CEDAR RAPIDS – You’ve been waiting for a stretch of baseball like this. Heck, they’ve been waiting for it.
Now can the Cedar Rapids Kernels keep it going for awhile? You know, like the rest of the season?
This is a hot ballclub, further proof coming Tuesday night with a 10-4 pasting of Lake County before 2,189 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Inconsistency has been the main theme this summer, but maybe, just maybe, that’s finally changing.
“We had a really good pregame today, probably the best we’ve had all year,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. “Whether it was because of the off day Monday, maybe we were a little fresher because of it, I don’t know. They’re starting to come together a little bit, I think, which is huge.”
The Kernels (43-52, 12-13) have won six of seven and seven of nine, with another win Wednesday night bringing them back to even in the Midwest League’s second half. This good patch has allowed them to work their way back into the playoff conversation, too.
Cedar Rapids entered the night just two games behind Wisconsin for the last of two available postseason spots in the Western Division. There’s a lot of ball left to be played, but this is getting kind of fun, boys.
“I do, I think we all do,” Kernels outfielder Alex Swim said, when asked if he senses the team jelling. “We’ve got the pitching staff to do it, to be honest with you. The bullpen, with (Nick) Burdi and (Jake) Reed and Dallas (Gallant) and (Alex) Muren tonight. All those guys. As long as we put up consistent at-bats and get a lead for them, they pretty much take care of the rest.”
The Kernels scored four times in the first inning and three more times in the third to put things away early. Lake County’s foibles (five errors) helped, for sure, but there were clutch hits like Mitch Garver’s two-out RBI double as well.
Jason Kanzler hit a two-run home run to dead center and later made a spectacular full-out diving catch of a ball hit in the right-center gap.
“We had a couple situations where we didn’t get the run in, but the guy behind him did,” Mauer said. “When things like that happen, that’s when you get on a roll. It’s about picking each other up.”
Don’t forget Swim, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, raising his average to a gaudy .378 in 21 games. His bat has forced Mauer to find ways to get him in the lineup.
A catcher by trade, that’s been by playing right field instead lately.
“When I was in high school, I played a ton of outfield,” he said. “In college (at Elon), it was kind of sparingly, probably 10 or 15 games a season … Since I’ve played four or five in a row, (my comfort level) is getting pretty good. I think it just takes reps. And Kanz does a great job out there in center field, helping me know where to go. He’s been playing there his whole life. He’s the best I’ve played with, as far as positioning guys.”
Taiwanese righty Chih-Wei Hu (1-0) provided a strong starting pitching performance, throwing shutout ball the first five innings. He tired in the seventh and had to be removed, but the Kernels will take what he gave them virtually every time.
“Ran out of gas, but he was real good,” Mauer said. “He’s got, a good changeup, moves the ball around, keeps it down.”
The teams play the second of their three-game series Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. The Kernels announced before the game that shortstop Engelb Vielma has been activated from the seven-day disabled list (concussion) and catcher-first baseman Bo Altobelli has been released by the parent Minnesota Twins.
Altobelli is the sixth Kernel to be given his outright release this season. He hit .224 in 44 games.
Vielma started Tuesday and went 1-for-5 with a run scored.
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