CEDAR RAPIDS – In front of his mom, dad, both brothers, other family members and 4,401 adoring fans, Joe Mauer stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the first inning Tuesday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium for his Cedar Rapids Kernels debut. And promptly banged into a 4-6-3 double play.
Hey, even a three-time American League batting champ can’t get a hit every time, even if it is just the minors.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going,” the Minnesota Twins star said. “I knew that a lot of people came down to see me play, and you always want to do well. I got a good pitch to hit, just tried to do too much with it. That was the first at-bat I had in a month, and I was a little upset with what I did. It is what it is.”
What it was for Mauer was a successful first step in a return to the big leagues, as he got in three at-bats, singled and scored a run in the Kernels’ 9-0 blasting of Wisconsin. Mauer is working his way back from a strained oblique muscle that has shelved him since early July.
Fellow injury rehabber Ricky Nolasco (elbow) was the starting pitcher and threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings. A pretty good night all around.
“It was fun to get back on the field, number one, and have some good ABs,” Mauer said. “I’ll see what tomorrow brings. That’s kind off the thing. I kind of have to catch myself a little bit, try not to do too much today. Kind of get my work in and get out of here and see what happens tomorrow. It felt good today, and hopefully it feels good tomorrow.”
Mauer’s parents, Jake Jr. and Teresa, made the trip from the Twin Cities, as did brother, Billy. Of course, oldest brother, Jake, is the Kernels manager.
It was one of the highlights of the night to watch Jake wave Joe home from second base on a Bryan Haar single to left in the third inning. At one point during the play, it appeared a collision might be in the offing, but left-fielder Omar Garcia’s throw was a bit up the line, and Mauer was able to slide in without much problem.
“I thought he had a pretty good jump,” Jake Mauer said. “He had a good secondary lead, and the ball wasn’t hit very hard. The kid didn’t have a very good (throwing) angle. It was a little closer than I’d like it to be, but he got out there pretty good, and it was good to see him run around. He felt real good after the game, so that was good.”
Joe Mauer was the Kernels’ designated hitter Tuesday night and plans on playing first base Wednesday night. From there, everything is in the air, though Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire told Twins beat writers Mauer likely would remain in Cedar Rapids the remainder of a homestand concludes Sunday afternoon.
“The adrenalin was definitely pumping, which you can’t simulate down there in the training room or on your way back,” Mauer said. “You’ve just got to go through it. It was a great atmosphere tonight, and I can’t wait to come to the park tomorrow.”
Nolasco threw 50 pitches, walking one and striking out two. He gave up two hits, both to Wisconsin leadoff hitter Taylor Brennan.
In fact, Brennan lined the first pitch of the game into center field for a single. In the third, he drilled a Nolasco pitch off the fence in left-center field for a double.
“Might have to look him up, see who he is,” Nolasco said. “He had some pretty good at-bats.”
Nolasco - who signed a four-year, $49-million contract with Minnesota this past offseason – will remain in Cedar Rapids this week and work with Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga and roving minor-league pitching instructor Eric Rasmussen. He’ll start Sunday afternoon’s game against Kane County and will be bumped to a 75-pitch count.
A communication mixup resulted in a late scramble to find Major League baseballs for Nolasco to use. Their use is customary for rehabbing pitchers, as they are of higher quality.
“I was going to pitch either way,” Nolasco said. “There was a little confusion, that’s all. But we were able to scrounge some up and (I) got it in. Even if we hadn’t, I would have gone out there and got some work in. It is nice to throw a big league ball, because after feeling a Midwest League ball, it is a pretty big difference.”
Cedar Rapids Washington graduate Chad Christensen hit a home run for a second straight night, as the Kernels moved back to .500 overall (57-57). They are 26-18 in the second half, tied with Kane County for first place in the MWL’s Western Division.
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