Reds showing steady improvement despite losses
When Michael Smith first took over as manager of the Lansing Reds this spring, he knew it was likely his young squad would take its share of lumps.
After all, the Leavenworth Baseball League in which the Reds play is as tough as it's been in recent memory. Meanwhile, the Reds are the league's youngest and least experienced team.
Still, Smith told his squad last week that it wouldn't be fair to the players if he brought back members of the Lansing Huskies, Smith's former American Legion team, and allowed the Huskies to fill his roster. Smith said doing so would limit his new players' opportunities to gain experience. Also, the former Huskies would be too old to participate in the Zone Tournament at the end of the season.
After seeing the Reds get run-rule spread in their first two games, however, Smith had a slight change of heart. He wouldn't bring in a roster full of Huskies, but he would add just one.
Danny Wyatt, a 2004 Lansing High graduate and former member of the Huskies, made his first appearance on the mound for the Reds on Friday.
"I did want to bring Danny in because with him on the mound it gives us a little better chance of staying close in games," Smith said.
Smith said Wyatt would be an instant leader for the Reds.
"He's going to have a very big role, not only on the mound, but at the plate, in the field and in the dugout," Smith said. "He's like another bench coach."
Smith said it was important for the Reds to stay close for more reasons than having a chance to win a game. He said close games would put his young players in challenging game situations more frequently and, as a result, expedite their development.
That was the case Friday during Wyatt's first games with the club. In game one against the Easton Outlaws - a squad composed of numerous Pleasant Ridge High School varsity players coming off a state tournament appearance - the Reds hung tough as Wyatt struck out 11 batters through the first five innings.
Wyatt, throwing for the first time in almost a year, finally wore down in the sixth inning when the Outlaws pulled away with a six-run inning. Easton eventually won game one, 8-0, behind pitcher Josh Barnes' one-hitter.
Dylan Delich broke up Barnes' no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh.
"The fact that we didn't let ourselves get no-hit, the fact that we were battling to the last out, that makes me happy," Smith said. "I liked the fact that they were aggressive, they went to the plate and they looked for their pitch. That was great."
The Reds (0-4) hung tough again in game two with some aggressive play. They took their first lead of the season when Johnny Stratton singled and later scored on a passed ball.
"Just the fact that they were successful, they were able to get hits, they were able to score a run, it just builds you up and gives you a feeling that you're going in the right direction," Smith said.
Easton eventually pulled away for a 9-1 victory, but Smith said he saw numerous positives from the Reds' second twinbill of the season.
Whether it was Tyler Wilson or Tyler McNeil making a smart decision in the outfield, or Stratton or Kyle Hutchison making the routine play in the infield, Smith said the Reds' improvements in the past week were substantial.
The Reds next play at 6 tonight at Leavenworth Sportsfield in a doubleheader against Post 23 Auxiliary. It's their next chance to show more progress.
"I expect them to continue on and grow a little more," Smith said of tonight's games. "I expect them to continue to grow, continue to hit and continue to get better as the season goes on. The more familiar they become with each other, the more they're going to continue building that camaraderie and improve."