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IronBirds start 2013 campaign on a down note

BaseballBrooklyn Cyclones

The Aberdeen IronBirds have lost on opening night before, but before Monday's 5-0 loss to the Hudson Valley Renegades at Ripken Stadium, they had not been held scoreless in the first game of their season.

Aberdeen managed just two hits Monday night, and committed three errors.

Aberdeen's Hector Veloz was 1-for-3 with a double, while Scott Kalush went 1-for-3 in the loss.

IronBirds starter Sebastian Vader (0-1) went five innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits, striking out three and not surrendering a walk.

Jeff Kemp, a former Calvert Hall player in his first game as a professional, made a fine defensive stop at second base, spearing a ground ball up the middle in the top of the third inning. In his first turn at the plate, Kemp stroked a long shot to the gap in right center, but it was chased down by a Renegades' outfielder.

'First-day jitters'

Monday's contest was the first with new Aberdeen skipper Matt Merullo at the helm. A former big league catcher and a professional scout for more than a decade before joining the IronBirds, Merullo is new to managing. Following his team's Monday-night loss, he spoke with the media.

"I think there might have been some first-day jitters tonight," Merullo said. "There were some good signs. It could easily have been a 2-0 or 3-0 ballgame, but it's still a loss. We only had two hits, and we made three errors. If you have more errors than hits, you're not going to end up with a win very often. I think there were some guys maybe trying to do too much, swinging the bat a little too hard. For some guys, it was their first game in [professional baseball] tonight."

In a game with a dearth of positive signs for the IronBirds, Merullo listed off a few things he saw that pleased him.

"There were some positives out there," he said. "Kemp made a great play at second base in the third, on that hit up the middle. I want him to take that home, build on that. Veloz has come a long way at the plate, and just needs to work on his footwork at third [base] a little. [Starting first baseman] Kris Richards is a middle infielder by trade, and he hasn't played at first very much, but he looked pretty good. For guys just getting their feet wet, without any professional experience, they played pretty well. We just got shut down, [and] couldn't get anything going at the plate."

Asked what he will need to work on as a manager, Merullo said coordinating with his pitching coach Alan Mills to have relievers ready at the right time is high on the list.

"With having pitchers warmed up and ready to come in, that's just timing," he said. "There were a few times tonight where I was thinking about that, trying to figure out who I'd get up in the bullpen if we could close the gap a little bit. It helps that I was a catcher, in getting a sense of what each pitcher can do right now. We're trying to get guys' feet wet as soon as possible at this point, and let them get some innings under their belts."

Shut down on opening day

In 11 previous season-opening games since the club started off in 2002, the IronBirds had gone 7-4, but never during any of those four defeats had they failed to score a run, as in Monday's 5-0 loss.

"You've got to give credit to their pitchers," Merullo said after his team was held to a pair of hits over nine innings. "Their starter came out of the Florida State League, and he was really tough tonight. They just shut us down, and we couldn't get anything going at the plate."

Monday's loss also marked the lowest-scoring opening-night contest the IronBirds have played, tied with Aberdeen's 3-2 win over the Brooklyn Cyclones during the 2003 season starter.

Tough luck on the mound

Sebastian Vader, a 21-year-old righty who returned to the IronBirds for the 2013 season after powering through a rough campaign last year, one which saw him go 1-8 despite carrying a 3.71 ERA and striking out twice as many batters as he walked, made his second straight opening-night start for Aberdeen on Monday. After holding the Renegades to a pair of earned runs on four hits over five innings pitched, he had to settle for another loss.

"Sebastian gave us a chance to win tonight," Merullo said. "He worked out of some jams early on, and held them to four hits. But, he got a little impatient a few times, and didn't make the pitch he needed to."

The tall, slender hurler, who was selected in the 2010 June draft out of high school and has been playing as a professional since age 18, started Monday's contest on a strange note, plunking the first hitter of the game with his second pitch.

"That was just a mistake," Vader said. "I had already thrown him a fastball outside, so I wanted to come inside on him, and the pitch I threw just ran in a little bit and caught him on the forearm. When stuff like that happens, you just have to tune it out and focus on the next hitter."

Aberdeen wraps up its first homestand of the season tonight (Wednesday) before heading to Brooklyn for a three-game set then on to Staten Island for three more.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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