Augusta gains edge on the bases

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Stealing bases has long been a strategy used at Lake Olmstead Stadium. Under first-year Augusta GreenJackets manager Andy Skeels , the tradition is alive and well.

With a quarter of the season in the books, the GreenJackets rank fourth in the South Atlantic League with 46 stolen bases. The team has finished in the top three in the league in stolen bases each of the past three years, including leading the league last season.

"It's an organizational dictum, and it's the way we've played here for years," Skeels said. "We're always trying to get 90 feet closer."

The San Francisco Giants and their farm teams are all near or at the top of their respective leagues in the stolen-base department. Triple-A Fresno leads the Pacific Coast League with 38 stolen bases, Double-A Connecticut ranks third in the Eastern League, and Advanced Class A San Jose tops the list in the California League.

Meanwhile, the Giants are tied with the Houston Astros as the leader in the major league.

Skeels said the emphasis on stealing bases comes down to an attempt to gain an extra edge.

"It creates gaps in your infield and concentration problems for the pitcher," he said.

Outfielder James Simmons leads the GreenJackets in stolen bases, with 11 in 15 attempts. He ranks in the SAL's top 10.

"I've got it down to where I can read the pitcher and get a comfortable lead," Simmons said. "Everybody knows the organization wants us to be aggressive on the base paths."

19 HITS OVER 28 DAYS: Utility infielder Brock Bond's 19-game hitting streak was snapped Monday when he went 0-for-1 in an appearance as a pinch-hitter. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his hitting streak was the way he did it. Bond isn't an everyday starter for Augusta.

"They way he's been swinging the bat, we've been trying different things to get him in the lineup as much as we can," Skeels said.

In 37 games this season, Bond has started 23 times. He's made seven starts at second base, five at third base, 10 as a designated hitter and one in left field. He came to the GreenJackets as a second baseman, but Nick Noonan , one of the top prospects in the organization, has that position locked up. The same applies at shortstop and third base, where Charlie Culberson , the 51st overall pick in the 2007 draft, and Andrew Davis , the Giants' No. 12 choice in 2007, have been everyday starters.

THE CLOSER: GreenJackets reliever Daniel Otero has a streak too. The right-hander hasn't given up a run in 13 appearances this year. He's pitched 15.1 innings with seven saves and 15 strikeouts.

FAR FROM HOME: The GreenJackets began an eight-game road trip Monday with the start of a four-game series in Rome, Ga. They'll play four games in Columbus before returning to Lake Olmstead Stadium May 20.

CASHING IN: A former GreenJacket hit it big last week. Hanley Ramirez , now a 24-year- old shortstop with the Florida Marlins, signed a six-year, $70 million deal. Ramirez played 111 games for the GreenJackets in 2003 and led the team in doubles (24), runs (69), home runs (8) and stolen bases (36).

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.

STEALING FROM COAST TO COAST

TEAM STOLEN BASES LEAGUE RANKING TEAM LEADER
San Francisco Giants 40 t-1st in Major League Baseball Eugenio Velez (8)*
Fresno Grizzlies 38 1st in Pacific Coast League (AAA) Ivan Ochoa (18)
Connecticut Defenders 38 3rd in Eastern League (AA) Antoan Richardson (13)*
San Jose Giants 61 1st in California League (A-Advanced) Tyler Graham (19)*
Augusta GreenJackets 46 4th in South Atlantic League (A) James Simmons (11)

*former GreenJacket


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