2012 Legends rewriting franchise record book

August 23, 2012 

Let the records show that, wherever the team lands in the final standings, the Lexington Legends have had extraordinary successes in 2012.

Consider that the Legends have been part of the South Atlantic League since 2001.

John Buck, Wandy Rodriguez, Hunter Pence and, more recently, J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve have worn Legends uniforms. First-rounders and diamonds in the rough have passed through town.

Yet, the team record book is taking a beating this season.

First baseman Zach Johnson already has the season record for RBI.

Second baseman Delino DeShields Jr. is now playing up in the High-A California League.

Before leaving, he set franchise records for stolen bases in a season and career, the career record for hits and was two shy of the season record for runs scored.

Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who struck out 10 and gave up only an unearned run in Tuesday's no-decision loss to Greensboro, needs one win to tie the franchise record for wins in a season.

Then there's third baseman Matt Duffy. He set not only a Legends standard, but a league record for being hit by pitches.

Baron of the bean ball

"That was kind of crazy," said Duffy, who through Wednesday had been hit 37 times. "Obviously kind of a unique record to have, so it was kind of cool, I guess."

The former record for being hit, 32, was set by Hickory's Nyjer Morgan in 2004.

"He's not afraid," Manager Ivan DeJesus said. "Every time he's got hit, it's ... nothing serious, thank God. He's durable."

Batting .280 with 14 homers, Duffy leads the league in games, 125 through Wednesday.

"I've been hit a lot, I think, because I crowd the plate a little bit and a lot of guys try to pitch me inside," Duffy said. "That's what most people do to a right-handed power hitter — just try to get inside, under their hands, so they can't get extended. Sometimes they just miss a little bit and I'm right there, so I get hit a lot."

A Boston native, he played at Vermont until the school dropped varsity baseball. Duffy transferred to Tennessee and wound up being selected by the Astros in the 20th round of the 2011 draft.

A New York-Penn League all-star, he was named team MVP of the Tri-City ValleyCats last year.

This season, he joined Johnson, DeShields and Foltynewicz as SAL all-star picks (along with right-handers Nick Tropeano, Carlos Quevedo and Jason Chowning).

His willingness to stand firm and take a pitch for the team is a badge of courage.

"I definitely, coming into the season, didn't set my goal as the hit-by-pitch record," he said. "But it helps with on-base percentage and, if I'm on base, I've got a chance to score and help my team. That's the way I look at it."

Although Duffy calls his record crazy, he is not.

He says the most painful place he has been hit is on the wrist and hands. That's happened twice this season, in one series at Hagerstown.

"If it's a fastball, you've got very little reaction time. Anything coming at my head or anywhere in that upper body, you've got to try to get out of there. If it's coming for your mid-section or the meat of your arm, you can just kind of turn into it and brace yourself for impact."

It takes a thief

DeShields hit .298 with 10 homers, 52 RBI, 96 runs and 83 stolen bases in 97 attempts before being promoted last month. He has nine steals with the Lancaster JetHawks.

A 2010 first-round draft pick out of high school, he stole "only" 30 bases in 2011.

Before leaving Lexington, DeShields said his improved totals this season "probably has to do with me getting on base more, having a lot of confidence on the bases. It's just something that I worked on during the off-season and it's paying off."

Josh Anderson stole a team-record 48 bases before being promoted in late June of 2004. The Legends record for runs in a season is Jon Topolski's 98 in 2001.

DeJesus says DeShields' improvement is due to more than pure speed.

"Not only that, he knows the strike zone a lot better this year," DeJesus said. "He got his walks, too, when he needed. Plus, if you get on base, you can have a 'triple' right there without a hit or score a run without a hit. ... They don't want him to get on base, so he's going to get a lot of fastballs. The way he handled himself was good."

The producer

Johnson, a 2011 15th-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State, doesn't look the part of an RBI king at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds.

"I don't think size is all that (vital) for power and stuff. You've got guys like (Justin) Pedroia and stuff in the big leagues," Johnson said. "But, yeah, I get that a lot from guys on other teams when they first play you. They're, 'I expected you to be a lot bigger.' That's kind of fun."

Second in the league to Duffy in games played (124), Johnson is batting .243, tied for the team lead with 15 homers, and has 106 RBI.

Jake Goebbert had the old team mark for RBI, 98, in 2010.

Not related to the PGA golfer of the same name, Lexington's Zach Johnson nevertheless is a gifted golfer. His father, Clint, played briefly on the tour before a car accident cut his career short.

For now, though, the Legends first baseman is content to drive baseballs rather than golf balls.

He says he'd like to hit for a better average, but realizes that run production is more important.

"Like I tell him, you don't need to get a hit to do the job," DeJesus said. "You move the guy over. You hit a ground ball, fly ball, something like that, you've got an RBI. It's a quality at-bat. And that's what you're looking for — a quality at-bat. ... Make good contact, and that's why he's a good hitter with runners in scoring position."

Armed and dangerous

Foltynewicz, a 6-4, 209-pounder, was drafted out of high school by the Astros in the 2010 first round.

"He's got the tools. He's got the fastball, he's got the breaking ball," DeJesus said. "... His poise has gone from zero to 100 for me, and I think that's what keeps him going."

The "zero" showed as Foltynewicz went 0-3 with Greeneville in 2010, then lost his first six decisions with the Legends in 2011.

He won five of his last 10 decisions last season and is 14-3 this year. The club record for wins in a season is 15, set by Mike Nannini in 2001.

"My first couple years I came in not knowing much, just going out there and trying to blow the ball by people, which I did in high school," Foltynewicz said. "But you can't do that here. You've got to (have) location, off-speed. And the mental game also is a huge part."

As he's learned to pitch rather than throw, results have taken a 180-degree turn.

"The confidence has been a key. Especially when your team hits, gets a bunch of runs for you and your defense plays great," Foltynewicz said. "You have that extra chip on your shoulder. You go out there and, 'OK, I know my team's got me, no matter what.' I just go out there and do my thing."

What would it mean to join or even surpass Nannini in the record book?

"It would mean a lot to me because that would mean I've come a long way from my first two years in pro ball," Foltynewicz said. "It would mean a lot because I just have that confidence, and knowing that I can go out there and win ball games for the team. It's a huge deal to me."

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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