The Trenton Thunder have struggled to find consistency in the month of June. The inability to put more than three consecutive wins together at any point this month has hindered their ability to gain breathing room at the top of the Eastern Division of the Eastern League.
Heading into this weekend’s three game set in Portland against the lowly Sea Dogs (30-41), the Thunder sit in a deadlock for the division lead with the Reading Phillies at 40-30 overall after dropping two of three to Richmond at the beginning of the week.
Much of the Thunder’s success this season can be credited to their extreme offensive prowess. Trenton has clubbed 77 home runs on the season, a league high mark by a wide margin; the next closest team is Portland with 54 long balls.
Cody Johnson leads both the team and league in homers with 16, but learned yesterday that he will likely miss an extended period of time with a severe hamstring injury. The news comes as a huge blow to Trenton, who use the home run ball as a huge part of their game and Johnson is unquestionably their most dangerous and imposing presence in the batting order.
Johnson has long been a prospect with high promise, after being selected 24th overall in the first round of the 2006 amateur draft by the Atlanta Braves organization. After being acquired in the winter of 2010 by the Yankees, Johnson posted 21 home runs in 432 at bats in stints with Tampa and Trenton last season. Through nearly half of those at bats this season (221), Johnson already has 16 homers and prior to the news of his injury, seemed poised for a 30 home run campaign.
Johnson suffered the hamstring injury trying to leg out an infield base hit during Wednesday’s closely contested 7-5, 12-inning loss to Richmond. For a team in a dog fight battle for first place, Trenton must now search to find somebody to replace their leader in homers, RBI, extra base hits, total bases, slugging percentage and OPS.
Trenton has already had to replace their best hitter once this season when Ronnier Mustelier garnered a much deserved promotion to Triple-A last month after torching Eastern League pitching. Mustelier posted a .353 average with five homers and 20 RBI in 102 at bats over 25 games with Trenton. The departure of Mustelier was a tough loss for the Thunder, but they saw players like Melky Mesa, Luke Murton and Zoilo Almonte step up their offensive outputs to make up for the void. Once again, Manager Tony Franklin will seek out his secondary players to take advantage of an opportunity for at bats with the loss of Johnson.
The injury bug has been prominent in Trenton this week as the Thunder placed their staff ace Brett Marshall on the disabled list on Tuesday with bursitis in his knee. Marshall was in the midst of a solid season at the top of the rotation, leading the team with seven wins (7-3) and a 2.99 ERA in 84 1/3 innings pitched. Marshall told reporters that he expects to miss just one turn through the rotation and that the injury isn’t serious.
With their best pitcher and power hitter on the shelf, the team will look to keep calm and carry on over the next few weeks until they can get healthy at the all-star break and gear up for a run at the division in the second half of the campaign.