CEDAR RAPIDS — It was one of those funny little behind-the-scenes baseball moments you catch from time to time.
Earlier this week, some Cedar Rapids Kernels position players were taking cuts in the batting cage next to the team’s clubhouse. Weather prevented them from doing so outside, go figure.
Guys rotated in and out of the cage as hitting coach Tommy Watkins lobbed them balls. Late in the session, pitcher Aaron Slegers grabbed a bat and entered.
About to throw a pitch, Watkins looked up and noticed who was standing in the batter’s box.
“Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head. “Oh, hell, no.”
“Come on,” Slegers pleaded. “Just one.”
Watkins wouldn’t budge. There was no sense in potentially having the guy pull something swinging a bat, of all things.
“You get hurt, and I get fired tomorrow,” Watkins said.
Slegers is a pitcher, one who appears to have a future. He threw seven shutout innings last night as the Kernels toppled Peoria, 3-0, before a season-high 2,899 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“He’s pitching,” said Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga. “In this league, that’s something you don’t often see. He’s throwing with command.”
The 6-foot-10 right-hander bumped his record to 3-0 and lowered his earned run average to 2.52 with an impressive performance against a Peoria club that scored 12 runs Friday night against the Kernels. He wasn’t incredibly overpowering, striking out six, but gave up just four hits, including one that was the result of a blown umpire’s call at first base.
In his last two starts, Slegers has given up 10 hits and one run over 14 innings.
“I’m just letting my defense work for me,” Slegers said. “I’m throwing strikes. That’s always been the name of my game. Throwing strikes early in the count, especially late in the game, and trying to keep them off balance with the changeup and slider. That’s been a big part of my last two outings.”
Slegers was the Minnesota Twins’ fifth-round draft choice last year. He helped the Indiana Hoosiers to the College World Series in 2013 and was the Big Ten Conference’s Pitcher of the Year.
His size makes it appear to hitters that the ball is right on them all the time. You add his smarts and know how, and you’ve got something.
“It’s all about location and trust,” said Arteaga. “He’s throwing the ball down (in the zone) really well, He’s trusting his pitches, getting a feel for the game, for the hitters, for the situation. Just basically commanding the ball. He’s throwing pitches to set up other pitches. He’s pitching.”
The Kernels (16-12) scratched across single runs in the third, fourth and eighth innings. J.D. Williams had an RBI double in the third, Ivory Thomas an RBI single in the fourth and Logan Wade a run-scoring double in the eighth.
Outfielder Williams joined the team Saturday from extended spring training, replacing infielder Tanner Vavra, who was placed on the disabled list with an ankle injury. Williams played the first half of last season in Cedar Rapids before being promoted to high-Class A Fort Myers.
He broke a finger in spring training, with this his first game of 2014. The teams conclude their three-game series today at 2:05.
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