Enjoying Red Hot Times - Sussex County Miners
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Enjoying Red Hot Times

Enjoying Red Hot Times

When the Miners were swept by the Ottawa Titans to start the month of June, not much was going right. Sussex County was off to a 10-12 start to the season, then a loss the next night against the New York Boulders left the locals at 10-13.

     But, forget all of that.

     Ever since then, the Miners have been the hottest team in the Frontier League, first taking two of three games over New York to start a string of winning five straight series. That streak ended this past weekend when Sussex lost two of three on the road at Trois-Rivieres, but those two weeks of victory after victory have made this a month to remember.

     The Miners went 10-1 during the stretch, including a sweep over those same Titans to knock them out of first place in the East Division and including a two-of-three series win over the Quebec Capitales, the other team in the early-season battle for the division lead, who’d gotten off to an incredible 22-6 start in 2022.

     Winning five of six games over the two best teams in the entire league enabled the Miners to climb into third place in the East, and they’re the only team in the division who’ve already played 40 games, compared to Quebec’s 38 and Ottawa’s 36.

     What’s been clicking lately? Pretty much everything. Start with the pitching, which has ranged from good to excellent to out-of-this-world.

     In that last category, 24-year-old righthander John Baker tossed the gem of the year so far this season, winning recognition as the league’s Pitcher of the Week in the process. It was a baseball-perfect Friday night at Skylands Stadium when Baker pitched a complete game two-hitter to beat Quebec, striking out 14 while issuing just one walk. The former draft pick of the Florida Marlins faced only 33 batters over nine innings for the victory in his second start of the year, after opening the year with 10 outstanding relief appearances. Overall, he’s currently 4-1 with a 3.16 ERA, ringing up 37 Ks vs. just five walks.

     The Miners also boast two of the top 10 pitchers in the league in 24-year-old righty Dwayne Marshall and 26-year-old lefty Michael Mediavilla.

     Marshall, who appeared in nine games last year, has already started eight this season with a current mark of 4-2 and a 2.96 ERA, and Mediavilla has emerged as both a workhorse and a craftsman, leading the team with nine starts and 51and 2/3 innings, now at 3-2 with a 3.16 ERA. The former Brewers draft pick also leads the team with 51 strikeouts – fourth best in the league.

     Conner Dand (3-1, 2.17 ERA) has made big contributions as both a starter and reliever; veteran Vin Mazzaro (3-2, 4.38 ERA) has run into some bad luck here and there but has been solid over seven starts; lefty reliever Robert Klinchock (0-0, 2.20) has turned into a go-to guy out of the bullpen with 15 appearances and four saves.

     The Miners open a three-game series hosting Quebec tonight ranking as the fourth best pitching staff in the league with a team ERA of 4.50.

     The team’s hitting has been less splashy than its pitching, but the key hits have come at timely opportunities, and they’ve been delivered at pivotal moments by players up and down the lineup.

     Martin Figueroa continues to be a show-stopper in the No. 3 spot, playing in all 40 of the team’s games so far, batting .331 with six home runs and 33 RBI – among the top 10 in the league. And, newcomer David Maberry, acquired from Ottawa earlier this month, has been a hit machine since he got here, now batting .411 in 18 games.

     Leadoff man Mikey Reynolds (.313) and infielder/outfielder Nilo Rijo (.310) have provided timely sparks, while center fielder Jawuan Harris has become one of the most fun players to watch, steadily raising his batting average to .252 and whacking seven home runs. He’s also second in the league with 21 stolen bases.

     In fact, steals have become the Miners’ trademark this year. They lead the league with 93, far ahead of Washington’s 77. At their current pace, the Miners are on target for 223 stolen bases this season, which would top the league record of 204.

     Rijo is currently fourth in the league with 16 steals, while Reynolds, Figueroa and Errol Robinson all have double digits.

     With Quebec making another visit starting tonight, the question is: Can the Miners take another series from the team with the best record in the league? And, the bigger question: Can this team carry their hot play of June into July and beyond? The answers begin tonight.

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.

PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Hoops @hoopsapproved