Oilers plan to rely less on small ball

Posted: Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bye bye bunt.


Traditionally, with the brisk Cook Inlet wind whistling in from the outfield, the Peninsula Oilers have been practitioners of small ball. Get a runner aboard with nobody out, and a sacrifice bunt is nearly automatic.

As the Oilers get set to begin their 2010 campaign at 7 p.m. tonight with an Alaska Baseball League game in Anchorage against the Bucs, all that is about to change.

"We're going to run a little different type of offense than what has been done here in the past," said Dennis Machado, the new head coach of the Oilers. "I think you'll see a more aggressive offense. We're not necessarily going to play small ball."

Machado said small ball does have its place. If the game is tied in the bottom of the eighth and the leadoff batter reaches base, Machado will still likely call for a bunt.

"I think guys come up here to hit," Machado said. "They don't want to bunt 10 times a game."

If there is an Oilers head coach perfect to make a break with tradition, it's Machado. Nobody will be able to accuse him of being naive about the Kenai winds and the confines of Coral Seymour Memorial Park.

In high school, Machado played with the American Legion Twins at Seymour Park before graduating from Kenai Central in 1994. He played for the Oilers for four summers, picking up the organization's last National Baseball Congress World Series title in 1994.

Machado also served as the Oilers pitching coach in 2007 and 2008, leading the league's top staff both years. Last season, Machado was the head coach for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, keeping the team in the ABL pennant race all season and coming within one out of an NBC title. According to longtime Twins manager Lance Coz, Machado was the first Alaska American Legion product to be the head coach of an ABL club.

Machado was then hired this offseason to replace Jeff Walker, who guided the Oilers to a fifth-place finish in the league -- the team's worst since 2001.

Machado, who is an assistant coach at Cal State Bakersfield, said landing the Kenai job is a dream come true on many fronts. He said the Oilers program is a premier organization in one of the best college summer leagues in the country. While many coaches have to venture thousands of miles from home to coach in the ABL, Machado simply had to come home, where his parents, brother, her wife and their newborn baby still live.

"It's always great to come home," Machado said. "I saw my niece yesterday for the first time."

Machado said he thinks he has brought the type of players that will be needed to implement his new offense and chase the Oilers first league title since 2006.

The most notorious stick belongs to Florida International University's Garrett Wittels, who will carry his 56-game hitting streak into next season. Wittels, who hit .413 with 60 RBIs, 21 doubles and 100 hits in 56 games at FIU, will arrive in Kenai on June 18.

"Arguably, he had one of the best offensive seasons in college baseball history," Machado said.

Machado said another offensive threat will come from Ryan Gebhart, who played for the Athletes in Action Fire last season and hit .288 while stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts. Gebhart then joined Machado and the Glacier Pilots for their run in the NBC tourney.

"A reason I came back was to help coach Machado win a championship," Gebhart said. "I know it's a bold statement, but it was bittersweet getting so close last year and losing."

When asked which championship he was referencing, ABL or NBC, Gebhart replied: "Both."

Other players Machado is counting on to aid the flight from small ball include Stanford's Stephen Piscotty, St. Mary's College's Patrick Wisdom, Central Michigan University's Nathan Theunissen, Mesa State's Jeff Popick and Wichita State's Tyler Grimes.

"From BP yesterday, it looked like we have some guys that can swing it a little," said Grimes, who is all healed up from a broken right wrist that kept him from playing for the Oilers last summer. "Hopefully, we'll be able to put some runs up and play some defense behind the pitching and make it more interesting."

The Oilers batted a league-worst .213 last season, but the tradition of strong pitching on the Peninsula continued. The staff's ERA was 2.58, second to the Miners' 2.48 in the league.

"It doesn't matter where you are, in Kenai or LA," Machado said. "It's always about pitching and defense. It starts and ends there."

A good place for the Oilers' pitching staff to start is Kyle Barraclough, who was third in the league last season with a 1.65 ERA. That ERA led to just a 3-2 record.

Barraclough said he came back because Kenai is a great place to focus on improving his game. He also enjoyed his host parents -- Duane and Carol Bannock.

"It's a little early, but watching BP yesterday, it looked like they were swinging it a little better than last year," Barraclough said.

Cody Kendall, who was 4-3 with a 3.52 ERA last year, also returns. Machado, who also will serve as pitching coach, said some other names to watch are Taylor Siemens and Jake Sabol.

Siemens comes from California Baptist University and their head coach Gary Adcock, who has the best winning percentage as head coach in Oilers history. Siemens recently pitched a complete game, allowing just two earned runs, in the NAIA World Series.

Machado is glad to have Sabol on his side. Last year, Sabol was named the most valuable player of the NBC tournament, allowing just one earned run in 17 2-3 innings. He also pitched seven innings for the El Dorado Broncos in the championship-game victory against Machado's Pilots.

"Our guys will be on a pitch count," Machado said. "We will have 13 guys and everybody will need to get their work in."

Machado said the team also has solid defenders in infielders Grimes, Wisdom and Joe Kohan. The coach also said Gebhart will be able to cover a lot of turf in center field.

"It gives you the opportunity to go and make sweet plays," Gebhart said of Seymour Park's large outfield.

Like all the other ABL teams, the Oilers will be short-handed to start the league schedule. Machado said the team will play tonight's game with 17 on the bench. Another player will arrive for the next game, while five more players will arrive on Sunday, and Wittels will deplane on June 18. The team will have just seven pitchers to start, and must make it through six games with eight pitchers.

Machado is anxious to see the team he put together with Oilers general manager Shawn Maltby and assistants Dan Lemon, Jake Silverman and DJ Mauldin.

"These guys, every one we've seen them play or guys we know have seen them play," Machado said. "They are a very talented group of guys that we are putting out on the field. They're all hard-nosed players who enjoy the game a lot."

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