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Pitching focal point for RailCats heading into camp

RAILCATS KEY
UPCOMING GAMES

First spring training workout
— 10 a.m. Saturday

First exhibition game —
at Schaumburg, 1 p.m. Tuesday

First home exhibition game — vs. Evansville, 4:10 p.m. Wednesday

Season/home opener
— vs. Lincoln, 7:10 p.m. May 16

Updated: June 5, 2013 6:17AM



The notion that the season is a marathon, not a sprint, has always been something of a misnomer to Greg Tagert. And last season, when the RailCats went 50-50, the worst record of his 17-year managerial career, reinforced it to him.

As the RailCats open spring training this season — players were scheduled to report on Thursday, have physicals Friday and the team’s first official workout Saturday morning — he expects them to hit the ground running, particularly the pitching staff.

“Last year, we feel like we tried to protect the starters a little too much, and the bullpen got worn down the first two weeks,” Tagert said. “As a result, we’re going to accelerate their use. We want guys to come in as ready as possible. We made it clear to everyone, the first two days are not going to be get-acquainted days. The starters are going to be expected to throw three or four innings — controlled. The relievers are going to be expected to throw two innings, instead of one.

“It’s going to be a bit more competitive on Day 1 than it has in the past pitching-wise. And it’s probably as wide-open with our position players as it has been.”

Tagert pointed to returnees Stephen Hiscock and Will Krout — as well as Alain Quijano, back for his third separate stint with the team — as solid candidates for the rotation. But, aside from someone such as Marco Gonzalez, eight guys could be in the mix for four or five bullpen spots.

Perhaps as many as five everyday positions could be up for grabs in camp, too.

“The coaches are going to have to be on their toes,” Tagert said. “It’s going to be constant evaluation for us from Day 1.”

For about a month after the end of last season — the team’s second straight that it missed the playoffs — Tagert “dwelled on how tough things were” and what he could have done differently. “Nobody second-guesses what the RailCats do more than I do,” he said. “I’m always trying to think of ways to make us better.”

He then focused on the “positives,” how a bad six weeks doomed the RailCats, before they played well for about the final 60 games of the season. And it was younger players — he mentioned players such as third baseman Brian Kolb, Zac Mitchell, Chase Tucker, and Ryan Babineau to complement Craig Maddox at catcher — who down the stretch helped them get a “head start” on this season.

“We were still trying to win — we’re always trying to win, we’re never rebuilding — but seeing them in expanded roles certainly helped the club,” Tagert said. “At the same time, despite their second-half success, we have to see them again. It’s starting over. We know them, but not well enough to say they have the position.”

Several players arrived in town early. Maddox, Mike Massaro and Cristian Guerrero — the franchise’s career leader in home runs returns after playing last season for Sioux Falls, having played for the RailCats from 2008 to ’11 — participated in last weekend’s caravan. Chris Colton — who has not played since 2010, splitting that season between Joliet in the Northern League and Wichita, but who Tagert described as a “premium” center fielder when he’s on his game — wanted to get a jump on workouts.

“That’s always great for the manager,” Tagert said.

Notes: For the second straight season, the RailCats are using the suites at the Steel Yard, creating a pseudo-dorm, to house the players during spring training. … The team has one veteran roster slot available, with the thought to possibly add a late-innings left-hander or an infielder (likely a first baseman) at some point, if someone who fits either description were to become available. The current veterans are outfielders Massaro, Guerrero and Colton; and Matt McSwain, who pitched at Double-A last season in both the Pirates and A’s organizations. McSwain, who was scheduled to start the RailCats’ exhibition opener on Tuesday at Schaumburg, will arrive late to camp because of a death in the family. … The RailCats have released pitcher Carlos Rivas, a native of Venezuela, because of visa issues, giving them 27 players under contract, one under the league maximum.



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