For the Corpus Christi Hooks, the future of the Houston Astros has arrived to help ease memories of the recent past.
Earlier this year, the Hooks endured a 17-game losing streak. But now, Corpus Christi has been recharged by a handful of players from the Class A levels. While they aren't exactly burning up the Texas League South Division at six games back, the Hooks aren't yet eliminated and have at least put their epic skid squarely in the rear view.
Corner outfielder J.D. Martinez, second baseman/leadoff man Albert Cartwright and outfielder/designated hitter Freddy Parejo have come along to add extra life to the lineup. Since the final loss of their streak, a 12-6 setback against Tulsa on July 10, the Hooks have won seven of 11 series and split another.
"There's some new energy," manager Wes Clements said. "J.D. has made an impact in the middle of the lineup, and Cart has done that at the top of the lineup, and he's played a very good second base, as well."
The worst blot on the Hooks' record since the 17-game slide came last week when they were swept by Springfield in a three-game series, which became a four-game skid with an 8-3 loss to Arkansas on Saturday.
But a four-game slide is nothing to a team that has suffered like Corpus Christi. And after beating Arkansas, 10-2, on Sunday, the Hooks had a chance to win another series Monday night.
"It's kind of a credit to the whole club for not assuming this half was over," Clements said. "We have an opportunity to still make the playoffs, and nobody would have believed it."
The Hooks were 36-33 when they lost to San Antonio, 3-0, on June 22 to end the first half 2 1/5 games behind South champion Frisco.
Then 16 straight losses ensued. Two more were by shutout, seven were by one run -- with one of those coming in 11 innings -- and the skid included a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Tulsa.
It wasn't as if the Hooks were without talent, though.
For starters, first baseman Koby Clemens battled Northwest Arkansas' Mike Moustakas throughout the first half for the league lead in home runs and entered Monday tied with the Naturals' Clint Robinson at 24. Youthful pitcher Jordan Lyles may have gone 7-9, but he posted a 3.12 ERA before his promotion to Triple-A.
And there were other Astros prospects in the mix.
It should be pointed out that the Hooks' losing streak is well shy of the league-worst 32 posted by Austin in 1914. Also worth mentioning is that while Parejo played his first game with Corpus Christi on July 8, he was out of the lineup July 11, when the Hooks ended the ignominy with a 6-5 victory over Northwest Arkansas.
Mainly, the new Hooks have been helping the guys who played through that stretch bury the memories.
Parejo, a former Milwaukee Brewers farmhand called up from Class A Advanced Lancaster, is hitting .321 with seven doubles in 40 games since his arrival.
Martinez, who'd been expected to spend the whole year with Lexington in the Class A South Atlantic League, was instead sent to Corpus Christi after ripping Sally League pitching to the tune of a .362 average (126-for-348) in 88 games. Since his arrival July 16, he's batted .328 (45-for-137) in 36 games, pretty impressive considering he jumped Lancaster entirely.
Cartwright played his first game with the Hooks on July 31 and, while he is batting just .244, Clements said the former 36th-rounder from 2007 is a high-energy player and a sharp defender who gives the Hooks a jolt just by being on the field.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise among the three has been Martinez, Houston's 20th-round Draft choice out of Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
"It's still baseball, but it's a lot more refined," said Martinez, who has eight doubles, three home runs and 25 RBIs in 26 games with the Hooks. "You're not just seeing talent out there, you're seeing talent with a brain. They know what they're trying to accomplish."
Martinez still leads the South Atlantic League in average, on-base percentage (.433) and slugging percentage (.599). He may not have been around during the Hooks' losing streak, but now that he is a member of the team, he is charged with helping to clean up the record.
"Just because you've lost a couple games you're not going to change the way you play the game," Martinez said. "You're still going to play the game hard. The only thing you can control is what you do."
That guy: Texas League observers may recall Casey Kotchman, the one-time top prospect of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who made news with a couple achievements recently. Kotchman, first baseman for the Seattle Mariners, saw his Major League record errorless streak for first basemen end Saturday at 274 games following a miscue against New York. On Aug. 18, Kotchman swung at the first pitch in each of his four at-bats against Baltimore and put the ball in play each time, becoming the first player this season to see exactly as many pitches as he had at-bats in one night. Kotchman, who spent the early part of 2004 at Arkansas but was called directly to the Angels in the first week of May that year when Darin Erstad was injured, has not seen the Texas League since.
Johnny G. good: Second baseman Johnny Giavotella continues to be a mainstay for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. He had a two-run double as part of a six-run sixth inning Sunday as the Naturals beat South Division leader Midland, 7-3. Giavotella has spent the entire season with Northwest Arkansas and, not surprisingly, is the league leader in games played (120) and at-bats (466). But he also boasts a .320 batting average while leading the circuit with 149 hits and 81 runs scored.
Crunch time: Springfield and Tulsa entered the week tied for second in the North Division, two games behind Northwest Arkansas, which is making a bid to be the wire-to-wire division champion after winning the first half. The Drillers will have their work cut out for them in what should be an interesting final 10 days of the season starting Saturday. Tulsa hosts Northwest Arkansas and Springfield, then travels to Northwest Arkansas for a three-game series to close out the year. The Cardinals, on the other hand, will sandwich a home and away series against last-place Arkansas around their showdown with the Drillers.