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ALBUQUERQUE – In previous seasons, the Albuquerque Isotopes have been all about power.
The Isotopes, the Triple-A franchise of the Los Angeles Dodgers, have long been built to slug it out with the high-scoring teams of the Pacific Coast League.
This season, however, the Isotopes may have to find other ways to win.
Albuquerque will open its 11th season at home Thursday night when it takes on the Iowa Cubs. Game time is 6:35 p.m.
The Isotopes will host the Cubs for four games, followed by a four-game set against Omaha to start the 2013 season.
It’s a new-look Isotopes this season and third-year skipper Lorenzo Bundy is hoping to improve on a playoff berth and opening-round loss to Omaha in the 2012 postseason.
But gone from that team are two of its biggest performers off last season, slugger Jerry Sands and hurler John Ely, the PCL Pitcher of the Year.
The star of this team is Dee Gordon, although for how long Gordon will be with the Isotopes is a matter of some conjecture.
Gordon, a shortstop, appeared in 87 games with the Dodgers, hitting .228 during that time. Going into 2013, it was unknown whether Gordon would return to the Isotopes, where he’s played off-and-on since 2011.
“Dee Gordon is a special case,” said Bundy. “Could he be here a short amount of time? Maybe. A lot will depend on his defense, which he has control over, but other than that, it depends on what’s going on in L.A.”
According to reports from Los Angeles, the Dodgers’ management felt Gordon wasn’t a viable option at short because of his shortcomings on defense. Going into its opener, Los Angeles decided to keep Justin Sellers with the club and send Gordon down to Albuquerque.
Bundy said he feels Gordon will be the Dodgers’ starting shortstop in the near future.
In 2012, Gordon showed flashes that he could be an effective presence at the Major League level, scoring 38 runs and stealing 32 bases, but he also struck out 62 times in 303 at-bats.
With the Isotopes, Gordon may help the team with what Bundy wants to do on the basepaths.
Heading into this season, the Isotopes don’t have the big stick in the order – Scott Van Slyke’s 18 homers is the best total for returning players – but Bundy said Albuquerque’s team speed will play a big role in the offense.
“It’s a little different and a little exciting, for my part as a manger,” Bundy said. “We’ve always preached aggressive baserunning but when you’ve got guys who can run, it’s easier to make that push...it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Albuquerque was second in the PCL in runs scored and fourth in home runs, but it may not have the luxury of getting the big blast when it needs to this season.
Gordon and Alex Castellanos, who led the team in steals last year, will be key to the team’s offense.
Castellanos, an outfielder, said even with the Isotopes trying to run for the extra bases instead of swinging for the fences, he doesn’t plan to change anything.
“I’m just going in to do what I do,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have to control what can be controlled.”
The Isotopes will start with 13 pitchers on the roster. Stephen Fife, who won 11 games last season, most of any returner, will get the ball Thursday night.
Fife finished 2012 with an ERA of 4.66 in 24 starts, but gave up 157 hits in 135-1/3 innings pitched.
Behind Fife will be Matt Magill, who will start Friday night’s game. Magill was moved up to Albuquerque from Double-A Chattanooga and said he feels his arm is good at this point for close to 100 pitches per outing.
While the Isotopes, like most of the PCL squads, haven’t historically been known for their pitching, he thinks the staff will be solid.
“We’ve got a great starting staff,” Magill said. “Every five games we’re going to come out and battle. We’ve got great relievers and a great closer. This is going to be a great staff.”
Rounding out the starting rotation are Sean White, Bake Johnson and Javy Guerra.
This is not the youngest team the Isotopes have ever fielded, however. There are six players on the team’s opening day roster age 30 and over, including White, Tony Gwynn Jr. and 35-year-old infielder Alfredo Aezaga, who came to Albuquerque from Iowa.
For fans, the Isotopes have a record 15 fireworks displays scheduled for the season, as well as a pair of appearances by fan-favorite uber-nerd Myron Noodleman among its many game-day promotions.
2013 Promotion Schedule Highlights
April 4: Opening night/blanket giveaway
April 20: Post-game fireworks
April 21: Negro League tribute
April 29: $.50 hot dog night
May 3-4: Little League banner parade/fireworks
May 5: Cinco De Mayo celebration/tortilla giveaway
May 17: Autism Awareness Night/Birdzerk!
May 18: Military Appreciation Night/fireworks
June 1: Cowbell giveway/post-game fireworks
June 2: Adult replica jersey giveaway
June 15: Post-game fireworks
June 16: Father’s Day pre-game catch/fireworks
June 17: $.50 hot dog night
June 23: Myron Noodleman Night
July 4-6: Post-game fireworks
July 26-29: Breast cancer awareness homestand
Aug. 10: Post-game fireworks
Aug. 23: ZOOperstars
Aug. 24-25: Fan Appreciation Weekend/fireworks