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BASEBALL

Chasers taking steps in right direction, aiming for better results after losing streak in April

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Cheslor Cuthbert

Manager Brian Poldberg expected his Storm Chasers to hit the ball better at the start of the season, but he believes they are settling in. That includes Cheslor Cuthbert, above, who is batting .292 and driven in a team-high 18 runs this season. He had a 12-game hitting streak during the middle portion of April.

Earlier this week, Omaha ended a seven-game losing streak by rallying from a 9-0 deficit at Werner Park.

Manager Brian Poldberg praised his players for the character they showed in the comeback. He then pointed out that the Storm Chasers have too much talent to ever be down by nine or lose seven straight.

“Coming back and winning that game, I hope it’s going to pump some life into these guys,” he said.

Omaha sits third in the PCL’s American Northern Division standings as it open its first homestand of the season’s second month. The Chasers will face Iowa and Round Rock, the leaders in their respective PCL divisions, over the next eight days at Werner. The four-game series with the Cubs begins Friday at 7 p.m.

Poldberg remains high on his squad a month in, but noted that there is plenty of room for improvement.

“I thought we’d hit more than we have,” he said. “Everybody tries to do more when you’re struggling, and it gets yourself into a little bit of trouble. I think guys are going to start relaxing a little bit. We’re 30 days into the season. We’ve just got to go out and do what you can do. We don’t need anything else.”

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Two-time Omaha player of the year Frank Schwindel, who opened the season with Kansas City, and former big league outfielder Jorge Bonifacio are the most notable slow offensive starters. Bonifacio went hitless in his first 32 at-bats of the season, eventually getting an infield hit in his team’s 10th game.

“(Schwindel) is more frustrated because he knows he should be hitting,” Poldberg said. “It probably eats at him more than it should. (With) Frank, your track record shows it’s going to happen, so don’t get out of the way. Boni, your track record shows it’s going to happen. We’ve just got to stay with the process.”

Creighton product Nicky Lopez and former Nebraska football recruit Bubba Starling have been the top hitters for the Chasers — along with Kelvin Gutierrez, now in Kansas City — over the first month. Lopez is one of the Royals’ top prospects while Starling has bounced back from an injury-plagued 2018 season.

“The big thing with Bubba is that, now that he’s not on the (40-man) roster, he can just relax and play,” Poldberg said. “Before, it was almost like he was trying to please everybody. He just has to go out and be Bubba. I think that’s kind of eased his mind a little bit. And he can just go out and play and have fun.”

Nick Dini, who opened last season in Omaha, is also off to a strong start at the plate while sharing catching duties with Andrew Susac. Poldberg said the Chasers have had decent starting pitching in the first month. Their bullpen, meanwhile, has inconsistency as guys have come and gone.

“The bullpen, early, did a pretty good job. But now with all the moves, the bullpen has changed in character a little bit,” he said. “It’s hard the first month of the season. It’s mentally grinding on a guy out there. Once it warms up, I think we’ll have a better feel for some of these guys. But we’ve just got to throw strikes. We’ve had too many walks at times. And we’re trying to fight an uphill battle there.”

In Iowa, the Chasers will face the team with the second-most PCL wins to date. The Cubs will have infielder Addison Russell with them in Omaha after he was optioned by Chicago after being reinstated from the restriction list following his 40-game suspension. The shortstop began sitting out late last season for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy. He’s already played seven rehab games with Iowa.

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