CEDAR RAPIDS — This is a much more confident Jermaine Palacios.
You can tell in the way the Cedar Rapids Kernels shortstop has swung the bat the first two weeks of the Midwest League season. And that he was willing Thursday night to do a postgame interview without a translator.
That would not have happened last season.
“I just focus whenever I hit,” Palacios said, after his team’s tough 5-3 loss to Kane County at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “I’m trying not to think too much at the plate. A little bit has changed in my stance. A little change. I’m just letting everything happen. Whatever happens.”
What has happened early has been a lot of hits. The 20-year-old Venezuelan has a batting average of .388 after a 3-for-4 game that came up a home run shy of the cycle.
Palacios posted huge numbers in Rookie ball in 2015 and emerged as a Minnesota Twins prospect, but the Midwest League befuddled him last season, and he hit just .222 in 71 games.
“The cold surprised me,” he said, in highly improved English. “I’m thinking ‘Wow, it’s cold.’ This year, I don’t care about the cold, I don’t care about the heat, I don’t care about anything. I just play the game hard.”
The Twins worked with Palacios a bit on changing his stance, which was sort of pigeontoed. But there’s just no substitute for having success.
He’s 9 for his last 16.
“I think the main thing is he’s being more aggressive,” said Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman. “He’s getting pitches to hit. I thought last year he was a little passive, got off to a slow start, and I think that messed with him mentally a little bit. He’s always hit, but he got off to that slow start in April and never got that rhythm going.”
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A Palacios triple and Lewin Diaz sacrifice fly in the sixth gave the Kernels (7-7) a lead, 3-2, and that’s how things stayed until the ninth. Kane County (10-4) strung together three consecutive two-out RBI singles against losing reliever Colton Davis (0-1) to win it.
Davis was one strike away from recording the save, but Luis Silverio tied it with a single up the middle on a 1-2 fastball. Alexis Olmeda put the Cougars ahead by singling to center on the very next pitch, and Marcus Wilson followed with another run-scoring hit.
That negated a great start by Tyler Wells of the Kernels. The big right-hander allowed just five hits and struck out 11 in seven innings.
The teams play again Friday night at 6:35.
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