Despite the slow start, Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley had been preaching consistency to his young players, many of whom come from winning collegiate programs and are not used to these kinds of skids.
"It makes you question yourself sometimes, because you're going to be challenged," Haley said of the prolonged losing streak. "In this game, you're never as bad as you think you are, and you're never as good as you think you are."
Delusions of greatness may not be the worst thing for the Silver Hawks right now, who needed these wins to boost their confidence. As often happens in the Midwest League, the Silver Hawks ran into a lot of top prospects early on who will likely get promoted by early summer.
"The Midwest League in the first half has a lot of good, good ballplayers, and you've got to pick your game up and play to that level," Haley explained. "We as managers and coaches have to give them the formula to do that."
The formula for sweeping the series against Wisconsin was command from the starting pitchers. Bryan Augenstein, Jarrod Parker, and Christian Beltre combined to toss 15 innings. They allowed 15 hits, but walked none and fanned 16, leading to just three earned runs allowed. Haley and the rest of the Arizona Diamondbacks developmental staff incessantly preach commanding the strike zone, and the starting pitching accomplished just that in this series.
The sweep also marked the coming out party for struggling infielder Taylor Harbin, who as a Clemson boy is less used to losing than most on this squad. The top infield prospect was batting .169 with no homers before going 7-for-13 against the Rattlers with a homer in each game. I asked him before the series how he planned to turn around his rough start.
"Put it behind me and just keep swinging," Harbin had said. "I've gone through stretches like this before in the last couple of years. I've just got to keep playing the way I play, give it 100% every day, and keep battling. It's going to turn around, and things are going to work out for the best."
South Bend Hitting coach Francisco Morales confirmed that he liked Harbin's swing, and didn't want to tinker with it despite the poor results.
"It's early, and I think he's going to turn it around," Morales had predicted. "He's still got a good approach, and he's hitting the ball hard two out of four times every day. It's just a matter of doing it consistently."
"I've been seeing the ball well, just not putting the barrel on it," Harbin added. "Swing's not quite there, yet, but it's getting better during BP."
It's definitely better now. One of the tactics Harbin used to break out of the slump was to try bunting for a base hit in the Hawks' first win of the season. One tactic of Haley's was to move Harbin from everyday shortstop duties. Harbin played exclusively shortstop for the first eight games of the season, and went just 3-for-35 (.086) in that span. In 10 games since then, he's been rotated between shortstop, second base, and designated hitter, and has responded by going 15-for-43 (.349).
"Putting him at short for the first week put a lot of pressure on him," defended Haley. "I think that he's really confident at second. So it was kind of a strategic move on our part to put him at second."
Gerardo Bustamante, who has received sparse playing time in the early going, started the final two games of the series, adding two hits, two runs scored, an RBI, and a double to the Silver Hawks' cause.
"We play hard," Bustamente said. "I think we're going to get better."
That has been the pattern in each of the past two seasons in South Bend. Slow April starts have transformed into postseason berths under Haley's guidance.
"What you do in April isn't nearly as important as what you do in August," Haley said from a developmental standpoint. " That's what's fun about Low-A ball, and why I love it so much. Because you watch them go from this infantile stage and they blossom into this wonderful flower."For our full audio interview with Taylor Harbin, premium FutureBacks members can
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