The IronBirds are settling into the 2013 season and after starting their campaign with five straight losses, are battling back toward the .500 mark.
Following Monday's 1-0, 13-inning victory over Hudson Valley, Aberdeen (6-8) was holding third place in the New York-Penn League's McNamara Division, 1.5 games behind Staten Island, 3.5 games behind first-place Hudson Valley and one game ahead of Brooklyn.
Aberdeen's new skipper, former big-league catcher Matt Merullo, who is taking his first turn as a manager after spending years as a scout, said after Sunday's 6-2 loss to Staten Island that he and his players are still getting used to each other.
"The guy are settling into a routine, and getting familiar with each other," Merullo said. "I'm getting my feet wet also. With 15 position players it's tough to put together the same lineup every night, but we're starting to find the right combinations. We've got a leadoff hitter, we've got a three-hole hitter and we're finding where guys are comfortable in the lineup. What's really important is getting the new draftees, the guys who just joined the team, a chance to get some at-bats or some innings pitched. Really, it's just getting everyone acclimated to the professional game, getting them ready to play every day. We're coming along."
With newly signed players still coming in, the task of establishing a solid team has been made even harder, but Merullo and his coaches are up to the task, he said.
"Last week was pretty big, with new guys joining the team," Merullo said. "We have 30 active players on the roster now, and last week we got [ninth-round draft pick, pitcher] Mitch Horacek and [23rd-round pick, pitcher] Donnie Hart. We got [20th-round pick] Nick Cunningham, who was able to get a couple innings under his belt these last few games. Mike Yastrzemski came to the team, too, and, you know, now we have our ballclub. Everybody has had a chance to get their feet wet, and that gives the coaching staff get a better understanding of who can do what."
Yastrzemski, grandson of Baseball Hall of Fame member Carl Yastrzemski and the Orioles 14th-round pick in this year's draft, got his first start on Saturday night, and picked up his first professional hit on Sunday.
Horacek, the second-highest draft pick on the team, behind eighth-round selection catcher Trey Mancini, made his pro debut on Saturday, allowing four earned runs on five hits over 2-2/3 innings pitched.
Cunningham, a reliever, earned his first win of the season on Monday after he tossed 1-2/3 perfect innings on Aberdeen's 1-0 victory over Hudson Valley.
Kimmel knocking the ball silly
Aberdeen outfielder and designated hitter Sam Kimmel, one of the few players to return from last year's IronBirds roster, is making a statement at the plate this season, stringing together a nine-game hit streak from June 22 through Monday's contest.
Through Monday, the 23-year-old, drafted last year in the 18th round out of Indian River Community College, led Aberdeen in hits, batting average and on-base percentage.
"I made some adjustments, like trying to land on my front foot [more] evenly," Kimmel said Sunday, after going 2-for-4. "I'm trying to drive the ball up the middle, and I changed my approach when I have two strikes. I'm trying to wait on the ball a little more, let it get deeper. I feel good up there. If you're uncomfortable and you have a hit streak going on, something is wrong."
Originally selected as a catcher, and after 30 games behind the plate with Aberdeen last season, Kimmel switched to the outfield this spring.
"It was at extended spring training when I started moving around," Kimmel said. "They had me playing at third and in the outfield. I've just been playing out there since then."
Merullo said Kimmel, who has anchored himself as the IronBirds leadoff hitter, shows a number of positive signs.
"Sam doesn't allow himself to get beat," Merullo said. "He goes with pitches and drives them where he can. I don't know how many hits up the middle he's had. That's a sign of a hitter that's comfortable. When you're able to go with the pitch, hit it to the opposite field or up middle, it means you're seeing the ball better and waiting on it. He's been a real plus for us at the leadoff spot."
Having gone the first 12 innings without scoring a single run on Monday night at Hudson Valley, the Aberdeen IronBirds finally came through in the top of the 13th, when Kimmel. who was DH'ing, belted a two-out RBI double that pushed across what would be the winning run in a 1-0 victory over the host-team Renegades.
After the first two hitters of the 13th inning were retired, Aberdeen third baseman Hector Veloz popped a base hit up the middle and Kimmel followed with a two-bagger to right field that scored Veloz from first.
IronBirds reliever Nick Cunningham (1-1), who came out of the bullpen with one down in the 12th and retired the side, tossed a perfect 13th to earn his first win of the season. Through 1-2/3 innings, Cunningham struck out three Hudson Valley hitters.
Kimmel, who extended his hitting streak to nine games earlier in the contest with a single, finished the game 2-for-6. Anthony Vega was 2-for-5 and Tanner Rust went 2-for-4. Kimmel's double was Aberdeen's only extra-base hit of the contest.
IronBirds starter Steven Brault went four innings, striking out two without issuing a walk and holding Hudson Valley to three hits.
The victory pushed Aberdeen, which is 3-1 in extra-inning games, to 6-8 for the season.
Last night at home
Aberdeen ended its five-game homestand Sunday night with a 6-2 loss to the Staten Island Yankees.
The defeat dropped Aberdeen to 5-8 for the year.
Following a Staten Island score in the top of the third, Aberdeen tied it up, 1-1, in the bottom half of the inning. The IronBirds jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the fourth, but the Yankees went ahead for good with two runs in the fifth. Staten Island added two more runs in the eighth and another in the ninth.
Aberdeen leadoff man Sam Kimmel extended his hitting streak to eight games, going 2-for-4 with one run scored. Hector Veloz blasted a solo home run, his second round-tripper of the season, while Trey Mancini was 1-for-4 with one RBI.
Winning streak busted
Playing at Ripken Stadium Saturday night, the IronBirds saw a three-game win streak end with a 4-1 loss to Staten Island.
Staten Island scored all four of its runs in the opening inning.
Aberdeen's lone tally came in the seventh on a solo homer by shortstop Jeff Kemp.
Sam Kimmel was the only IronBird with multiple hits, finishing the game 3-for-4.
Aberdeen in extras again
Leading 1-0 in the top of the ninth on Friday night, and with just one out in front of them before claiming victory, the IronBirds watched visiting Staten Island push the tying run across and force the game into extra innings. That did not deflate the hosts, however, and Aberdeen rallied for the winning run in the bottom of the 10th to take a 2-1 victory.
After failing to score in the bottom of the ninth, and holding the Yankees hitless in the top of the 10th, Aberdeen got back-to-back one-out singles from Sam Kimmel and Tanner Murphy in the bottom half of the inning. Jared Breen earned a walk to load the bases, and with Kris Richards at the plate, the Staten Island hurler uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Kimmel to score the walk-off run.
Aberdeen had six hits in total, all of which were singles.
Reliever Harry Marino (1-0) got his first win of the year by tossing a perfect 10th inning.
'Birds battle back
The IronBirds battled back from 5-1 deficit Thursday night to top the Brooklyn Cyclones, 7-5, at Ripken Stadium.
IronBirds starter Sebastian Vader (1-1) earned his first win of the season, going five innings in which he allowed four earned runs on eight hits.
Aberdeen's Anthony Vega had a season-best night at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double, three RBIs and one run scored.h a double, three RBIs and one run scored.