Power: Season turnaround all part of the routine
So what's the special sauce that has helped the West Virginia Power reverse its fortunes from the beginning of the South Atlantic League season? Could it be that it's nothing really special?
Could it be that the ordinary has allowed the team to perform the extraordinary?
With its 6-2 win over the Lexington Legends on Sunday, the Power had won nine of its last 12 games and climbed back to .500 on the season at 18-18. It was the team's best stretch of the season and a major turnaround from the vast majority of April. One of the keys to that change, Power Manager Mike Ryan said, is that a young group of players simply is getting used to the grind of professional baseball.
"We're trying to get them to understand that so they can be comfortable and get into some kind of routine," Ryan said. "They know what to expect."
The Power spent much of the first month of the season pretty disappointed. The team dropped six of its first seven games, rebounded in the middle of the month, then slumped again. The second slide was almost as bad as the first, losing eight of 11. The Power limped into the end of April at 9-15, and the biggest problems came on the pitching mound, where walks and runs started to pile up, but wins didn't.
Yet from the last game of April, a 10-1 win over Savannah, the Power pulled itself out of the morass. And a significant part of the remedy was just settling into a groove.
"They're starting to know their roles and know their routines," Ryan said, "when they're going to play, when they're not going to play, what their days off are, where they're going to be in the lineup, what position they may play a certain day."
"I was a firm believer of it whenever I played," he added. "I had managers tell me what my schedule was going to be. That way I could prepare and it just made me comfortable."
Many athletes don't like surprises. Heck, some of them have their routines down to what's on their menus each day or which sock they put on first. They're creatures of habit and those habits offer calmness and balance. And calm nerves could mean the difference between batting .270 and .300.
So Ryan lets a blue-chip prospect like outfielder Josh Bell know that he'll either start in right field or serve as the team's designated hitter. And if there's a day off, it's a scheduled day off and not a surprise trip to the bench.
Bell said that knowledge doesn't just help mentally. For a player like Bell recovering from meniscus surgery that shelved him for almost the entirety of 2012, it can help physically, too.
"It's nice to know what days you're going to be able to recover," Bell said. "(Ryan is) a really good manager in keeping up with how people are playing and how people are feeling, really. He allows you to listen to your body and he makes the lineup based off of that."
Bell went from a slow start to 2013 to one of the SAL's better hitters, batting. 299 entering Monday's game against Hickory, with six home runs and a league-best 34 RBI. The team's pitching, one of the Power's weakest spots early in the season, also has benefited from finding its routine. At one point, West Virginia sported a team ERA well over 5.00. That improved to 4.27 entering Monday's game, and that also can be attributed establishing a tempo.
"Some of it is just coming up here playing under the lights for the first time, getting over the nerves," reliever Pat Ludwig said. "Some of these guys are in their full season, as am I, so it's just getting used to the rhythm."
The cure to a rough start isn't always the cigar smoking voodoo doll in the locker, a la "Major League." It's not always the live rooster to take the curse off the bat like it was in "Bull Durham." Sometimes, it's just a matter of falling into a routine.
Sometimes, boring is beautiful. And bountiful.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.