INDIANAPOLIS - Chris Shelton has opened this season red-hot, batting .373 with four homers and 13 RBIs in his first 14 games.
His teammate, Mike Hessman, has had an ice-cold start, batting just .104 in 13 contests.
What does that mean? Little, if anything.
No one expects Shelton to finish with 40 homers and 130 RBIs, even though that's the pace he's currently on. And Hessman, given enough at-bats, should rebound to produce his typical 20-homer year, having reached that figure in six of his eight full professional seasons.
But how important is it for a hitter to get off to a good start?
"I don't know. I never got off to a good start," said Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish.
Parrish said the reason for his slow starts was simple: He didn't like playing in the cold. Once the weather started warming up, so too did the Florida native's bat, and he would reach his typical season totals of 17 home runs and 70 RBIs.
"An old-timer once told me, 'Water seeks its own level,'●" Parrish said. "If you're a .280 guy, you'll get there whether you start at .370 and back down or you start at .180 and work up."
Of course, that makes it easy for an established pro who knows he's going to get opportunities to play no matter how he hits.
"If you're not established, you can't afford a bad start because you'll be sent to a lower level or not get any playing time," Parrish said.
"If you're established, and you've put up numbers in the past, everyone expects you'll get hot sooner or later."
That concept is especially true in the minor leagues, where players are constantly trying to prove they are capable of performing well at higher classifications.
That's why Mud Hens pitching coach Jeff Jones, an 11-year pro who spent all or part of five seasons in the majors, tried to start each season quickly.
"I think it's a big boost [to start fast], especially if you're jumping a class or playing at a class for the first time," Jones said. "You're always wondering in the back of your mind if you're good enough to be there, and it's usually a plus if a guy like that gets off to a good start."
But getting off to a fast start isn't always necessary. Take the case of Hens second baseman Ryan Raburn, who missed his first month of Double-A ball last season because of a dislocated finger on his right hand.
Once Raburn returned from the injury he struggled, batting just .208 for Erie in 28 June games. One positive sign was that he did tie for the Eastern League lead in walks that month with 20.
But on July 4 Raburn started a hitting tear that saw him hit .367 in the final two months of the season, cracking 25 doubles and 12 home runs in that span while driving in 52 runs. He also had a 20-game hit streak in mid-August and reached base via a hit or walk in his final 25 games for the SeaWolves.
Raburn has hit .184 in his first 13 games with the Hens this season but already has three home runs.
RING CEREMONY: Hens catcher Sandy Martinez received a World Series ring in the Mud Hens clubhouse prior to Tuesday's game with Charlotte. While Martinez spent most of last season with Buffalo, the parent Indians traded him to Boston on Aug. 31 and he played in three games for the champion Red Sox.
ROOF REPLACEMENT: On Wednesday Rochester manager Phil Roof took a leave of absence to attend to a personal matter, with no timetable set for his return. Hitting coach Rich Miller took over as the team's manager in Roof's absence.
WELCOME HOME: Columbus outfielder Mitch Jones made quite an impression in his first few games at Cooper Stadium. On opening day he hit for the cycle, becoming the first Clipper to do so since Mike Lowell turned that trick on Aug. 16, 1997. Two days later Jones slugged three home runs in one contest, including the game-winner in the bottom of the 12th.
STRATTON STRUCK DOWN: Louisville outfielder Rob Stratton tore his left Achilles tendon a week ago and had surgery on Tuesday to repair it. That was a tough break for Stratton and the Bats, since Stratton hit .308 with four home runs in eight games. The injury may sideline Stratton for the rest of the season.
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