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CEDAR RAPIDS — His cutter has gotten better, as has his ability to command it. But Hector Lujan says the biggest reason for his breakout season has been an improvement between the ears.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher could very well be the next guy to get a promotion to high-Class A Fort Myers. There have been nine of them this summer.
He deserves it, the way he has thrown the baseball out of the back end of the bullpen. A 1.63 earned run average, nine saves and WHIP of under 1.00 do not lie.
Lujan has been very good.
“I try not to focus on (numbers). Sometimes I try and stay completely away from that,” Lujan said. “Like I’ve said, numbers don’t really matter. It’s about going out there and doing your best every single time. Just do what I can to help my team win.”
Lujan, 22, was a 35th-round draft pick of the parent Minnesota Twins in 2015 out of Division II Westmont College in California. He began his college career at D-I California-Santa Barbara before transferring.
The right-hander wasn’t stellar by any means the first two years of his career, posting ERAs over 5.00, but something has clicked this season. That something is his mentality on the mound.
“The ability to just have a different mindset,” he said. “Just attacking hitters and knowing how important getting the first strike is every count. The importance of (what you do) in a 1-1 count. Being able to put hitters away and not nibble around. Just saying ‘Here you go, try to hit this.’ I guess it’s just been being able to realize that you know what, it’s not about you, it’s about your team. You’ve got to do what you can to help your team win.”
Lujan’s fastball sits around the 93 to 95-mile-per-hour mark. He hit 97 multiple times in a two-inning stint Friday night against Great Lakes.
The stuff is good, and he’s been good.
“I feel good, like the offseason work I did translates to this part of the season,” he said. “Past the halfway point, toward the end here. Where you push yourself and really make it count here at the end.”
FORT MYERS KERNELS FARING WELL
The Fort Myers Miracle went into Saturday night with an 18-9 second-half record in the Florida State League, and a major reason for the team’s success has been the play of the guys promoted to the team from Cedar Rapids.
Shortstop Jermaine Palacios has a .337 batting average in 25 games, second baseman Brandon Lopez a .316 average in 21 games and catcher Mitchell Kranson a .265 average in 25 games.
On the pitching side, starter Sean Poppen is 2-1 with a 2.11 ERA in four starts, reliever Tom Hackimer is 3-0 with two saves and a 1.33 ERA in 14 games and Alex Robinson has struck out 10 in his first five innings.
Reliever Andrew Vasquez has been other-worldly, unscored upon in 12 appearances spanning 19 innings, with 31 strikeouts.
The only “Fort Myers Kernel” not producing has been outfielder Jaylin Davis, who went into Saturday with a .227 average and one home run in 24 games.
Fort Myers also received 2017 first-round sandwich pick Brent Rooker from Rookie-level Elizabethton last week. The former Mississippi State all-American had been rumored as a possibility to play for the Kernels.
2017 MIDWEST LEAGUER SUSPENDED 50 GAMES
Relief pitcher Greg Belton of the Inland Empire 66ers was among those suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games Friday for testing positive for amphetamines.
Belton had just been promoted from the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League, where he had pitched in 17 games.
BREWERS RELEASE DAVID DENSON
It was strictly a procedural move, but the Milwaukee Brewers released first baseman David Denson last week. Professional baseball’s first openly gay player had voluntarily retired toward the end of spring training to become a personal trainer.
Denson played most of last season in the Midwest League with Wisconsin and was a .229 career hitter in 314 games. His release means if he decides to ever play again, he will be free to sign with any major league club.
HOW THEY’RE DOING
Jake Adams (University of Iowa) — An 0-for-16 slump for the big first baseman has his batting average down to .174 in 23 games for Short season-A Tri-City (Astros). Has five home runs and 13 RBIs, with 35 strikeouts in 86 at-bats.
Joel Booker (University of Iowa) — Outfielder hitting .177 in 21 games for high-A Winston-Salem (White Sox). Has three RBIs.
Matt Dermody (University of Iowa) — Has pitched in 31 games, one start, for Triple-A Buffalo (Blue Jays). Has a 5-1 record and 3.38 earned run average, with 37 strikeouts in 40 innings.
Ryan Erickson (University of Iowa) — Has no record, a save and 8.22 earned run average in six outings for Arizona Rookie League White Sox. Allowed 14 hits in 7 2/3 innings, with eight strikeouts.
Blake Hickman (University of Iowa) — Threw six shutout innings against Columbia in his last start for high-A Winston-Salem (White Sox). Is 2-4 with a 4.19 ERA in nine pitching starts, allowing just 48 hits in 52 innings.
Jon Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier) — In 10 appearances for Short season-A Aberdeen (Orioles), pitcher is 2-0 with a save and 0.55 ERA. Allowed just five hits in 16 1/3 innings, with four walks and 17 strikeouts.
Mitch Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier) — Threw six one-hit shutout innings earlier this week against Fort Myers for high-A Bradenton (Pirates). Is 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 starts, allowing 46 hits in 64 1/3 innings.
Derrick Loveless (Solon) — Outfielder hitting .265 in 51 games for Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays), with 16 RBIs.
Mason McCoy (University of Iowa) — Shortstop with Short season-A Aberdeen (Orioles) is hitting .314 in 17 games, with 12 RBIs. Also has more walks (11) than strikeouts (10).
Tyler Peyton (University of Iowa) — Pitcher is 2-3 with a 4.61 ERA in 11 games, two starts, for low-A South Bend (Cubs).
A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids Washington) — Pitcher allowed five runs and was pulled after one inning in his last start for Double-A Midland (Athletics). Is 0-3 with a 6.93 ERA in five starts since being promoted from high-A Stockton.
Scott Schebler (Cedar Rapids Prairie) — Cincinnati Reds outfielder is 2-for-24 since the all-star break, his average sliding to .241 in 90 games, with 22 home runs and 44 RBIs.
Jake Yacinich (University of Iowa) — Shortstop is hitting .278 in 65 games for high-A Inland Empire (Angels), with four homers and 20 RBIs.
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