CEDAR RAPIDS — For the first time this season, the Cedar Rapids Kernels are a sub-.500 team.
A 2-1 loss Thursday night to Quad Cities at Veterans Memorial Stadium was the third in a row for the Kernels, dropping their record to 17 up and 18 down. Cedar Rapids has lost nine of 13 to get to this low point.
Keep in mind, this club won its first six games of the Midwest League season and appeared to be a potential powerhouse. But things have gone awry.
“The biggest thing with us is we’re really young,” said Kernels Manager Toby Gardenhire. “We don’t always respond to the adversity very well.”
To Gardenhire’s point, there’s an 18-year-old at shortstop (Royce Lewis), a 19-year-old at second base (Jose Miranda) and center field (Akil Baddoo) and 20-year-olds at catcher (Ben Rortvedt) and right field (Alex Kirilloff). That is youthful.
“I think these guys are learning, and they are going to get better and better as the season goes along,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff they’ve got to learn. How to handle guys when pitchers start throwing really good against them. How to figure out ways to win when things aren’t always going their way. That is stuff that comes with time. These guys haven’t really done a whole lot of it, yet. We’re battling, we’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of good athletes. Good athletes tend to figure it out, so we’ll be all right.”
Corey Julks hit a two-out, two-run home run in the seventh inning against losing relief pitcher Carlos Suniaga (2-1) to break a scoreless tie. Kirilloff’s two-out RBI single in the eighth made it a one-run game, but he was stranded at first, as was Jean Carlos Arias in the ninth after he reached on a one-out infield hit.
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The real positive of the night was the start turned in by Bailey Ober of the Kernels. The 6-foot-9 right-hander came in 0-1 with a 13.03 earned run average in three previous starts, including not being able to get out of the first inning of his first start in late April.
He went a career-high tying six innings here, giving up just three hits, no walks and no runs. A pick-me-up, for sure.
“Me and the pitching coaches have really been working on mechanics and stuff like that,” the former College of Charleston hurler said. “Fixing a couple of things, fine tuning some stuff between starts and mainly in my bullpens. So I felt like I had a really good week of practice in between starts. Really working on my stuff, getting my confidence back up. That translated to the field tonight. I felt really good for the first time, felt loose and smooth.”
“Spotting his fastball really well, using his changeup. That’s the pitch that he’s really been working on,” Gardenhire said. “He did a really nice job with that pitch tonight. And his breaking ball was good, too. The big thing was he was going after everybody. He didn’t get himself in trouble in any of those situations. He was pitching with confidence and attacking.”
The Kernels hit the road for seven in a row (three at Clinton, four at Kane County), returning home to host Clinton on Friday, May 25.
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