For GreenJackets center fielder Freddy May, he gives the credit for his resurgence to the man all the way at the top.
Of the organization, that is.
It was Pittsburgh general manager Cam Bonifay who May says helped him to turn his season and, perhaps, his career, around. Bonifay was in town for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game June 17, and spent some time with the once struggling 21-year-old.
"He gave me some really simple advice," said May, who was batting .193 at the break, and has raised his average to .224, batting at a .317 clip in July. "He noticed that I was leaning over too much in my stance, and he showed me why I was having such a hard time hitting that way. Since then, I've straightened up a bit and I'm seeing the ball much better."
May, named the SAL's best defensive center fielder last year by Baseball America- an honor voted on by the league's managers - batted just .203 in 390 at-bats for the Jackets in 1996.
The struggles and frustrations continued during the first half for the Bucs' 9th-round draft pick in 1995, and he had virtually lost his everyday job to Al Davis.
But Davis was promoted to Lynchburg last week and May knows now he's the man again in center and in the leadoff spot.
"It's been real tough, but I feel better now than I ever have," said the Seattle native. "Since the all-star break, my confidence level has really gone up, and knowing you're going to be in the lineup everyday helps your confidence too."
Through all his struggles, May's defense never suffered. Friday night, he put it all together, going 2-for-5 with a double, adding a diving over-the-shoulder catch he called "one of the best, if not the best catch I've ever made."
MR. CHANEY: Sure, Jackets left-hander Michael Chaney has surrendered a home run in each of his last six starts.
And sure, that statistic bothers the Bucs' 16th-round pick last June out of Bowling Green.
Jackets pitching coach Scott Lovekamp, however, is quite high on the 22-year-old.
"I think he's gotten better each game," Lovekamp said. "His location on his fastball and change-up has been good and he's been able to stretch out the strikezone once he gets ahead in the count. He's doing what the top left-handers in the big leagues do. Like the Jimmy Keys and Tom Glavines. He gets ahead and stretches that strikezone out, and that makes him real tough."
Chaney (6-4) opened his second pro season in the Jackets bullpen and made only one start before June 9. Though he is 3-3 with a 4.31 ERA in eight starts, Chaney's ERA in July is 2.20, with nine strikeouts and two walks in his last 16 innings. His 1.74 ERA in July is seventh best in the SAL this month, and his 3.08 ERA overall in 25 appearances is second best among all Pirates farmhands (minimum 54 innings).
Though Chaney has been solid all year, Jackets catcher Skip Shipp, who caught him last season at short-season Class A Erie, told Lovekamp that the 6-foot-3 Cincinnati native is the most improved pitcher on the staff.
"I've given up some home runs because I've made some bad pitches here and there but, overall, I'm pretty happy," Chaney said. "I just need more experience and innings, and the key for me is just going out there every four or five days and pitching as long as I can."
THEY WERE HERE: Of the Pirates organization's top 10 in ERA this season (six minor league affiliates), six have pitched for the Jackets this season - Carlos Alvarado, who leads all Bucs pitchers with a 2.86 ERA, Chaney (3.08), Neal McDade (3.12), Paul Ah Yat (3.22), Jason Haynie (3.36, now at advanced- Class A Lynchburg), and Aaron France (3.76). Three were Jackets in '96 currently at Lynchburg - Bronson Arroyo (3.38), Jason Johnson (3.71) and Jason Phillips (3.91).
JACKETS BUZZ: There's an Ivy League feeling in the Jackets clubhouse these days. First baseman/outfielder Garrett Long attends Yale in the offseason, and catcher John Turlais, who joined the Jackets last week after he was sent down from advanced-Class A Lynchburg, is a Harvard graduate. ... Before going on the DL last week with a pulled hamstring, Long was third in the SAL with a .423 on-base percentage. ... Ah Yat (4-1, 3.22 ERA) has walked just one while striking out 24 in his last 18 innings. The left-hander's 2.03 ERA in July is 10th best in the league ... The starting five of Chaney, Ah Yat, McDade, France and Danny Young have posted an ERA of 2.89 in July. Minus the 12.46 ERA by Young, possessor of the best stuff on the staff with a mid-nineties fastball, the remaining four's ERA is 2.40. Third baseman Bo Hundt pinch hit in the seventh inning Friday against Macon and had an RBI sacrifice fly in his only at-bat, snapping a 10-game hitting streak. ... The Jackets are 32-1 when leading after eight innings, 1-39 when behind in their final at-bat. They are 27-18 when scoring first, 26-20 when scoring last, and 12-18 in 1-run games.