San Bernardino tragedy hits home with C.R. Kernels pitcher Tyler Wells

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CEDAR RAPIDS — It really hit home with Tyler Wells. Again.

Last week’s shooting at an elementary school in San Bernardino, Calif., killed three people: the gunman, his wife and a student in her classroom. It was the second tragedy in two years for the community, following a terrorist attack that killed 14 people in December 2015.

Wells, a Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher, lives in Yucaipa, Calif., which is about 10 miles from Bernardino. He pitched college ball at Cal State-Bernardino.

This was too eerie for him. Again.

“I passed that elementary school every single day either going to school or going to baseball practice,” Wells said, after he pitched the Kernels past Wisconsin, 2-1, Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “I lived just down the road from it. I’m very familiar with that school, so it’s upsetting to me, seeing the innocent lives that were taken.

“I have a 5-year-old brother and a 12-year-old brother, so whenever it comes down to stuff happening in elementary schools, the first thing that comes into my head is ‘Wow, that could have been my little brother.’ I’m a big family guy, love my little brothers to death, would take a bullet for them any day. It honestly kind of scares me.”

The parent Minnesota Twins drafted the 6-foot-7, 255-pound right-hander in the 15th round last summer. He pitched for Rookie-level Elizabethton after signing, though joined the Kernels unofficially for the playoffs.

Had Cedar Rapids won one more series and advanced to the Midwest League finals, Wells would have been activated and started a game. He threw six shutout innings here and struck out eight to get the win.

“I think coming here for that week and a half really helped me get accustomed to the bigger crowds,” he said. “In E-town and the Appalachian League, there wasn’t really much of a crowd most of the time.”

Wells throws a fastball that normally ranges from 89 to 92 miles per hour, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. He rebounded well from a subpar first start last week at Beloit in which he allowed just one hit but walked four and threw two wild pitches in four innings.

He walked just one against Wisconsin, giving up five hits.

“Honestly, out of all our pitchers, he threw the ball the best in spring training,” said Kernels pitching coach J.P. Martinez. “So I was a little surprised by his first start in Beloit. He labored a little bit, really didn’t have his fastball command. But tonight he came out aggressive in front of the home crowd, got his feet under him real quick. I thought he did a great job.”

The Kernels (5-3), who have won three straight, scored twice in the fifth: on a solo home run over the 407-foot sign in left-center field by Caleb Hamilton and an RBI triple into the right-field corner by the red-hot Travis Blankenhorn. He had two more hits, though saw his batting average actually drop to .400 eight days into the season.

Tom Hackimer and Max Cordy finished up the seven-hitter, with Cordy throwing a perfect ninth inning for the save. Hackimer was charged with a run in the eighth, hitting Wisconsin’s Monte Harrison in the face with a fastball.

Harrison left the game but is fine, minus a swollen lower lip and chin. The teams play again Friday night at 6:35.

Before Thursday’s game, the Kernels announced a roster move, with pitcher Brady Anderson being promoted to high-A Fort Myers and lefty pitcher Domenick Carlini added to the roster from extended spring training. Anderson was 0-1 with a save and 1.42 earned run average in two relief appearances, including four hitless innings Tuesday afternoon against Kane County.

Carlini, 23, was a 21st-round draft pick of the Twins last summer out of Southeastern Louisiana. He went 1-7 with a save and 4.83 ERA last season for Elizabethton.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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