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South Bend Falls in Snowy Season Opener to West Michigan 9-4

Cubs give up eight runs early in loss.
April 8, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Offensive firepower and chattering teeth were the order as the West Michigan Whitecaps beat the South Bend Cubs 9-4 Thursday, April 7 in the 2016 Midwest League baseball season opener at frosty Four Winds Field.

Big snowflakes flew early in the contest and the wind chill factor was in the 20s for a crowd listed at 5,010.

"I've never started a game like that," South Bend manager Jimmy Gonzalez said. "It wasn't even snow. It was a snow-sleet mixture. That was pretty tough.

"The weather effected everybody at some point, but we're not going use that as an excuse. We were both experiencing the same weather."

The two low Class-A squads and affiliates of the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs, respectively, combined to pile up 23 hits. 

Six of West Michigan's 11 safeties went for extra bases - two doubles by second baseman Brett Pirtle, one double each by shortstop David Gonzalez and right fielder Jose Azocar and triples for catcher Shane Zeile and third baseman Steven Fuentes. 

South Bend left fielder Eloy Jimenez cracked a triple.

Azocar (2-for-5, double, run), Pirtle (2-for-4, 3 RBI, 2 doubles, 2 runs), Fuentes (1-for-3, 3 RBI, triple, 1 run) and designated hitter Josh Lester (2-for-5, 1 run) paced the Whitecap attack.

Jimenez (2-for-4, 1 RBI, 1 run), right fielder Eddy Julio Martinez (2-for-4, 1 RBI, 1 run), catcher J.P. Higgins (2-for-5, 1 RBI), shortstop Andrew Ely (2-for-3, 1 run), center fielder Donnie Dewees (2-for-5) were offensive leaders for the Cubs.

His manager expressed appreciation for the plate approach by No. 4 hitter Jimenez.

"That second hit he got (a single to right field in the seventh inning), he was hitting with two strikes and he wasn't taking huge hacks up there," Jimmy Gonzalez said of the 19-year-old Dominican. "He's adjusting. For him to prove that he can do that in that situation is huge.

Jimenez explained his offensive outlook.

"I'm just looking for fastball away and making contact," Jimenez said. "I'm looking for quality at-bats."

South Bend got its first run of the game and 2016 in the fourth inning. Jimenez blasted the Cubs' first extra-base hit of the season with his one-out triple to center off starter Spenser Watkins. Jimenez scored on a two-out bouncer to third base by Eddy Julio Martinez.

West Michigan reliever Jon Maciel (1-0) was the winning pitcher. South Bend sidearmer Preston Morrison (0-1) yielded eight runs (three earned) with two strikeouts and two walks in four innings and absorbed the loss. Three errors were committed with him on the mound.

Cubs left-hander Kyle Twomey struck out seven and gave up one earned run and three hits with no walks in four innings of relief. He was on a "piggyback" start and is expected to start in South Bend's sixth game of the season. Twomey's wild pitch allowed Pirtle (on by hit batsman) in the sixth.

"I was mixing it up," Twomey said in explaining his success. "J.P. (Higgins) was calling a really good game and I was definitely getting the fastball to both sides of the plate. I able to sink my two-seamer down and away to the righties. I kept them off-balance."

And what did the Palm Springs, Calif., think of the wintry mix?

"That had to be the craziest weather I've ever thrown in." Twomey said. "It was different warming up, but adrenaline kicked in once I got out there."

South Bend right-hander Scott Frazier racked up two strikeouts in the ninth.

West Michigan went up 8-0 in the third inning with a three-run triple by Fuentes. 

The left-handed batter pulled a pitch from right-hander Morrison, scoring Lester (who reached base on a fielder's choice), Cam Gibson (on by a sacrifice bunt and error on Morrison) and Azocar (on by error to Cubs third baseman Matt Rose).

A two-run double with two outs in the second inning by Pirtle put West Michigan ahead 5-0. 

The left-handed swinger's bloop off side-armer into left field off Morrison drove home Fuentes (on by one-out walk) and Derek Hill (on by error for Ely at shortstop). 

West Michigan jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead.

The first three Whitecaps batters to face Morrison in the first inning reached base and all scored. 

Lead-off man Hill singled up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. 

Pirtle jumped on the first delivery he saw and laced a run-scoring double to the wall in right-center field, scoring Hill. 

Zeile smacked an RBI triple against the fence in left-center, plating Pirtle.

"We can't let one game get us down," Gonzalez said of the opening-game loss. "We're battling. Even Morrison, after those three tough innings he was out there competing and going after the hitters. He made a few mistakes, but that's a part of the process."

The Cubs got to within 9-4 in the seventh inning on an RBI single by Jimenez to plate Carlos Sepulveda (on by fielder's choice).

South Bend cut the gap to 8-3 with a run off right-hander Maciel in the sixth inning. David Martinez hit a one-hit single to right field, moved to second and third when Maciel mishandled an infield single by Daniel Spingola and scored on Jose Paniauga's groundout.

Watkins worked two outs into the fifth inning and gave up two runs (both earned) and four hits with two strikeouts and two walks.

Maciel inherited two baserunners. P.J. Higgins greeted him with an RBI single, scoring Ely (on with a one-hit single off Watkins) with South Bend's second run.

The initial South Bend hit and baserunner came when No. 8 hitter Paniauga lashed a first-pitch single to right field off Watkins with one out in the third inning. The Cubs stranded two runners during the frame as Watkins got out of the jam by getting a line-out and strikeout.

The West Michigan-South Bend series resumes 7:35 p.m. Friday, April 8 at Four Winds Field. Left-hander Justin Steele is scheduled to start for the Cubs with right-hander Fernando Perez taking his turn in the rotation for the Whitecaps.