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MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Power keeps it close, but not close enough

The last couple of weeks for the West Virginia Power mostly have been a case of close, but not quite.

In the team’s last nine games, five at Kannapolis and four at Greensboro, it’s played seven one-run games. The Power has lost five of those. All four games versus Greensboro came down to one run, and the Power went 1-3.

West Virginia (11-20) begins a three-game series versus Savannah at Appalachian Power Park on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. before returning to the road for another nine-game trip. Power manager Michael Ryan said he’s never seen so many games in so short of a time come down to a single run. The next step for his young low-Class A squad is to finish those games.

“It’s just one play here or one play there that’s going to cost you,” Ryan said. “It’s going to take the step of you’ve got to learn how to beat clubs and learn how to win. We’ve been competitive. We just have to learn how to beat other teams.”

The Power has been playing much of this season without many of its marquee prospects. Outfielders Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes — Baseball America’s ninth- and 13th-best prospects, respectively, in the Pirates system — have been on the disabled list since April 7. Pitcher Luis Heredia, the 10th-best prospect, has been on the DL since April 14.

Catcher Reese McGuire, the eighth-best prospect, just came off the disabled list May 3 after spending a week there. The Pirates No. 4 prospect, outfielder Austin Meadows, remains in extended spring training as he tries to return from a hamstring injury.

Ryan said Ramirez will travel from Florida to West Virginia on Wednesday and likely be ready to play Thursday. Heredia will head to Florida, probably on Sunday, to begin working his way back into game shape. Ryan figured Heredia will need another two to three weeks. For Barnes and Meadows, he said, it will “be a while.”

That’s allowed some players who wouldn’t have seen much playing time to show their worth. Ryan pointed out outfielder Justin Maffei, who started the season in the Gulf Coast League, and second baseman Michael Fransoso, who has gone 7 of 13 at the plate in his last four games.

“Maffei didn’t start with us,” he said. “With a couple of injuries, we had to get him here and he’s come in and become an everyday player in center field. He’s probably been playing the most consistent since he’s been here. Fransoso was a guy that wasn’t going to get many at-bats if we were healthy, to now, he can play multiple positions and he’s getting some at-bats there.”

Ryan sees signs that the Power is emerging from its slump. He admitted that, watching the way the team has performed, it’s surprising to see it already 12 games out of first place in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. With eight of its 20 losses coming by one run, Ryan said it’s how West Virginia handles close games in the future that will decide its fate.

“If you take the record out of the equation, we’re playing the game well,” Ryan said. “Our bats have come alive. We’ve had four or five good starting outings in a row. It’s one play here or there that we’ve been talking about that could make the difference.”

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