CEDAR RAPIDS — At one point early in his start Sunday afternoon, Brusdar Graterol fell behind an opposing hitter, two and zero.
He followed with a fastball right down the heart of the plate. This was a get-me-over pitch, as they say, one where the Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher threw it nice and easy, didn’t care where it was located, as long as it was a strike.
Which it was, clocked at a measly 99 miles per hour.
“He grooved one at 99,” marveled co-pitching coach Justin Willard, after Graterol and the Kernels picked up a 14-1 win over Wisconsin at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “It was like ‘Holy crap. It must be nice to groove one at 99.’ That’s special. He’s really, really special.”
If you haven’t heard of him, Graterol is the 19-year-old right-handed flamethrower from Venezuela who is absolutely must see. His first two pitches Sunday checked in at an even 100 miles per hour, with a third fastball eventually reaching the century mark and another climbing to 101.
He threw five shutout innings to improve his record to 3-2 and his earned run average to 2.18 in eight starts. Graterol allowed two hits, walked three and struck out nine.
That latter number didn’t quite match his idol, Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins, who had a career-high 12 Ks in his start Sunday against Texas. Berrios calls himself The Machine on Twitter. Graterol refers to himself as The Child Machine.
“I knew he was pitching today, and that he’d do a good job,” Graterol said, through teammate Jose Miranda. “I was pitching to compete with him. I think he had more strikeouts than I did, but that’s fine. I think everything happened today like I wanted it to work out. I felt very good, concentrated on every pitch that I threw.”
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Graterol experienced a slight drop in velocity late in his previous start a week and a half ago at Kane County, so the Twins had him stay home and not travel to Lansing, Mich., for last week’s Midwest League All-Star Game. You’ve got to be cautious with an arm like his, especially considering he had Tommy John elbow surgery two years ago.
Needless to say, he was back to his normal self here.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Graterol said, when asked his feelings on not going to Lansing. “I was really concentrating on the all-star game, but then when they told me I wasn’t going, I started thinking about the second half. I got a lot of sleep, a lot of rest.”
“What’d I see today? Other than the fastball being electric, that’s probably the best slider I’ve seen from him,” Willard said. “He was throwing that anywhere from 87 to 91 miles per hour. That’s a big-league slider, especially the first three innings, before that long inning we had. That was phenomenal.”
That long inning was the fourth and was of the 10-run variety for the Kernels (36-37), who swept this four-game series to open the second half of the Midwest League season. Miranda, Jacob Pearson and Robby Rinn each had two hits in the inning, with 14 Kernels coming to the plate.
Pearson ended up going 4-for-5 with three RBIs in the game, coming up a double shy of the cycle. Miranda drove in five runs, with Andrew Bechtold and Jordan Gore adding home runs.
Beloit comes to town for a series that begins Monday night at 6:35.
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