NEW BRITAIN - Despite its recent loss to the Long Island Ducks on Wednesday, the New Britain Bees have been on a hot streak, winning 20 of 31 games.
The reason: minor tweaks that were made throughout the beginning of the season that have allowed the Bees to take advantage of their pitching staff’s abilities and lineup’s timely hitting.
“We’ve really come together as a group and have made some changes to the middle of our order over the course of the early part of our season,” New Britain manager Wally Backman said. “I think it’s been a little bit of all of it that’s made us successful.”
Over the first half of the season, which ended with last night’s game, the Bees’ lineup has undergone a drastic change. Only five of the Bees’ opening night batters were still in the lineup when New Britain contended for a first-half playoff spot Wednesday.
On opening night, the Bees hitters were Darren Ford, Darrell Ceciliani, Jonathan Galvez, Reid Brignac, Deibinson Romero, Angelys Nina, Conor Bierfeldt, Tony Abreu and James Skelton.
Three months later, New Britain sent out Ford, Brignac, Romero, Jason Rogers, Brock Stassi, Matt Tuiasosopo, Jamar Walton, Galvez and Skelton. Ceciliani, Nina, Bierfeldt and Abreu are no longer on the roster.
As the Bees started to pick up momentum, the order was rewarded with five All-Star selections - Skelton, Walton, Rogers, Galvez and Romero - with the midsummer game set to be played next week.
Romero leads the team with nine home runs, 37 RBI, 15 doubles and 69 hits to go along with 34 runs scored. He also has a batting average of .290. Rogers is second on the team in RBI (36) and has 28 runs scored and three home runs. Skelton is hitting .268 with 20 RBI and ranked fifth in the league with 32 walks entering Thursday. Galvez has a .274 average to go along with five home runs and 16 RBI. Walton, meanwhile, has a .284 average with seven home runs (second on the team), 10 doubles and 30 RBI.
As Backman pointed out, perhaps just as crucial as the hitting has been the pitching, specifically the depth of the staff the manager has to work with.
Veteran pitcher Andy Van Hekken took the mound Wednesday afternoon and should he remain with the team throughout the remainder of the season, will be instrumental to any success the Bees enjoy.
In his 5 2/3 innings pitched against the Ducks, he put the Bees in a good position with a 3-0 lead. Hekken only allowed five hits, while striking out five. Currently, he is ranked ninth in the Atlantic League in strikeouts with 51.
“He’s a craft veteran, he really is,” Backman said. “He pitches both sides of the plate real well, he mixes his pitches very well, he has a nice change up, a little break in the ball and he can throw a fastball once and a while. He just mixes his pitches very well, keeps the hitters off balance.”
Other pitchers on the staff who have been able to make big contributions include Rainy Lara, Sam Gervacio, Josh Outman, Mike Hepple, Kyle Simon and Liberty Division All-Stars Jim Fuller and Evan Scribner.
In his first season with New Britain, Scribner has appeared in 17 games and struck out 16 batters in just 18 1/3 innings of work. He also leads the team with 10 saves and has an ERA of 0.98.
Now the Bees just have to play well in the second half, especially after the All-Star break, which was an area that hurt the team last season. But Backman doesn’t believe there’s any reason New Britain can’t do so.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Backman said. “We’re going into the second half on Friday and I feel good about it. We’ve played very well the last month or so.”
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org