Kane County Notes: Dowling, Rodriguez Shine

GENEVA, IL - After a poor start to the season, the Kane County Cougars are slowly putting together some wins thanks to some strong starting pitching and increased offensive production. The Cougars got good helpings of both on Thursday, as they manhandled the Clinton LumberKings. Matt Bailey has the details inside...

Kane County Cougars' pitcher Henry Rodriguez came into Thursday's game against the Clinton LumberKings with a 2-3 record and a 3.51 ERA. On Thursday night, Rodriguez was dominant, as he shut down one of the Midwest League's premier hitting teams by hurling five innings of scoreless ball while giving up seven hits and striking out seven en route to leading the Cougars to a 8-0 victory at Elfstrom Stadium.

Cougars' manager Aaron Nieckula talked about Rodriguez's ability to make pitches throughout the evening when he needed to.

"Rodriguez minimized the damage today in every inning," Nieckula said. "When guys got on base, he took care of business out there. He went five strong, qualified for the win and the bullpen came in and shut the door."

The Cougars jumped on the LumberKings in the bottom of the third inning scoring three runs. SS Samuel Hernandez led off the inning with a single which was followed by another single from LF Toddric Johnson. After LumberKings starting pitcher Broc Coffman walked 3B Alex Valdez to load the bases, CF Mike Massaro hit a deep sacrifice fly to score Hernandez.

After Coffman issued another walk to 2B Larry Cobb to reload the bases, RF Jermaine Mitchell hit into a fielder's choice but easily beat out the double play attempt to score Johnson from third. 1B Greg Dowling followed Mitchell's RBI with one of his own, drilling a ball up the middle for team's third run of the inning.

The Cougars were able to get timely hits most of the game, something they haven't been able to do all year. Heading into the game the team was batting only .222 with runners in scoring position, a statistic Nieckula knows the team must improve upon in order to succeed.

"We're a team that doesn't hit the ball out of the ballpark on a consistent basis so when we have runners in scoring position we need to come through," Nieckula said.

"Our batting average has started to move up with runners in scoring position and as a manager that's what you want to see. If it's moving the other way you're in trouble."

The three runs we're more than enough for the Cougars, as recently promoted pitcher Shane Presutti relieved Rodriguez and hurled three innings of scoreless ball himself.

"Rodriguez went out and set the tone a Presutti came in and finished out for us," Nieckula said in regards to his pitchers' performance on the day.

"Your hitting is going to come and go at times but your pitching should never slump. If our bullpen can come in and shut the door, we're going to be in good shape."

The Cougars continued to tack on runs late in the game as both Massaro and Valdez hit their first and fourth home runs on the year respectively.

Nieckula was especially happy when the Cougars plated a run in the fourth inning off a walk. The Oakland A's organization as a whole preaches selective hitting and waiting for the correct pitch. Johnson showed this kind of discipline at the plate as he willingly walked to first and got an RBI due to the bases being loaded.

"If you don't get a pitch to hit, take a walk," added Nieckula about the bases loaded situation.

"Don't go out of your element because you're pressing. There is a guy behind you that would be happy to drive in the runs. I was very happy with our patience at the plate tonight."

Derrick Gordon came into the game in the ninth and retired the LumberKings batters to preserve the shut out for the team.

Broc Coffman shouldered the loss for Clinton as his record fell to 5-2 on the year. With the victory, Rodriguez now improves to 3-3.

The Cougars split their four-game series against the LumberKings and improved their record to 22-44 on the year.

Dowling had four singles on the day for the Cougars. He has six hits in his last seven at-bats and is batting .284 on the year. For the month of June, Dowling has a .348 batting average and 10 RBI in 12 games. Valdez added two hits including the home run in the eighth inning.

The Cougars return to action today hosting Burlington in a game slated for 6:00 p.m. Trevor Cahill will make his sixth start in a Cougars uniform while Ryan DiPietro will take the mound for Burlington.

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