GENEVA – Despite another strong outing by a starting pitcher and an early four-run lead, the Kane County Cougars’ bullpen couldn’t close the deal Monday.
Cougars starter Michael Heesch went six innings and allowed two runs against the visiting Peoria Chiefs, but the Chiefs tagged the Kane County bullpen for five runs in the top of the seventh and held on to hand the Cougars a 9-6 defeat at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Heesch turned in a solid performance for the second time in three starts and bounced back from a rough outing last time out. The left-hander struck out five and lowered his ERA to 3.21 on the season.
He yielded to Brian Smith to start the seventh, but the reliever had a nightmarish afternoon, facing eight batters, retiring only two and giving up five runs. When Heesch left, the Cougars led 5-2. But when Matt Iannazzo – the seventh inning’s second relief pitcher – finally ended the inning, it was a 7-5 Peoria advantage.
Only one of the runs Smith surrendered in the seventh was on an error, but the damage speaks for itself. Iannazzo continued the trend, walking the first two batters he faced. The first free pass loaded the bases, and the second forced in a run.
“In this league and lower levels, if you throw strikes and catch the ball, usually you’re in pretty good shape,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “[If] they hit it out of the park, they hit it out of the park, but we have to throw strikes. ... You’ve got to make them put it in play, especially at this level. You can’t give them too much credit. For whatever reason, we just couldn’t get it over the plate.”
Cougars first baseman Dan Vogelbach hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh to pull the Cougars within one, but the Chiefs scored two insurance runs in the ninth off Iannazzo to cement the win.
The bullpen erased a good day for Heesch, the latest in a recent string of solid outings by Cougars starting pitchers.
Heesch credited the rotation’s recent success to more consistency in the schedule.
“With all the rainouts and everything, we’re kind of getting back into a rotation, so we’ll see this time through and the second time through getting back into the five-man [rotation] and having consistent days rest,” Heesch said. “You lose a lot of rhythm, especially coming off spring training early on. It’s nice in the middle of the season but not early on when you’re trying to establish a rhythm. But I think we’ve handled it pretty well as a staff.”
The Cougars built their initial lead by scoring five runs in the first two innings, highlighted by shortstop Marco Hernandez’s two-run double in the first.
Designated hitter Rock Shoulders, who is off to a scorching start for Kane County, saw his six-game hitting streak snapped after finishing 0 for 2 Monday, but he still reached base three times, all by walks.
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Cougars (RHP Lendy Castillo) vs. Peoria (LHP Joe Cuda), 11 a.m. today, AM-1280
Turnstile report Monday’s crowd of 7,025 pushed the Cougars’ season total to 39,324 fans in 11 home games. Kane County attracted 40,713 through 11 games last season.
Sight seen It was a battle of stamina between the two bullpens, but this had nothing to do with the game. After the conclusion of the national anthem, the two bullpens stood in place down the lines, lined up single file with caps on their chests. It took an entire half inning for someone to give in. The Cougars ’pen tipped their hats and took their seats as the bottom of the first started, sending the Peoria relievers into exuberance at their victory in this endurance test.
Cubs brass will be excited because It might not have been like the multihit games he turned in over the weekend, but Rock Shoulders reached base three times, walking three times and raising his on-base percentage to .486.
Cubs brass will cringe because Third baseman Jeimer Candelario made a pair of throwing errors on the afternoon. He now has five errors through 16 games. Also, reliever Brian Smith walked a pair in his 2/3 innings of work Monday. He leads the team with seven free passes issued this season.
The closer Though Cougars starting pitcher Michael Heesch has an ERA of 3.21, surrendered just five earned runs all season and turned in two solid outings in three starts this season, he’s still looking for his first win. He ranks second on the team with 12 strikeouts.