TERRE HAUTE —
If the playoffs started today, the Terre Haute Rex would be shutting it down.
The Rex are 15-11 as the halfway mark of a 60-game Prospect League schedule approaches next week.
First-year manager Ronnie Prettyman assures there is no reason to panic.
One reason he’s right is the new league format awards playoff berths to the two best teams in the division for the entire season as opposed to rewarding first-half champions and second-half champions as it has in the past.
Another reason is the Rex are possibly feeling the effects of a long road trip.
The Rex got a much-needed break Friday night after playing eight of their past nine games away from Bob Warn Field.
Prettyman’s squad has lost four of its past five to fall three games behind first-place Quincy in the West Division while Danville jumped into second place after Terre Haute's 4-3 loss at Hannibal on Thursday.
“I knew this grind was coming with the road trip. We had a good schedule at the start of the year, we took care of business, and this is the tough part,” Prettyman said. “I’m not disappointed in our guys. We're playing solid baseball. It’s tough adjusting to riding the bus and getting back to playing every day. That’s part of the grind of baseball.”
The Rex were fast out of the gate, winning six of seven at Bob Warn Field as the team's pitching dominated the opposition.
Rex pitching has remained pretty solid, ranking fourth in the league in earned runs allowed. The bullpen could also get a needed boost with the addition of right-hander Jake Weber.
But if you take away leadoff man Kyle Kempf's league-best batting average of .386, the offense has hit a lull. Kempf is hitting .400 over the last seven games while the remainder of the lineup is 36-for-193 (.186) during that stretch.
The talent is there. Tyler Wampler has an on-base percentage of .411 as he pairs with Kempf to give the Rex the best top of the order in the league.
But timely hitting in the middle of the order could be improved.
Notre Dame's Ricky Sanchez has 10 RBI in 17 games, and University of Washington's Brian Wolfe has two home runs in the past 10 games.
Another positive could be the return of Nick Johnson, who drove in 35 runs in 2012.
A groin injury has kept him out for the past couple weeks.
"I look forward to him being back in the mix," Prettyman said. "We're still in a solid position. We're not playing bad necessarily. We've showed some glimpses that we're still a contending team. We've just let some games get away from us."
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• Opportunity with USA Baseball — Prettyman was away from the team for a huge career opportunity from June 16-23. He was a talent evaluator for Team USA Baseball, working with 150 of the top 18-year-old players in the nation at the Tournament of the Stars.
"It was a good opportunity. I got to see a lot of good talent, kids that are going to be juniors or seniors [in high school]. I met a lot of good people," Prettyman said. "I spent time with David Eckstein, got to pick his brain a little bit about what playing infield."
Prettyman and Eckstein were among the talent evaluators that providing input for the coaching staff. He'll continue in that role in August in Los Angeles as the staff narrows down that into a team.
"It's a pretty big honor to be involved with that," Prettyman said. "It's a chance to work with some of the most talented 18-year-olds in the country and get my foot in the door with those guys [at USA Baseball]., build a relationship. Could be beneficial for my career as a coach."
Craig Pearson covers the Terre Haute Rex collegiate baseball team each summer. Follow online @TribStarCraig on Twitter.