GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – In front of a crowd of 3,036 packed into the newly-renovated version of Fox Cities Stadium, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ 2013 home opener was spoiled Monday, Apr. 8 by the Cedar Rapids Kernels by a score of 10-2.
The loss dropped the defending Midwest League champions to a 2-3 record through five regular-season contests.
Rattlers’ starting pitcher Preston Gainey struggled from the opening pitch, walking the first two batters of the ballgame before Kernels first-baseman Dalton Hicks plated both runners with a double down the right field line. Right-fielder Adam Brett Walker followed suit by doubling down the left field line, scoring Hicks. By the end of the first frame, Cedar Rapids led Wisconsin 3-0.
The second inning yielded similar results for Gainey.
After walking catcher Jairo Rodriguez and left fielder J.D. Williams in succession, Gainey proceeded to allow a home run off center fielder Byron Buxton, which extended Cedar Rapids’ lead to 6-0. He would finish out the remainder of the inning unscathed, but after tossing a clean third inning was pulled in favor of reliever Eric Semmelhack.
One of the few bright spots for the Rattlers came in the fourth inning. After a double by right fielder Mitch Haniger, which put a man in scoring position for just the second time in the ballgame, Clint Coulter mashed a belt-high fastball from Kernels starter David Hurlbut off the scoreboard the left center, cutting the lead to 6-2.
Coulter would account for the last Rattlers’ run of the contest, however, and the Kernels would continue to swing the bat with efficiency.
In the very next frame, Cedar Rapids third baseman Travis Harrison belted a solo home run off Semmelhack, putting the Kernels up 7-2 in the top of the fifth inning. Semmelhack finished the fifth without allowing any more runs to cross home, and did the same in the sixth and seventh innings.
But it was the eighth inning that put the game out of reach for the Rattlers.
After putting Williams on base via a walk and watching him steal second base six pitches later, second baseman Candido Williams reached first base on a throwing error from Rattlers’ shortstop Orlando Arica. Williams scored, increasing the lead to 8-2.
Semmelhack pressed on by conceding a double and intentional walk, putting two men on base. Both base-runners scored on a single from Walker, which put Cedar Rapids up 10-2 at the end of eight innings.
A clean inning from reliever Rodolfo Fernandez in the top of the ninth, Rattlers’ second baseman Chris McFarland struck out swinging with two gone in the bottom of the ninth, ending whatever hope remained for a comeback.
Though his offense could not seem to get in a groove at the plate, manager Matt Erickson realized that wasn’t the key to his team’s loss Monday night. Rather, it was his club’s performance on the mound. Gainey, Semmelhack and Fernandez together threw 159 pitches, and just 87 — 54 percent — were strikes.
“In the first three games we had some pretty good starting pitching,” said Erickson. “They attacked the zone and we didn’t allow a lot of free bases. Today, we had way too many walks and they scored three runs in three different innings.”
“In the last two days, we’ve had some starting pitching that struggled early and put us in a hole. We’ve seen both sides here in the early season. If we can use those as examples and show it to them (his players), hopefully they can go out and execute a little bit better.”
Erickson had nothing but high praise for Coulter, however, whose fourth-inning home run was the first of his short-lived stay with the Rattlers. He hit five home runs in 49 games last season with the rookie-level Helena Brewers.
“Every day he steps on the field is going to be a learning experience for him,” Erickson said about Coulter. “He’s been pressing a little bit…so it was good for him to get some success there tonight.”
Even with eight months of professional baseball under his belt, Coulter’s approach at the plate Monday night was simple: “See the ball, hit the ball.”
Coulter and the rest of his teammates will have the opportunity to do exactly that in front of Timber Rattlers fans toward the end of the month. The club will play nine consecutive games at Fox Cities stadium from Apr. 21-30.