By John Scherzo and Zack Zeller
Special to The Dagger
The Aberdeen Ironbirds closed out their first two-game home series of the season Thursday night with a 6-3 loss to the Hudson Valley Renegades, getting off to a slow start despite some solid performances.
Mark Blackmar went 4-2/3 innings in his first start of the season, allowing seven hits, and giving up three earned runs, but former Terrapin Sander Beck was steadier in relief. Beck quickly impressed in his minor league debut, getting himself out of a jam by forving the first batter he faced to ground out to last year’s team MVP, Joe Velleggia, to end the inning. Beck continued his success, finishing with four strikeouts, zero walks, and a single hit through 2-1/3 innings pitched.
“Sander did a good job, a real good job,” said IronBirds manager Gary Allenson, who began his tenure with the team this week “He threw strikes. He threw strike one a lot. He might have got a little tired there toward the end, but he finished up good. He spots his fastball well, and he’s got a nice little slider that breaks late. He obviously wasn’t intimidated by his first pro game.
“The key was he stayed in his rhythm,” Allenson added. “We have too many guys down here who will try and throw the ball too hard, and it’s ball one, ball two, then guess what’s coming to dinner, a fastball. Stay in your rhythm. That’s how Greg Maddux won 355 games. It wasn’t because he threw hard.”
Allenson was also impressed with the efforts of catcher Sam Kimmel.
“Kimmel did a great job behind the plate,” Allenson said. “He was throwing really well; he blocked the ball pretty good. He’s quick; he’s blocking the ball and tagging the batter out on dropped third strikes before he can even leave the plate.”
Allenson is beginning his first season in Aberdeen, and his eighth as a manager in the Orioles organization, after spending the last five seasons managing Triple-A Norfolk. Allenson has established himself as an accomplished manager in the Orioles organization, with over 1,000 wins in his 25-year coaching career.
The new skipper said he plans to approach coaching the Ironbirds no differently than he has any other level of baseball, despite the short season.
“This is the developmental level here,” said Allenson. “I’d like to say it’s a long season but it’s not.”
With the time he has, Allen said he will continue to stress the basic fundamentals.
“Since extended spring training we have done an outstanding job at rundowns,” he said. “Rundowns are probably the most difficult fundamental. These guys run rundown plays better than my Triple-A team last year.”
Allenson said he was hopeful about this year’s Ironbirds team, which is looking to make the first push toward the postseason in team history.
Allenson isn’t the only new “boss” making an impact on the Ironbirds so far this year. Former Michigan State Spartan Torsten Boss is off to a hot start early in the season. The Ironbirds’ starting third baseman has four hits in 12 at-bats, including Aberdeen’s only two home runs this season. Boss also leads the team with four RBIs and a .833 slugging percentage.
Boss was selected in the eighth round of this year’s draft after starting all 60 games for the Spartans, and was the only third baseman in school history to earn All-Big Ten honors three times. He was the highest player drafted out of Michigan State University since outfielder Robert Malek in 2002.
Beginning his pro career after a full college season, Boss said preparation has been key.
“Every day it’s top competition so you have to prepare for it,” he said. “Every day you’re going to get challenged. The pitching is better so you have to bring your A-game.”
“The coaches have been great, they give you tips but they let you play the game,” he added. “The players are helpful too, they’ve been there, they’ve been through it.”
The Ironbirds were back in action Friday night at Ripken Stadium, where they were scheduled to face the Brooklyn Cyclones (3-1). Juan Guzman was scheduled to make his season debut for the IronBirds against the Cyclones’ Julian Hilario.