On the outside looking in, Kitsap BlueJackets need strong finish

Kitsap BlueJackets starter David Macey throws a pitch Tuesday during the second inning of the club’s 3-2 loss to the Wenatchee AppleSox at Gene Lobe Field at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
Kitsap BlueJackets starter David Macey throws a pitch Tuesday during the second inning of the club’s 3-2 loss to the Wenatchee AppleSox at Gene Lobe Field at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

Aaron Johnson knows his tenure with the Kitsap BlueJackets will be over when the season ends.

So it’s understandable that the 2006 Central Kitsap High School grad is holding out hope for a Kitsap playoff berth, which would extend his stint and put the BlueJackets in the postseason for the first time since 2007.

But Kitsap is two games behind the Bend Elks for the final playoff spot entering Thursday's contest against the Wenatchee AppleSox. The team finishes the regular season with a two-game series Friday and Saturday against the Bellingham Bells.

Time is running out.

“There’s still a glimmer of hope for us because we’re not completely out of it yet,” said Johnson, who has played for his hometown team the past four summers. “You never know in baseball. All we can control is what we can control.”

Unfortunately for the BlueJackets, they’ve lost control of the playoff race.

Kitsap is in third place in the West Coast League West Division, trailing the first-place Corvallis Knights (29-16) and the second-place Elks (26-19). The top two teams make the playoffs, joining the winner and runner-up of the East Division in the four-team bracket.

In a season that’s seen the club hit the ball with consistency and receive more productivity from its starting pitchers than it did a year ago, Kitsap (24-21) now needs Bend to lose at least two of three games this weekend.

The Elks begin a three-game set with Wenatchee on Friday.

“Hopefully the ball rolls in our favor,” Johnson said.

A year after struggling to a 20-28 record and finishing in last place in the West Coast League West Division, the BlueJackets have maintained pace with the league’s top teams all season.

Kitsap hadn’t trailed in the playoff race by more than two games until it lost four games in as many days last week. The club also has split or won every series but one, losing two of three against the Moses Lake Pirates amid last week’s four-game skid.

Yet here are the BlueJackets, on the outside looking in.

“It’s just the nature of the beast,” coach Matt Acker said. “We make some headway, then the other teams make some headway.”

With Bend losing, Kitsap had a chance to close the gap Tuesday. But the AppleSox erased a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the top of the sixth inning, winning 3-2. Kitsap rebounded Wednesday, earning a 12-4 win.

No player knows what it takes to make the playoffs better than Johnson, a fan favorite who has seen limited playing time this season because of an injured wrist. He broke a bone in his right wrist midway through his junior season with Saint Martin’s University, and he was incorrectly diagnosed with a torn ligament, setting his rehab back.

Some days, Johnson loses feeling in his right hand, making it impossible for Acker to put him in the lineup.

“It’s been real tough,” he said. “I have good days and I have bad days. I basically play when I’m able to play.”

The Saint Martin’s senior-to-be has been a fixture in the BlueJackets’ lineup since graduating from Central Kitsap High School four years ago.

He’s experienced the joy of reaching the playoffs. He’s seen a lack of chemistry pull teams apart.

What he sees in the 2010 BlueJackets team is a group of hard-working players who deserve a chance.

“The chemistry might have been lacking a little bit the last two years,” Johnson said. “From day one this season, I felt we had a good shot to make the playoffs.”

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