In April, so the rule goes, pitchers are faster out of the gate to be on top of their game than are hitters in baseball.
Even though the calendar says it’s nearly July, Beloit pitchers have had their way with the Clinton LumberKings all season, posting a 1.93 earned-run average against the ’Kings. That ERA will only drop further, as Beloit defeated Clinton 6-1 in the opening game of the Midwest League’s second half of the season.
Beloit starter Brad Stillings was the biggest reason why Clinton (37-33, 0-1) struggled to get out of the second-half chute Friday night at Alliant Energy Field. Stillings was consistent with first-pitch strikes and mixed in a powerful changeup that threw the LumberKings hitters out of their comfort zone.
“You’ve still got to look fastball, but tonight his changeup was out of the zone, and we just chased them,” LumberKings right fielder James Jones said. “He mixed it up, he kept us off-balance and we kept going backwards.”
Things looked good for Clinton early, as starter Jimmy Gillheeney faced the minimum nine hitters through three innings, getting the only one to reach base — Beloit No. 8 hitter Anderson Hidalgo, who was a thorn in the LumberKings’ sides all night — retired when catcher Brandon Bantz threw out Hidalgo trying to steal second.
Just before that, Jones made the defensive play of the night, timing his leap just in foul territory perfectly to snag Beloit first baseman Michael Gonzales’ foul ball over the right-field fencing.
“I knew he hit it good; I just stayed on it, felt the wall behind me a couple of times and just went up for it and got it,” Jones said of the perfectly-positioned catch. “Once I got there (where the ball threatened to go over the fence), I felt like I had a good chance.”
But the ’Kings’ hitters didn’t have much of a chance against Stillings, who allowed just three hits over seven innings — all singles. Clinton’s top four in the batting order were 0-for-11 with a walk against the Beloit starter, who improved his record to 7-3 (with the Snappers improving to 38-32 and 1-0).
Beloit got to Gillheeney slightly in the fourth and a bit more intently to start the fifth. Snappers catcher Josmil Pinto doubled home James Beresford, who scored all the way from first, thanks in part to a huge jump, to put Beloit on the board first, 1-0, in the fourth.
Then, Gillheeney (4-6) couldn’t get out of the fifth, giving up two walks, two base hits and a two-run double to Beloit’s Aaron Hicks before being relieved in favor of Jose Jimenez. He got the LumberKings out with only one more run given up, but the damage was largely done, as the Snappers took a 5-0 lead. Beloit added another run in the eighth, when Derek McCallum doubled and scored on two Daniel Cooper wild pitches.
Clinton had its best threat in the bottom of the ninth against Beloit’s second reliever Peter Kennelly. With one out, Tim Morris singled and went to second on a wild pitch. Walks to Bantz and Hawkins Gebbers loaded the bases, and Matt Cerione drew a bases-loaded walk to plate Morris with Clinton’s only run. Gabriel Noriega then hit a drive to the left-center warning track, but the park held it, ending the threat.
Gebbers, who was 1-for-2 with the walk and a hit-by-pitch plate appearance in the second, was Clinton’s most successful performer at the plate, as the LumberKings finished with just four singles on the night.
The LumberKings and Snappers return to Alliant tonight for a 6 p.m. contest, with the game moved up an hour to accommodate a post-game concert by local rock band Down 24. Today also marks the reschedule date for the LumberKings’ youth baseball camp, which starts at 10 a.m. at Alliant, with walk-up registrations welcome.
Newly-returned Clinton starter Nick Czyz (0.00 ERA in 7 2/3 relief innings early this season) will take the hill for the LumberKings tonight, while Beloit sends out former West Delaware High School pitcher B.J. Hermsen (4-1, 3.43).