Kernels Shut Out By Cougars

By Jeff Johnson, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS — So what are you thinking when you watch one of your best young pitching prospects sprint off the mound after a foul pop and dive head first onto the clay warning track near the opponent's dugout to catch the ball?

You're talking about $1.55 million flying through the air and landing on its stomach and hands. You could almost hear the internal gasp from Cedar Rapids Kernels pitching coach Gary Lucas.

"What was I thinking? Get up. Please," Lucas said after watching the above scenario play out in the seventh inning Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Jose Berrios did get up, thankfully.

"I need to get the guy out, so I do it," Berrios said, after taking a 4-0 loss to Kane County before a season-high crowd of 4,582. "I played shortstop before, so it was no big deal."

Give Berrios an A-plus-plus for his effort and athleticism on the play, though pitchers aren't usually advised to dive like that. His lunge came between catcher Jhonatan Arias and third baseman Travis Harrison, one of whom you'd have liked to see make the play.

Coincidence or no, Berrios brushed off the dirt from his jersey, took a couple minutes to catch his breath but ended up allowing two runs after that to break a scoreless tie. It was his first loss with the Kernels, though he deserved a better fate.

This was the first time the Kernels (28-13) have been shutout this Midwest League season.

"No luck," Berrios said, after searching for the proper English words on his cellphone.

The 18-year-old from Puerto Rico (who signed with the Twins for $1.55 million last year) still pitched a beauty, tying his career high for longest outing (6 2/3 innings), allowing seven hits, no walks and striking out five. He nicked Gioskar Amaya with a pitch, watched Amaya steal second on a bang-bang play and score on Oliver Zapata's ensuing infield single.

Kernels second baseman Jorge Polanco ranged up the middle to glove Zapata's grounder but couldn't get enough on his throw to get him at first. An errant throw from right fielder Adam Brett Walker on Pin-Chieh Chen's ensuing double against reliever Josue Montanez allowed another, unearned run to score in the inning.

Kane County (20-20) got solo homers from Rock Shoulders and Zapata to close out a pretty frustrating game for the home side. Cedar Rapids had chances early against starting pitcher Pierce Johnson (2-3), a top Cubs prospect, but squandered a first-and-second, no-out situation in the second and a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth.

Kernels hitters struck out 13 times against a trio of Cougars hurlers.

"We didn't seem to have the quality at-bats (with guys on base) that we did earlier," Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said. "The last two nights, whether it's the middle of the year and guys are getting tired, or they're just not seeing the ball ... I don't make excuses, but the last two nights we just haven't gotten the job done at the plate."

The Kernels wore special jerseys that were auctioned postgame to benefit the American Cancer Society. Outfielder Byron Buxton's jersey went for $600, with the winning bid coming from his father, Felton.

The teams play again Sunday afternoon at 2:05.
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