CEDAR RAPIDS — There aren’t many miles on his right arm. On his right knee, it’s a little bit different story.
But Derek Molina hasn’t thrown a whole lot of innings in his baseball career. That’s a good thing.
“I barely pitched in high school,” the Cedar Rapids Kernels reliever said, after he saved Friday night’s 3-1 win over Clinton at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “I got recruited to go to CSU-Northridge to play infield. I pitched a little bit, but it was bothering my arm, so they cut it out, told me to focus on infield. My sophomore year, they wanted me to pitch only, so that’s when I left.”
He went to Merced Community College for a year, where he pitched and played infield. The Minnesota Twins liked him enough to draft him in the 14th round in 2017.
That’s as a pitcher.
“I miss hitting sometimes,” Molina admitted. “But it’s OK.”
The 21-year-old right-hander has been incredibly good for the Kernels, especially after a rough first two outings in April that saw him give up six earned runs. Since then, he has made 16 relief appearances, spanning 26 2/3 innings, and allowed just two runs, one earned.
This was his ninth save, which ranks second in the Midwest League.
“Throwing strikes, good fastball, good breaking ball,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “I know he has one of the higher swing-and-miss rates in the strike zone of any pitcher we’ve got. So his stuff usually plays pretty well.”
Now back to Molina’s knee. He tore his meniscus as a freshman in high school in California, then his meniscus and ACL as a sophomore.
Both injuries came playing football. His career ended after that second issue.
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“All the knee injuries were from football, so I stopped playing football after that,” he said. “I missed a full year of baseball, so I was like ‘Hey, I want to just focus on baseball.’ That’s what I did. I’ve never had any problems since then.”
Starter Josh Winder (5-1) threw seven strong innings for the victory for the Kernels (37-31), who moved within a game of Burlington for second place in the MWL’s Western Division and the corresponding playoff berth that goes with it. There are two games remaining in the first half for both teams, with Cedar Rapids hosting Clinton again Saturday night at 6:35.
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