Miners welcome Paints back to Beckley on Tuesday

Jon C. Hancock/For The Register-HeraldWest Virginia Miners shortstop Kenneth Melendez waits for the throw from the catcher as Johnstown's Bobby Lane steals second base during the first game of a doubleheader Thursday at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley.

Sometimes things just come together, which seems to have happened for the West Virginia Miners.

Although they go into tonight’s home series opener with Chillicothe (6:35 p.m.) coming off a loss at Champion City, they had won four straight games and none of them was close. They scored double-digit runs in three and averaged 13.8 during the streak.

More than anything, the reversal of fortunes — the Miners dropped their first four games of the season — is about what is happening in the clubhouse rather than on the field.

“It seems like the guys are having fun,” Miners manager Tim Epling said. “They enjoy being around each other. They say once you start hitting, it’s contagious. So is winning. You start winning and it allows them to ease up a little bit.

“The chemistry is better now where they have been together. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Epling said part of his job as manager has been to make sure the players’ approach remains the same.

“A lot of times when you lose right off the bat, they have to understand that we play 60 games, not seven,” he said. “It’s about them getting better individually one game at a time. Whether you’re down 10 or up 10, down 1-0 or up 1-0, your mental approach cannot change.”

Epling’s point can be illustrated through the offense. The Miners have hit the ball well all season, but they were not pushing runs across through the first four games when they left 48 runners on base — 14 in a 10-1 loss to Chillicothe.

Since then, they have stranded just 29 over five games.

The Miners (4-5) are fifth in the Prospect League with a .277 batting average and have three players in the top 10. First baseman Pat Mills is fourth at .455, second baseman Denver Blinn is sixth at .444 and center fielder Juan Familia is eighth at .435.

Familia has been a welcomed addition at the leadoff spot. He started the season as a temporary player for the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp and hit .385 in four games. The Rio Grande product has four doubles and five RBIs for the Miners.

The Miners also discovered some power in a weekend series at Champion City. They hit four home runs in Saturday’s 19-7 mercy-rule win over the Kings, and Mills hit a solo shot and a two-run homer in a 4-3 loss on Sunday.

Right fielder Chris Iazzetta joins Mills with two home runs for the Miners.

“We’re getting timely hitting, we’re getting on base, we’re bunting runs in. We’re doing all these things to get runs in and we’re getting hits in bunches,” Epling said. “Then when that happens, the pitching gets more relaxed.”

Epling said he’s still waiting on the arrival of a few more players, including catcher Dakota Mulcay. He is currently with Southern New Hampshire in the NCAA Division II World Series.

Epling likes his stable of catchers, including Zachary Doss.

“We have some athletic catchers. You never know what might happen back there,” Epling said. “Zach is a bulldog back there. He’s got a lot of guts in him. Kevin (Gutierrez) has been very adequate. I think he will be OK once he gets more familiar with the pitchers.”

That could take a little time since there are still some pitchers who have not gotten to the mound.

“We’re still putting all the pieces together,” Epling said. “We got a bunch of arms here, three or four in the past week who haven’t gotten any time in. It will take another three or four games to get a feel, but I think that’s a good problem to have.”

Tonight will be the first of nine straight meetings between the Miners and Paints. They will meet in Beckley again on Wednesday, then move to Chillicothe Thursday (doubleheader) and Friday. Then it’s back to Beckley Saturday and Sunday, and back to Chillicothe next Monday and Tuesday.

Email: gfauber@register-herald.com

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