GENEVA – Cougars right fielder Bijan Rademacher appeared as a reliever for the second time this season Monday.
Position players pitching undoubtedly signifies a blowout, but this much is also true: The Cougars played .600 ball in the 20 games between Rademacher relief efforts.
Trailing Dayton, 11-1, in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Cougars recovered to bring the potential tying run to the plate in an 11-8 loss. Sensing such resilience was tougher when Rademacher took the ball for a soggy ninth inning April 10.
Not so much anymore.
“We know as a group, hey, keep playing like we do, we’re going to win,” Rademacher said. “We’ve seen a lot of teams out there and we know we’re better than a lot of teams. I think we can really run with it and we can keep going.”
Dayton (10-20) put the Cougars’ six-game winning streak in peril by striking early and often against right-hander Lendy Castillo, a converted infielder and former Rule 5 draft pick of the parent Cubs.
Among the eight runs and eight hits Castillo surrendered in four innings were home runs from Dragons left fielder Jesse Winker and first baseman Nick O’Shea. O’Shea, who opened the season 0 for 13 before landing on the disabled list, was batting in the .140s entering the game.
Cougars manager Mark Johnson said Castillo simply is allowing hitters to see the ball too easily after Castillo’s ERA swelled to 9.39. It might sound bizarre, but there could be a lesson in watching Rademacher’s approach. To a point.
Left-handed reliever Matt Iannazzo, one of several pitchers who lockers near Rademacher in the back of the Kane County (14-14) clubhouse, shook his head “no” when asked if the bullpen offers advice to Rademacher, a natural lefty who also flirted with 90 mph when he threw as a righty in high school.
“As long as he goes out there and throws strikes, he does his job out there,” Iannazzo said.
Although he pitched at Orange Coast (Calif.) College, the Cubs scouted Rademacher as a speedy, gap-hitting outfielder.
Along with working a 1-2-3 ninth, Rademacher went 3 for 5 with an RBI, delivering his fourth successive multihit game while raising his average to a team-leading .353.
Pin-Chieh Chen (two hits), Dan Vogelbach and Wes Darvill added two RBIs apiece for the Cougars. Shortstop Marco Hernandez struck out with two men aboard to end the game, one of the few times in the late stages the Cougars did not square up Dragons pitching.
“I’m just happy with them keeping their focus in that game right there,” Cougars hitting coach Tom Beyers said. “You’ve got to be careful as hitters there that you don’t go up there and make early outs when you’re down like that. We drew a lot of runs, got runners on and then got big hits.”
For Rademacher, rallying was as simple as giddily accepting a bullpen assignment from Johnson or pitching coach Ron Villone.
“Down 10 that early, it kind of helps us coming back because we know the other pitcher doesn’t want to walk us. He wants to just work quick, so he’s going to pound the ball a lot with fastballs,” Rademacher said. “So it works to our benefit. I mean, if we were just on time with the fastball. I know a lot of us were. That’s how we string a couple hits together.”