Murphy Smith sure didn’t look like a pitcher who had given up 10 runs in the past 91⁄3 innings and had a 5.82 earned-run average.
“We have a lot of trouble with guys with ERAs up there,” Clinton manager John Tamargo said after Smith pitched six solid innings and got plenty of offensive support to lead Kane County past the LumberKings 7-3 in Midwest League baseball Monday night at Alliant Energy Field.
Smith (3-0), a 6-foot-3 right-hander selected by Oakland in the 13th round of the 2009 draft, had the LumberKings off balance all night, changing speeds and location effectively. The LumberKings struggled to make contact against him — he struck out nine of the first 14 batters Clinton sent to the plate — and only four LumberKings managed to hit the ball out of the infield during his six innings on the mound.
“He pitched us backward,” Tamargo said. “He threw the soft stuff early and the hard stuff late. He had pretty good stuff for five innings.”
Smith — who started his night by walking Luis Nunez, then picking him off first base — held the LumberKings in check as they tried for a third consecutive win after losing Friday in the first game of the season’s second half. Clinton finally got a ball out of the infield when Kalian Sams smashed a double past third baseman Jason Christian and down the left-field line in the fifth inning after a leadoff infield hit by James Jones. A groundout by Gabriel Noriega scored Jones, then Sams scored on Matt Cerione’s sacrifice fly.
By then, though, the LumberKings already were in a sizable hole.
Kane County scored two runs each in the first, second and fourth innings for a 6-0 lead, and the LumberKings never made it too uncomfortable.
The Cougars had little trouble finding the outfield with their bats.
Conner Crumbliss (3-for-4) opened the game with a double off the base of the wall in the right-field corner. Tyreace House followed with a sharp single up the middle. Crumbliss scored on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Aliotti, then House crossed the plate on Rashun Dixon’s double off the center-field wall.
Crumbliss added a two-out RBI single in the second and eventually scored the fourth run when Clinton third baseman Vinnie Catricala couldn’t handle catcher Brandon Bantz’s throw on a stolen base.
“It’s tough when you’re four runs down in the first two innings,” Tamargo said. “We need to throw a zero up there once in awhile and get back to our hitters.”
The LumberKings didn’t do much offensively when given the chance, however. Three Kane County pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts.
“When you don’t put the ball in play ... that’s almost five innings we went down without contact,” Tamargo said.
Kane County increased the lead to 6-0 in the fourth. Crumbliss was in the middle of things again with another single, and House (sacrifice fly) and Aliotti (single) drove in runs. The Cougars added another run in the sixth on a single by Aliotti.
Clinton scored the final run in the seventh on a two-out single by Noriega and a run-scoring double by Cerione.
“This team does that; we won’t quit,” Tamargo said. “If we’re 3-4 runs down, we’ve still got a chance.”
The LumberKings get another chance to beat Kane County tonight, when the teams square off at 7 at Alliant Energy Field. Clinton’s Taylor Stanton (6-4, 3.77 ERA) is scheduled to face Justin Marks (2-8, 5.55). The LumberKings might have to play the next few games without reliever Ryan Moorer and outfielder Kalian Sams. Moorer “tweaked his groin,” according to Tamargo, while Sams took a pitch off his left knee in the ninth inning.
Moorer, injured fielding a sacrifice bunt in the sixth, was replaced by Daniel Cooper, who struck out three of the five batters he faced.
“I thought Cooper threw outstanding for an inning and a third,” Tamargo said. “That’s the best I’ve seen him pitch in a long time.”