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KC Cougars

Bullpen finds way to keep game interesting

Members of the Kane County Cougars bullpen concede to the Peoria Chiefs bullpen after both sets of pitchers stood for an entire inning.
Members of the Kane County Cougars bullpen concede to the Peoria Chiefs bullpen after both sets of pitchers stood for an entire inning.

GENEVA – Last week’s bullpen “stand-off” between the Cougars and Peoria Chiefs at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark figures to have legs down the road.

Kind of like the relievers fond of being upright for a change.

Following protocol that sprouts up from time to time around the minor leagues, the Cougars’ and Chiefs’ relief corps remained standing after the national anthem. The object? Outlast the other bullpen before sitting down.

“It’s just a great feel on both sides. Just trying to mix things up, keep the game interesting, you know,” Cougars left-hander Nathan Dorris said. “It gets kind of long sitting out there in the bullpen all those games. So we think of those little things just to keep things fun.”

Above, you’ll see photo evidence of the Cougars appearing to concede their “stand-off” to Peoria at the end of the first inning. There’s a corresponding shot of Chiefs relievers celebrating.

Dorris did well to mix hyperbole into his remarks on the gimmick – “I started to black out there for a little bit, losing blood circulation,” he said – but he and a few teammates were adamant the Chiefs sunk themselves on an important technicality.

“We definitely won. It’s a matter of fact,” Dorris said. “They had a starting pitcher break their line to go back to the dugout, which qualifies as a loss.”

Far be it from anyone to value the real game over the standing contest within it.

Unlike the 140-game schedule – the first full season for many players in the Midwest League – stand-offs are arranged spontaneously. The practice has its share of cousins in the minors, including the traditional “share a team bat until it breaks” seen in many regular season finales.

This particular stand-off came about when Cougars reliever Matt Iannazzo spoke with a friend on the Chiefs during batting practice earlier in the series.

“It has to be an unreal feel throughout the whole bullpen to have everything coordinated and whatnot,” Cougars righty Stephen Perakslis said.

Ultimately, relievers know their focus remains on retiring opposing hitters.

The Cougars, whose 4.92 team ERA ranked last in the 16-team MWL entering Wednesday, should be especially eager to tackle that task.

Dorris, who has struck out 13 batters in 102/3 innings, has been one of the top options.

“I love to pitch, so any time I can get out there and compete, it’s a good day,” he said. “Every day, I try to just get out there and throw strikes and let my defense do their job, and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that thus far.”

Who's hot
Catcher Yaniel Cabezas is batting .545 (6 for 11) since his April 25 return from a season-opening stint on the disabled list.

Who's not
Third baseman Jeimer Candelario had one hit in 21 at-bats over the Cougars' recent six-game road trip to Fort Wayne and Lake County (Ohio). He walked once in each game during that stretch.

Star watch
Bowling Green center fielder Andrew Toles – in town with the Hot Rods for a three-game series at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark that began Wednesday – was a third-round draft pick of the parent Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. Toles' father was a first-round NFL draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1985.

Two of reliever Justin Amlung's team-leading three victories have come away from Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. ... The Cougars lost two of three games to Bowling Green on the Hot Rods' only other visit to Geneva, in June 2011. Bowling Green joined the Midwest League from the South Atlantic League in 2010. ... The Cougars The Cougars unveiled spiffy Chewbacca-themed jerseys for Saturday's "Star Wars Night", a 6:30 p.m. first pitch against Dayton. The uniform tops look like Wookiee fur with Chewy's bandolier strap draped over the left shoulder. "Cougars" appears in green "Star Wars" font over the chest, stitched over a horizontal lightsaber.

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