Lookouts gear up for finishing year without Herr
By David Paschall Staff Writer

After winning the North Division’s first-half title and taking a series earlier this month from South Division first-half champ Jacksonville, the Chattanooga Lookouts were the class of the Southern League.

Then came the move.

When third baseman Aaron Herr was promoted last Thursday to Triple-A Louisville, the Lookouts lost a cleanup hitter who through 76 games had cleaned up with a.311 average, 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. The Lookouts then lost three straight games at West Tenn by a combined 25-3, looking more like the league doormat of a year ago.

"It’s obviously a hole that I don’t know if we can fill," Lookouts manager Jayhawk Owens said Monday. "It’s going to give some other people some playing time and we moved a kid up to Triple-A, so that’s the positive part of it. We’re going to have to get used to playing without Herr in the 4 spot, and we’ve got to get the kids their confidence back and feeling in sync again. "I think it’s definitely going to be an adjustment for us these next 15 games."

The Lookouts have been off for the league’s all-star break since Saturday’s 9-0 loss in Jackson. They resume play Wednesday night at BellSouth Park against Birmingham.

Owens believes his lineup will not include the son of former St. Louis second baseman Tommy Herr again this season. Through the first three Triple-A games of his career, Herr is hitting.364. Joey Votto, who leads the Southern League in average, hits, homers and RBIs, will continue to bat third, with Noochie Varner, the league’s top player in May, expected to move up from fifth.

"It’s Varner’s spot to start out, but I’m going to play that hot hand if someone’s focused or locked in," Owens said. "I keep waiting for Miguel Perez to get hot, so I can give him a shot too."

The Lookouts are 55-35 overall but 4-8 without Herr, who spent nine days on the disabled list during the first half.

Last week’s slide was also the result of a depleted bullpen, which was used extensively during Wednesday’s 14-inning win at West Tenn and Thursday when Homer Bailey skipped a start to rest for Sunday’s Futures Game in Pittsburgh. Carlos Alvarado replaced Bailey but was roughed up for seven runs in a little over three innings in an eventual 13-2 loss.

Outfielder Rick Asadoorian pitched two innings Wednesday, and reserve catcher Rafael Motooka pitched one Thursday.

"What happened last week was uncharacteristic, because guys were in roles they are not used to," pitching coach Bill Moloney said. "Alvarado hadn’t pitched over two innings all season, and we were trying to get four or five out of him. Not to take anything away from West Tenn, but I think it was a little skewed. Guys were in roles they were not comfortable being in."

Josh Hall is scheduled to start Wednesday, with Eddy Valdez, Tyler Pelland, Bailey and Camilo Vazquez rounding out the Birmingham series on a rotation no longer containing Travis Chick, who was traded to Seattle last week for big-league reliever Eddie Guardado. Moloney said Bailey, the Futures Game winner for the United States team, will not "miss a beat" going 12 days without a league start.

Owens flew back from Pittsburgh on Monday, and Moloney spent the day playing golf. The two agree the all-star break could not have come at a better time, and hitting coach Jamie Dismuke said there is plenty to be upbeat about in upcoming weeks.

"Usually when teams win the first half, they are dismantled fully," Dismuke said. "We just lost a couple of key ingredients, and now we have to find a way to fill the gaps. These guys will be ready to play."

E-mail David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com