GENEVA – Albert Almora struck out looking in his first-at bat Thursday night in the bottom of the first.
Almora’s bat didn’t stay on his shoulders for long.
The Cubs’ 2012 first-round draft choice swatted run-scoring hits in each of his next three at-bats – including a pair of extra-base hits – to lead the Cougars to a 4-1 win Thursday against the Burlington Bees at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Bees starting pitcher Alex Keudell fooled Almora once, but there would be no repeat.
“He made a good pitch to me, a back-door slider, and he struck me out,” Almora said. “It was the same count the second at-bat, same pitch he struck me out with, and I just took it the other way.”
Almora’s run-scoring, opposite field slice rolled all the way to the wall when Burlington right fielder Kyle Johnson lost his footing. The speedy Almora said he thought about trying to make it all the way home once Johnson slipped but he heeded the stop sign after pulling in to third base.
Cougars manager Mark Johnson was impressed with Almora going opposite field for the two-strike hit.
“That’s what makes him a pretty impressive hitter,” Johnson said. “He’s got the power but he can also shorten up with two strikes and put the ball in play.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Almora lined an RBI single to left field to give the Cougars the lead for good at 2-1. He doubled down the left field line in the seventh, then took third when Burlington’s throw home was too late to prevent the Cougars from taking a 3-1 lead.
Almora’s 3 for 4, three RBI night bumped his batting average to .430 through 79 at-bats with the Cougars (29-34).
Having arrived in Geneva in late May, it’s safe to say Almora is making himself comfortable in the Midwest League.
“Great team, great atmosphere; I love playing here,” Almora said.
Almora’s big night supplied sufficient support for Cougars right-hander Tayler Scott, who pitched 7 2/3 innings of one-run, two-hit ball. Scott (4-2) walked three and struck out two.
“He’s still young and he’s still trying to repeat his delivery on a more consistent basis,” Johnson said of Scott. “Hell get out of whack. He’s such a good athlete that he tries to do more than what he needs to do. He’s starting to figure out that less is more on a more consistent basis.”
It was an airtight night for the Cougars’ defense, Scott included. He fielded a pair of consecutive, sharply hit come-backers on the ground to close out the top of the seventh.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach bounced an RBI grounder to cap the scoring for the Cougars in the seventh.
Cougars leadoff man Bijan Rademacher reached base in three of his four at-bats, including a pair of walks.
The Cougars will begin a three-game home series with Wisconsin tonight that will close the first half of the season ahead of Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Game in Dayton, Ohio.