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KC Cougars

Top of the order humming but Cougars still fall

Cougars shortstop Marco Hernandez catches a toss from second baseman Gioskar 
Amaya (background) to get a force out at second base during Saturday's game 
against Wisconsin at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva.
Cougars shortstop Marco Hernandez catches a toss from second baseman Gioskar Amaya (background) to get a force out at second base during Saturday's game against Wisconsin at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva.

GENEVA – The Cougars' surging 1-2 punch atop their lineup is putting the offense in sweet position.

It didn't matter much Saturday, though, due to another meltdown on the mound by starting pitcher Dillon Maples.

Maples didn't survive the first inning, putting the Cougars in too deep of a hole as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers knocked off the Cougars at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, 11-5.

Cougars leadoff hitter Bijan Rademacher and No. 2 hitter Albert Almora continued to click offensively, combining for five hits. Almora notched hits in each of his first two at-bats, extending his hitting streak to 13 games.

"I like hitting in front of Albert, especially when he's hot like this, because they're going to give me pitches," Rademacher said. "They're not going to want me on first base because I can steal second and all of the sudden Albert's going to get a base hit and we've got 1-0 right there, real quick."

Rademacher, new to the leadoff role, showcased his offensive versatility, notching an RBI double, bunting for a hit and crushing a first-pitch fastball over the right field wall for a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The bunt has long been a key part of Rademacher's game. 

"For the most part my whole career I've been able to bunt the ball whenever I've wanted to, whatever pitch is there," Rademacher said. "I've been successful at it. College, that's all we did, we had hour practices bunting, so that's where I really honed in the skill, and I've just carried it over to pro ball."

Rademacher (.331 batting average), Almora (.420 batting average) and the rest of the offense were doomed to play catch-up baseball when Maples couldn't find the strike zone for the second straight outing.

One start after lasting only two innings in a wild outing against Cedar Rapids, Maples was unable to complete an inning against the Timber Rattlers, throwing more than 40 pitches in allowing four runs on four walks and two hits.

"It's an organizational policy if a guy goes over 35 pitches in one inning, he can't go back out," Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. "That's an organizational thing, and usually if they go over 35 or 40, you've got to go get him. So that's out of our hands. That's just what we have to do as an organization to protect our players."

A 14th round selection by the Cubs in the 2011 draft, Maples commanded a $2.5 million signing bonus, but is now mired in a severe rut that Johnson said might be both physical and mental.

"When you don't throw strikes or you don't locate the way you want to, I think it's a combination of both," Johnson said. "And if it isn't, it will be. You can't help but think about why you're not making your pitches or why you're not locating."

Justin Amlung, Felix Pena and Lendy Castillo chewed up the remaining 8-plus innings for the Cougars (29-36), with Pena throwing four innings of one-run relief.

Cougars middle-of-the-order threat Rock Shoulders, who has slumped somewhat after a torrid start to the season, was given Saturday off.

"He hasn't been where he was the first two months of the season, which is obvious, but he comes to the field ready to work and ready to get better every single day, and that's how you get better," Johnson said. 

Wisconsin (29-35) will go for the series sweep Sunday afternoon in the final game of the season's first half for both teams. The Midwest League All-Star Game is Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.

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