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Sioux City at Lincoln Saltdogs, 8/11/17

Lincoln Saltdogs pitching coach Dan Reichert (center) talks with pitcher Derek Gordon (right) and catcher Brent Dean last season against Sioux City at Haymarket Park.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR FILE PHOTO

Bobby Brown is a firm believer in his Lincoln Saltdogs team.

A year after winning the Central Division in the American Association, it's easy to see why.

“Obviously, bringing back (Shairon) Martis, (Derek) Gordon, (J.R.) Bunda, (Dimitri) Kourtis, guys that had a ton of success for us in 2017, helps with a good start and a good foundation,” the Saltdogs manager said. “Some of the other guys we've brought in we are really excited about, too.”

Gordon, Martis, Bunda, Kourtis and Brian Smith all helped Lincoln put together a 3.45 ERA, the best mark in the 17 years of the franchise. It also was the lowest in the American Association last season.

Though Brown likes his team and what his players have accomplished, he knows a new season begins Thursday.

“It all remains to be seen,” Brown said. “The lights come on (Thursday) night, and we feel comfortable with the team we've got out there."

The Saltdogs hit free agency and trades hard in the offseason to add to the pitching staff, including former St. Louis Cardinals first-round draft pick Tyler Herron. The right-hander spent last season with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, going 5-1 with a league-best 0.80 ERA. In high school, Herron led the nation with a 0.25 earned-run average.

Omaha native Kyle Kinman, a left-hander, joins the Saltdogs after spending three seasons in the Atlanta Braves' farm system.

“We have four or five lefties on our roster, which we really haven't had in the past,” Brown said. “I think we will be able to match up a little more with some people.

“(Austin) Robichaux spent the whole season last year in High-A (Inland Empire) and made three starts in Triple-A (Salt Lake). (Michael) Tamburino was the best pitcher in the Can-Am league in the second half of the year last year."

Though numbers were impressive for a lot of players trying to make the roster, the Saltdogs sometimes have to go on a gut feeling.

"It's such a short spring training to judge a guy right out of the chute, but you know you have to,” Brown said.

Gordon is expected to make the opening-day start Thursday against the Sioux City Explorers. The Lincoln native went 9-4 with a 3.46 ERA last season.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or tgray@journalstar.com.

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