Sluggers Slug, Pitchers Pitch As Kernels Win 8th Straight

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

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By KCRG Sports

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A few others may have been surprised, but Josue Montanez wasn’t.

When the southpaw pitcher was pulled aside before the start of the Midwest League’s second half and told he was being moved from the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ bullpen to the starting rotation, he more or less shrugged. Been there, done that.

“I wasn’t really thinking anything,” said Montanez, after his five shutout innings helped the Kernels win their eighth straight, 7-1, over Burlington, before 3,707 fans Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “Because I was a starter before. In college I started, last year I started. So I just do whatever they want, you know?”

What Montanez did here was get outs. Lots of them and quickly.

He threw all of 60 pitches in his five innings, giving up a couple of measly singles and striking out four. Burlington had runners on the corners against him with one out in the fourth, but he struck out Wade Hinkle and Michael Bolaski looking on breaking balls.

Hudson Boyd, newcomer Madison Boer and Steve Gruver finished up. Boyd gave up a run, but it was unearned.

“I felt good tonight,” Montanez said. “My second game as a starter, I feel more confident. I throw more strikes (on) the first pitch, get outs (quickly). That’s it. My team really helped me out.”

Montanez, a 21-year-old from Puerto Rico and Miami-Dade Junior College in Florida, is a third-year pro. He didn’t start at all as a rookie and started four of his eight games last season for Rookie-level Elizabethton.

He has had two stints this season with the Kernels, with 13 relief appearances. He was roughed up in his starting debut last weekend at Wisconsin, but Friday night was a completely different story.

“We needed a starter, number one,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. “To be honest, he was throwing the best at the time. We felt he gave us a chance to pitch deeper into games than some of our other guys. It was good to see him tonight be more aggressive than he was in Wisconsin. That was his first start, maybe he was getting his feet wet a little bit. He looked a lot more comfortable out there tonight.”

It helped that his team got him a big lead early. The Kernels (48-28, 8-0 second half) scored four times in the first inning against 2012 Kernels pitcher Ryan Crowley and added two more runs in the second.

Travis Harrison had four runs batted in, hitting a two-run double in the first and two-run home run the other way to right field in the second. Adam Brett Walker also had a two-run home run in the first.

Harrison has taken over the team lead in homers with 13. D.J. Hicks and Walker are right behind him with 12 each. Walker set a torrid offensive pace early for the Kernels but has cooled considerably as pitchers have fed him a steady diet of offspeed pitches outside.

He homered for the first time since mid-May last weekend at Wisconsin.

“He put up big numbers that first half,” Mauer said. “He’s a pretty good player. He’s trying to get that back, that confidence back, seeing the ball (well). He’s going to help us out this second half, no doubt.”

Cedar Rapids begins a three-game home series against Peoria Saturday night at 6:35.

“I felt good tonight. My second game as a starter, I feel more confident. I throw more strikes, the first pitch, get outs. That’s it. My team really helped me out.”

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