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Even Cubs reinforcement can't revive Cougars

Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013 5:33 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, July 20, 2013 7:31 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sean King)
The Cubs' Scott Baker, making a rehab start with the Cougars, pitches Friday against Great Lakes at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva. The Cougars lost, 8-6, in a rain-shortened contest.

GENEVA – Cubs right-hander Scott Baker treated the Cougars to dinner at a nearby Outback Steakhouse after Sunday’s rehab start at West Michigan.

Upon exiting Friday’s home start against Great Lakes, Baker’s 15.88 Midwest League ERA looked like the tab after a six-ounce sirloin and soft drink.

Mending from April 2012 Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, Baker admittedly scuffled during his 2 2/3 innings in the Cougars’ 8-6 loss to the Loons, which was shortened to seven innings because of rain.

After 60 pitches, six runs, six hits, three walks and one strikeout, all Baker knew was his mechanics still lagged.

“I’ve been doing this for awhile, so I know to sit here and dwell over this outing or try to read into it too much just really is not going to do myself any good,” said Baker, who has not made a major league start since September 2011. “Just try to make the adjustments, focus on the things that I need to work on, and really that’s all that matters right now.”

The Cougars (35-57 overall, 5-21 second half) got Baker off the hook for what could have been his second rehab loss when designated hitter Jeimer Candelario launched a game-tying, two-run homer in the fifth.

Three innings earlier, second baseman Gioskar Amaya smacked a two-run homer to help atone for an error that prolonged the Loons’ four-run first.

The Cougars also made an error behind Baker in his outing Sunday, when he spaced four runs and six hits in three innings.

Friday marked the fourth time Kane County played behind a pitcher from the parent Cubs. Recently released reliever Shawn Camp made two appearances in June.

“I don’t think much changed for anybody [Sunday],” third baseman Giuseppe Papaccio said. “We just tried to play our game and just do what we could to make plays behind him. It didn’t go as well as we all planned, but with things like that, you just try to take it with a grain of salt. Just play, and play the same way you’ve been playing.”

Baker harped on a similar refrain after struggling to find his velocity and command. The 31-year-old, who signed with the Cubs in November after the Minnesota Twins declined his option, did not hit 90 mph, per the stadium radar gun, and walked the leadoff batter all three times.

Great Lakes (45-53, 18-10), which swept the three-game series to send the Cougars to their 10th loss in 11 games, struck for three extra-base hits against Baker.

That surge was highlighted by a pair of RBI doubles from Loons center fielder James Baldwin III – the son of the former White Sox starting pitcher.

Perhaps the Baldwins could converse with Baker about the differences between minor and major league baseballs. While Baker stressed it ultimately made no difference, he indicated the minor league ball is slightly smaller and more prone to movement in his various rehab outings.

“Probably the layperson is not going to pick it up and feel the difference,” Baker said, “but you pick up enough baseballs and, you know. ...”

A 53-minute weather delay that ultimately shortened the game came with the Loons batting in the top of the eighth. Great Lakes tallied the winning run in the seventh on a Leo Rodriguez sacrifice fly. The Loons scored again on a Michael Heesch wild pitch two batters later.

Several fans waited under the concourse or outfield picnic decks in the hopes of seeing a Cougars comeback and a postgame fireworks display, which also was washed out.

Despite Baker’s struggles, Naperville’s John Fernbach and his family – who also witnessed a Camp rehab outing – were happy to see a big leaguer at a minor league price.

“What a great way to be able to send a guy down to be able to do some rehab 40 minutes away,” Fernbach said. “I think it’s great. Exciting. But a bummer. I was waiting for them to come back. They were hitting the ball tonight.”

So were the Loons. Just ask Baker.

SHORT HOPS

Up next Cougars RHP Felix Pena (2-3, 3.60 ERA) vs. Lansing RHP Kendall Graveman (0-0, 0.00 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280

Turnstile report Friday’s crowd of 6,678 pushed the Cougars’ season total to 244,280 fans in 43 home games. Kane County attracted 215,804 fans through the same span last season.

The Cougars must draw at least 2,121 fans tonight to reach the 10 million mark in franchise history. They would become the first Class-A organization to do so.

Sight seen Would you believe three mascots/characters in one Ozzie Race? In addition to the eponymous Cougars mascot, we saw Doc Fox of Fox Valley Orthopedics help Ozzie as he pulled up lame rounding third base with a sizable lead. Moments later, a swashbuckling man playing Jack Sparrow ran alongside and rooted a young fan to victory.

Cubs celebrity watch Cubs minor league outfield/baserunning coordinator Lee Tinsley is in town for the rest of the homestand, which concludes Monday.

“[The message] is probably a little more simplified here, but it’s pretty much the same scenarios,” said Tinsley, a former major leaguer.

Cubs brass will be excited because Second baseman Gioskar Amaya collected two hits – including a home run – and three RBIs in his first two at-bats. He entered the game batting .358 in July.

Cubs brass will cringe because Cubs righty Scott Baker, who’s recovering from April 2012 Tommy John surgery, made his second bumpy rehab start in as many outings with the Cougars. He needed 34 pitches to escape a four-run, four-hit first inning and allowed six runs and six hits in 2 2/3 innings overall.

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