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Big-time defense and no mistakes for Isotopes

Isotopes center fielder Sam Hilliard catches a fly ball against Sugar Land on July 15. Hilliard and the Isotopes defense has led to the team’s success. (Mike Sandoval for the Journal)

Albuquerque Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer can’t pick the personnel on his roster.

But the 36-year-old former minor league middle infielder knows he can control one thing with every team he oversees.

“I would never manage a team where we didn’t talk about (defense) all the time,” Schaeffer said Tuesday. “That’s a fact. I mean, every team is different. … but I put a lot of emphasis on defense. We do a lot of defense at home — a lot of early work (before games) defensively.

“I’m a huge believer in pitching and defense wins games and I think you can see it in the month of July for us.”

To Schaeffer’s point, the Isotopes on Tuesday managed to post another clean sheet defensively, beating visiting Sugar Land, 7-6, in 10 innings for Albuquerque’s 12th consecutive game without recording an error.

It’s the longest errorless streak since the team went 13 games without committing one in August 2006.

The Isotopes (27-38) split the six-game series with the Triple-A West Eastern Division-leading Skeeters, and improved to 12-5 in the month of July.

The last time the Isotopes committed an error was in the second inning on a rain-soaked field against El Paso on July 6 in a game that was suspended in the fifth inning and will have to be completed later this season.

The team’s 44 errors and .981 fielding percentage entering Tuesday’s 65th game of the season were each third best in Triple-A West this season, trailing just Tacoma and El Paso.

So, they’re playing pretty good defense?

“Heck yeah, we’re solid defensively,” Schaeffer said with a knowing laugh Tuesday when asked about his team’s defense.

“It starts first behind the plate, always. I mean we’ve got three guys that are really, really solid behind the dish in (catchers Brian) Serven, (Chris) Rabago and (Jose) Briceño. They set the tone, but then you work through the middle of the infield and a guy like (Alan) Trejo is a very good shortstop who controls the infield. Then we got guys who can get it done in the outfield, I mean Sammy (Hilliard) was controlling center field for a while before he went to the big leagues.”

The fact that Schaeffer gets downright giddy about his team defending well and nearly rattled off every player’s name on the roster in an interview Tuesday afternoon probably won’t surprise anyone who knows the scouting report on Schaeffer the player, who played in 459 career games in the minors, getting as high as Triple-A primarily as a shortstop.

Earlier this season, former Colorado Rockies Assistant General Manager in charge of player development Zach Wilson said of the first-year Triple-A manager: “Schaef was a tremendous defender. I mean, that was his specialty. … He was passionate about defense. And when you’re on the mound as a pitcher, he’s a guy that you want behind you, that’s for sure. He played with an intensity and a passion and a love for the game that you’d like to see out of players.”

PITCHING, TOO: Whether it’s the good defense behind them or not, the Isotopes pitchers have been much improved lately, too.

After not having a player named their league’s “Pitcher of the Week” since 2017, the Isotopes have now had two in July — Tuesday’s starter Frank Duncan, who won it the first week of July and Ian Clarkin, who pitched 1⅓ scoreless innings of relief on Tuesday night, won the award on Monday.

FINALLY IN A FINALE: Tuesday’s win gave the Isotopes their first win in a series finale at home this season.

In five previous series, the Isotopes were 0-4 and were trailing El Paso 5-3 in the Top of the fifth inning of a series finale on July 6 that was suspended due to rain and will be resumed up later this season.

ASTRO-NOMICAL STREAK: While Tuesday’s win ensured a series split (3-3) with the Skeeters, the Isotopes have now gone 12 consecutive series with the Houston Astros Triple-A affiliate without a series win — three this season with Sugar Land and nine consecutive prior to that when Fresno was the Triple-A affiliate.

The last Isotopes series win over the Astros’ Triple-A affiliated was over Fresno in August 2016.


Wednesday: Off

TUESDAY: RF Nick Longhi singled to centerfield, driving home CF Wynton Bernard from third base for a 7-6 win in 10 innings to split a six-game series with visiting Sugar Land.

The Skeeters had rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth to force the extra frames, but were then shut down — three up, three down — by reliever Jake Bird (W, 3-1) in the 10th.
2B Taylor Motter hit his 16th homer of the season on Tuesday in front of an announced crowd of 6,314
The Isotopes have gone 12-5 in the month of July and have not committed an error in 12 consecutive games as the hit the road to start a six-game series at El Paso starting Thursday.

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