When manager Ben Fritz said he was enthused with how the Tri-City Dust Devils’ bats looked in Extended Spring Training, he wasn’t just spouting the party line.
As a team, the Dust Devils are batting .312 after Tuesday’s 10-0 win over the Spokane Indians. At this time last season, none of the top seven guys in the batting order were hitting over .240, whereas nine entered Wednesday’s game batting .250 or higher.
The early success at the dish has given Tri-City (5-1) the best record in the Northwest League out of the gates, with only the Vancouver Canadians (4-2) keeping pace a game back in the North division.
No one has swung a much hotter bat than outfielder Luis Asuncion through the first week.
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Signed out of the Dominican Republic with a $350,000 signing bonus in 2013, Asuncion hit just .241 with the Dust Devils in 2016, his third pro season. He’s now tied for second in the NWL for batting average (.429) among players with 16 or more plate appearances.
“I feel more comfortable, I’ve got more confidence with the team and the guys,” Asuncion said. “I feel really good this year, and I’m just trying to do my work. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m just trying to not do too much.”
In addition to getting more hits, Asuncion has seen a big uptick in his power numbers, as he’s fourth in the league in slugging percentage (.762) with two doubles, a triple and a home run — hit in the season opener against Salem-Keizer. Asuncion flashed some power in the Dominican Summer League, hitting four homers, three triples and 10 doubles in 2015, but he only left the yard once for Tri-City last season.
“It was pretty good,” Asuncion said. “It was impressive because I didn’t expect that to happen in the first game of the season.
“I’ve never hit a homer in the first game of the year before, and this is my fourth year with the team (the Padres), so I feel really happy.”
Fritz, in his second year as manager, is happy to see one of the first players he coached in the Tri-Cities start to break through.
“He’s seeing the ball really well, and obviously he’s got a good stroke to go along with seeing it well,” Fritz said. “It’s been a really nice start for him to kind of anchor us down in that four-hole.”
After finishing up their first home series of the season against the Indians on Thursday, the Dust Devils will play a three-game weekend series against the Everett AquaSox beginning Friday at Gesa Stadium.
Tri-City, using six pitchers in its first trip through the starting rotation, will send Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon (0-0, 3.00 ERA) to the mound Thursday to face Spokane’s LHP Cole Ragans (0-0, 9.00). RHP Will Stillman (0-0, 0.00) will start the series opener against the AquaSox on Friday, facing RHP Andres Torres (1-0, 0.00).
The rest of the Dust Devils’ starters for the Everett series have not been announced.