TRENTON – The first time this reporter ran into Thunder lefty Josh Romanski was during one of Class-A Charleston’s visits to Lakewood during the 2010 South Atlantic League season.

Romanski, 24, who was signed by the Yankees April 14, 2010 – he was originally a fourth-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 – had some definite goals in mind.

“I feel good and I’m throwing good,’’ said Romanski then. “I want to get to Double-A next season. That’s my goal.’’

Romanski was pitching well for the RiverDogs at that juncture, in fact an 8-4, 3.15 mark in 15 starts – with a strikeout/walk ratio of 73-17 – earned him a promotion to Class-A Advanced Tampa near the close of the season.

After putting together an 0-0, 0.87 mark in seven appearances – of which one was just a start – the Corona, Calif., native compiled a 6-5, 2.99 effort in 13 starts and earned a promotion to the Thunder June 28.

“I can recall last year, and what my goal was,’’ said Romanski.  “I’m glad I’m here (with the Thunder).  This is where I want to finish the season.

“I have to make sure that’s the case.’’

Romanski was something of a mystery. After pitching behind Baltimore’s Brian Matusz at the University of San Diego for three years, Milwaukee took him in the fourth round three years ago and gave him a $247,000 bonus.

He then needed Tommy John surgery, and was released.  The Yankees were more than glad to give this talented southpaw a shot.

“The Yankees gave me a second chance, and I’m determined to make the most of it,’’ Romanski said.

With the Thunder, in seven appearances through the just-completed homestand, Romanski, has allowed just a single run in 10.1 innings. His longest stint was a three-inning effort at Reading July 11, in which he allowed just a single hit in a scoreless effort. He is 0-0, 0.87 with Trenton.

Thunder manager Tony Franklin is glad to have another lefty in the bullpen, one who could also start in an emergency.

“With all the guys we have lost, through injuries and call-ups, it’s been nice to have Josh around,’’ said Franklin, whose 52-45 club heads out on a road trip to Bowie and Akron that could prove challenging.

“We’ll take the help from wherever we can get it. We’re getting some from Josh.’’

Romanski is not the hardest thrower, but he commands his three-pitch arsenal quite well. His fastball sits in the upper-80s – it does hit 90-91 here and there – but the key to his success is a sharp curve and an excellent changeup.

So far with the Thunder, he’s been effective in relief.

“The key is my command,’’ Romanski agreed. “I’m not the hardest thrower around, but I can mix my pitches and hit my spots. There are plenty of good hitters in the Eastern League and I have to stay a step ahead of them.

“Certainly I enjoy starting, but if relief and coming out of the bullpen is where they need me, that’s certainly fine as well.’’

In addition to bullpen work, Franklin could also use Romanski as an emergency pinch-hitter.  He played a solid center field in college and can put the bat on the ball. Scouts feel, however, he has much more upside as a control pitcher.

To many players, the South Atlantic League, the lowest-level full-season circuit in Minor League Baseball, is a long way from Double-A. Romanski, however, set a goal for himself and achieved it.

Is his future as a starter or reliever?  That remains to be seen. Roles could fall either way.

And, in that emergency, the Thunder could put a bat in his hand.


         MARUSZAK BACK WITH THUNDER: The always upbeat Addison Maruszak is back in the Thunder clubhouse after his second stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“It was fun up there,’’ said Maruszak, who started three games. “I got to go to some interesting places, like the stadium in Pawtucket. It never hurts to get a taste of the level above where you are playing.’’

The fact Maruszak can play every position but pitcher makes him a perfect candidate for a fill-in role.

Lately, Maruszak has been hitting well in the clutch, batting .355 (11-for-31) with a pair of homers in his last 10 Thunder games. He had a trio of multi-hit games this past week, and with infielder Brad Suttle going on the disabled list, could see additional action at third base.

“I’m feeling good and my game seems to be coming around,’’ said Maruszak, who is batting .241 (52-for-216) with five homers and 26 RBIs in 68 games with the Thunder. His OPS is a fairly strong .711, showing his ability to come through with key hits.

“We’ve got a lot of good players,’’ he said. “I just want to contribute where I can.’’


           FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  The Thunder open a four-game series with Bowie (52-43) tonight in Maryland. By some quirk in the Eastern League schedule, the two teams didn’t meet until both were nearly 100 games into the schedule. The Baysox make their one visit to Waterfront Park Aug. 18-21 … Many fans have asked when the Thunder play Harrisburg, now that uber-prospect Bryce Harper is with the talented (56-40) Senators. Unfortunately, Harrisburg has already made two visits to Waterfront Park, and the only Thunder-Senators meetings left are Aug. 12-14 in Harrisburg … The Thunder travel to Akron for a trio of games after the Bowie series, but the Aeros will not have Tim Fedroff, who was leading the Eastern League in hitting at .338 before earning a promotion to Triple-A Columbus July 8 … The Thunder return home Thursday, July 28, opening a four-game series with the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

BaseLines appears weekly on  Comments are welcomed and suggested below, or at  Follow on Twitter @jedleyq


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The other day, a friend from South Jersey – an ardent Phillies fan – asked me what I thought of Phillies TV voice Tom McCarthy.

        I thought for a minute, back to the day he joined our sports staff at The Times of Trenton, when he was still a student at The College of New Jersey.

        “Tommy McCarthy?  I’m really proud of him,’’ I said with a straight face. “He’s one of the best, and not just when he’s calling Phillies games of Comcast SportsNet or WPHL (Channel 17).’’

        “You really think highly of him?  I see that,’’ my friend said.

        “Absolutely,’’ I said. “Not only is he a terrific broadcaster, but a terrific guy as well.’’

        What makes McCarthy, who turned 43 this past July 5, such a winner?  Let’s turn the clock back a few months.  The place was Cedar Gardens in Hamilton. The affair McCarthy’s annual dinner for the Allentown (N.J.) High baseball team, the locale in which he and his family reside.

         The dinner, which featured such luminaries as former Thunder manager and Boston bench coach DeMarlo Hale and former Phillies reliever and MLB Network personality Mitch Williams, gave the Allentown program support, but that was just the start.

         When one just sat there and took it all in, noticing the smiles, excitement and appreciation on the faces of Allentown’s players, their parents and their coaches – and the way McCarthy gently talked to many youngsters – the scene was perfect.

         Perfect for the latest addition to the Trenton Baseball Hall of Fame, which McCarthy joins Thursday night at Waterfront Park prior to the Thunder’s game with the Reading Phillies.

         Believe it or not, McCarthy, still affectionately known among his friends as “Boog,’’ despite his present slim-and-trim look, was assigned Mercer County field hockey as a beat at The Times. That’s what we needed at that juncture.  McCarthy dutifully filled that beat, but also was quick to remind what his goal was.

        “I want to be a broadcaster,’’ he said.

        A few years later, when a group of men from the area purchased the London (Ont.) Tigers and moved the Double-A Eastern League franchise to Trenton to become the Thunder, McCarthy quickly pursued the broadcast possibilities.

        It all worked out – Tom is the one who first introduced me to Sam Plumeri Sr. telling me what a great guy he was – and McCarthy was named the Thunder’s first Director of Public Relations and broadcaster.

        On a chilly April 1994 night in Harrisburg’s ballpark – then known as RiverSide Stadium – McCarthy called his first professional baseball game with colleague Nick Simonetta at his side. A player named Kelly O’Neal, a Detroit farmhand like his teammates, was the Thunder’s first-ever hitter.

        McCarthy’s call was strong and solid. He spent a lot of time in those early days reporting on the construction of Waterfront Park, which didn’t open until May 9. He doubled as both a broadcaster and a publicist during a challenging time for the new franchise.

        Ironically, the construction delays at Waterfront Park forced the Thunder to play a series with the Canton-Akron Indians – the predecessor to the Akron Aeros  – in Veterans Stadium, then the home of the Phillies.

        “It’s nice to call a game in a big-league stadium,’’ said McCarthy at the time. “Someday, this is where I’d like to be all the time.’’

         Following six seasons with the Thunder, during which he received a promotion to assistant general manager, McCarthy left the club, then a Red Sox affiliate, and got his break, spending five seasons (2001-05) as a Phillies radio play-by-play voice and pre- and postgame host.

        “I wanted to broadcast full-time,’’ he said then. “I had to take a chance.’’

         In addition to his baseball work, he was the voice of Princeton University football and basketball, calling the Tigers’ 43-41 upset of UCLA in 1996. Stints with Rutgers and ESPN Radio also were in the mix, as, over the years, were football assignments from CBS College Sports (then CSTV).

         The Atlantic 10n called. So did St. Joseph’s University, whose men’s basketball games McCarthy still calls. So did MLB Network, for which McCarthy and Boston Spanish broadcaster Uri Berenguer called the 2009 Caribbean Series via monitor at a studio in Secaucus.

         During four of his Thunder seasons, McCarthy worked with Andy Freed, who is now the voice of the Tampa Bay Rays.  There is little doubt McCarthy and Freed were one of the most talented duos ever to regularly work Double-A baseball.

         The two see each other often during spring training. While with the Thunder, they made a pact.

         “We both had the major leagues as our broadcasting goal,’’ said McCarthy. “ We made a promise that whoever made it to the major leagues first, would help the other the best we could.

         “Now that Andy and I are both where we want to be, it’s fun to stay in touch and reminisce. We had great times in Trenton.’’

          McCarthy took a position with the team he rooted for as a youth – the Mets – in 2006 – but returned to the Phillies, who offered a five-year contract, two seasons later.

          When the Mets were looking for a replacement for their WFAN broadcasts, McCarthy recommended Freed, who was honored, but politely declined to stay in the broadcast home he made for himself in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater.

          Following the death of beloved Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, McCarthy took over as the team’s main TV voice.  He is one of just three major-league broadcasters – Tim McCarver and Todd Kalas, who now works with Tampa Bay – to call both the Mets and Phillies on a regular basis.

          It’s not easy, even with the Phillies becoming an elite team, for anyone to replace a legend like Kalas. I covered the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1970s when Milo Hamilton, a fine broadcaster who still calls Houston Astros games at age 83 – and is a fine broadcaster – tried to replace a fired Bob Prince in Pittsburgh.

          McCarthy, however, is up to the task. He works with his on-air analysts better than anyone.

          Honors such as Thursday’s are earned only partially because of your public persona.  Fans don’t often see the McCarthy who is the devoted family man to lovely wife, Meg, and their four children. They don’t see the man who gives back to Allentown High’s baseball program willingly and effortlessly.

         So, Thunder fans, the cheers for McCarthy will be many Thursday night. They are deserved, for what this gentleman – and he is that to highest degree – does publicly on the airwaves, but also what he does personally behind the scenes.

        No doubt a Hall-of-Famer.

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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.


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?


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.

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TRENTON – Legitimate power prospects, a player who has the potential to become a big-league RBI machine, make baseball scouts dream.

      So, when the Boston Red Sox released their 2006 draft pick, outfielder Jason Place, the Yankees were quick to take a flyer on the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, who was the 27th player taken five years ago.

       Place, despite his inability to hit consistently in the Boston system, and a bit of struggle at Class-A Advanced Tampa to start the season – he batted .213 (10-for-47) in 13 games with the T-Yanks – got a chance to help the Double-A Thunder with the injury to outfielder Melky Mesa.

       During his seasons in the Red Sox system, hitting 39 homers between 2006-09, the 23-year-old Place, who grew up in Piedmont, S.C.,  struck out nearly 500 times. In 2000, in a season truncated by injury, he famed 48 times in 114 at-bats.

       Yet, in a signing similar to that of Cody Johnson, Atlanta’s first-round 2006 draft pick, the Yankees were quick to see if they could tweak the work the Red Sox had done in  smoothing out Place’s swing and unlocking his power potential.

       “After I was released, the Yankees were the first team to call,’’ said Place. “I committed to the Yankees quickly. A few other teams called me, but I stayed with my commitment.

       “I’m glad I did. So far, my experience in the Yankees system has been awesome.’’

        Place is not just a station-to-station power prospect without other tools. He has above-average speed, both running and swinging a bat, good route instincts in the outfield and a strong arm. He has the kind of package to earn a spot on a major-league roster.

        “But you have to make contact and hit consistently if you want to make it to the big leagues,’’ said Place. “That’s what I have to work on. I’ve been hitting pitchers’ mistakes, the pitches you have to take advantage of, but I’ve been popping them up.

        “I want to send them to gaps in the outfield.’’

        Place, like Johnson, is working on patience at the plate. Tuesday night, he took what was pitched to him and recorded three key hits. Manager Tony Franklin and the Thunder coaching staff like his work-ethic.

        “Jason definitely has some tools,’’ said Franklin. “As always, it is our job to develop them.’’

        And Place feels the Yankees certainly meet a player’s needs more than halfway, and he is working hard.

        “What I like is that, if you need swings, you get them. If you need to be in the cage for awhile, you can get in the cage for awhile.  Obviously there is a limit, you can’t take five-hundred swings, but you can always get your work in.

        “I’m confident I’ll get to where I want to.’’

        Given his above-average defensive package, the Yankees will certainly give a player who received a $1.3 million bonus from the Red Sox a more-than-extensive look.  Boston did an excellent job at refining his swing, it’s time, as Place knows, to take his offensive game to the next level.

        “I appreciate another opportunity,’’ said Place. “I’m really enjoying myself, and I’m getting the work to improve where I need to. Trenton is a great place to play. I’m enjoying both the atmosphere in the clubhouse, and playing in front of the type of crowds the Thunder draw.’’

        With Mesa’s return getting closer – he was running the Waterfront Park steps prior to Wednesday night’s game – how long Place will be with the Thunder is up to some debate.  A few more games like his three-hit effort Tuesday night could earn him a more permanent spot in the Thunder clubhouse.

        Just a guy named Place trying to solidify his place in the Yankees system.


        ROMINE STARTS ON THE ROAD BACK: Thunder catcher Austin Romine, who has not played since June 2 due to a mild concussion, suffered as the result of a collision at home plate in the Altoona series, is beginning to work his way back.

         He will likely, after being cleared for practice, begin doing baseball drills this week. So his return date is not that definite with the Thunder on a 10-game Binghamton, Portland and New Britain Friday before returning home June 27 for a three-game series with rival New Hampshire.

         The Thunder staff will be very careful with Romine, especially considering the position he plays.

        While Romine is sidelined, former Thunder catcher and top Yankees prospect Jesus Montero missed some games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with what was termed an eye infection. At Class-A Charleston, catcher Gary Sanchez spent a few days back at Extended Spring Training after what was termed insubordination.

          “Everyone talks about our catching depth,’’ said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. “For a time last week, that depth just wasn’t there.’’

           On the upside, Jose Gil, an excellent player in his own right who gets lost among the blue-chip prospects, has performed superbly for the Thunder. His defense and pitch-calling has been excellent, and he is hitting .271 (35-for-129) with 14 RBIs in 28 games in Trenton.


           FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  With Derek Jeter’s injury, many have already asked if he would rehab with the Thunder. As usual, one never knows until the last minute, or if a rehab assignment is in order. Jeter, of course, did a rehab stint with the Thunder in 2003, drawing a crowd of 8.729, the second-largest Waterfront Park gathering after Roger Clemens pulled in 9,134 on a rehab assignment May 23, 2007.

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Back in spring training, Cody Johnson was a player in camp appreciative of being given a shot to play in the Yankees system.

He came to the Yankees system this past November after four years in the Atlanta Braves chain. He was Atlanta’s top pick in 2006 out of Panama City, Fla., signed to a $1.375 million bonus – the fourth-largest in Braves history – as a power prospect.

Scouts admired his power, but had questions about his pitch recognition and a hitch in his swing. Normal questions for an 18-year-old prospect at that time.

The Braves brass liked Johnson’s work-ethic and determination to improve.  The likable Johnson hit 97 home runs in four seasons in the Atlanta system. He also struck out nearly 700 times. After a topsy-turvy 2010 season in which he batted .212 (73-for-344) with 18 homers, 60 RBIs and 151 strikeouts between Class-AA Mississippi and Class-A Myrtle Beach, the Braves shipped him to the Yankees last Nov. 19 for cash considerations.

“I remember the day I was traded,’’ said Johnson.  “After the Braves told me I was going to the Yankees. (Yankees general manager) Brian Cashman called me to welcome me to the organization. He talked to me for an hour, told me about the system and their plans.”

“The fact that he took an hour out of his day, which had to be busy, to talk to me, and welcome me, made me feel real good.’’

Johnson, still just 22, and, as both fans and Eastern League foes have seen, still has that majestic power. He also still strikes out a lot – 89 in 195 at-bats – but major progress is being made.  As the Thunder (36-23) have surged into first place in the Eastern League East, Johnson has been one of the catalysts.

In his last 10 games, Johnson is hitting .381 (16-for-42) with four homers – two in his last two games at Reading – and has driven home 13 runs.  He is batting .231 (45-for-195) for the season.  And while his OPS is a solid .743, his OBP, at .276, could use a boost.

“I feel good, and I feel like things are coming around,’’ said Johnson. “What I am really enjoying about playing here, and I have since I’ve been in the Yankees system, is how the coaches work with you to make you better.”

“With the Braves, I sometimes thought it was the type of thing where you played, and if you make it, you make it and if you don’t, you don’t.”

“Here, I feel I am getting every chance to improve and every chance to get the most out of my talent.”

Johnson reminds one of Dave Kingman who, during his big-league career that spanned from 1971-1986, hit 442 home runs and struck out 1,816 times.  He turned in an exceptional season with the Chicago Cubs in 1979, batting .288 (153-for-589), belting 48 homers and driving in 115 runs.

Cubs brass in those days simply wanted Kingman to be more selective, not try to hit every pitch out and just to make contact. The Yankees are following the same procedure with Johnson.  If he becomes a modern version of the 1979 Kingman, the Yankees will be quite pleased.

“Cody is starting to be more selective and, more importantly, he is making better contact,’’ said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.  “We need him to put the ball in play.  If he keeps doing that, the home runs will come.’’

Johnson agrees.

“Contact is the key,’’ he said.  “If I take what they give me, the home runs will come.  I spent too much time earlier in my career trying to hit everything out.’’

Over the past few weeks, Johnson has become an opposing hitter teams have to worry about. His effort in the recent New Hampshire series – in which he was 8-for-14 with four RBIs – helped the Thunder to a sweep. He has five multi-hit games in his last 10.

“I just have to keep doing what I’m doing,’’ he said.

The Thunder have another potential power prospect who just arrived in former 2006 top Boston pick Jason Place. The Yankees are aiming to work with him in the manner that they have with Johnson.

They know, as with Kingman in 1979, what the payoff could be.


ROMINE SIDELINED: Thunder catcher Austin Romine will miss at least the next week – and likely a bit more – with what is being termed a “mild concussion.’’

He sustained this as the result of a collision at home plate in the recent Altoona series.

It’s a situation, and this is being recognized over all athletics, that must be handled carefully.  Everyone wants to see Romine back in the lineup, but healing must take its course. Every individual is different, and the course of return from a concussion is unpredictable.

Here’s hoping Romine recovers as quickly as possible.


FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  The Thunder return home for a weekend series with Binghamton, which, under manager Wally Backman, has struggled to a 19-38 start and is 16 games behind the Thunder in the EL East.  Yet, the B-Mets have some talented players and are playing hard … Akron’s Tim Fedroff is the EL’s top hitter at .346 (71-for-205). Richmond’s Eruc Surkamp has the top ERA with a 3-3, 1.92 mark in 11 starts.

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TRENTON – Back in spring training, it seemed like Addison Maruszak was all over the field.

That’s because he was. As the man with one of the shortest commutes to the Yankees Minor-League Complex, Maruszak, who played collegiately at South Florida and is a native of Pinellas Park, Fla., a stone’s throw from Tampa, he was excited about the coming Double-A season.

His calling card is his versatility, as he can play any position but pitcher.  With the Thunder, he’s been stationed at various infield positions, made an appearance behind the plate, and has shagged flies in the outfield.

“I’ll play wherever they want me to,’’ said Maruszak, who, heading into tonight’s series finale with Altoona, is hitting .231 (34-for-147) with a trio of homers and 21 RBIs, fourth on the Thunder, presently 32-20 and on a roll.

“Really I wasn’t pressing the first month up here. I thought I had a lot of quality at-bats, even though the average didn’t show it. I know I’ve gotten several key hits, and my on-base percentage (.343) is all right.”

“Some nights it’s a struggle, but my average is starting to come up. It’s all part of adjusting to a new league at a higher level.’’

Thunder manager Tony Franklin, who has seen his team recover from a slow April start to record a torrid May and secure second place in the Eastern League East one-third of the way through the season, sees improvement with Maruszak and several of his less-experienced players.

It’s what has come naturally each season with Franklin’s teams.

“After a month-and-half or so, and all the adjustment and learning about how teams will pitch to you and how teams will play you, usually a player knows where he is at and what he has to do. We’re making progress, but there is still a long way to go.’’

Maruszak, 24, will obviously play wherever he’s assigned (“After all, I’m a player. I do what I’m told,’’ he chuckles), but he does have two favorite positions.

“Of all the places I’ve played, I like shortstop and third base the best,’’ said Maruszak. “I don’t have to think much there, just react.’’

With that side of the infield occupied with the 2011 Thunder, first base and right field have been his spots in many games.

“Right field has been a lot of fun for me this year,’’ he said. “Really it was something brand-new. I feel comfortable out there. My routes to the ball have been good, and I’m happy with my throws. It’s another position for me.’’

He’s one of those players who genuinely enjoys being part of the game, the team and the clubhouse.

“Right now, we’re playing real well,’’ Maruszak said.  “We’re getting hits when we need them. We’re getting good pitching when we need it.’’

He’s also contributed to several rallies, as the Thunder, especially of late and during their recent 7-1 road swing through Reading and Portland, has developed a penchant for carving out come-from-behind wins.

“It really doesn’t bother us if we get down,’’ he said. “We don’t press when we’re behind – that does you no good – we just play the game for nine innings. We have a good club.”

“I’m happy with what I’m doing. There’s a lot of season left to do a lot more.’’

Beginning with tonight’s series-finale with Altoona and a formidable weekend match-up with New Hampshire.


               JOHNSON COMING AROUND:  During spring training, Thunder designated hitter/outfielder Cody Johnson talked about putting the ball in play, getting hits and the home runs would come.

At times, as happened in the Atlanta system after being the Braves’ first-round pick in 2006, he has struggled. Lately, however, there has been a difference.

“Cody is putting the ball in play as we talked about,’’ said Thunder skipper Franklin. “He’s making more contact, and that’s important.’’

Over his last 10 games, Johnson is batting .293 (12-for-41) with five homers, four doubles and 14 RBIS. Overall, he’s hitting .205 (34-for-166) with 27 RBIs.

The type of power hitter who will always rack up strikeouts – he has 74 – he has homered in four of his last six games and his three-run shot Wednesday afternoon – his 10th – propelled the Thunder to a 7-3 win over Altoona.

If Johnson continues to improve his selectivity and make contact, he could emerge as quite a weapon for the Thunder over the final two-thirds of the season.


               FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  Thunder lefty starter Shaeffer Hall earned Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors, recording a 2-0, 0.69 mark in his two starts.  The 23-year-old Hall, who is 4-3, 3.30, is one of the most-followed Thunder starters on the Internet and through Twitter, with an interested group of fans who follow every start both via Internet radio and through the Social Media outlet.  Yankees fans on Twitter are also always looking for information on Thunder starters and blue-chip prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances … Akron’s Tim Fedroff leads the EL with a .367 (65-for-177) average, while Reading’s Cody Overbeck leads in both home runs (14) and RBIs (38).  Richmond’s Eric Surkamp (3-2, 1.33) is the ERA leader (Banuelos is fourth at 2-0, 2.12), with Harrisburg’s Brad Peacock, off to a 7-1, 2.03 start, the strikeout leader with 82.

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READING, Pa. – Scouts have always been impressed with two facets of Thunder outfielder Ray Kruml’s game.

         One is his speed.

         “The way he runs, he reminds you of (Brett) Gardner,’’ said an American League scout.

         The other is his arm.

         “He can make a play with it,’’ said the talent evaluator.

         With Austin Krum earning a promotion to Triple-A Scranton, Kruml has moved into the Thunder leadoff spot, where he has been one of the catalysts for a team, entering today’s morning game in Reading, which has won 8-of-10 and soared to 26-18 in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division.

        Given there are 98 games left, the Thunder isn’t in a bad place 2.5 games behind New Hampshire, which visits Waterfront Park June 3-5.

         “It’s still early, but we are in a good spot,’’ said Kruml.  “We have a great team. There are a lot of us who are in Double-A for the first time and, during your first 150 at-bats, if you’re not hitting the way you want to, it’s easy to press.

         “Over the last two weeks, I really feel we all have settled into our roles and, as a group, we’re much more relaxed. We have speed on this team, a couple guys who can hit it out. Different guys are stepping up.’’

          Like fellow outfielder Damon Sublett, whose first Thunder hit of 2011 was a solo homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday night, knotting matters at 3-3 with the R-Phils in a game the Thunder won, 4-3.

          “Guys are doing that each night, right now,’’ said Kruml.

          While he is certainly willing to give credit to his teammates, Kruml has taken off since Krum was promoted, hitting .295 (41-for-139) and .343 (12-for-35) over his last 10 games. He was 3-for-4 with a walk in Wednesday’s games.

         “I’ve been doing a lot of work in the cage with Jules (hitting coach Matos) and it is paying off,’’ said Kruml, 25, an Illinois native who had a stellar collegiate career at South Alabama. “Hitting in professional  
baseball is different than in college.

         “For me, on-base-percentage (OBP) is big. I concentrate on hitting the ball on the ground and using my speed.  It’s an honor being compared to a big-leaguer like Gardner, and I know he played in Trenton. I’m trying to mirror here what he does up there.’’

          As far as hitting leadoff for an improving team, there’s nothing better right now.

          “I batted there last year (at Charleston and Tampa),’’ said Kruml.  “The key is patience at the plate and working the counts. As a team, we’re starting to really see how the pitchers in the Eastern League are handling us, and beginning to become familiar with it.’’

           It all seemed to come together for Kruml since he was given the leadoff job permanently. He’s responded with a trio of multi-hit games in four starts. His OBP has risen to .345.

           “This takes a lot of work,’’ he said. “I feel all that is beginning to pay off. ‘’

           Thunder manager Tony Franklin is not surprised Kruml is blossoming as his leadoff hitter.

           “Ray certainly has the tools to handle that spot,’’ Franklin said. “I hope he continues to do what he’s doing now all season.’’

            Chances are Kruml, an 11th-round pick by the Yankees in 2008, will. He’s gotten into a groove and settled in. The comparisons to Gardner are valid. Overall, he is the same type of player.

            “I know my role,’’ he said. “I know how I can contribute.”

            The Thunder and Yankees are asking no more.


            DUFF BACK IN TRENTON: Grant Duff’s 6-foot-6 frame and friendly manner returned to the Thunder clubhouse last week.

            Duff, the 29-year-old native of Milton, Fla., was an effective pitcher for Trenton in 2010, going 1-4, 2.84 with eight saves before earning a promotion to Triple-A Scranton. At the end of the season, however, he had elbow pain.

            “I rested it, and I still had pain in my right (pitching) elbow,’’ he said. “After I was examined again, it was determined I needed surgery.’’

             Doctors inserted a screw into Duff’s elbow area to help a tear heal. For awhile, this caused irritation, but he is regaining form, tossing a scoreless inning Tuesday night in Reading.

             “I feel no irritation now, and I just want to get back to where I was,’’ said Duff.  “It’s nice to be back in this clubhouse. Trenton is a great place to play.

             “I definitely feel I’m on the way back.’’


           AN UPDATED CLASSIC:  Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium has always been a favorite of visiting Thunder fans, as the R-Phils always put on a good show.

           An off-season, $10 million renovation has made the 61-year-old park even more enjoyable.

           For the fans, there is a new entrance way, a new, full-service team store, an upgraded right-field food court with a new stage that features performances by local school groups and local artists, and photos of past R-Phils greats all along the stadium’s concourse.

           Newspaper clips of performances by R-Phils greats such as Robin Roberts and Mike Schmidt have been reproduced and are on a wall in the food court.

           Outside, the Reading Hall of Fame features the names of players and community luminaries who have contributed to baseball in the city on attractive bricks. Team officials were quick to point out the brick honoring Vic Wertz, who played in Reading in the 1950s when the club was a Cleveland affiliate.

          In addition, both the R-Phils and visiting teams now have spacious clubhouses.

          “Both the fans and players benefitted,’’ said Reading Director of Media Relations Tommy Viola. “The renovation brought our stadium up-to-date in many areas – we really needed the team store and better entrance access – and didn’t touch the classic parts of the ballpark.’’

           The Thunder are back in Reading quickly, visiting the R-Phils again June 6-9. The just-under two-hour trip is definitely worth it for fans.

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