With over a quarter of the season already in the books, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers continue to struggle at the plate. Over the past week, the team has shown some signs of life offensively. Two of the team's youngest prospects, shortstop Adam Jones and outfielder Wladimir Balentien, are starting to swing the bat for the Timber Rattlers.
On May 24, Balentien was named the Midwest League Co-Player of the Week, sharing the honor with Battle Creek Yankees' pitcher Abel Gomez. During the week of May 16-23, the Timber Rattlers compiled a 4-1 record. Balentien belted three home runs, had 10 RBI and a slugging percentage of 1.188. The 19-year-old from Aruba was 8-16 at the plate during that span.
On May 17, Balentien led an offensive assault by smacking two home runs and driving in five runs in the Rattler's 9-6 win over the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Balentien kept his bat hot two nights later against West Michigan, going 3-5 with one RBI. Balentien closed out his successful stretch on May 22 by hitting his third home run of the week and driving in four runs against West Michigan. Through Thursday, Balentien had the second highest batting average on the team at .260. Despite having missed 16 games with an injury, Balentien has 19 RBI, seven doubles and five home runs.
Another Wisconsin batter who has stepped up to the plate is Jones. Jones was the Mariner's No. 1 draft-pick in 2003 and is regarded as one of the organization's top prospects. He has looked rather shaky defensively, having committed 16 errors already this season, but that is expected for an 18-year-old in his first full season of pro all. Offensively, he's been one of the few bright spots for the Rattlers. On May 25, Jones went deep with a grand slam against the Swing of the Quad Cities. The homer was Jones' third of the season and it helped Wisconsin squeak out a 7-6 win over the Swing. Jones currently leads the team in RBI with 25 while posting a .246 average. The Rattlers are hoping Balentien and Jones will be able to continue to perform offensively in a division known for its pitching.
After a successful home stand, the Rattlers traveled to Quad Cities to start a four game series with the Swing. Wisconsin had a tough time against Quad Cities, losing three of four games. The Swing, who are the Single-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, came into the series with a six-game losing streak. On May 24,the Swing got by the Rattlers 2-1 despite a strong pitching performance by LHP Tom Oldham. Oldham was pitching a shutout until the seventh inning, when he gave up both Quad Cities runs. Wisconsin had one last chance with two out and the tying run at first in the bottom of the ninth. Infielder Jeremy Dutton had drawn a walk and infielder Oswaldo Navarro came in to pinch run for Dutton. But Balentien hit a sharp grounder to short, hitting Navarro and thus ending the game.
The second game of the series saw Wisconsin come back to knock off the Swing 7-6 in 10 innings on May 25. With Quad Cities leading 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Jones hit a grand slam to give Wisconsin a 5-2 lead. The real hero of the game, though, was catcher Justin Ruchti. Ruchti had hit an infield single earlier in the game to help load the bases for Jones. As the Rattlers held on to a 5-4 lead in the eight, Ruchti smacked a double, driving in a run. The Swing came back to tie the game at 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, both Balentien and outfielder Josh Womack singled, putting runners at first and third for Ruchti. The Timber Rattlers' catcher came through in the clutch, driving a sacrifice fly deep to left field, scoring Balentien and winning the game for Wisconsin.
In the third game of the series on May 26, Wisconsin blew a 5-0 lead to lose to Quad Cities 6-5. Starting pitcher Ryan Feierabend had pitched well until getting into trouble in the seventh. Feierabend left the game with a 5-3 lead, having pitched 6.1 innings and allowing four hits. RHP Juan Ovalles came into relieve, trying to preserve the lead, but gave up three runs, including a two-run homer to catcher Kyle Phillips in the eighth.
TheTimber Rattlers ended their trip to Davenport, IA on May 27, getting shut out by the Swing, 1-0. Wisconsin's starting pitcher Nibaldo Acosta gave up just three hits over seven innings, but it wasn't enough. Acosta's only blemish was a solo home run in the second. Quad Cities' starter Adam Harben dominated Wisconsin hitters by throwing eight strikeouts over six innings without allowing a run.The Rattlers tried to rally in the ninth by loading the bases, but Swing reliever Julio DePaula got out of the jam and preserved the 1-0 win. Acosta's record dropped to 2-6 with the loss.
The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers continued their road trip on May 28, losing the first game of a four-game series against the Peoria Chiefs.
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