Expectations were high for the Quincy Gems heading into the summer. The coaching staff was revamped with Rick Fraire, in his fifth season overall with the team, leading the way.
The Gems staff placed a high priority on assembling a premium pitching staff after finishing at or near the bottom of the Prospect League in nearly every category last summer.
The offense was centered around Quincy University product Cody Birdsong and Tarleton State University standout Blake Adams — both Division II All-Americans from the spring.
The Gems raced out to a fast 4-0 start to the season.
But there have been more valleys than peaks since the start.
With Thursday’s 10-5 loss to league-leading Terre Haute, the Gems fell to 15-18 on the season.
Quincy has lost four straight and nine of its past 10.
But no one is in the dugout is hitting the panic button yet.
“We are just fine,” the Gems skipper said. “We have a lot of good guys on this team. We are not going to hit well, or pitch well, every single night. That’s just baseball. We just have to continue doing what we do. We will be alright.”
Despite all the recent struggles, the team is just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot as the top two teams in each division make the postseason.
Strong at the top
Cody Klotz and Francisco Rodriguez continue their sizzling summer. Klotz, who has settled into the leadoff spot, smashed his team-leading eighth home run during Thursday's loss to the Rex and is hitting .353 for the season with 30 runs driven in.
Rodriguez, one spot behind Klotz in the order, collected two more hits Thursday to see his average climb to .367 on the year — tops on the team.
Gem in relief
In Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to Hannibal, Tyler Engel turned in his best pitching performance of the summer. The two-way player tossed five scoreless innings of relief to keep the Gems in the game. It was his longest outing this season.
Fraire mentioned he did not plan on using his reliever for nearly that long.
“He felt good and wanted to keep going out there,” the Gems manager said. “He pitched lights out. Hopefully that gives him a big boost for the rest of the summer.”
The righty, who dips down to nearly a submarine style of pitching, lowered his season ERA from 4.91 down to 2.92 with the outing.
Back in action
Birdsong, named PL Player of the Week last week, returned to the Gems lineup Tuesday night. The middle infielder, who Fraire calls his team leader, had missed the previous five games due to being struck in the head by a pitch on June 27 at Danville. Birdsong suffered a cut above his eye and a broken nose.
The Gems went 1-4 in his absence.
Matt Crook played for the Gems last summer and rejoined the team this summer as a bench coach. The utility player was activated to the active roster this week due a shortage of players.
“We were down to just one catcher on the roster due to a couple guys being away, so we activated him to serve as an emergency catcher,” owner Jimmy Louthan said of the move.
Crook was actually used as a relief pitcher Wednesday night in the Gems doubleheader loss to Hannibal. The righty allowed one run in one inning of work in a 12-2 loss.
All-star reflects on game
Former Quincy Notre Dame stalwart Blaise Haxel was one of the Quincy Area All-stars who played in the exhibition game at QU Stadium on June 30. Haxel, whose jersey is retired at QND, mentioned he felt honored to be part of the game.
“Playing in front of all the veterans, honoring their service, was a privilege,” he said. “They (the veterans) are the real reason why all of us get to do fun things like play baseball.”
Haxel also relished the opportunity to play on the same team as his brother and other former area greats.
“It was a mixture of emotions for sure,” he said. “To be able to get back into a competitive ballgame with my brother (Connor) and all those other guys, it was just one of the best experiences I’ve had.”
Connor hit the game-winning three-run home run as the all-stars defeated the Gems, 6-4.
Jerseys for sale
Fans are able to bid and purchase game-worn jerseys from the all-star game as well as the Gems special Fourth of July jerseys worn earlier this week.
Part of the proceeds from the sales will go to the Legion.
Jersey sales will run through the end of the season.