GENEVA — Two familiar faces were back in Cougars uniforms on Monday. One’s been gone a month. The other was making his first appearance with the team in a year. And the two were equally deserving of headlines in the series-finale against the Cedar Rapids Kernels, a 2-1 win for the Cougars.
With the win, the Cougars finished the first half of the season with a 28-7 home record. They play their final games of the first half on the road.
Cubs outfielder Ryan Sweeney started his rehab assignment with the Cougars on Monday, his second such appearance with the Class A affiliate in as many seasons. He played in just one game in his 2013 stint, going 1 for 4 in that contest. He went 0-for-2 against Cedar Rapids — which is coincidentally where he grew up – walking in his first plate appearance, lining out to second in his second and grounding out to first in his third.
He’s supposed to be sticking around a little longer this time while recovering from a hamstring injury that’s kept him out of MLB action since May 2. Cougars manager Mark Johnson said before Monday’s game that the plan was to play Sweeney six to seven innings Monday, then to play him three full games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Peoria.
“He feels great, ready to go. He wants to play,” Johnson said after the game. “He’s supposed to DH tomorrow, but he’s like, ‘I’m ready to play.’ It’s up to the guys in Chicago. He feels really good, though. It’s always a plus when you come to an affiliate and you play, you’re out of sorts, out of routine and you come out of the game feeling good. That’s positive.”
Johnson said his players aren’t starstruck by the big leaguer, but Sweeney left an impression on those he meets in Kane County.
"I came later to the field and just hit BP and got my stuff done,” Sweeney said before the game. “Some of the guys that are here this year are guys that were here last year, too, so I had said hi to a few of them."
"We just say hi, who we are,” said Cougars outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr., who watched Sweeney play with the Oakland A’s on TV when he was a high schooler in San Jose, California. “I mean, he's a big leaguer, we're just going to let him do his thing, and hopefully we learn a thing or two about what he does."
The other returnee was pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng, the 19-year-old hurler from Taiwan who has been on the disabled list for a month. He hadn’t pitched since May 9 but made his seventh start with the Cougars this season Monday, receiving a no-decision after throwing just three innings.
The results were pretty good: Tseng allowed one run on a pair of hits, striking out three.
“Great to have Tseng back, his stuff is just outstanding,” Johnson said. “You could tell he’s a little bit off. The first inning he made a lot of pitches. … The last two innings, he was all right. Ended on a positive note.
“Exactly what I hoped to see happen.”
Short outings are nothing out of the ordinary for the youngster this season. While Monday marked his shortest start of the season, he’s had just one reach six innings. Johnson said the plan was to have Tseng throw 50 pitches in his first game back.
The Cougars offense came to Tseng’s rescue in the fourth inning, plating a pair of runs to take the lead and get him off the hook for a loss. First baseman Jacob Rogers tripled off the wall to score third baseman Jordan Hankins. Shortstop Daniel Lockhart later drove in Rogers with a sacrifice fly. Those were the Cougars’ only two runs in a game otherwise dominated by pitching.
• Kevin Druley contributed to this report.