Williamsport first-year manager Andy Tracy keeps turning the same phrase when talking about this Crosscutters team. He knows he keeps going back to it, but it's the best possible way to describe what the Cutters are going through 15 games into the season.
It's a process.
Part of the process is learning about how to deal with success. And part of the process is learning on how to deal with failure.
It's why there's so many ups and downs with a team that has so much talent. It's why that talent hasn't manifested itself into a record better than the 7-8 mark the Crosscutters carried into Tuesday's series finale with Mahoning Valley.
"We're 15 games in and it's time to do things the right way and understand that there is going to be failures and there is going to be success," Tracy said after batting practice Tuesday. "And you have to handle both the same way. Some guys aren't used to not being successful, but you have to be able to separate the game a little."
Tracy held about a 15-minute meeting with the players in the clubhouse Monday night following a 12-6 loss to Mahoning Valley, the Cutters third consecutive loss. The mood in the clubhouse was light after the meeting, and infielder Cameron Perkins even said the team hadn't reached a breaking point yet.
But more than two weeks into the season, Tracy wanted the team to understand the process they were taking part in. Seven of the 11 position players on the Cutters' roster never played college ball. So part of the process Tracy references to daily, it about learning how to play the game on a professional level while adjusting to a professional level of play.
"I think what they need to realize is they need to have fun. They have an opportunity here to play pro ball and it's a special opportunity," Tracy said. "Getting the point across to them is different talking to a younger kid as opposed to an older kid. Am I getting through to them? I hope so. My door is always open for them. Whatever they want to say to me, positive or negative, my door is open. I want them to realize that if they're not happy with something, come in and talk about it and we'll figure it out."
Part of that process has been about working with the team on its approach at the plate. A young team that hasn't seen a lot of professional quality breaking balls, Tracy has been happy with the aggressiveness from the offense in trying to hit fastballs early in the count.
But at times the lineup has been guilty of guessing pitches instead of seeing the ball out of the pitcher's hand and reacting to what they see. It reared its ugly head Monday night when five of the 11 strikeouts by the Williamsport offense were looking at fastballs.
"We can talk to them about it, but we can't make them swing at stuff," Tracy said. "It's still a process to learn how to do that stuff. I'm not a believer in taking fastballs and striking out on fastballs."
It's a team that is very hard on itself, almost as if it expects perfection every time out. Players slam helmets or bats when something doesn't go right. They're hard on themselves when they make an error.
Again, it all goes back to the process of learning to play on a professional level. Tracy is a manager who's constantly bouncing around, cracking jokes and trying to ease the tension of a long season. When he's throwing batting practice, he'll be teaching after one pitch and on the next pitch he's bouncing off the make-shift mound to field a Roman Quinn bunt and brag he would have thrown him out at first base.
He's trying to translate that fun feeling to the rest of the team. Granted, nights like the first two against Mahoning Valley in this quick three-game homestand, are difficult nights to make fun.
"You can have fun and still do your early work," Tracy said. "They're trying to learn. They make an error and it's like, 'Oh, I'm mad.' OK, you made an error, so what? Get the next one. It's all part of the process once again, and being an 18 or 19-year old in pro baseball."
LOOKING FOR RELIEF: Tracy has mentioned a number of times through the first two-plus weeks of the season about being short-handed in the bullpen. They were short-handed once again Monday night after Geoff Broussard was called up to Lakewood. The right-hander was returned to Williamsport on Tuesday, but after throwing three innings for the BlueClaws in an 11-inning game, he likely won't be available for a couple days in Williamsport.
The problem for the Cutters' staff was born out of a starting staff that has, at times, failed to get deep into ballgames. Now, understand that getting deep into a New York-Penn League game usually means five or six innings, not the seven or eight expected at the Major League level. But eight times in the first 15 games, Cutters starting pitchers have failed to throw at least four innings in a start.
"What happens with us is we're short a lot because we have short outings and we lose our long guys," Tracy said. "Now we're down to just guys who pitch counts are not as high as we'd like them to be to bridge us."
The team has gotten a pick up from pitcher Jordan Guth who has had his pitch count steadily increase since being drafted out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After working a piggy-back situation in his first two appearances along with Hoby Milner, Guth went five innings against Auburn in his last outing after Milner had been promoted to Lakewood.
"We built him up and we're trying to get him there," Tracy said of Guth. "If we can get (Jon Musser) and (Delvin Perez) going, it'll help us tremendously."
The Cutters also got the welcome news that left-hander Jim Birmingham was available to throw Tuesday night. He had been shut down by the Phillies since his first appearance with the Cutters on June 19 because of a tweak in his throwing arm.
"So that at least gives us an extra arm," Tracy said.
WALDING DAY-TO-DAY: Cutters third baseman Mitch Walding was fine after being hit by a pitch on the right elbow during Monday night's game against Mahoning Valley in the fourth inning. But he was taken out as a precaution after the elbow started to swell. Walding was out of the lineup for just the second time this year Tuesday because of the injury. He threw with infielder Trey Ford prior to batting practice, but did not take ground balls or any swings during BP."
The hit by pitch caused a bit of a dead arm for Walding, who was shaking his right arm while standing on first base.
"It just hit that spot," Tracy said, pointing to his elbow. "We all get hit there. He just hit the nerve and it swelled up a bit. That's his throwing elbow and his front elbow while hitting. We gave him the day off and we'll get it worked out.
Cameron Perkins started at third base yesterday for the second time. Ford was the designated hitter.