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LANCASTER JETHAWKS PROGRESS REPORT: INJURIES, ROAD WOES DIDN'T HELP IN 1ST HALF.

Byline: Gideon Rubin Staff Writer

LANCASTER - Technical analysts on Wall Street earn six-figure salaries tracking trading averages that define what they call ``critical support levels.'' When the market sinks below those levels, investors panic.

It's less complicated in sports, where the .500 mark is the one barometer of success and failure.

After losing their season opener April 6, the 2001 JetHawks, who are in the first of a new four-year player-development contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, managed to stay above .500 for the first seven weeks of the season. But in the last week of May, they started testing the .500 mark, and then, after losing five of six, they fell to 24-25 with a 6-4 loss at Bakersfield on May 26.

The JetHawks appeared to be on the road to recovery as they won three of their next four games, but that turned out to be what those technical analysts call a ``bear trap.''

The JetHawks went on to lose a franchise-record 13 consecutive games. As they slipped further below the .500 mark, they couldn't get any traction.

``With that, and losing some close ballgames, mentally you start to really second-guess yourself and start to drag a little bit,'' JetHawks manager Scott Coolbaugh said. ``You seem to come up with losses late in the ballgame, and we couldn't overcome those, and then it starts to snowball and it's really tough to turn it around. That's why we went on a 13-game losing streak.''

The JetHawks finished the first half of the season in last place in the California League's Southern Division with a 29-41 record.

Coolbaugh said injuries to key players, combined with a flurry of roster moves, were factors in the losing streak. Outfielder Kevan Burns and infielders Matt Kata and Billy Martin - three of the team's four California League all-stars - all suffered injuries that took them out of the lineup or limited their impact.

The JetHawks suffered their first significant injury before the season began when right-handed pitcher Mike Schultz, who was scheduled to be the team's opening-day starter, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis. After three weeks on the disabled list, he eventually was shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks' extended-spring-training facility in Tucson, Ariz.

But nothing hurt the JetHawks more than Burns' hamstring and related lower-back injury. He led the team with a .364 batting average and had 10 homers and 37 RBI during the first half. But after he went on the disabled list May 21, the JetHawks were never the same, losing 19 of their next 23 games. Burns was back in the lineup May 30 and went 5 for 9 when the JetHawks swept a two-game series from the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.

But during the team's 13-game losing streak, he appeared in just eight games and was 4 for 24 during that stretch.

Martin and Kata played through ankle and finger injuries, respectively.

``A lot of things that went on in the first half that people don't read into, but it eventually wears on you and it caught up to us a little bit,'' Coolbaugh said.

Despite the JetHawks woeful first-half performance, Coolbaugh, the eternal optimist, is bullish about his team's prospects for the second half.

``I think these guys realize that they've got a long way to go, but there's a lot of talent on this club,'' he said.

Coolbaugh is hoping his team can build on its strengths. The JetHawks were second in the league in team batting average (.282) and runs scored (428), and starting pitching was solid for most of the first half.

But if the JetHawks are to make a run at the second-half title or compete for a playoff spot, their bullpen will have to do a better job and they'll need to improve on all the little things - bunting, baserunning, making routine defensive plays - they didn't do in the first half.

``All of those little things can add up to a lot of wins,'' Coolbaugh said.

They aren't going anywhere, however, if they can't play better on the road. After winning seven of their first 10 games away from home, the JetHawks lost 21 of their last 23 road games.

There are reasons to be hopeful, though. The JetHawks concluded the first half of the season with their most emotional victory, rallying from a 9-2 deficit to defeat Rancho Cucamonga 10-9.

And Coolbaugh said a positive that came out of the losing streak was that his bullpen got plenty of work, which could pay dividends later in the season.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

The JetHawks lost 19 of 23 games during a stretch this season when offensive leader Kevan Burns was sidelined by injury.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 20, 2001
Words:781
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