Sports

Wesley Remmer/staff photo Jackets’ hitting woes: Acker not concerned

Kitsap BlueJackets pitcher Steven Singer follows through on a pitch during the Jackets’ 3-0 loss to Corvallis at home Tuesday. Singer pitched seven innings, allowing three runs.  -
Kitsap BlueJackets pitcher Steven Singer follows through on a pitch during the Jackets’ 3-0 loss to Corvallis at home Tuesday. Singer pitched seven innings, allowing three runs.
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This isn’t Matt Acker’s first rodeo.

So when asked whether he was concerned with his team’s early-season hitting struggles, which contributed to it losing four of five games in a recently completed home stand, his answer was simple:

“Not at all,” the fifth-year BlueJackets coach said Tuesday following a 3-0 setback to defending West Coast League (WCL) champion Corvallis at Lobe Fields at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. “It’s early in the season; we’re 3-5 and two games back. We play everybody in this league 12 times, so I’m not worried about it at all.”

This isn’t the first time the Jackets have slumbered out of the gates, either.

Last year, the club lost its first six games — it averaged 2.7 runs per game (16 total) in those games — before reeling off nine of its next 10. It went on to miss the playoffs, but injuries decimated the pitching staff, trimming it from 16 to eight.

Acker said prior to the season he expected the WCL West Division to feature parity and his prediction has rung true through eight games. The division’s four teams — Corvallis, Kitsap, Bend and Bellingham — are separated by just two games.

“I think the owners, some of the fans and some of the kids are frustrated, but this is not our first rodeo,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”

With Corvallis (5-3), which beat the Jackets 6-1 Monday before the teams played to a 1-1 tie through 17 innings in the series-finale Wednesday (a timer caused the stadium lights to automatically shut off at 11 p.m., halting what was the Jackets’ longest game in club history), it appears as though .500 ball is enough to keep Kitsap in the race.

“Basically how it works is if you’re over .500 in this league, you go to the postseason. If you’re under .500, you won’t,” Acker said. “We hover by (.500) until we hit that run.”

Acker predicted that run could come sometime next week; the club has two games at Bend this weekend (Friday and Saturday), then three exhibition games at home against the Auburn Athletics, a developmental team.

“I think you’ll see gelling come on when we’re on the road because the guys will be around each other,” Acker said. “You’ll see the run come somewhere in there. You’ll see us really get together as a club.”

While the hitting has been silent, the pitching staff appears to be hitting a groove. Steven Singer allowed three runs in seven innings Tuesday and Trey Watt, who struggled in his first start of the season, pitched one-run ball in nine innings Wednesday, striking out nine and walking one.

“They all did well, they did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Acker said of his staff.

Players are still being shuffled in and out of the lineup as Acker tinkers with different combinations. Central Kitsap grad Caleb Brown has seen action in left field, but hasn’t started every game, and Acker has platooned Kellen Lee and Tim Rupp at catcher, using University of Washington catcher Max Kwan as a designated hitter. In time, Acker said, the lineup will settle and the hits will come.

“Our job as coaches is to figure out the lineup — who can play, who can’t; what roles to put them all in; how to utilize the team the best we can,” Acker said. “They gotta come together and want that guy to get the clutch hit, they gotta know how to push each other’s buttons to motivate each other; that’s what they’ve got to come through right now, and we can’t do that for them. They’ve got to do that for themselves.”

The Jackets’ next home game is at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday against the Athletics. The series continues at the same time Wednesday and concludes at the same time Thursday.

Wednesday’s 17-inning game against Corvallis will be continued at a later date. Kitsap scored its lone run in the bottom of the first inning.

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