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BY KYLE GARCIA/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Wood-bat team lags way behind last year's rankings - so far

PMG PHOTO: KYLE GARCIA - Portland Pickles manager Justin Barchus team has strides still to make offensively in the second half of the West Coast League season.The Portland Pickles had 17 losses all last season in the West Coast League.

This year, they had 17 losses after 26 games.

The Pickles did improve to 11-18 with back-to-back wins at home last week against the Yakima Valley Pippins.

"It's early to say, but it could be the turning point in our season," Pickles coach Justin Barchus said.

For that to happen, though, the Pickles will need to improve in every phase of the game — and especially on offense.

Portland ranks last in the WCL in runs per game (3.82), batting average (.198), slugging percentage (.278), on-base plus slugging (.592) and strikeouts (266).

In 54 games in 2018, the Pickles had 93 doubles, 13 triples and 43 home runs. In 29 games this year, they have 36 doubles, two triples and 11 homers.

"The worst offense I've ever seen in this league," Barchus said of his team in the first half of the 2019 season. "This is my fifth year in the league, and it's the worst offense I've ever seen."

The Pickles lost last week's series opener with Yakima Valley 1-0, striking out 14 times. They struck out 17 times in Game 2, but rallied to win 2-1.

"You put so much pressure on yourself by not scoring any runs," Barchus said. "Your pitching staff feels like 'if I give up two or three, this game's over,' so they start pressing a little."

Then came a season-high for runs in Sunday's 11-4 victory over Yakima Valley.

"No one has ever hoped to get out of a funk, they've worked to get out of a funk," Pickles hitting coach Mark Magdaleno said. "We don't talk about results, we've just been talking about positive at bats, trying to win every at bat.

"In any business or any occupation, if you start looking at results, you're going to forget about what it takes to get the result. If you rely on working your process, the results will come."

Barchus hasn't been thrilled with his team's defense or pitching, either.

"I would say we were pretty mediocre, to put it kindly, in all three facets of the game," he said last week.

The Pickles' pitching came around against Yakima Valley, though.

"Our guys just stuck to the course," pitching coach Zach Miller said. "It's not really fazed them. They're here to get developed. Wins and losses are a byproduct of the development, but I think our guys are developing."

And the defense has improved.

"Defense, just like hitting a rhythm, is a mind-set," Magdaleno said. "And we've been doing a lot of stuff as far as getting into our rhythm and our routine. A lot of little things create a big thing. Not making the great play, but let's make the routine play."

The Pickles have had injury challenges, too. In an exhibition last weekend against the Hayesville Hammers, outfielder Trevor Halsema (USC) suffered a wrist injury that will keep him out the rest of the season. Infielder Kyle Velazquez (Saint Mary's) has been battling an ankle injury. Infielder Brendan Power (Tulane) was hit in the face by a pitch and sat out a game. Infielder Tommy Williams (Orange Coast College) hurt a hamstring two at bats into his Pickles career.

"It's been a tough and weird year with the injuries," Barchus said. "You have injuries, but some of them and how quick they happen are just bizarre, so we really this next week want to get our guys healthy."

The Pickles are playing exhibition games all this week. They'll finish a series with Australia's Perth Colts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Walker Stadium and welcome the San Francisco Seals, another college wood-bat team, for three games, Friday through Sunday.

Each WCL team has a bye week. Pickles owner Alan Miller saw it an opportunity to bring some more entertainment to the home fans.

The Colts came to Portland two years ago. Similar to WCL teams, Perth comprises mostly college-age and high school players.

"They were so nice," Miller said. "They brought all kinds of cool Australian trinkets and things for the kids to check out, koala bears, so it really became a fun series to be able to play them again."

Barchus said the exhibitions will enable the players to stay active.

"When you're in a summer like this, you can't take too much time away," he said. "You've got to keep your rhythm."

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