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.
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.”
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.”
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.”