CEDAR RAPIDS – Pitching, especially starting pitching, was supposed to be the strength of the Cedar Rapids Kernels this season. But the numbers say that simply hasn’t been true.
Another rough outing for a starter in a 6-4 loss Monday afternoon to Burlington at Veterans Memorial Stadium was followed by news that the parent Minnesota Twins are making changes.
Pitchers Felix Jorge and Derrick Penilla have been sent to extended spring training. Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said he didn’t officially know the corresponding moves but guessed the additions to his club would be highly touted teenage pitchers Lewis Thorpe and Fernando Romero.
Thorpe is an 18-year-old lefty from Australia who Baseball America ranks as Minnesota’s seventh-best prospect. Romero is a 19-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic who sits at No. 12.
Both are starters.
“Nothing has been nailed down, yet,” Mauer said. “Other than those two boys (Penilla and Jorge) were just told they were going to extended.”
Considering Twins General Manager Terry Ryan and roving pitching instructor Eric Rasmussen were in town for a six-game homestand that ended Monday, the timing of these moves makes sense. Kernels starting pitchers compiled an ugly 6.25 earned run average in 32 starts in May, and the team’s overall ERA of 4.60 going into Monday ranked 14th in the 16-team Midwest League and was just .01 out of 15th.
Penilla allowed 10 hits and six earned runs in five innings as Burlington took the rubber game of a three-game series. He was 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA in seven games for the Kernels, including three starts.
Jorge was 2-5 with a 9.00 ERA in 12 games, eight starts. Both are likely to be in the Rookie-level Elizabethton starting rotation when it begins its season in mid-June.
“Jorge was showing signs some in the bullpen of getting going a little bit,” Mauer said. “But he’s going to be a starter, no doubt about it, so it’s probably best that he goes back … Penilla, fastball command is just the key with him. He throws 90, 91, but if he can’t throw it for a strike, you just eliminate it. You saw what happened today, 73 (miles per hour) goes a long way.”
Chris Mazza and Hudson Boyd combined for four shutout innings out of the bullpen, three by Mazza. The Kernels (27-31) fought back from a 6-1 hole and had the tying run on base in the ninth inning, but pinch hitter Michael Quesada grounded into a fielder’s choice to end it.
Cedar Rapids left 13 guys on base in the game, stranding the bases loaded twice. But it falling behind again early that was just as much of a factor.
“It’s not what I expected, let’s put it that way. It’s not,” Mauer said of his team’s pitching. “There are some guys in there that have been really roller coaster. You don’t know what you’re going to get. Some days, we throw the ball really well, and other days, we just have a really hard time. (Doing that) for an extended period is really what has killed us.
“It’s not just one bad start. It’s three or four or five in a row. Now we’re scrambling with our bullpen, now you’ve got to use everybody, so when you do get a good start, you don’t have everybody lined up the way you want. That’s the way it goes.”
The Kernels have Tuesday off, then begin a four-game series Wednesday at Wisconsin.
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