MACK ENJOYING FIRST TASTE OF DOUBLE-A WITH THUNDER

Outfielder Deangelo Mack

Deangelo Mack observes the game situation.

It’s easy to tell how Thunder outfielder Deangelo Mack approaches the game of baseball.  While confidence is not lacking with the 24-year-old native of West Columbus, S.C., he knows how much work this all takes.

Especially now, with the 40-31 Thunder scuffling on a nine-game road trip. The club returns to Waterfront Park on June 27.

“The biggest thing if you want to win at this level is staying consistent,’’ said Mack. “Something I really appreciate here is the back-and-forth we have with the coaches.

“We have a lot of discussions around the cage and elsewhere. ‘What do you think of this, or that? Or can we do better with this?’”

“I’ve found it best to take one pitch at a time, one game at a time, and keep working on the little things.’’

Mack earned a promotion to the Thunder after batting .291 (34-for-117) in 34 games with Class-A Advanced Tampa. He continued to hit upon arriving in Trenton, but an 0-for-15 slump has dropped his average to .241 (20-for-83) in 25 games with the Thunder.

A star at the University of South Carolina, and an all-star in the New York-Penn League in 2009, Mack knows there will be ups and downs.

“I’m comfortable here, and I’m feeling real good about things,’’ he said. “You have to keep your focus during the season, just play your game and do what you have to do.’’

Mack was doing just that when Tampa skipper Luis Sojo called him into his office and informed him of his promotion.

“I just gathered all my things and jumped on a flight,’’ he said. “Trenton is a nice place to come to. Everybody welcomed me with open arms and showed me the ropes. I’m really enjoying playing for (manager) Tony (Franklin) and the atmosphere in the clubhouse.

“Tony is the kind of manager who is laid-back and doesn’t have a lot of rules, but he can be intense when he has to and wants to win and make us better players. I appreciate that.’’

Franklin stresses doing things the right way, not only to win at this level, but because “that’s how it is done in the major leagues, and that is the goal for everyone here.’’

Mack, as is the case with any player experiencing the Double-A level for the first time, has noticed how much adjustment there is. The pitching, according to Mack, is the big difference between the Florida State League and Eastern League.

“The pitchers here have better command with all their pitches,’’ he said. “They can throw any pitch for a strike.  I saw a lot of straight fastballs at the lower levels. Here, lately, I haven’t seen any straight fastballs. That’s what I am adjusting to.’’

Mack, who has been stationed in left field by Franklin, takes good routes to the ball, has a decent arm, and is solid fundamentally. Not as speedy as such counterparts as Thunder teammate Ray Kruml or Austin Krum, who began the 2011 season with the Thunder, he is thought of as a corner outfielder.

He has been working on increasing his jump to the ball and his speed, with the goal the ability to play all three outfield positions.

“We have a lot of good players all through the Yankees system,’’ said Mack.  “What’s nice now is we all have a chance to advance. The key is working on the little things to make your game better.

“Double-A is a good challenge for a lot of us. We’re learning. A lot of us don’t have a lot of experience at this level, but we are showing we can win.’’

Mack is yet another performer Franklin and his staff are bringing along. With the All-Star Break a few weeks away and the Thunder, as always, contending for an Eastern League playoff spot, Mack will certainly be looked to as a key contributor.

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TOUGH NIGHT FOR HORNE:  Back in 2007, all seemed to be going right for right-hander Alan Horne. He put together a 12-4, 3.11 season with the Thunder, with a strikeout/walk ratio of 165-57. He earned Eastern League All-Star honors.

At that point, he was almost on the cusp of the major leagues.

Since then, however, Horne, one of the nicest guys you will meet in baseball, has battled arm miseries and subsequent surgery – keeping in touch with several media members – as he struggled to make a comeback.

Things didn’t go well in 2009, going 0-3 with an ERA of 11.15 in five appearances with the Thunder. Horne knew things weren’t right.

Healthy enough to be activated from the disabled list for a start Wednesday night in Portland, Horne simply had no command vs. the Sea Dogs. He faced six batters – walking five – allowing four earned runs and not recording an out.

Horne is the type of pitcher all would like to see regain his effectiveness.  The obvious question is, can he?

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FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  Cody Johnson’s improvement is certainly noticeable. For June, he is hitting .293 (22-for-75) with five homers and 17 RBIs.  His batting stance from the left side, holding the bat close to the hip, reminds one of Roy White’s stance from that side. “All I was trying to do with that was make contact,’’ White said in a recent interview.  That’s precisely what the coaches are doing with Johnson, aiming for more contact and cutting down on strikeouts. The strategy seems to be working … Rob Lyerly gives the Thunder another left-handed hitter with a bit of pop. He earned a promotion to Double-A after batting .315 (82-for-260) with four homers and 46 RBIs in 64 games with Tampa. With the T-Yanks, his OPS was a solid .825 … Akron’s Tim Fedroff continues to lead the Eastern League in batting at .345 (87-for-252) … Richmond’s Eric Surkamp is the ERA leader at 1.88. The Thunder’s Dellin Betances is fifth at 2.61.

BaseLines appears weekly on www.trentonthunder.com.  Comments are welcomed and suggested at jed.weisberger3@gmail.com. Follow on Twitter @jedleyq.

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