By Shannon Heaton
For the Herald
CLINTON — It was a somber Clinton LumberKings clubhouse Wednesday night, and with good reason.
After a lineup shakeup by Clinton manager Scott Steinmann appeared to bear fruit — or at least a 4-1 lead through six innings — a couple of bad eighth-inning pitches and a combination of wildness and base hits allowed Lansing first to tie the game and then, in the ninth inning, take a 5-4 victory over the LumberKings.
The loss was Clinton’s sixth in a row and first back at Alliant Energy Field after a disastrous five-game sweep lost by the ‘Kings at Wisconsin.
“Yeah, they know,” Steinmann said of why his players were so quiet after the game. “They know how poorly we’re doing as a collective group. They already know they’re not fielding plays, they’re not running bases and they’re leaving so many guys on base, in easy RBI situations. Just put the ball in play and don’t strike out.
“I’m pretty sure we’re still leading the league in strikeouts. It’s a useless out. It makes nothing happen. You don’t advance baserunners, you make no one make a play.”
It was early-season LumberKings baseball right from the get-go, however, as Terry Serrano walked, then stole second and third before scoring on Scott Savastano’s RBI single in the first inning. Nate Tenbrink scored on Mario Martinez’s double in the second, and Serrano scored again in the third on Steve Moss’ first hit as a LumberKing at Alliant.
The results were more positive, but Steinmann’s worries were still firmly in place.
“The thing we didn’t do — we got one run in innings, but we’ve got to pick up crooked numbers,” Steinmann said of Clinton’s stranding six baserunners in the first four innings.
Alfredo Venegas pitched four shutout innings for Clinton (20-19) but gave up a two-out home run to Kenny Wilson in the fifth. Stephen Penney pitched scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh, but then he tired in the eighth. Lansing (13-24) took advantage, as Mike McDade’s three-run blast to the berm in left brought the Lugnuts back.
“When you just keep making errors and keep wasting pitches, teams eventually lock in on some stuff,” Steinmann said. “We had two bad pitches that cost us at least a tie, and then we had a leadoff walk in the ninth.”
Ruben Flores took the loss after allowing that walk and a pair of base hits, with Lansing’s Yohermyn Chavez driving in the go-ahead run.
Clinton scored its last run in the bottom of the sixth when Denny Almonte tripled and scored on a wild pitch, but the ’Kings were 0-for-10, with three strikeouts, after that. Lansing reliever Yorman Mayoba threw just five pitches, retiring one batter, to get the relief victory, with Matt Daly coming on in the ninth for the save.
“We’ve got a young group of guys, but we need to see some of them play the game right and play the game better,” Steinmann said. “They don’t read the paper, so they won’t see this. They’re not making adjustments and they’re playing scared. But we’ll come out tomorrow and we’ll go to work.”
Comings and goings
Dave Lezotte, media relations director for the LumberKings, has kept busy in recent days updating the Clinton roster.
The latest moves saw Moss, an outfielder, and pitcher Andrew Esquibel being promoted from Peoria of the Arizona League and catcher Israel Nunez getting sent to Peoria. Those moves came a day after pitcher Adam Harben was promoted to High Desert of the high-Class A California League, pitcher Alfredo Venegas coming down from High Desert and outfielder Kalian Sams coming off the disabled list and being sent to Peoria.
Moss, 25, might be familiar to some Clinton fans. He spent 2003 and 2004 in the Midwest League with Beloit when he was in the Milwaukee organization. The 29th-round draft pick in 2002 was signed in the offseason by the Seattle organization. Moss had on of his better minor-league seasons in 2007, when he made the midseason Southern League All-Star team playing for Class AA Huntsville and batted .233 with 11 home runs, 56 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
Esquibel, a right-handed pitcher drafted by Seattle in the 38th round last year, was 1-0 with one save and a 2.70 earned-run average in 16 relief appearances last year for Pulaski in the rookie-level Appalachian League.
Venegas, who turned 23 on May 11, was a non-drafted free agent signed by Seattle in 2003 out of Ecuador. He split time between High Desert and Class AAA Tacoma last year, going 6-6 with a 5.17 ERA. The right-hander was 1-2 this season for High Desert with a 5.46 ERA.
Harben was 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in eight games with the LumberKings, Sams batted .161 with a home run and six RBIs in 16 games and Nunez hit .195 with three RBIs in 11 games for Clinton.
By Shannon Heaton