said with a big smile. “You could see it in batting practice. (Jocketty) is standing behind the cage, and they all know who it is. They’re trying to hit the ball just a little bit harder, just a little bit farther … Shoot, that’s just natural.
“Game-wise, it didn’t seem like anybody was pressing, which I was pleased with. We didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that Walt was here and hopefully the players responded like that.”
News and notes
The Mustangs begin their road trip ranked first in ERA (3.41) but last in team batting average (.224) and last in runs scored (35). The low team batting average has neutralized one of the team’s biggest assets: speed. The Mustangs are 11 of 13 on stolen base attempts, but if no runners are on base, it’s tough to manufacture runs. “If that top of the lineup doesn’t get on base, it’s tough to take advantage of that speed,” Kelly said. “And that’s really what’s happened the last few nights.” … While Billngs has scored just 35 runs, Grand Junction has scored 61 have played one more game. … Phillip Ervin’s .414 batting average has him tied for third in the league and Ty Washington (.350) ranks 10th. Ogden’s Alex Santana is batting .458 to lead the way.
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