116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – It was an excruciating wait to get back on the field for most every minor league baseball player. For Zach Featherstone, it went beyond excruciating.
If that’s possible.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher missed 2020 with everyone else because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no season.
So that made it two full seasons of inactivity for the 25-year-old southpaw from Charlotte, N.C. He injured his arm in 2018 spring training, throwing in only three games before being diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“Definitely cool to get back out there on the mound,” Featherstone said, after the Kernels lost to Peoria, 11-2, Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “Especially with all the COVID stuff, doing everything on our own for about a year. It was really cool to kind of get back onto a mound and get after guys. Be competitive again.”
Featherstone’s re-debut here went 1 2/3 innings. He allowed a hit and two walks, striking out one and not allowing a run.
His fastball reached 96 miles per hour, an encouraging sign and a surprise to him.
“Whoa. I didn’t know that. That’s news to me. Pretty happy about that,” he said. “I definitely had adrenaline going, for sure, as you guys could imagine. I mean, it’s been, like, three years. I did some live BPs and stuff in 2019 when I was rehabbing. But other than that, I haven’t been able to face hitters, at least in a game setting.”
Featherstone was a two-way player at both North Carolina State and Tallahassee Community College in Florida, with the Twins drafting him in the 12th round in 2016 out of Tallahassee as an outfielder. He hit .212 in 99 at-bats that year in Rookie ball, with the Twins suggesting he try pitching in instructional league that fall.
He was very receptive.
“I do not miss hitting at all,” he said. “I loved hitting growing up. Hitting was what I wanted to do. In college, I loved doing it. But once I got to pro ball and started facing lefties that were nasty, I was like ‘Man, this is not for me.’”
The Kernels (2-1) lost for the first time this High-A Central League season, as Peoria scored three runs against starting and losing pitcher Blayne Enlow in the third and fourth innings. The Chiefs put things away with a seven-run ninth against Kernels position players Gabe Snyder and Yeltsin Encarnacion.
Cedar Rapids has 15 active pitchers: five true relievers and 10 other guys in piggyback situations. That’s five tandems each.
The relievers all threw in the first three games, meaning the Kernels essentially ran out of available pitchers at an inopportune time. It was a 4-2 game going to the ninth.
But clubs definitely are going to err on the side of caution with pitchers this early in the season, since they did not have a 2020 season. They are understandably being babied back into it, if you will, everyone having strict pitch limits.
Matt Wallner had the best game offensive for the Kernels, walking, being hit by a pitch, singling hard to center and tripling hard over the left fielder’s head. He hit two home runs and had six RBIs in a win Wednesday and appears to be “on” every pitch right now.
The teams play again Friday night at 6:35.
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