CEDAR RAPIDS - Earlier this season, a reporter asked Iowa City West boys' tennis coach Mitch Gross about the #x201c;triple crown#x201d; of prep tennis.
At the time, Gross dismissed the thought of winning a state championship in singles, dou ... »
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sean Poppen went through a discussion about his outing Friday night with the precision you’d expect from a guy who went to Harvard.
Except for one batter. That topic was off limits.
“We won’t talk about the error,” the Cedar Rapids Kernels starting pitcher said with a smile.
Oh, that error. It was a slow, one-hop comebacker to his left in the fifth inning that he fielded with the greatest of ease.
Poppen stepped toward first base and delivered a fastball. One that was way low and outside, past first baseman Lewin Diaz and into foul ground down the right-field line.
An embarrassing two-base error that cost him an unearned run but ultimately not the win. The Kernels rolled past Fort Wayne, 12-4, before 2,937 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I tell you what, I know what I’m going to be doing in about two days,” Poppen said. “PFPs, going to be doing a lot of them. It’s going to be great.”
PFPs are pitcher’s fielding practice. He’ll continue working on his changeup, really the only pitch that’s not working for him right now.
Poppen (1-0) has been terrific in his first handful of starts this season, compiling a 1.89 earned run average. Without his best stuff, he still managed to throw 6 1/3 innings here, giving up two earned runs and two unearned runs, striking out five.
“Pop right now is basically a two-pitch mix guy who is trying to get his third pitch involved a lot,” said Kernels pitching coach J.P. Martinez. “Both of his main offerings are plus pitches. He’s got some giddyup on the fastball, and it’s got good sink to it. His slider is late, and it’s hard. I think he’s found a grip on his changeup that he’s comfortable with, so he has started throwing it a lot more. In two or three weeks from now, I think it’ll be really good, and he’ll be clicking on all cylinders.”
Fort Wayne (10-18) got to Poppen for a pair of first-inning runs and stranded the bases loaded, but the right-hander made an adjustment the second and third time through the batting order that guided him into the seventh.
“I usually like to stick with the fastball a lot, but they came out swinging, and I wasn’t locating it the way I should,” he said. “So the next few innings, I started working in more first-pitch offspeed. Trying to get them a little bit more off balance because they were taking big hacks.”
The Kernels (16-11) supported him with a lot of offense, knocking out Fort Wayne starter Austin Smith with a six-run second inning. They batted around again in a five-run fifth that made this one a laugher.
Jermaine Palacios drove in four runs, but six other guys also had RBIs. Hector Lujan finished up with 2 2/3 shutout innings out of the C.R. bullpen.
The teams play again Saturday night at 6:35.
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