Brock Netter, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — After not having played for nearly two years, the Chillicothe Paints finally took the field as the defending Prospect League Champions on May 27.
However, its first action as the reigning champs was less than royal as the Paints were dealt a 10-4 opening season loss to the Lafayette Aviators, and gave up seven first inning runs.
That was followed by losses to the Champion City Kings and Johnstown Mill Rats, in which the Paints were outscored 19-10 to open the season 0-3.
“Losing our ace Zach Kendall to injury on opening night definitely set us back a little bit,” Paints first-year manager John Penn said. “It was a rough start, but our starting pitching has slowly been improving and we’ve gotten some solid outings from our guys. But we’ve given up some walks and they’ve come back to get us a couple times. Our biggest thing is that whether it’s the starters or the bullpen, we have to come out and attack guys.”
While starting 0-3 raised some eyebrows as putting nine complete innings was a struggle, it’s a brand new team with only two players back from that 2019 championship team in Kendall and right fielder Trey Smith.
“What Team 27 did in winning the championship was great and an incredible accomplishment, but it also put a target on our back immediately,” Penn said. “Some of these guys weren’t playing baseball in college two years ago, and this is the biggest crowd they’ve ever played for. Opening night, there were 4,000 people and most guys have never played in front of that many people. It’s an adjustment for sure.”
Kendall is now gone, leaving just Smith as the sole veteran of the team. However, even with the lack of experience, remember that the 2019 team started the season 2-7 before finding its stride.
But it seems as though the early season nerves are beginning to wear off, at least a little bit.
The Paints earned their first victory on Sunday with a 3-0 victory over Johnstown. They followed with a 10-1 victory over the West Virginia Miners, thanks to an eight-run second inning before last night’s game was postponed due to weather.
“We’re using Team 27 as our motivation for Team 28 this year. These guys are in charge of creating their own legacy,” Penn said. “But at the same time, it’s also a learning curve of what it’s like to be on the road and play at West Virginia along with some of these other places as well. Trey is the only one who knows what it’s like, so it’s going to take some time to get comfortable with one another and figure out what works.
“At the end of the day, baseball is still the same. The bases are 90 feet and the pitcher’s mound is 60-feet-6. We have some guys who played at highly successful programs who have been on big stages, so we must use as much experience as possible.”
The Paints return to action tonight at 7:05 p.m. against the Champion City Kings before playing four straight games on the road at Champion City, Johnstown and West Virginia.
“I’d really like to see our starters go about seven innings every game, although that probably won’t happen in every game. As long as they’re giving us quality starts, our bullpen has to be aggressive and finish strong,” Penn said. “We’re playing things pretty clean on the defensive side of the ball so hopefully that trend continues. Offensively, we have to be better at getting our swing off. It’s a lot different swinging a metal bat in college compared to a wood bat in the Prospect League. There’s less acceleration coming off a wood bat compared to a metal bat when you hit it with the barrel, which also means less room for error with our swings. It’s early and I know our guys will find their groove, still a long season ahead.”