Pickles still putting pieces together
One week into their second West Coast League season, the Portland Pickles are a mixed bag. They sport a 3-3 record heading into a six-game homestand at Walker Stadium.
"The first week was full of highs and lows," second-year coach Justin Barchus says.
Not that that was a big surprise.
"Initially, the summer season is always a bit of a struggle, just to get your guys and get them comfortable," Barchus says.
A year ago, the Pickles found their groove starting in week two. They went from 4-2 (against the two clubs they played last week) to 9-2, then got to 17-8, then finished a WCL regular season-best 37-17.
The 2019 Pickles' next series is against the expansion Ridgefield Raptors. It starts with a 7 p.m. Tuesday game in Lents Park.
"I'm looking forward to showing them what a top-level team in the WCL looks like," says Pickles outfielder Gabe Skoro, a Lincoln High graduate who plays at the University of Portland.
The Raptors are off to the better start, however, having won four in a row to get to 4-2. UP's Peter Allegro picked up one of those wins in a starting role.
The Pickles, meanwhile, have yet to put the pieces together the way they did last year, and it looks like it will take some adjustments to make that happen.
"We need to step back and reassess," Barchus says. "We were pretty fortunate last year, and we need to understand that it's not that easy. We're going to take a workmanlike approach to it."
The Pickles are batting only .197. They scored only five runs with their wood bats in going 1-2 in their opening series at home against the Port Angeles Lefties, whose pitching staff did include 40th-round MLB draft choice (Miami Marlins) Kade Mechals from Grand Canyon University.
Portland upped its production over the weekend, tallying 18 runs in going 2-1 on the road against the Cowlitz Black Bears in Longview, Washington.
"Our guys had more quality at-bats, but we're also leaving a little bit to be desired," Barchus says. "We're not executing, we're not playing small ball, doing that kind of stuff. Not advancing runners when we have guys on second and third, and with two outs.
"We're going to continue to work on those things. We've been putting in time early every day on that, so I'm sure it'll come around."
The defense hasn't been perfect for the Pickles, either. After no errors in their first four games, Portland had eight in the last two. On Sunday, the Pickles gave up six straight runs after leading 5-1, and lost 7-5.
"We played horrible defense behind (our pitchers), which is uncharacteristic of us," Barchus says. "There's a little bit of give and take there, but I still think they can be sharper."
Depth has affected the pitching. While some have stood out on the mound, such as Lincoln High product Zane Mills (Washington State), the staff hasn't hit the Pickles' high standards of 2018, when they finished second in the league in ERA (2.74). This season, the team ERA is 4.08.
Portland dealt with a couple of injuries in week one. Outfielder John Arndorfer (Notre Dame, ex-Jesuit High), who has played in every game, injured his groin against Cowlitz on Saturday. Infielder Brendan Power (Tulane) hurt his back against Port Angeles.
But no excuses, Barchus says.
"I don't want to harp too much on the roster because everyone deals with it," he adds. "We're not at a select disadvantage here."
Arndorfer has excelled at getting on base and running the bases. He has a team-high eight walks and the third-best on-base percentage (.458) despite a .188 batting average.
The main cog offensively has been Kyle Manzardo. The first baseman from WSU has team highs in batting (.450) and slugging (.600).
"Kyle has been carrying the weight of our offense on his shoulders," Skoro says. "He's having great at-bats and finding ways to get on base."
This month's MLB draft threw the Pickles a curve, too. Five prospective Portland players were chosen, and now only two of them are likely to play for the team.
Shortstop Cole Roberts (Loyola Marymount) played his first three games against Cowlitz, and catcher Darius Perry, a graduating high school senior (La Mirada, California) and UCLA commit, is expected to join the squad this week.
Roberts, the son of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, went to the San Diego Padres in the 38th round. Perry was a 39th-round (next-to-last round) pick of the Colorado Rockies.
Barchus says Perry brings defensive and physical attributes that will help the Pickles.
"Darius is going to be pretty physical for a high school kid," Barchus says of the 6-2, 220-pounder. "He is a little more set up for success early. He's basically a college kid, physically."
Pitchers Alex Roth (Western Oregon) and Evan Fitterer (UCLA commit) were taken in the 21st and fifth rounds by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami, respectively. They have informed Barchus they will sign pro contracts.
First baseman Joseph Naranjo, taken in the third round by the Cleveland Indians, has not informed the Pickles of his intentions but is expected to sign as well.
"Guys like Fitterer, Roth and Naranjo have the potential not just to get signed but to play in the big leagues. So it's selfishly cool just to be around them," Barchus says, "because you're going, 'I could be watching that kid on TV in five, six years.' They're just not common. It's congrats to them."
After three games against Ridgefield, the Pickles will welcome the Bend Elks to Walker Stadium for three games, Friday through Sunday. One of the promotions is Saturday's Mazatlan Venados Baseball Night. The Pickles will honor the Mexican Pacific League team by wearing their uniforms.