GENEVA – Rock Shoulders, Dan Vogelbach, Willson Contreras and Oliver Zapata combined to hit each of the Cougars’ 16 home runs through Tuesday.
That hasn’t kept the rest of their teammates from trying to join the club.
“They’re young, and no matter what you say, they’re going to try to hit home runs at times, and that’s just a learning curve that they’ve got to go through,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “And it’ll fix itself.”
Hitting coach Tom Beyers already has seen players settle into their skill sets, or at least the elements.
While the season’s first five weeks have produced plenty of precipitation, many of the sunnier games at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark were contested with the wind blowing in.
This week’s Dayton series, in which the Cougars won two of three games, was an example.
The Cougars tallied 16 runs and 30 hits during the series but hit just one home run. The club also coaxed 17 walks against Dragons pitching.
“Sometimes you have to stay pretty much on a line,” Beyers said. “Anything in the air is going to be an out unless you hit it down the lines.”
Slugging first baseman Dan Vogelbach smacked 17 home runs in 61 games over two levels in 2012. He entered his first full season with substantial expectations from the organization and the fan base.
Early-season inconsistency – largely the result of a series of postponements – contributed to a lack of home runs and extra-base hits. The extra down time also allowed Vogelbach to consult Beyers and Johnson, whose primary message to the well-regarded prospect was one of patience.
A Florida native, Vogelbach noted how Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton hit 37 home runs last season despite going deep just once in April.
“Early on, I was trying to do too much,” said Vogelbach, who homered five times in April. “I talked to MJ and I talked to some guys, and I’ve just got to let the game come to me. The power numbers weren’t there early, and I was panicking a little bit trying to force it instead of just letting it happen.”
Johnson says that’s a product of following Beyers’ tutelage on line drives.
Right fielder Bijan Rademacher can attest. While Rademacher hasn’t homered in 57 Midwest League games over the past two seasons, he’s hitting .353 this spring and was 10 for his last 16 entering Wednesday.
“I’ve done a good job of squaring balls up,” Rademacher said. “I mean, early on they were right at people, so my stats didn’t really show that. But me and Tommy have seen it and we’re both happy about how I’m hitting. And right now, they’re just falling.”
Whether the landing point is the stands or the outfield, that’s the idea.
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or email@example.com.
IN THE COUGARS' DEN
Right fielder Bijan Rademacher batted just less than .500 (11 for 23) during a 5-1 homestand against Bowling Green and Dayton. He entered Wednesday's series opener at Burlington with four straight multi-hit games.
Since limiting Clinton to one run in five innings in his season debut, righty Lendy Castillo has surrendered 26 runs – 23 earned – in 18 innings over four starts.
Burlington left-hander Ryan Crowley, a Berwyn product, was named Midwest League pitcher of the week for the final week of April. Crowley, who was set to start Wednesday's series opener against the Cougars, had more strikeouts (22) than hits allowed (21) through five starts and 25 innings.
After Tuesday, the Cougars (14-14) were 6.5 games behind Western Division-leading Cedar Rapids and 3.5 back of first-half wild-card leader Quad Cities. ... Lefty Michael Heesch retired 20 consecutive Dayton batters during Sunday's 7 1/3 shutout innings. ... Registration remains open for the Cougars' second annual Ozzie's Home Run & Walk 5K on May 18. To sign up or learn more about the event – which starts and finishes on the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark field – log on to kccougars.com.
– Kevin Druley, firstname.lastname@example.org