Lexington Legends

All-Star lights up a gloomy season

It takes a hit man to put the Lexington Legends out of their mid-season misery.

Matt Cusick, the guy who gets the hits, gives the Legends some pride when he represents the team in the South Atlantic League all-star game Tuesday at Greensboro, N.C.

Good vibes have been hard to come by as Lexington finished dead last (21-48) in the first-half standings.

That changes with Cusick on Tuesday, and the Legends get a fresh start when second-half play starts Thursday.

While the team has struggled, Cusick has thrived.

Playing through a wrist injury this month, he has “slumped” to a .301 batting average. That leads the Legends, as do Cusick's 42 runs, four triples, .392 on-base percentage and .883 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages). He has multiple hits in 18 of his 59 games, including four three-hit games.

“You could throw him in Double-A right now and he's gonna hit,” Legends Manager Gregg Langbhen said. “As the saying goes, when guys go higher up some of them become better hitters because the pitchers are around the strike zone more. And I don't think that's any exception with him. He could go up to Double-A right now, and Triple-A, and hit.”

Cusick needs to work on his defense in order to move up the Houston Astros organizational pipeline, according to Langbehn. After playing most of the first half at second base, Cusick traded places with third baseman Craig Corrado — a technique that enhances versatility.

“He's been working on his timing all year,” Langbehn said of Cusick. “It's just a very minor adjustment with his footwork. As the ball approaches the hitting zone, his timing was off a little bit and I think that's why he wasn't getting to a lot of balls to his left. He's going to have to work on his lateral quickness a little bit, especially playing third base. It's a quicker response time.”

The all-star break often is a time for big-league clubs to respond to hot prospects by moving them up a level. Cusick says that he, like any of his teammates, would welcome a promotion. But it's out of his control, so he says he's also ready to help the Legends make a second-half turnaround.

Cusick claims there's no secret to his hitting success.

“Just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” he said. “I've been hitting at the top of the order all year, so just trying to get on base for the guys in the middle of the lineup. … Get some runs scored and get them RBI, that's my main goal.”

Cusick has six home runs. Half of those came in the first month of the season, when he led off back-to-back-to-back games with a long ball. (He led off the next game with a double off the wall.)

The eldest of Steve and Edie Cusick's two sons, Matt grew up in Mission Viejo, Calif. Younger brother Jeff plays first base for Cal-Irvine, making it to NCAA Super Regional play this season and the College World Series last year.

A 5-foot-11, 195-pound lefty at the plate (throws right), Cusick was drafted out of Southern Cal in the 10th round of last year's draft. Cusick played first base as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second as a junior.

He broke into pro ball with the Troy, N.Y.-based Tri-City ValleyCats. He led the team in average (.306) and runs (42), earning New York-Penn League all-star honors.

Over 61 games with the ValleyCats, he had more walks than strikeouts (38-25). He continues that pattern this season, with a team-leading 32 walks to 24 strikeouts.

“I can count on one hand the number of bad swings he's had this year. I say that based on prior to him missing a week when he had a little sprained wrist situation,” Langbehn said. “You can tell right now he's not where he was prior to that. But there's no question he'll find it again.

“His approach is just simple. ... I have compared him to (former Legend) Ben Zobrist, with their knowledge of the strike zone. And he doesn't panic when he gets two strikes. You can see a lot of guys, not only on our team but industry-wide, that when they get two strikes, they panic and will get themselves out. He just has the ability not to panic and put the ball in play.”