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Kane County Cougars take series from Fort Wayne

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:21 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, April 11, 2014 8:11 a.m. CST

GENEVA – While Tyler Skulina’s ERA won’t thank him after Thursday’s outing, the starting pitcher and his manager know those stats won’t tell the whole story.

Skulina surrendered five runs in his second start of the season, but he earned his first victory in a 7-5 Cougars win over the Fort Wayne TinCaps at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

Skulina allowed one run and two hits through five innings of work, and after a leadoff double in the sixth, he was one out away from making it one run over six innings. But a two-out double was followed by a pair of singles, and Skulina exited. Reliever Justin Amlung then gave up a two-run double, meaning Skulina’s line ballooned to five runs over 5⅔ innings.

But despite those late struggles to put a bow on his day, Skulina earned good reviews.

“He pitched really well,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “He got ahead of guys and had a decent feel of his secondary pitches. He’s that one guy away right there, and then a little blooper, then a double, and there you go, they’ve got a big number. It’s a positive note for him, though. He threw the ball really well. That’s two outings in a row he’s been consistent and he’s been able to repeat his delivery. It was encouraging.”

Pair Thursday’s outing with his season debut – a no-decision that saw the 6-foot-5 right-hander throw six scoreless innings and allow just two hits – and Skulina is off to a strong start after seeing limited action with the Cougars last season.

“I feel good, very confident out there,” Skulina said. “My command has been a lot better than it has in the past, and that’s what I’m taking away from what I’m doing right now. Really focusing on my command and my fastball, taking advantage of the fact that when you have two strikes on a guy early just to bury him with a slider or something like that. Mostly just that, just making sure my command’s there every day.”

Skulina’s second outing of the season was made easier than his first (a 2-1 Cougars loss) thanks to the Cougars offense, which scored six runs off Fort Wayne starter Walker Weickel in the first two innings.

Right fielder Yasiel Balaguert drove in three runs in those innings. Second baseman Daniel Lockhart and shortstop Carlos Penalver each reached base twice and scored a combined four runs.

Despite being generally shut down by Fort Wayne reliever Payton Baskette over the final six innings, the Cougars (4-3) did score one more in the eighth on an RBI single from first baseman Jacob Rogers.

The seven-run output in the series finale was the team’s highest output since Opening Day, when it scored eight runs in an 8-4 win over Quad Cities.

The Cougars won two out of three games in the series.

“Couldn’t have asked for a better outing by the position players,” Skulina said. “They’re out there swinging away, taking advantage of that guy who struggled a little bit the first inning with his command and stuff like that. Our hitters took some pitches, which was good, took advantage of the ones that were over the plate. It was definitely good to have that six-run spot in those first two innings.”

“They came out swinging the bats,” Johnson said. “When you come out in an 11 o’clock game and bang out six runs the first two innings, it’s encouraging.”

COUGARS' SHORT HOPS
Up next
Cougars (RHP Daury Torrez, 0-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. Captains (RHP Caleb Hamrick, 0-0, 11.25 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280

Nothing extra neededFollowing back-to-back extra-inning affairs against Fort Wayne, the Cougars got to finish things up in the regular nine innings Thursday. It was a good thing, too, according to manager Mark Johnson, who said the taxed bullpens might not have been able to handle any more free baseball.

Cougars relievers Justin Amlung and Tyler Bremer combined to throw 3⅓ innings. After a quick exit from Fort Wayne starter Walker Weickel, another starting pitcher, Payton Baskette, threw six innings for the TinCaps.

“I don’t know if we could’ve done it or they could’ve done it,” Johnson said of another trip into extra innings. “That Baskette kid, he came in and really picked them up.”

Thursday marked just the third time in seven games this season the Cougars played a nine-inning game.

LifesaverReliever Tyler Bremer recorded the Cougars’ first save of the season with a scoreless ninth inning Thursday. After the game, manager Mark Johnson said Bremer could be an effective ninth-inning arm for the team moving forward.

“He’s got the presence and the capacity mentally to handle that role,” Johnson said. “And he’s got three pitches he can throw for strikes, and at this level that’s what you need. You need to come in and throw strikes and don’t get beat to the pull side and mix your pitches. And he does that.”

Light of dayThe Cougars won their first day game of the season. They were 0-3 in their previous matinees.

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