AS LONG as he's hitting like this, the mustache is staying.
"I just shaved, but not the mustache," Clearwater outfielder Brian Gump said. "Even if I wanted to take it off, I don't think my teammates would let me."
That's because ballplayers are a superstitious lot, and Gump has been as hot as the Florida sun since he started to grow the mustache a few weeks ago. His Threshers teammates are calling it "The Mash 'Stache." He's 16-for-37 in his last 10 games, with a couple homers and 10 RBI. He's up to .319 for the season and brimming with confidence.
Gump is a genial redhead whose collective baseball gifts add up to a legitimate prospect who could one day play in the big leagues.
"I believe I will," said Gump, 23, a lefthanded-hitting Southern California kid who grew up near Anaheim rooting for the Angels. "I think I can do everything well. I try to make sure that there are no holes in my game . . . I can hit for contact, I have some power, definitely have speed, defense."
And plenty of insight into life in the minor leagues. When the Phils drafted him in the 26th round out of Cal-Santa Barbara, Gump, who earned a degree in English, started a blog to chronicle his journey through the bushes. His first entry was July 12, 2009, and he's continued it ever since. The blog is filled with interesting anecdotes and reflections on the excitement, drudgery and uncertainty of chasing a major league dream.
"It's starting to get some more attention," he said of the blog (briangump.blogspot.com). "I think I'd definitely like to turn it into a book someday. That's a dream I've always had."
But one dream at a time. Getting to the majors is the dream in progress, a dream that became a nightmare last July 4 when Gump was playing for Lakewood. The 6-2, 195-pounder was hit by a pitch on his right forearm, breaking a bone. As medical personnel tended to him, Gump envisioned a lost season, a massive detour to his goal of playing in the show.
"That was a gut-check," he said. "I broke down for a minute, then I knew it was time to start healing. I knew [playing baseball] was what I wanted to do, that this was always my dream."
He had surgery a few days after the injury and the doctors told him: out 8 weeks, see ya next season.
Gump pored over information on how to heal as quickly as possible. He stopped painkillers a day after surgery. He ate the healthiest food available, got lots of sleep, took calcium supplements . . . anything to speed the process. He was back in Lakewood by the end of August, in time to contribute to the BlueClaws' South Atlantic League title run.
"The surgeons were shocked at the progress I'd made after 4 or 5 weeks," Gump said.
Now that he's seen three levels of pro ball, two things stand out: The pitching is better and so is the defense. Grounders don't get through the infield quite so easily anymore. Outfielders are catching up to those fly balls in the gap.
"Pitchers at this level [advanced Class A] can work both sides of the plate," Gump said. "And they can throw their off-speed pitches for strikes. You have to be able to hit an off-speed pitch here."
Whew, Clearwater is stocked.
Look no further than righthander Julio Rodriguez, who somehow got himself to 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA in six starts and we're just getting around to mentioning him. The 6-4, 195-pounder allowed three hits and struck out six over seven innings Saturday to win his fifth straight start as Clearwater beat Dunedin, 4-0. He went 2-0 last week and was named Florida State League Pitcher of the Week.
Rodriguez finished the weekend with the league lead in wins and was among the leaders in ERA and strikeouts (33). Opponents are hitting .175 against him.
And one other thing: He's 20.
Reading enjoyed a weekend of batting practice in Harrisburg. The R-Phils scored 35 runs in their three-game sweep of Washington's Double A affiliate. The Phillies (19-11) are atop the Eastern League's East Division.
First baseman Matt Rizzotti remains blistering hot. He was 2-for-4 in Sunday's 16-5 romp, with a pair of homers. He's hitting .327 with five homers and 20 RBI, and had 35 hits - 18 for extra bases.
Can a call from Lehigh Valley be far off?
Unfortunately, last night the R-Phils ran into Trenton's Dellin Betances (2-1, 1.00), a 6-8, 260-pounder who's one of the Yankees' top pitching prospects. He combined with two relievers to blank Reading, 2-0, on four hits. Reading hitters struck out 12 times.
Last week, Lakewood righty David Buchanan said he was stoked about the BlueClaws' pending trip to Charleston, S.C. The 6-3, 190-pounder is a Georgia boy who has family living within driving distance. In fact, his grandfather lives about an hour from Charleston and was looking forward to seeing his grandson pitch on Saturday night.
Well, grandpop got to see the first BlueClaws pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game since July 2007. Buchanan (4-1, 1.77) dominated, allowing one run, six hits and fanning seven in a 5-1 victory over the RiverDogs, a Yankees affiliate.
That heavy sigh of relief we heard Sunday night came all the way from Charleston. That's when 2010 first-round pick Jesse Biddle earned his first win with Lakewood.
The 6-4 lefty from Germantown Friends went five strong innings in the BlueClaws' 4-2 win over the Yankees Class A affiliate. Biddle (1-4, 5.47) allowed two earned runs, scattered four hits, walked two and struck out five. It was his second straight solid outing after three rough ones.
ON THE FARM
Lehigh Valley (AAA)
Today: at Toledo, 10:30 a.m.
Tomorrow: at Toledo, 6:30
Thursday: at Toledo, 6:30
Friday: vs. Norfolk, 7:05
Saturday: vs. Norfolk, 6:35
Sunday: vs. Norfolk, 1:35
Monday: vs. Norfolk, 7:05
Tonight: at Trenton, 7:05
Tomorrow: at Trenton, 7:05
Thursday: vs. New Hampshire, 6:35
Friday: vs. New Hampshire, 2, 6:05
Saturday: vs. New Hampshire, 6:05
Sunday: vs. New Hampshire, 1:05
Tonight: vs. Palm Beach, 7
Tomorrow: vs. P. Beach, 10:30 a.m.
Thursday: vs. Palm Beach, 7
Friday: vs. Palm Beach, 6:30
Saturday: at Bradenton, 7
Sunday: at Bradenton, 5
Monday: at Bradenton, 7
Tonight: at Greensboro, 7
Tomorrow: at G'boro, 10:45 a.m.
Thursday: at Greensboro, 7
Friday: vs. Hagerstown, 7:05
Saturday: vs. Hagerstown, 4:05
Sunday: vs. Hagerstown, 1:05
Monday: vs. Hagerstown, 6:35
Did you know?:
* Reading first baseman Cody Overbeck spent most of April at or near the top in several offensive categories, and the Eastern League saw fit to name him player of the month. Through the weekend, Overbeck, 24, a 6-1, 200-pounder, had nine homers and 24 RBI, both league bests. He's hitting .291.
* Lakewood's Jim Murphy hit his eighth home run Sunday in the BlueClaws' win over Charleston. Murphy tied Juan Richardson for the franchise record with his 22nd home run as a BlueClaw.
* Lehigh Valley is 16-14 through the weekend. Yet, the IronPigs fell behind in 21 of their 30 games. They have erased deficits in 10 of their wins.
* Lehigh Valley leftfielder Brandon Moss set a franchise record with his career-high seven RBI Thursday in the IronPigs' 10-3 win over Columbus. He tied a franchise best with two homers in a game and hit Lehigh Valley's first grand slam of the season.