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Kernels Crush Peoria For 82nd Win

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CEDAR RAPIDS You know, the "other" Walker isn't too shabby, either.

Ryan Walker was actually really good Sunday afternoon in the Cedar Rapids Kernels' 9-1 smackdown of Peoria at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Welcome to town, kid.

A 3-for-5 game, a run, two RBIs and a flawless game defensively at shortstop had to impress the 3,845 fans on hand on a hot late summer day. This was the third game for Walker, who just joined the club from Rookie-level Elizabethton to help out a middle infield decimated by injuries.

Second baseman Jorge Polanco (on the disabled list) and shortstop Niko Goodrum both are out with groin injuries. Manager Jake Mauer isn't sure either will be ready for next week's Midwest League playoffs.

You might have to get used to seeing multiple Walkers play. Of course, outfielder Adam Brett Walker has had a monster season for the Kernels, the first player in the minors this season to reach 100 RBIs.

"I don't really know what my role is," said Ryan Walker, a skinny left-handed hitter from the University of Texas-Arlington who was an 18th-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2013. "I just know there are some guys hurt at shortstop. I'm here to help them win, as long as they need me."

You don't expect to get moved this late in the regular season, so Walker, 22, was surprised when he found out on an E-Town road trip to Pulaski that he was being promoted. He has walked, no pun intended, into a pretty good situation in Cedar Rapids, and he knows it.

"It was just one of those things," he said. "Exciting and surprising at the same time."

"The (scouting report) I got was that he can really catch the ball, and it looks like he can," Mauer said. "He moves around better than I thought. Might be an above average runner. He has an above-average arm, for sure. He's got to get some strength, no doubt about it. But he puts the ball in play, puts together good at-bats. He looks like a shortstop. He moves like one, handles the bat like one. We got some offense out of him today, and he's going to help us."

This is the wrong time to be missing key players, and that's what the Kernels are facing. Not only are Polanco and Goodrum hurt, but first baseman-outfielder Max Kepler was a late scratch from Sunday's lineup after suffering a deep cut on his right ring finger in a freak pregame accident.

Kepler was standing outside the indoor batting cage near the Kernels clubhouse when a swung bat was accidentally let go and somehow managed to make its way out of the cage and into Kepler's hand. He immediately went to the hospital, where he received multiple stitches.

"I don't know if you can play with stitches on your hand or not. I'm assuming you can't," Mauer said. "Your hand has got to be able to stretch and move."

On the bright side, the Kernels improved to 82-48 overall. In their first season as a Twins affililiate, they have as many wins as the best Kernels' team did in the previous 20 years as a Los Angeles Angels affiliate (2010).

The club continues to get good pitching, as Tim Shibuya (3-0) threw seven fine innings, allowing just three hits and an unearned run. That run, which came in the sixth inning, ended a 30-inning scoreless streak for Peoria.

Could Shibuya all of a sudden be a candidate for a starting role in the postseason, which begins a week from Wednesday? Kernels pitching coach Gary Lucas said he's got a pretty good idea about a starting rotation but won't publicly reveal it until the pitchers involved are officially notified.

One guy who won't be starting is Mason Melotakis. Lucas said the Twins have decided to have the left-hander, a part of the rotation virtually all season, pitch in relief the rest of the way.

"There are all kinds of candidates here," Lucas said. "Shibuya is pitching his butt off, (Josue) Montanez has gotten better, Hudson Boyd has had two good starts in a row. We have to give stronger consideration to the guys who have been here all year."

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