MIDLAND, Mich. - The Kane County Cougars entered Saturday's three-game series against the Great Lakes Loons with - statistically-speaking - the Midwest League's best pitching staff.
The Loons can put up a good argument as to who has the league's most dominant bullpen, however.
Loons relievers Ralston Cash, Jacob Rhame and Matt Campbell combined to strike out 14 batters over five innings in a 4-2 win before 5,918 fans at Dow Diamond. The only Kane County out that was not a strikeout over that stretch was a fly out by Jake Hanneman to end the eighth inning.
The win was the second in a row for the Loons, who snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over Clinton on Friday. But Kane County, which has the MWL's best overall and second-half record, is even bigger game to pursue.
Cash struck out all six batters in the two innings he pitched in relief of spot starter Luis Chirinos, who threw four strong innings while giving up only one run. Rhame struck out five in his two innings of work while allowing a walk and a hit, while Campbell battled through a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth - giving up his first run as a professional in the process - but also fanned three.
For his part, Cash (3-1) wasn't entirely satisfied with his two apparently spotless innings of work.
"I got it to 3-2 counts a couple of times and it was one of those days when it didn't come back to haunt me," he said. "Some days you can't get away with that. You just have to stay level. If not, someone is going to knock you off that ladder."
Rhame, perhaps the Loons hardest thrower, watched Chirinos' early work to help set up his own game plan.
"I saw that they were behind his fastball, so I felt pretty good that I could go out there and throw fastballs and changeups and be OK," said Rhame. "The main thing for me is to challenge hitters. If they're going to get on base, I'd much rather have them hit their way on."
Offensively, the Loons (13-15 in the second half) scored two runs in the third and sixth innings off of Kane County starter Paul Blackburn, who entered the game tied for second in the league with eight victories.
Malcolm Holland scored the game's first run when he singled with one out off of Blackburn, took third on a single by Jesmuel Valentin, then came home on a wild pitch. Paul Hoenecke singled in another run with two out.
Hoenecke delivered again in the sixth inning. After Joey Curletta doubled with one out, Hoenecke launched his team-leading 12th home run over the fence in right for a 4-1 lead.
The Cougars scored a run in the fourth inning off of Chirinos on a double by Ben Carhart and a single by Jeimer Candelario. And they made things even more interesting in the ninth.
Campbell, who hadn't allowed a run in his first 13 innings as a professional, walked Kevin Brown to lead off the ninth. After he struck out Carhart, Jacob Rogers singled. Campbell then fanned Candelario, but a walk to Remillard loaded the bases.
Trey Martin then blooped a single to right to score Brown - and to keep the bases loaded - but Campbell finally extinguished the fire by striking out Giuseppe Papaccio. It was Papaccio's fourth strikeout in as many at bats.
The series continues Sunday with a 3:05 p.m. game. Right-hander Scott Barlow (3-4, 4.43 ERA) will start for the Loons, while the Cougars will start Tyler Skulina (4-5, 2.93 ERA).
Tomorrow's activities at Dow Diamond will include Super Splash Day, sponsored by the Midland Community Center with water-themed games both on the field and on the concourse. Children are encouraged to bring swim suits. It's also Family Fun in the SUNday, presented by Farm Bureau Insurance, in which kids can run the bases for free.
The Great Lakes Loons are an eighth-year Single-A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For tickets and more information, call 989-837-BALL or visit loons.com.