By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
You didn't really expect the youngest team in Cyclones history to roll through the 76-game grind of the New York-Penn League schedule without any growing pains, did you?
Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly certainly didn't.
"It’s a good group, but they have a long way to go," Donnelly insisted even while his team was pulling away from the pack during the season's first 20 games. "We have a lot of freshmen here.”
After nearly three decades as a major league coach and two summers in the Baby Bums' dugout, the 65-year-old skipper has seen the peaks and valleys that accompany any baseball season, much less one that features nary a day off with extended bus trips and a roster full of teenagers getting their first taste of pro action.
That's why Brooklyn's recent funk hasn't caught him off-guard.
"We just didn't execute," Donnelly lamented after the Cyclones' season-high third consecutive defeat, a 5-2 setback to visiting Jamestown Monday before an announced crowd of 6,848 at MCU Park, on Bensonhurst Night.
Following a season-high six-game winning streak, the McNamara Division-leading Cyclones (14-8) have dropped four of their last five — all at home — and now must embark on a six-game road trip through Connecticut and State College, Pa.
For Donnelly, who obsesses over wins and losses as much as he does player development at the Class A short-season level, the extended trip will serve as a proving ground for his squad, which has spent the early part of the sweltering summer breezing through the competition on the 14-team circuit.
“We’re gonna find out what kind of team we have on this road trip," noted Donnelly, who revealed that he'd spend Tuesday — a league-wide day off in observance of the major league All-Star Game — going over Brooklyn's next opponent while enjoying a cookout at a friend's home. "It’s a long six-day trip and I think we come back for one [July 17 vs. Hudson Valley] and then we go back out to Hudson Valley and Staten Island. Eight of our next nine games are away.”
Thus far, the road has not been unkind to the Cyclones, who boast an impressive 6-2 mark away from Coney Island. But coming off a 2-4 homestand, which dropped their record at MCU to 8-6, the Baby Bums will be chomping at the bit to get back in the win column when they face the Tigers in Norwich's Dodd Stadium Wednesday night.
On Monday, starter Hansel Robles was brilliant through 5 1/3 innings, yielding a run on three hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. But Brooklyn's suddenly slumping offense, which managed only seven runs during the three-game sweep at the hands of the Jammers, and bullpen cost the Cyclones any shot of going into their off day with a much-sought-after win.
“We wasted a good performance by Robles," Donnelly said. "He pitched great but our bullpen let us down. When you have to hold them scoreless every inning to win the game, it comes down to the offense sometimes too. Usually, you score enough runs you’re OK. We didn’t score enough runs.”
Playing error-free baseball and getting a go-ahead two-run single from shortstop Phillip Evans in the sixth simply wasn't enough for the Cyclones as Jamestown rallied for two runs in the eighth off Matt Bowman (1-1) and added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth against Tim Peterson.
Evans, who had been mired in an 0-for-17 slump, gave the crowd a lift when he bounced a base hit up the middle to send home Juan Carlos Gamboa and Brandon Nimmo for a 2-1 lead with none out in the sixth. But Cole Frenzel, who has cooled off considerably after flirting with .400 for most of the season's first month, and Stefan Sabol both struck out against Jammers reliever Brian Ellington (1-0) before Jayce Boyd grounded to short to end Brooklyn's best threat of the evening.
“Our situational hitting tonight was not very good," Donnelly noted. "When you don’t execute then you have to pitch almost perfect.”
Robles was threatening to do just that when he held Jamestown hitless over the first four frames. The Jammers' first hit of the night — a line-drive single into center that Nimmo nearly snatched off the grass with an acrobatic tuck-roll — didn't prove costly, but Jamestown put up the game's first run in the sixth on Pedro Mendoza's sacrifice fly, ending Robles' night.
While the season is not yet a third of the way to completion, Donnelly knows the lessons learned during a losing streak are as valuable as the ones his players picked up on the path to first place.
"We're gonna see what we're made of," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do."
* * *
This, That and the Other Thing: CF Nimmo, who finished 1-for-2 with two walks and a run scored Monday, has finally cleared the Mendoza line, hopefully for good, at .205. The 19-year-old Wyoming native and 13th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Mets continues to produce, driving in 12 runs in his last 10 games. Nimmo leads Brooklyn and ranks sixth in the league with 15 RBIs this summer. ... The Cyclones celebrated the 350th anniversary of Bensonhurst on Monday night and Lafayette High School graduate John Franco was on hand for the festivities, working as part of WFAN's three-man broadcast team which called the game. Franco, a Bensonhurst native who grew up in the shadows of the neighborhood's Marlboro projects, was joined in the booth by former Mets lefty Bobby Ojeda, who worked the game for SNY, the Mets' cable station. ... C Kevin Plawecki, a runner-up for the Thurman Munson Award following his senior season at Purdue earlier this year, threw out a base-stealer Monday night, but three others swiped bags successfully against the supplemental first-round pick in last month's draft. For the season, Plawecki has nailed 7-of-23 potential base-stealers, an impressive figure for a backstop getting his feet wet at the pro level.