Headed to the all-star game

Blue Crabs earn five se­lec­tions for tonight’s Atlantic League event

Maryland Independent - - Sports - By CHAR­LIE WRIGHT

The South­ern Mary­land Blue Crabs will be rep­re­sented by five play­ers in the Atlantic League Al­lS­tar game at Clip­per Mag­a­zine Sta­dium in Lan­caster, Pa., this evening.

Pitch­ers Brian Bur­res and Cody Ep­p­ley, in­field­ers Bryant Nel­son and Michael Sny­der and out­fielder Ja­mar Wal­ton were cho­sen for the Free­dom Di­vi­sion ros­ter. The team will be coached by former Blue Crabs man­ager and cur­rent New Bri­tain Bees skip­per Stan Cliburn.

Bur­res and Ep­p­ley have been among the few bright spots on a Blue Crabs pitch­ing staff that ranks last in the league in team ERA. Bur­res, who has pitched in the ma­jors for Bal­ti­more, Toronto and Pitts­burgh, has been their most re­li­able starter this sea­son. He leads the team in wins (6), strike­outs (78) and in­nings pitched (88 1/3), and his 2.75 ERA is good for fourth in the Atlantic League. In his most re­cent out­ing, Bur­res threw six shutout in­nings against Long Is­land, sur­ren­der­ing just two hits in the vic­tory. The win snapped an eight-game los­ing streak for South­ern Mary­land.

“He’s been our num­ber

one,” Blue Crabs man­ager Jeremy Owens said. “He wasn’t our open­ing day starter but he’s been our num­ber one guy ba­si­cally from the start. He’s kind of like our stop­per, when we need a win he gets it for us.”

Ep­p­ley earned the save in that game against Long Is­land, his 13th of the sea­son. The closer has so­lid­i­fied the back end of the Blue Crabs’ bullpen, and has al­lowed just two runs in his last 15 ap­pear­ances. Ep­p­ley leads all Blue Crabs re­liev­ers with a 2.41 ERA. He’s played for Cliburn the past two sea­sons, and is look­ing for­ward to re­unit­ing with him.

“I had Stan last year as a man­ager and a lit­tle the year be­fore as a hit­ting coach from Lan­caster so he’s al­ways fun to play for,” Ep­p­ley said. “It’s al­ways good when he’s in the club­house.”

The South­ern Mary­land of­fense has strug­gled for most of the year, rank­ing last in runs scored and sec­ond from the bot­tom in team bat­ting av­er­age. Yet, the mid­dle of their or­der has been pro­duc­tive, and has been a force when com­pletely healthy. Sny­der leads the team with 13 home runs, de­spite miss­ing time with an in­jury. The first base­man’s .305 bat­ting av­er­age would be good for seventh in the league if he had enough at-bats to qual­ify.

“I knew [Sny­der] could hit, I didn’t know he was go­ing to be as ex­plo­sive as he has been,” Owens said. “Now that he’s healthy, he’s been a spark plug for us.”

Sny­der was not with the Blue Crabs last sea­son un­der Cliburn, but said that he was in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing him to the team.

“He’s ac­tu­ally the first guy I talked to and he helped me a lot get­ting here,” Sny­der said. “I’m very grate­ful for that.”

This will be the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive All-Star ap­pear­ance for Wal­ton. The out­fielder is sec­ond on the team with 31 RBIs and is tied for sec­ond in home runs. Wal­ton has played solid de­fense all sea­son and leads all Blue Crabs’ out­field­ers in as­sists.

“It’s a good ac­com­plish­ment,” Wal­ton said. “I was hop­ing the team as a whole was do­ing a lot bet­ter but in­di­vid­u­ally it’s a good ac­com­plish­ment.”

Nel­son en­tered the sea­son at 42 years old, but his num­bers don’t re­flect his age. The third base­man has played in all but five games for the Blue Crabs and leads the team with 71 hits, in­clud­ing his 1,000th ear­lier in the sea­son. Cur­rently at 1,030 ca­reer hits, he is two hits away from over­tak­ing Ray Navar­rette for the sec­ond most in league his­tory. This marks the sec­ond All-Star se­lec­tion for Nel­son, but it might not be his last as he con­tin­ues to pro­duce de­spite his ad­vanced age.

“Can’t say enough about what [Nel­son] has done at the age that he is, get­ting it done the way he does,” Owens said. “It’s fun to watch some­body go about their busi­ness that way.”

The Blue Crabs fin­ished last in the Free­dom Di­vi­sion in the first half, and have gotten off to a 1-6 start in the sec­ond half. The team will head to Lan­caster af­ter the All-Star break, and al­though they have strug­gled, South­ern Mary­land will hav­ing a strong show­ing at the All-Star game.

“They’re go­ing to rep­re­sent them­selves, rep­re­sent us and this com­mu­nity,” Owens said. “I think the Blue Crabs are for­tu­nate to have those five guys.”

PHOTO BY BERT HIND­MAN

Cody Ep­p­ley, left, Bryant Nel­son, Ja­mar Wal­ton, Michael Sny­der and Brian Bur­res (not pic­tured) are the five South­ern Mary­land Blue Crabs se­lected for tonight’s Atlantic League All-Star game in Lan­caster.

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