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‘Killer’ first inning dooms RailCats in series finale

Jeffrey D. Nicholls/Post-Tribune

Post-Tribune sports writer Michael Osipoff

Jeffrey D. Nicholls/Post-Tribune Post-Tribune sports writer Michael Osipoff

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Check out Michael Osipoff’s take on the RailCats’ solid start, including a series win against defending Central champion Wichita at posttrib.suntimes.com/sports/osipoff.

Updated: June 24, 2013 2:22PM



GARY — In about the blink of an eye, the RailCats were trailing Wichita on Wednesday.

And they never recovered in a 5-1 loss to the Wingnuts at the Steel Yard.

The first four batters of the game reached against Stephen Hiscock — hit batter, single, single and CJ Ziegler’s crushed three-run homer to left field, his American Association-leading fifth long ball of the season.

After that rough first, Hiscock actually pitched relatively well for the remainder of his five-inning outing, allowing just an unearned run. But the damage had been done.

“We’re obviously going to have to get better in the first inning. That was a killer,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said.

“Other than that, Stephen pitched well. But you just cannot afford that in the first inning. The stuff’s there, but he has to come out and be right on in terms of his command and his location from the get-go, because you can’t put your team in a hole like that in the first inning.”

In his first start against Lincoln, Hiscock had allowed two runs (one earned) in the first inning, his only runs in the game.

“It’s a work in progress,” Hiscock said. “A couple ground balls found a hole, and I made a pitch to Ziegler — I’m still behind that pitch, but he put a good swing on it and hit it. From there, it seemed like I had two strikes on every hitter, and I didn’t have my put-away pitch today. That’s really what it came down to — putting guys away. But it’s still early, plenty of time for adjustments.”

Meanwhile, Wichita starter Chris Smith — who pitched in the major leagues with the Red Sox in 2008, and with the Brewers in 2009 and ’10 — quieted the RailCats (4-3) for seven innings, allowing one run on four hits with five strikeouts and one walk. He retired 16 straight batters during one stretch, including perfect innings in the second through the fifth, before Mike Massaro singled with two outs in the sixth. Cristian Guerrero followed with a bloop single down the right-field line to account for the RailCats’ only run against the Wingnuts (4-3).

“He’s a veteran guy, he’s been around, he’s been in the big leagues,” Massaro said. “He just knows how to pitch. He got ahead early, mixed pitches well, worked both sides of the plate, and just kept us off-balance.”

Said Tagert: “When Chris Smith saw that four-run lead, he took it to his advantage. Pretty good track record for him, and he showed his ability today and made it tough. And we weren’t able to make some adjustments, but again, four runs down, guys get a little out of their element. We didn’t see the best showing from our club offensively, and that was a little disappointing — I don’t want to take credit away from Smith, he may have been that good today. … We just never were really in the ballgame.”

The game was marred by a one-hour, 42-minute rain delay. Play was halted at 1:24 p.m., with the RailCats having runners on second and third with two outs in the eighth. The tarp pull proved problematic — water had accumulated on top — with several RailCats players attempting to get it on the field; the tarp was in place only briefly before it was removed, at about 1:41. Then, with serious puddles on the right side of the infield, around home plate, in the outfield and in foul territory (including both bullpens), getting the field back into playing condition was a considerable undertaking. Play eventually resumed at 3:06, as Craig Maddox walked to load the bases and Ryan Babineau flied out to the warning track in right.

The RailCats also put runners on first and second with one out in the ninth, but didn’t score.

“The grounds crew, the front office did a terrific job to get the field ready,” said Tagert, adding there was “absolutely not” a chance the game was going to be called. “I don’t think it caught them off-guard, but it came down so quick, you just couldn’t do anything about it really.

“At least our club, what I was pleased with, was the effort our guys put to get back on the field. I’ve seen it at every level, there are guys who are going to check out mentally, the day’s over for them. And we didn’t do that. … What I saw was a group that wanted to continue playing. That was about the best part of the day right there.”

Notes: Just-acquired Mike Hanley struck out the only batter he faced before the rain delay, ending the eighth inning. Before the game, the RailCats announced they had acquired the left-handed relief pitcher from the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League in exchange for future considerations, and had released utility player Aljay Davis.

The 25-year-old Hanley was in his third season with Florence, going 1-0 with a 2.87 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 592/3 innings in his career. He allowed one run in one inning in one appearance this season. Davis started one game for the RailCats and appeared as a pinch-hitter once, going 1-for-3 with a run scored and a stolen base.

… Steve Liddle was a late scratch before Wednesday’s game, after a fouling a ball off his foot on Tuesday, with Maddox starting at first base. … Will Krout (0-0, 6.00 ERA) is scheduled to start for the RailCats on Friday in their series opener at Kansas City.



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