GENEVA – Michael Perez was a one-man wrecking crew for South Bend, homering off Cougars starting pitcher Duane Underwood in the second and fifth innings. He didn't have much help, though.
Aside from Perez, the Silver Hawks managed only one hit off Underwood in Underwood's five innings, during which he struck out seven batters. Underwood and the Cougars opened their six-game homestand Wednesday with a 5-2 win in front of 5,382 fans at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Despite the long balls and what he called some "wasted pitches" that escalated Underwood's pitch count, Cougars manager Mark Johnson was impressed by the right-hander.
"Those two home runs, the guy's just a dead pull fastball guy, and [Underwood] has a good fastball," Johnson said. "So it was strength against strength, and sometimes you lose and you learn from it."
Underwood (5-2) was mostly effective despite pitching with a cold.
"I get a shot once every six days, so I've got to take advantage of it every time," Underwood said. "If I feel like I'm good enough to try and get the ballclub a win, I've got to throw the ball."
Left-handed Cougars relief pitcher Gerardo Concepcion escaped a tense scenario in the top of the eight. With the Cougars protecting their 5-2 lead, South Bend loaded the bases and Silver Hawks slugger Stryker Trahan had a 3-1 count, but Concepcion battled back to catch Trahan looking for strike three with a fastball on the outside corner.
"He turned the page and started being aggressive again," Johnson said. "He started getting on top of the ball and pounding his fastball, and he came back. That shows a lot of guts and a lot of confidence."
Concepcion pitched three innings of scoreless relief before right-hander Jose Arias earned the save in an uneventful ninth.
Cougars right fielder Kevin Brown enjoyed a dynamite night. Batting out of the No. 8 hole, Brown went 3 for 4 with a pair of RBIs. His bid for a four-hit night ended with a lineout to shortstop Andrew Velazquez in the bottom of the eighth.
A disputed call benefited the Cougars in a big way in the bottom of the third. After Jacob Rogers reached on an error by South Bend second baseman Jamie Westbrook, a snap throw to third base appeared to catch the Cougars' Carlos Penalver in a baserunning gaffe, but Penalver was called safe, prompting an argument from South Bend manager Mark Haley.
Haley might have argued harder if he'd known what would come next. The play at third base would have been the final out of the inning, but instead, it left the bags loaded for third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who sliced a single to left field to score a pair of runs, giving Kane County a 3-1 lead.
Cougars DH Cael Brockmeyer added a pair of doubles and two RBIs as the Cougars snapped a three-game losing streak.
The Cougars (65-36 overall, 20-11 second half) outhit the Silver Hawks, 11-4, and were errorless defensively while South Bend committed a trio of errors.
South Bend (Omahen, 4-4) at Cougars (Tseng, 5-0), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
While Triple-A infielder Javy Baez remains one of the most heralded Cubs prospects, the Cougars added a Baez of their own Wednesday.
Outfielder Jeffrey Baez joined the Cougars from Short-A Boise as the Cougars promoted center fielder Jake Hannemann to Advanced-A Daytona.
Baez batted .267 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs and stole 15 bases in 38 games this year with Boise.
Hannemann, a highly regarded defensive center fielder, batted .254 with six home runs, 39 RBIs and stole a team-high 32 bases for the Cougars. A Brigham Young product, Hannemann was the Cubs’ third-round draft pick in 2013.
Wednesday’s game marked the beginning of a grueling 40 game in 41 days stretch to cap the regular season.
It also was the first game of a six-game homestand, with West Michigan coming to town after South Bend completes its three-game stay in Geneva.
On all fours
The Cougars staged “Bark at the Park” night as dogs were welcome to roam the field before the game and the concourse and lawn thereafter.