MANCHESTER, N.H. — As the Portland Sea Dogs prepared for one of those 10:30 a.m. game-time specials on Wednesday, hitting coach Jon Nunnally remembered a time when teams simply arrived at the ballpark and began playing.

“We just would go out, swing and be ready to go,” he said.

But there was Nunnally, at 9:15 a.m., tossing baseballs in the indoor cage at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, giving his hitters some batting practice.

The Sea Dogs can use all the extra hitting they can get these days. Their 90 runs is second-lowest total in all of minor league baseball.

They return to Hadlock Field Thursday night to begin a seven-game homestand after being swept in three games at New Hampshire. Wednesday’s score was 2-1. Portland remains last in the Eastern League’s East Division with a 10-23 record.

The Sea Dogs feature a few new looks, with two players signed from the independent leagues. Meanwhile, first baseman Jordan Weems has reported to Fort Myers, Florida, to convert to a pitcher.

There is no magic switch. All Nunnally can do is urge his players to keep grinding.

“Keep preparing, keep getting your work in and take one at-bat at a time,” Nunnally said. Trying to “keep them upbeat, keeping them going, getting them to understand they have a lot of season left.”

Portland might improve. Or this could be a trying season.

How did the Sea Dogs go from a prospect-rich, franchise-best season in 2014, to the worst last year, and not-so-hot again in 2016?

Look at the results from the Boston Red Sox amateur drafts. There are obvious recent success stories – with Mookie Betts, Travis Shaw, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart and Henry Owens – but there are plenty who don’t make it from early rounds.

Just look at 2013, where you could figure several of the Sea Dogs would come from. Of the first eight players chosen by Boston, six are already out of the organization (two traded, and four released). Starting pitcher Teddy Stankiewicz (second round) is in Portland, and starter Trey Ball (first round) is stalled in advanced Class A.

Another high draft choice on the Sea Dogs is Williams Jerez, a second-round pick in 2011. But Jerez was chosen as an outfielder. He couldn’t hit (.221 over three years) and converted to pitching.

Now Weems, 23, will try the same route.

Weems, a third-round draft choice out of high school in 2011, was billed as an offensive-minded catcher. But Weems batted .214 over five seasons. The Red Sox relieved him of catching responsibilities this year, hoping he’d focus on his batting potential. But he hit .119 in Portland.

“He has a good swing, but he hasn’t been able to put it together,” said Sea Dogs Manager Carlos Febles, who may get Weems back eventually as a pitcher.

“He has such a strong arm, the organization feels there is potential there on the mound.”

Of players remaining in Portland, catcher Jake Romanski is hitting .338. But the next highest are outfielder Aneury Tavarez (.258) and Cole Sturgeon (.247). Others are trending closer to .200 or below.

“They have to grind each and every at-bat,” Nunnally said. “I think they know how to do that, but the panic part sets in. … They need to play team baseball. That will help to relax you.”

Sturgeon agrees: “Worrying about numbers gets you in trouble a lot. We’re focused on winning games. It’s been a lot of one-run games. We’re one little thing from winning a lot of games.”

Four of Portland’s last five losses, including Wednesday’s, have been by one run.

To help the Sea Dogs, the Red Sox have sent two players recently signed from the independent leagues. Infielder Ryan Court, 27, used to be in the Diamondbacks system, reaching Double-A. First baseman Nate Freiman, 29, has 116 games of major league experience with the Oakland A’s.

“We have some reinforcements,” Febles said. “When things are not going well, you find a way to add pieces.”

Portland could use the help. More reinforcements eventually will come from Salem – the next cycle of touted prospects. Portland fans have seen bunches of prospects before, such as at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, when the Sea Dogs enjoyed the likes of Betts, Shaw, Swihart, Deven Marrero, Sean Coyle, Owens and Noe Ramirez.

Lately, Sea Dogs fans have witnessed the other end of the cycle.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases


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