In any role, Kernels' Atherton seeks redemption

Outfielder-turned-pitcher gets another chance with Twins; Kernels lose at Clinton in 11 innings, 6-5

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CEDAR RAPIDS - Tim Atherton is trying to reinvent himself as a starting pitcher for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. That's fine because he's been reinventing himself a lot as a professional baseball player.

The Australian right-hander went five innings, allowing two runs in a 6-5, 11-inning loss Saturday night at Clinton. It was his second start since 2011 in Rookie ball.

Atherton, 23, originally signed with the Minnesota Twins as an outfielder in 2007 despite growing up as a third baseman. He was released during the 2008 season, though it had nothing to do with performance or promise.

"I was young, I had an Australian roommate that I wanted to protect from getting into trouble," Atherton explained. "He did something he shouldn't have done. I lied for him. So I guess it was being guilty by association."

The Padres signed him that summer after Minnesota let him go, but released him that offseason. That's when Atherton decided it was time for his second reinvention as a baseball player.

He began pitching back home in an Australian league, well enough to get a bit of attention. What he really wanted was another shot with the Twins, so he sent an e-mail to Minnesota's international scouting coordinator Howard Norsetter.

"I'm really close to him, and he always believed in me," Atherton said. "Basically I sent an e-mail apologizing for what had happened. Hopefully it's water under the bridge. I'm a changed person now. After an outing (in Australia) one day, I had some interest from the Rangers. I told Howard that, and he rang me up that afternoon and said 'How would you like to be a Twin again?' I said 'I'd love to.'"

Atherton said he considers the Twins to be a "great organization."

"I played for the Padres, which is a great organization, but I always wanted to come back and play for the Twins again," he said. "The way they go about things, it's not necessarily the player that you are, it's the person that you are. I thought about that at home when I had that bit of time out (from the game). It changed the person that I am."

Atherton pitched for Elizabethton in 2011 and most of last season with Beloit of the Midwest League. He has averaged well under a hit and well over a strikeout per inning as a pro, though his fastball usually only sits in the upper 80s.

Credit a slow curveball for a lot of his good statistics. It's a pitch that hit a laborious 68 miles per hour on the Veterans Memorial Stadium scoreboard earlier this season.

"I promise you, I'm throwing it as hard as I can," Atherton said. "Kind of weird because I can throw a slider or a cutter anywhere between 80 miles per hour to 90. I do throw the curve as hard as I can. Maybe I do grip it a little differently, but that's just how it is. It seems to be effective for me."

The Kernels (52-32, 12-4 Midwest League's second half) lost for the fourth time in five games, as Martin Peguero singled home Gaby Guerrero with one out in the 11th for the Clinton walk off. Alex Muren (4-1) took the loss for Cedar Rapids, which plays again Sunday afternoon at Ashford University Field.

Only three players had hits for the Kernels: Joel Licon (three) and D.J. Hicks and J.D. Williams (two each).

Here is the game boxscore:

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