GENEVA – A blazing bullpen relay of Brian Smith, Eddie Orozco and Jeffry Antigua handed the Cougars two things Thursday afternoon.
First: A combined one-hitter in a 5-0, seven-inning victory against Peoria.
Second: Plenty of downtime between games of a split doubleheader.
Manager Mark Johnson gave players about three hours on their own before preparing for the nightcap, an 8-2 loss that brought the club back to .500 at 19-19. Some stayed in the clubhouse. Some didn’t. Either way, it wasn’t a bad afternoon to explore the Tri-Cities.
“Yeah, absolutely,” third baseman David Bote said. “Good to see what you’ve got around, you know. I mean, I like seeing it. It’s pretty out here.”
The Chiefs (19-19) would just as soon have looked away from one another after the opener.
Making a spot start, Smith spaced two walks and two strikeouts in four innings while extending his scoreless streak to 10 1/3 innings over four May appearances. A familiar and comfortable approach pushed him through.
“Definitely that’s what my goal is. Pitch inside. Soft away,” Smith said. “It worked out for me today.”
Orozco yielded the lone Peoria hit when Chiefs designated hitter Patrick Wisdom singled to open the fifth. The Cougars promptly erased him on a double play, and Orozco and Antigua retired the final seven hitters in order after that.
Peoria, shut out in the middle two games of a four-game split, could have used a better boost entering a long day at the ballpark.
Although center fielder Nick Martini – a Prairie Ridge alumnus – might have served as a useful Randall corridor tour guide, the Chiefs stayed put, following the usual protocol of life on the road in the Midwest League.
“It’s mostly just baseball and trying to get lifts in and stuff like that,” Martini said.
The Cougars, granted a bonus home game because making up a postponed game in Peoria could not be worked out logistically, can attest.
“I’ve been in those shoes before, too, and that’s not very fun,” Johnson said. “But hey, you get some cards, play, have fun. Whatever you need. Whatever you can do to pass the time.”
About the only Game 2 advantage the Cougars boasted was a niche one. Lefty Michael Heesch got the better of his five-year Prairie Ridge reunion with Martini, retiring his former IHSA 4A state champion teammate twice among his nine outs.
The Cougars committed six errors in the game, as four of Heesch’s six runs were unearned. Peoria limited Kane County to six hits.
Shortstop Marco Hernandez, who finished with a four-hit day, smacked a two-run homer in the second inning to provide a brief lead. Peoria scored six times in the third, then tacked on a pair of unearned runs in the seventh.
Cougars right fielder Bijan Rademacher, a former collegiate pitcher, absorbed that rally along with a come-backer. He shook off any concerns of injury and finished his third relief appearance this season.
As usual, using Rademacher was in the name of saving the bullpen, ideally for performances such as those in Game 1.
“We definitely needed something like that on a day like this,” Smith said.