Looking to Stay on a Winning Pace
e Missions are undefeated, at 1-0, since Keston Hiura left the squad via a promotion to the parent-club Milwaukee Brewers.
With Hiura traveling to Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Missions completed a four-game trip in Louisiana with a 5-2 victory over the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
But now the hard part begins.
ey'll move ahead in earnest without their 22-year-old batting star when they open a five-game home series ursday night against the Memphis Redbirds.
e Memphis series kicks off a stretch in which the Missions will play only nine of their next 26 games at Wolff Stadium.
In an interview late Tuesday night, a Missions' clubhouse leader applauded Hiura's promotion, while also expressing confidence in the team's chances to keep winning in the Pacific Coast League.
Outfielder Jake Hager said it's "next man up" for the Missions.
"I think we'll be just fine," Hager said. "We have a solid team. Everyone here can hit. We all piggy-back off each other. We're all here for each other. It's a great squad, and I think we're going to be just fine."
After splitting four games at New Orleans, the Missions (22-17) open the series with Memphis in second place, two and a half games behind Round Rock, in the PCL's American Southern Division.
Hager tipped his cap to Hiura, who led the Missions with a .333 batting average, 11 homers and 26 RBI through the first 39 games.
"He showed up (in Triple-A) this season and, every day, he put on a show," Hager said. "It was incredible. Every time he was at the plate, we were all on the top step, watching him. We're all very excited for him. He deserves it. I think he's going to be an incredible big leaguer."
Hiura, a third-year pro, made his major league debut with two hits in three at bats against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"I am very excited for Keston," Missions manager Rick Sweet said. "He has worked very hard to improve his game, to get this opportunity early in his career."
Hiura is the first position player and the fifth overall from the 2017 draft to appear in the majors.
He left the PCL ranked among the league leaders in batting average, homers, doubles (12) and RBI, as well as slugging percentage (.698) and OPS (1.106).
Missions hitting coach Al LeBoeuf said he isn't surprised that Hiura, the ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft out Cal-Irvine, developed so quickly.
"He's got a pretty good hitters' IQ," LeBoeuf said. "He understands what he does, when he does it properly. e one thing he really does well, is, he swings at strikes. at, with a combination of a good swing, makes for pretty good success."
'Improving with every game'
Missions manager Rick Sweet said he likes his team's position in the standings with a little more than a quarter of the schedule completed. "We are a very young team ... improving with every game," he said in a text message.
American Southern Division - Round Rock 24-14, San Antonio 22-17, New Orleans 20-19, Oklahoma City 12-25.
American Northern Division - Iowa 24-15, Memphis 21-18, Omaha 18-21, Nashville 13-25.
e Missions are hardly regarded as a feared, home-run, slugging team in the PCL. ey rank tied for ninth among 16 teams with 52.
On the flip side of the statistics, the Missions' pitching staff has done an excellent job, compared to other teams, in keeping the ball in the field of play. ey're tied with the visiting Memphis Redbirds for second in fewest homers allowed with 46.
At the same time, both of the statistics - home runs hit and homers allowed by the Missions -- are way ahead of pace for recent seasons and actually are threatening the two long-standing, single-season, franchise records.
Why is this happening? Experts say it's the baseball. For the first time, the same type of lively ball used in the major leagues is being used in Triple-A.
rough 39 games of the Missions' first season in Triple-A, they've hit 52 homers. Which means, with 101 games remaining, the team record for a season (171, in 1925) could be in reach if the current trend continues.
Furthermore, according to statistics at baseball-reference.com, the most prolific season for homers by the team in the past five years came in 2018, when the Missions hit 130 in their last year in the Double-A Texas League.
As for the pitching side of the equation, the Missions have yielded 46, only six more than league-leading Iowa's 40.
But at the current pace, the homers allowed could easily eclipse the most given up by a Missions pitching staff in a season over the past five years (110, in 2016) and could approach the franchise record (167, set in 1956).
Pitcher omas Jankins started the season in Double-A, at Biloxi, Miss., throwing the minor league ball. He was handed the more tightly-wound, major-league ball when he was called up to the Missions on April 19.
After using the major-league ball only once in spring training, he has had to adapt in his four starts at the Triple-A level.
"It's been a little bit of an adjustment, trying to dial in my stuff with it," Jankins said, following his last start on May 9. "(My) sinker has been good with it. Sometimes it moves a little too much with the new ball. (e) breaking ball seems to be moving a little less than I was used to."
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