Good Kernels Return In 9-4 Romp Of Clinton

By Jeff Johnson (Story) and Scott Saville (Video), Reporters

Cedar Rapids Kernels starting pitcher Mason Melotakis throws a pitch during the first inning of their game against the Beloit Snappers at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — He eschews batting gloves, and always has. They’re for wimps.

“Never have worn them. Never,” Cedar Rapids Kernels third baseman Travis Harrison said. “Well, I can’t say never, I guess. When it was snowing earlier this season, I wore them just because I couldn’t feel my hands. But since I was a little kid, I’ve never worn them. I have a couple for batting practice, but I never use them. I just give them away.”

That’s old school, an approach the Kernels needed to break their six-game losing streak. You know, play good defense, pitch well and get some timely hitting.

Done, done, and done. No errors, Mason Melotakis’ career-long start and home runs from Harrison and J.D. Williams led to a 9-4 win over Clinton before 1,006 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium Tuesday night.

“Melotakis was good tonight, and that’s what we needed,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. “We needed him to pitch well, and give us a chance. The bats came alive. The home runs are nice, but (guys) going the other way. Going first to third ... That’s what we’re going to need to do more of. And we played clean (defensively).”

The Kernels (31-19) can take a collective sigh of relief, though their lead in the Midwest League’s Western Division continues to be just 1 1/2 games on Beloit.

“We had that (closed-door) meeting yesterday, and I think we’re all (needing to) take things inning by inning, pitch by pitch,” Melotakis said. “I think we really put that to use today.”

Melotakis (4-2) is trying to make the considerable jump from college reliever to professional starter, and crossed an important durability barrier by pitching seven innings. He had a shutout going until getting nicked for a pair of runs his final inning of work, after a long wait in the bottom of the sixth as his teammates scored five runs.

He's got a good fastball that can reach the mid-90s, but needs to develop his changeup and breaking ball to continue to be a starter as he moves up in the Minnesota Twins' farm system.

“It’s a great accomplishment tonight,” he said. “That’s the first time I’ve done that. And 94 pitches, too. That felt good. Low pitches. Had that last inning gone less stressful, I could have gone even deeper in the game. Just exciting all around.”

Byron Buxton went 3-for-5 with an RBI, raising his batting average back to .332. The teams play again Wednesday night at 6:35, with an enticing starting pitching matchup between Tyler Duffey of the Kernels (3-2, 2.98 ERA) and Dylan Unsworth (4-0, 2.25) for Clinton.

Unsworth is a South Africa resident and longtime close friend of new Kernels pitcher Hein Robb.

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