KINGSPORT — The Greeneville Astros and Kingsport Mets concluded their three-game Appalachian League series on Wednesday as a study in contrasts.
With Wednesday’s 2-0 decision, the Astros (7-2) swept the K-Mets and notched their third straight win and sixth in the past seven games. Kingsport (2-7), meanwhile, has lost five in a row.
Greeneville leads the West Division. The K-Mets are in last.
At the rookie level of the minor leagues, however, there can be a thin line between success and failure. Especially in the early stages of a short-season schedule.
For his part, K-Mets manager Mike DiFelice saw enough positives from Wednesday’s performance to be hopeful for the short-term future. Kingsport outhit the Astros 8-5 and turned three double plays.
The Mets also got some nice efforts from the bottom of the order in a ninth-inning rally that just fell short. Kingsport had runners at second and third with one out but couldn’t bring them home.
“We saw some signs of a better approach out there tonight,” DiFelice said.
Meanwhile, Kingsport’s second-year skipper still is trying to determine exactly where guys fit in his lineup. That wasn’t as much of an issue last season, when DiFelice had big bats like Jeff Flagg — Kingsport’s winner of the Sterling Award, given to the top performer at every level of the organizational chain — and Joseph Bonfe on the roster.
As for the 2010 group, third baseman Aderlin Rodriguez looks like a lock in the middle of the order. Outfielder ZeErika Queen should be a mainstay at the top.
Otherwise, matters remain in flux.
DiFelice wants first baseman Lucas Stewart, a 20th-round choice in the 2010 draft, to be in the mix in the middle. Stewart also bats left-handed, which gives the K-Mets more flexibility to face certain pitching matchups.
Stewart batted fourth and had two hits Wednesday night — joining Jorge Rodriguez as the lone K-Mets with multihit efforts.
Meanwhile, Greeneville hopes to sustain its strong start. So does catcher Bubby Williams, a holdover from the ’09 Astros club.
In addition to scoring both of Greeneville’s runs on Wednesday, he crunched an offering from Bret Mitchell (0-1) over the wall in left to lead off the top of the third. Williams homered for the second straight day — also going yard in the front end of Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep — and has four home runs in as many starts this season.
By comparison, Williams had four dingers in 39 games played for Greeneville last year.
He sees a difference in the makeup of the entire Astros’ team as well.
“It’s much different. We’ve got a more advanced team,” Williams said. “We’re older, more experienced. Guys know what they’re doing. There’s more chemistry than we had last year. It’s a great team. We have fun together. That’s what we were missing last year.”
Of course, it’s much easier to have chemistry — and fun — when a team is winning.
Kingsport continues its six-game homestand tonight when the Pulaski Mariners come calling to open a three-game set. There will be fireworks following Friday’s contest.