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Norfolk Manager Gary Kendall On Handling Triple-A Roster, Tides Prospects

August 14, 2019
Gary Kendall can't remember a week where he has had the same players in the clubhouse since he took over as the manager of Triple-A Norfolk.

He does not think that is a bad thing, though; he admits that is part of moving up from the Double-A level -- he was the manager for the Bowie Baysox for eight years -- to a Triple-A team like the Tides.

He also admits the constant turnover is a challenge, though. There have been times where he has lost a starter just an hour before a game, and he has gotten calls about having to hold back pitchers in the rotation. He also has to manage players who feel they are not getting the proper consideration for a big-league opportunity.

"It affects them," Kendall said on The Bat Around with Stan "The Fan Charles July 27. "It enhances their lives by going up. Not only with the salary and insurance, but ... a lot of them have children, so it affects a lot of things. Sometimes you have to mediate a bit and get them to understand and get them to play a team concept, because this is a numbers game."

A recent example of that was when Kendall had to tell center fielder Cedric Mullins that he was being sent back down to the Double-A level. Mullins had a rough 22 games with the Orioles, for whom he hit .094 and recorded just six hits, seven runs and four RBIs. Those problems persisted when he was moved to Triple-A.

"It was tough for Cedric here," Kendall said. "There were some things we were trying to focus on, getting on base, stealing bases and not only just defending the run, but also having his bat profile more than a lot of pop-ups. He just didn't have a good couple of months with us. We hope [moving to Double-A] kind of gets him going a bit, get some confidence and get back up here and help our major-league club down the road."

Kendall has also seen the opposite regarding right fielder DJ Stewart. The 2015 first-round pick hit .284/.391/.545 with 63 hits, 40 runs and 46 RBIs for the Tides this year. Stewart was initially called up to the big leagues in May, but a sprained ankle cut short his initial stay. Kendall was impressed with the work he put in to climb back into the major leagues in August after he got healthy.

"DJ is a grinder," Kendall said. "And he certainly deserved it. He's improved as an outfielder and showed some power. There's a lot of things about his game that strikes a major-league club and makes it appealing. He did all those things and he definitely deserved going up [to the major league]."

Kendall also talked about some of the prospects currently on the roster:

First baseman and left fielder Ryan Mountcastle has put up strong numbers at the plate for the Tides (.315/.342/.518 with 140 hits and 20 home runs). He also has 108 strikeouts and 17 walks, and Kendall believes that is a byproduct of pitch selection.

"We had a talk with Ryan the other day and strikeouts are a part of the game right now, but strikeouts shouldn't be a part of his game," Kendall said. "And that's what we conveyed to him. It's not so much that he's striking out because his swing is bad or he doesn't have bat speed to catch up to a good heater. ... He's doing a lot of damage when he does put the ball in play. So, a lot of it is his pitch selection. Ryan just needs to persevere and get better pitches to hit and create some better counts."

Lefty Keegan Akin is a player who Kendall feels has pitched with consistency for most of the year. He has 111 strikeouts in 97 innings this season, but there is room for improvement with a 4.36 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 49 walks. Kendall has seen him put in the work, though.

"What drives him out of ballgames in the fifth and sixth innings is his amount of pitches, which creates walks," Kendall said. "That's something he needs to improve on. And there's nothing wrong with the fact that he's not in the big leagues. When Keegan Akin's is ready ... hopefully he goes there and he stays there. You don't like these guys go up and down on roster decisions. There's some things he needs to work on, but he's putting in his time."

Right fielder Austin Hays has been struggling with injuries for the past two seasons, and those struggles are continuing this year. He is hitting .244/.288/.475 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs in 160 at-bats with Norfolk, and to Kendall, it looks like the Daytona Beach, Fla., prospect is overswinging at times.

"He's trying to do too much," Kendall said. "There are some situations where he comes up with men on base, and he wants to be that guy to drive them in. He's putting the work in. There's been games where it looks like, boy, he's ready to snap out of it. And there's games where he doesn't repeat good swings. I think it's just been very inconsistent for him, and that's what the minor leagues are all about. So, we're just going to keep at it ... and hopefully it starts clicking and he has a strong finish."

For more from Kendall, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Steven Goldburg/Norfolk Tides