Lexington Legends

Legends end season with a bang, sweep doubleheader

Relief pitcher Alex Sogard worked three perfect innings to get the win in the opener Monday. That followed his performance in August, when he was 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA and was named the team's pitcher of the month.
Relief pitcher Alex Sogard worked three perfect innings to get the win in the opener Monday. That followed his performance in August, when he was 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA and was named the team's pitcher of the month.

Too bad the Lexington Legends didn't play all season like they did Labor Day.

After a rain delay of 3½ hours, the Legends closed their season Monday with a doubleheader sweep of the Savannah Sand Gnats, 2-1 and 3-2.

An overall record of 59-79 shows the most losses by a Legends team since a club-record 94 in 2008.

"We underachieved a little bit, especially on our pitching side," Manager Rodney Linares said. "I thought our pitchers were going to do a better job. But they did grow."

Legends pitchers gave up a league-high 136 home runs and ranked 12th among 14 South Atlantic League teams with a 4.63 ERA.

The offense ranked fourth with 109 homers and ninth with a .255 batting average.

After a 35-35 first-half of the season, Lexington went 24-44 the rest of the way.

Alex Sogard, the team's pitcher of the month for August, said the Legends' struggles wore on him "a little bit. ... It makes it harder when you're not doing so hot. But you just try to keep doing your best and find any way to help the team win."

Sogard went 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in August, fanning 33 over seven relief outings and 26 innings. He worked three perfect innings to get the win in Monday's opener.

The Legends had the usual mid-season loss of talent to promotions, most notably Chris Wallace, Adam Bailey and Jiovanni Mier.

Injuries also took a toll. Tanner Bushue, a key member of the rotation, had three stints on the disabled list.

Telvin Nash, the team's best power threat, started the season on the DL with a pulled groin. Upon returning, he lasted about 15 games before breaking a hand. He came back to finish with 14 homers and 37 RBI in 73 games.

He was one of three everyday starters to learn a new position this season.

While Nash moved from left field to first base, Delino DeShields Jr. went from center to second, and Mike Kvasnicka converted from a catcher/right fielder to third base. Each was playing their first "full" season of pro ball.

DeShields had a rough start, but he made steady improvement. In July, he caught fire and hit .320. Hitting as low as .192 in late June, he finished at .220 and led the team in runs (73), walks (52) and stolen bases (30).

"My numbers didn't really show it, but I think I accomplished a lot as a player, matured a lot as a person on and off the field," DeShields said. "I'm not where I want to be, but I've come a long way."

Kvasnicka adapted to the hot corner. Early on, he found himself thinking about his new mechanics, but soon was able to simply react.

A switch-hitter, Kvasnicka said what he learned about hitting this season is "too much to even explain."

Most importantly, he said, was "figuring out less is more. You look at those big-league hitters, they look like they're almost falling asleep up there, they're so relaxed. And then they just explode to the ball. So you're not trying to absolutely hammer the ball with all your movement because there's just too many moving parts."

He wound up leading the Legends in games (128), at-bats (484) and hits (126), and he shared the lead in triples (4).

Nash said the biggest thing he learned was how to take care of himself.

"You can't go out, stay up all night and expect to come in and be productive the next day," Nash said. "It's about getting your rest and eating healthy. Those are big keys right there."

Another who changed positions, although not this season, got Linares' vote "hands down" as the most improved player: Emilio King.

Coming in with four short-season stints totaling 159 games, King had hit .214 with four homers and 44 RBI.

Called up to the Legends from extended spring training on May 7, the outfielder and former catcher hit .293 with nine homers, 42 RBI and 50 runs in 98 games. He was the team's offensive and defensive player of the month in August, when he hit .337. King tripled and scored what proved to be the winning run in Monday's second game, and he also threw out a runner at the plate.

"He rose to the occasion and ... became probably my best player, my team MVP," Linares said. "When you look at the numbers, they're not big numbers. But, overall, he was the guy that helped us win more games — defensively, offensively had a lot of big hits."

Other Legends showing promise include right-handed pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Jorge DeLeon.

Although Foltynewicz struggled at times and led the staff in losses (5-11, 4.97), "he showed a lot of flashes of what's in the future," Linares said. "He's got so much upside it's unbelievable. And 19 years old."

DeLeon, converted from an infielder to pitcher following the 2009 season, is "one guy that might be on the fast track to the big leagues," Linares said. "For a guy that throws in the upper 90s, hits 99 (mph) constantly, it's a durable arm. He doesn't have a lot of wear and tear. And his secondary pitches (change-up, slider) are coming."

DeLeon, who worked the final inning of Monday's first game to post his 17th save, finished 6-4 with a 3.42 ERA.

He is on Houston's 40-man roster, and he has plans.

"I'm working on location for the fastball when the season finishes, when I'm at home," he said.

He envisions starting next season at "Double A for like two months, maybe a month-and-a-half, maybe jump to the major leagues. You never know."

Linares said he expects several pitchers will return to the Legends next season to gain more experience.

Whether he returns to manage a third straight year is a decision the Astros probably won't make until after the major league Major League season.

Like his players, Linares wants to move up. However, if the next move penciled in is to High-A Lancaster of the California League, he's expressed his wish that "I'd rather stay here. I have nothing to (prove) in California and I like Lexington. Love the people, know the town. People know me here and it's kind of my second home, so I'd rather be here than be someplace else."