PBL 2016 Season in Review: Jackson Hammerheads

In 2015, the Jackson Hammerheads slugged their way to a solid second-place finish in the East, 8 games behind Knoxville.  It was a turbulent season that saw the passing of one manager and the firing of another, but overall things seemed to be moving on an upward track.  With the playoffs expanding to four teams, a postseason invite for the Hammerheads seemed all but certain.  Whiz kid owner/GM Steven Butler boldly proclaimed that 2016 was a championship-or-bust season.  “Jackson is built to win championships,” the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Swap” declared.  “Anything short of that is a failure.”

Not only did the Heads fail to win the championship in 2016, the season turned into a nightmare that few would have foreseen.  No one imagined that Jackson would take a step backward, dropping from 83 wins to 79, and belly-flop from second to fourth in the division.  No one imagined that the season would end with another fired manager, or a team that seemed farther away from contention than ever before.  No wonder Butler described the Hammerheads’ 2016 campaign as “extremely disappointing and embarrassing.”

What went wrong?  It started at the beginning, when Jackson posted a dismal 9-17 record in April, only a half-game out of the basement in the East.  The slow start created what Butler called “a season-lasting hole to dig out of.”  That start was mirrored by a 9-16 swoon over the final month of the season that sealed Jackson’s (and manager Bob Henley’s) fate.  In between those two slumps, the Heads went 61-38, but it wasn’t enough.

One big problem for Jackson was all too familiar from 2015: a poor performance from their bullpen.  Butler was aggressive in rebuilding the relief unit this season, drafting righty Bobby Boniface and trading for left-handers Tobias Dennis, Woody Flowers, and Boss Walker.  But although the faces were different, the results were all too similar: a parade of frayed nerves and blown leads.  “It was astounding to see the staggering number of games that fell apart late no matter what deal was made or who was on the hill in relief,” said Butler.

One of the prime culprits, again, was Rick Sheen.  The bespectacled lefty was supposed to be a lockdown arm, but too much alcohol and too much nightlife seem to have ruined a promising career.  Sheen began as the Hammerheads closer, but after blowing more than half of his save opportunities, he was deposed in favor of Boniface, who was far from stellar but converted most of his chances.

The starting rotation didn’t fare much better, compiling a 4.94 ERA and a quality start percentage that was third-worst in the league.  Ace Henry Jones was perhaps the biggest disappointment, posting an 11-10 record and a 4.83 ERA.  With both the rotation and the bullpen delivering subpar performances, it’s no surprise that Jackson posted a 5.01 ERA, ninth in the league.  Even hiring Hall of Famer Randy Johnson as pitching coach in midseason couldn’t save this staff.

On the bright side, the Hammerheads’ lineup remained a slap-hitting, run-scoring machine.  Jackson lead the league in batting average and doubles while finishing second in walks and stolen bases.  The hitters exemplified Butler’s approach of “get on base and keep ‘em moving” to a tee.

Perhaps the biggest positive was the transition of Damian “Black Hammer” Deason from center field to DH.  After Deason was a wizard at the plate but a horror show in the field in 2015, the Hammerheads asked him to give up his glove.  Deason accepted the change without complaint and turned in another strong season, hitting .327 with a league-leading 65 doubles.  Butler praised Deason as “the consummate professional.”  Meanwhile, the Heads traded for Santiago Suarez, whom California had soured on after a poor rookie season.  After receiving a hero’s welcome in Jackson, Suarez bounced back, hitting at a .274 clip with 27 homers and 123 RBI while providing flawless defense in center.

With that in mind, Butler says he wants Jackson to focus on defense next season.  “Too long have the Heads favored offensive prowess at the expense of defensive efficiency,” said the whiz kid owner/GM.  “No more.”  Butler said that he plans to add some utility defensive specialists and find a manager who prioritizes defense.

Other items on Jackson’s lengthy offseason shopping lists include some help for the rotation, naming a full-time closer, adding another big bat, and possibly a change at third base, where Kim Fleitas had a disappointing season.  Surprisingly, though, Butler says he’s not looking to upgrade the bullpen.  “We still firmly believe in the core group of relievers we have on staff,” he said, identifying Dennis, Boniface, Walker, and lefty Hilton Sircy as building blocks.

Priority one, of course, is making that long-awaited postseason appearance.  To do that, they’ll need to get past the Jacksonville Dragons and Orlando Calrissians, who lapped them in 2016.  Butler praised the two Florida clubs for their improved play.  “They moved up a notch on my belt,” said the Sultan, “but rest assured that are only at notch one, and the Hammerheads have revenge in mind come 2018.”

If Jackson comes up short again, Butler says, the next change will come at the top.  “I realize I have likely been as much of a distraction as the solution over the past two seasons,” said the whiz kid.  “It’s time to put my money where my mouth is: either Jackson makes the playoffs of I relinquish my duties as GM.”  Butler added that he has full faith that his team can back up his guarantee.  “It’s time to watch the playoffs from the dugout, not a bar!  Sultan out!”

Hammerheads Fire Henley

Today, the Jackson Hammerheads announced that they had fired manager Bob Henley after one season. Henley managed the team to a disappointing fourth-place finish and 79-71 record.  Reached for comment, Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler directed reporters to the following statement, which was posted on Twitter and emailed to season-ticket holders.


Dear Jackson Hammerheads fans,

Two seasons ago, when baseball returned to Jackson, we envisioned drunk fans at Cash Carter Downs every night cheering on the hometown team. Your energy until the very end of this year’s season, to be honest, disappointed us as we reflected on how far our team and our fanbase have come (a saying usually reserved for franchises that have accomplished something). As our organization has developed into a perennial contender (though never even making the playoffs), you’ve somewhat stood by our side — cheering our successes, keeping us honest in our approach to improvement, and celebrating with us as we’ve captured no titles or even really been in the postseason conversation.

Together, we’ve brought competitive, winning baseball back to Jackson (even though it has been here for a while at this point with no postseason success) with a passionate fanbase that every team in the Patriot League would be proud to call its own. More than anything, we want to confuse you with this line: “we want to share with you the elation of the final out going in our favor, when we can finally bring a championship home to Jackson.”

Even though this ultimately wasn’t our season, we remain devoted to that cause by firing our manager and in no way maintaining consistency at the position in further pursuit of that goal. This was an incredibly difficult decision for us. Bob Henley represented our get-on-base mentality on and off the field (hey ohhhhhhhhh!). We never really wanted to pay him an amount of money fair to a well-experienced manager with an equally respectable contract term, so we won’t even bother with the well wishes.

We won’t lie-we don’t really have a plan, nor do we expect to change anything about our manager hiring process, so take this for what it is: a self-indulgent ploy to make it seem like we aren’t cheap bastards when it comes to hiring a manager.



The Butler Family (but let’s be real, it’s Sultan)

Spicer Resigns as Hammerheads PA Announcer

Sean Spicer’s term as the public-address announcer of the Jackson Hammerheads proved to be short-lived, as the former White House press secretary resigned from the gig in order to join the paid-speaking circuit.

According to sources close to the team, Spicer’s decision was driven in part by the money-making opportunities presented by his new gig, and no one expected his role as Jackson’s PA announcer to be permanent.  However, those sources say that there was also friction between Spicer and Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.

The friction existed from the very beginning of Spicer’s tenure, when Butler reportedly pressured him to announce the attendance at Hammerheads games as higher than it really was.  But matters reportedly came to a head after the trading deadline.

Although the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Swap” worked feverishly to strike a deal to improve the Hammerheads’ position, he was unable to do so.  However, before that evening’s game, Butler reportedly called Spicer in a drunken rage and ordered him to introduce the team as the “first-place Jackson Hammerheads” and state that Eddie Battin would be hitting cleanup for Jackson that night.  When Spicer pointed out that the Hammerheads were in third pland and Battin was still the property of the rival Knoxville Smokies, Butler told him to make the announcements anyway.

The final straw for Spicer, apparently, came when word broke that the Hammerheads were considering hiring Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci as marketing director.  This was more than Spicer could bear, and he announced his resignation the next day.

Spicer declined to comment on his resignation.  Butler denied any reports of friction between the two, and issued a statement wishing his former public-address man well in his new job.  “I am grateful for Sean’s work on behalf of my team and the people of Jackson,” said the owner/whiz-kid GM.  “I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities – just look at our great attendance numbers!”

Hammerheads Add Another Reliever, Send Thomasson to Big Easy

The Jackson Hammerheads‘ seemingly endless quest to bolster their bullpen continued today, as they acquired left-hander Tobias Dennis from the New Orleans Sazeracs in exchange for C Hong Thomasson.  It’s the second trade within two months between the two teams, who swapped starter Yu Chen for reliever Boss Walker in June.

“The Sultan strikes again!” exulted Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.  “They might as well FedEx us the championship trophy, because it’s going to be ours!”

Dennis has been the Sazeracs’ most reliable fireman by far this season.  In 59 innings, the 26-year-old southpaw has gone 0-2 with a 3.20 ERA and a .661 OPS against.  New Orleans selected Dennis in the expansion draft from Knoxville, where he went 7-2 with a 4.35 ERA in 2015.

“We really appreciate everything Tobias Dennis has done for us,” said Sazeracs owner Jeff Wiggins.  “We’re glad to give him an opportunity to go after another ring.”

Dennis seems likely to work the late innings for Jackson.  He joins a pen that’s crowded from the left side, however; Walker, Hilton Sircy, Rick Sheen, Josh Nichols, Brett Pollan, and Woody Flowers are all left-handed; closer Bobby Boniface is the only righty currently in the Heads’ relief corps.

“I can get both lefties and righties out,” said Dennis.  “I’m up for whatever role they want to use me in.”

In trading Thomasson, Jackson sends out a fan favorite, albeit one who received little playing time behind Clarence Doyle.  The 27-year-old Thomasson appeared in only 15 games for the Hammerheads this season, batting .276 with a .902 OPS.  He has a reputation as a strong hitter but a weak fielder.  For New Orleans, which has struggled to generate offense behind the dish, Thomasson could be just what the doctor ordered.  Starter Prince Carlo has hit .244 with a .583 OPS, while backups Dave Chavez and Dustin Gould have combined to post only a .143 average.

“Hong will always hold a special place in Jackson hearts,” said Butler. “We wish him well in the Big Easy.”

Butler then turned to the camera and raised his voice.  “But back to business… look out Knoxville, you slack-jawed [SOBs]!” the owner/whiz-kid GM hollered. “What you gonna do when the Heads run wild on you. brother????!!!”  Butler then ripped off his shirt and flexed his muscles, showing off a tattoo on his right bicep of a bald eagle attacking Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.

Hammerheads Hire Spicer as PA Announcer

The Jackson Hammerheads added another famous face to their organization this week.  On Saturday, the team announced that it was hiring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer to serve as their public address announcer.  Spicer replaces Ricky Widmer, who left the team last month to focus on running his family’s catfish farm.

“Anyone who’s been watching the news knows that Sean was looking for a job,” said Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.  “And we had an opening over here.  So I reached out to him, more or less as a joke.  But to my surprise, he wrote back and expressed interest, so he came down to talk about it.  A couple hours and several beers later, we had a deal.”

“Honestly, this is kind of a dream job for me,” said Spicer.  “I love baseball; I grew up rooting for the Red Sox.  And right now, I’m happy for a job that’s a little less stressful and lower-profile.  Melissa McCarthy doesn’t go on SNL to make fun of Jackson’s PA guy.  This gives me some time to get relax and think about where I want to go next.”

Butler said that he’d toyed with the idea of not announcing the hiring.  “I thought about just having Sean show up and start doing it.  Our fans would say to themselves, ‘Hmm, that guy sure sounds familiar.’  And then just wait to see how long it took for people to figure it out.”

Asked about the Hammerheads’ double-digit deficit in the Eastern division, Spicer grew irate.  “Any statements to that effect are simply false,” he snapped at reporters.  “The Jackson Hammerheads have the largest division lead any team has ever had, period, both in America and around the globe.  These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of Hammerheads fans for the season are shameful and wrong.  I fully intend to hold the press accountable for their campaign of misinformation.”

Spicer’s new job didn’t escape the attention of the president, who reacted to the news in a Sunday-morning tweetstorm.  “Big step down for Sean Spicer to join the failing Jackson Hammerheads.  Sad!”  the president tweeted.  “If he wants to make baseball great again, should have joined the Knoxville Smokies with my good friend Snuff Wallace.  A great American!”

Jackson Hires Johnson as Pitching Coach

The Jackson Hammerheads are hoping for a second-half surge that will carry them to the playoffs in a competitive Eastern division.  They’ve certainly got the bats to contend; their hard-hitting lineup is one of the league’s best run-producing units.  But their struggling pitching staff threatens to undermine Jackson’s championship aspirations.

Looking for a spark to get their pitching staff turned around, the Hammerheads today announced the firing of pitching coach Steve Parkinson and the hiring of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson to replace him.

Randy Johnson

“I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I expect titles from this team, nothing less,” said Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.  “Our pitching staff isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, so it’s time to make a change.  And if you’re going to bring in someone to teach your staff, why not have them learn from the best?”

Jackson’s pitching definitely needs some help.  The Hammerheads are 8th in the league in ERA, 9th in OPS against, and 10th in WHIP.  They’ve struggled both in their rotation, where lefty Kiko Walton has been the only consistently reliable arm, and the bullpen, where the team lacks depth and has struggled to identify a closer.

“Before I took this job, I asked them to send me film on all their pitchers, so I could see what I was up against,” said Johnson.  “After about five minutes I had to switch it off, because it was making me sick to my stomach.  These guys suck like a vacuum cleaner.”

Johnson’s credentials are beyond reproach.  He won 303 games in his 22-season career, and is second on the all-time strikeouts list with 4,875.  He was a ten-time All-Star and won his league’s ERA title four times.

“I could suit up right now and do a better job than any of these clowns,” said Johnson of the Hammerheads staff.  “And I’m in my fifties.  It’s gonna take a lot of work to whip these losers into shape.  Fortunately, I could take any of them, easy.”

The Hammerheads aren’t the only Patriot League team to turn to an all-time great for pitching help.  Last year, the Orlando Calrissians brought in John Smoltz (who was inducted into the Hall in 2015, the same year as Johnson) in midseason to fix their floundering staff.  Smoltz didn’t work any miracles in season, but Orlando’s pitching has gotten markedly better in this campaign.

“I looked at what Orlando did under Smoltz, and I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I could make that happen here,’” said Butler.  “I started thinking about who I could get, and I started reaching out to some of the retired greats.  Most of them didn’t return my calls, but Randy did.  He was skeptical at first, but once my check cleared, he was willing to work with us.”

Parkinson’s firing ends his second stint with the club.  In 2015, he stepped down at midseason for family reasons; he was replaced by Eddie Harris, who later became interim manager after Lou Hayes was sidelined by a heart attack.  Harris was let go at the end of the season, and new manager Bob Henley elected to bring Parkinson back to his old position.

“Nothing personal against Steve,” said Butler.  “We wish him the best.”

Now Johnson takes on the formidable challenge of molding the Hammerheads’ ragtag group of hurlers into a winner.  “I’m ready to do what it takes to take this staff to the next level,” said Johnson.  “They’re obviously desperate for help, and I think I can make an impression on them.  With my fists, if I have to.”

Sazeracs, Hammerheads Trade Hurlers

At this stage of the Patriot League season, most teams have a good sense of their shortcomings and the areas where they need help.  The Jackson Hammerheads, for instance, have struggled to identify consistent lockdown arms in the bullpen.  Meanwhile, the New Orleans Sazeracs are desperately seeking stability in their rotation.  The teams have struck a deal to try to address their respective weaknesses, with New Orleans shipping veteran left-handed reliever Boss Walker to Jackson in exchange for starter Yu Chen.

Boss Walker

The 35-year-old Walker has been used primarily as a lefty specialist by New Orleans this season, with a 1-0 record and a pair of save to go along with a 4.41 ERA.  He split last season between Salt Lake and California, providing some much-needed stability for the left side of the Sharks’ relief corps.  For Jackson, a team that’s already well-stocked with lefty relievers, they’re hoping to use Walker as a late-inning weapon against lefties and righties alike.

“We’re very excited to bring The Boss here to Jackson,” said Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.  “He’s got the kind of experience and attitude we’re looking for in the late innings.  He’s the key piece to solving our bullpen puzzle.  The rest of the teams in the East should just save us all some time and give up now.  I’ll send them all tickets to our championship parade.”

Walker is a native of Mississippi, but he will miss the Big Easy.  “New Orleans is my favorite city in the world,” said Walker.  “But Jackson’s a better team, and I’m all in to get me a ring.  Besides, we’ll be through town pretty often, so I’ll have plenty of chances to get my jazz and jambalaya fix.”

Yu Chen

Chen represents an intriguing buy-low opportunity for the Sazeracs.  The 28-year-old Korean lefty came to Jackson last season in the disastrous Eddie Battin deal, and failed to establish himself as a fixture in the Hammerheads’ rotation.  After going 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA in 2016, Chen was exiled to the bullpen down the stretch.  He got another chance to start this season, but flamed out quickly and returned to relief exile.

Chen’s numbers this season testify both to his poor performance and his limited use: 0-1, one save, and a 9.39 ERA in only 16 1/3 innings of work.  Butler had been shopping Chen aggressively around the league, but found few takers.

The Sazeracs, though, are in desperate need of rotation help.  They’ve had a solid top two in Darius Tice and Matthew Erickson, but otherwise they’ve been plagued by injuries, ineffectiveness, and an addiction to the local nightlife.  One season-opening start, Norm “Rattler” LaForce, landed in alcohol rehab.

“It’s no secret that we need some help in the rotation,” said Sazeracs owner/GM Jeff Wiggins.  “We’re hoping that given a low-pressure environment and the chance to straighten out his mechanics, Yu will be able to rediscover the form that made him successful in Korea.  Let the good starts roll!”

As part of the trade, the Hammerheads and Sazeracs agreed to exchange players to be named later.  Both parties were tight-lipped on that aspect of the deal, but Butler reportedly submitted a lengthy list of conditions regarding the PTBNL exchange prior to the league office approving the deal.  According to sources with knowledge of the deal, the list was notarized and ran up to 10 pages.  Asked for specifics, Butler declined, saying, “Revealing those details might compromise other trades that the Sultan of Swap has in the works.  But we made sure to cover all appropriate contingencies.  The details will be revealed at the appropriate time.”

Smokies Send Flowers to Jackson for Drawdy

Knoxville Smokies left-hander Woody Flowers finally got his wish.  After a season-plus of suffering torrents of insults and abuse from his manager, and two weeks after demanding a trade, Flowers finally got out of Knoxville as the Smokies shipped him to the rival Jackson Hammerheads in exchange for reliever Sam Drawdy.

Woody Flowers

“It’s a tremendous relief to me,” said Flowers.  “I feel like I’m escaping a war zone.”

The trade closes the book on a long and contentious relationship between Flowers and manager Snuff Wallace.  The southpaw began last season as an expected top starter for the Smokies, but scuffled somewhat in the early going while suffering anxiety attacks.  Flowers’ struggles – and his openness in discussing his anxiety issues with the media – made him a target for Wallace, a defiantly old-school manager who believes in ridicule as a tool to inspire better performance.

Wallace repeatedly derided Flowers in public and private, questioning his masculinity and frequently describing him using homophobic slurs.  The left-hander privately appealed to the front office to be traded at last year’s deadline, but the team opted to keep him.

Snuff Wallace

This year, Flowers reported to camp and was shocked to find that Wallace had banished him to the bullpen.  The pitcher performed well in limited action, but lost patience when Wallace repeatedly denied him spot-start opportunities.  Earlier this month, Flowers went public with his unhappiness and his trade demand, saying that he had been “bullied” by Wallace.  In response, the skipper acknowledged his lack of respect for Flowers and said “I’m not gonna shed any tears if he’s gone.”

Early this week – reportedly at the insistence of Knoxville owner/GM Jeremy Mills – Wallace finally gave Flowers his first start of the season.  The left-hander struggled, giving up five runs in 6 innings and taking the loss.  Wallace responded by calling Flowers a “whiny little baby” and adding, “He’ll be lucky if I let him on the mound again this year.”

At this point, Mills finally acknowledge that Flowers and Wallace could not co-exist on the same team and began shopping the southpaw actively.  He found a willing taker in Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler, a frequent trading partner whose team has struggled to find reliable arms all season.

Sam Drawdy

The fact that Drawdy was the only return in the deal suggested both how far Flowers’ stock had fallen in the Knoxville organization and how desperate Mills was to make a deal.  The 25-year-old lefty reliever has turned in undistinguished results in his rookie campaign with Jackson, going 0-1 with 1 save and a 4.97 ERA over 12 2/3 innings.  He is expected to figure in the late-inning picture for Knoxville, which has gotten underwhelming results from southpaw relievers Spencer Einhorn and Jason Landau.

“Flowers was a fan favorite in Knoxville and great teammate,” said Mills.  “If the opportunity arises, Flowers would be welcome back to the Smokies at any time.”

Wallace did not share his owner’s sentiments.  “I’m glad Mr. Mills finally stepped up and shipped that pansy out of town,” said the manager.  “I was tired of changing his diapers and listening to him whine.  [Hammerheads manager Bob] Henley might be happy now, but once he finds out what a weak whiny little pansy he’s got on his hands, he’ll change his tune.  Welcome to your new nightmare, Bobby!”

For his part, Butler isn’t shy about declaring the deal a win for his team.  “Chalk up another dynamite deal for the Sultan!” crowed the Jackson owner/whiz-kid GM.  “See you in the playoffs, Mills.”

Sources close to the Hammerheads organization reported that Butler bonded with his new acquisition by throwing darts at pictures of Mills and Wallace.  The owner/whiz-kid GM would not confirm or deny the rumor.

Hammerheads Boot Sheen From Closer Role

The Jackson Hammerheads‘ patience closer with troubled closer Rick Sheen has finally reached its limit.  After a season-plus of shaky on-field results and off-field problems with alcohol, Sheen has been bumped from the closer role.  According to team sources, manager Bob Henley has been contemplating the move for a while, but finally pulled the trigger after an embarrassing incident in yesterday’s game.

Sheen worked the 9th inning of yesterday’s 4-1 win over Orlando, but observers noticed that for some reason, he was wearing teammate Hilton Sircy’s jersey while he did so.  Henley refused to comment on it after the game, but team sources described a chaotic and bizarre scene.

Rick Sheen

The night before, Henley had called on Sircy, not Sheen, in a key situation in the 9th.  As a result, Sheen went out and drowned his frustrations at a local bar for hours afterward.  When Sheen arrived at the ballpark yesterday, he was reportedly extremely hung over.  In the early innings of the games, he napped in the bullpen, trying to sleep off his hangover.

During the top of the 9th, Henley called down to the bullpen and ordered Sheen to warm up.  Bullpen coach Tommy Clemons went over to rouse Sheen, who had dozed off.  When Sheen came to, he immediately threw up all over his jersey.  A flustered Clemons called Henley and told him that Sheen was unavailable.  When Henley asked why and Clemons said that Sheen was hungover, the manager became furious.  “He damn well better get his [expletive] in the game.  I don’t care if you have to carry him in.”

To spare Sheen the embarrassment of appearing in a stained jersey, Sircy offered his shirt to the closer.  So out came Sheen, wearing Sircy’s jersey.  To his credit, he managed to pitch a scoreless inning – lowering his ERA to 9.26, and collect his fourth save of the season.  After the game, Henley held a closed-door meeting with Sheen that lasted over a half-hour.

Trouble with alcohol has been a constant of Sheen’s brief career, dating back to spring training of his rookie season, when he was arrested after being in a bar fight.  He clashed on several occasions with the late Lou Hayes, Jackson’s manager last season, over his penchant for drinking and partying.  At the team’s insistence, Sheen went to the Betty Ford Clinic in the offseason.  But as his season got off to a rocky start, he took to the bottle again.

“Look, I like Rick,” said Henley.  “I hoped it wouldn’t come to this.  But I’ve got a ballclub to run, and we’ve got to win games.  And right now, Rick’s not helping us do that.”

Henley said that Bobby Boniface will take over as the Hammerheads’ closer.  Sheen will be relegated to mopup duty until he can straighten out his pitching and get his drinking under control.

To soften the blow, Henley and Jackson owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler reportedly took Sheen out for an evening on the town, enjoying a fine meal and a night of gambling at the casino attached to Orlando’s stadium.  “Rick may not be our closer any more, but he’s still part of the family,” said Butler.  Rumors that the evening came to a premature end when the owner/whiz-kid GM took a swing at another patron are unconfirmed.

Hammerheads Shake Up Pitching Staff

The Jackson Hammerheads never expected to find themselves here.  After finishing a strong second in the East last season, Jackson owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler made a series of aggressive trades designed to propel them to the top.  Instead, after a dreadful first couple of weeks, the Hammerheads are stuck in the cellar with a 5-10 record.

Worse yet, the biggest problem plaguing Jackson is the same issue that derailed them last year: the pitching staff.  The Hammerheads’ 6.14 team ERA is the worst in the league by a healthy margin.  The rotation has posted a dismal 6.83 mark; only first-year man Willie Lebron has inspired confidence.  And the bullpen has been responsible for a surge in ulcers around central Mississippi after a string of late-inning meltdowns.

Bob Henley

Manager Bob Henley has seen enough.  Today, the skipper announced a shakeup of his pitching staff.

“When you got the kind of talent we’ve got, this kind of start just ain’t acceptable,” said Henley.  “We’re not performing, so I’m making some changes.  And I’ll keep making changes until we get this right.”

Yu Chen
Tony Harris

In order to fix the rotation, Henley demoted Korean lefty Yu Chen to the bullpen and made righty Tony Harris a starter.  Chen was acquired from Knoxville in the middle of last season and turned in underwhelming numbers.  This season, he’s been even worse, going 0-1 with a 10.95 ERA and barely averaging 4 innings per start.  The 37-year-old Harris, acquired from Jacksonville shortly before the start of this season, has excelled in long-relief work, posting a 1.35 ERA in 7 appearances.

“What I’ve seen out of Tony is a guy who get the job done and inspires confidence,” said Henley.  “I’m not seeing that same confidence in Yu.  In my clubhouse, you do the job and you get rewarded.  Tony’s earned a chance to show us what he can do.”

Butch Turnbull

To address the relief problems, Henley sent Butch Turnbull to the minors.  The hard-throwing right-hander has appeared frequently in late-game situations, making 9 appearances already in the young season.  Unfortunately, he’s struggled badly, going 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA.

“I’ve given Butch plenty of rope, and he’s made a noose out of it,” said Henley.  “I’ve seen enough.”

Turnbull’s roster spot will be given to DH Dexter Jester.  His late-inning duties will be turned over to righty Bobby Boniface and lefties Hilton Sircy and Sam Drawdy.

A furious Turnbull responded to the move by demanding a trade.  “I don’t know what they want me to do here,” the righty fumed.  “Last year, I practically had to beg to get into games.  This year, they run me out there every night.  I don’t know if they’re trying to ruin me or what, but I’m sick of it.  I want to go to a team that will just let me pitch and quit jerking me around.”

Henley hopes the moves will put other struggling pitchers on notice.  Henley did not demote closer Rick Sheen, who’s blown 2 of 4 save opportunities and is allowing a 1.381 OPS against, or #1 starter Henry Jones, who’s gone 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA on the season.  But he stressed that no one, regardless of salary or reputation, is safe.

“Now they know I’m serious,” said Henley.  “If you don’t do your job, you’re gonna spend some time on the bench or in the minors.  No excuses.”

Leaked information from inside the clubhouse suggested that Henley is contemplating replacing Sheen as closer with Boniface; the manager said only, “Everything’s on the table if we don’t get better.”