LANSING, Michigan -- Even though I missed seeing the just-promoted Kyle Schwarber play for the Kane County Cougars, I felt confident that the Cougars, who entered Wednesday night's game 30 games over .500, could easily defeat the sub-.500 Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays).
That feeling turned out to be wrong, as the Lugnuts pounded Cougars starter Juan Paniagua for eight hits in five innings and Lansing went on to defeat Kane County 8-4 on an unseasonably cool night in mid-Michigan (66 degrees with spotty drizzle early).
Paniagua didn't pitch as poorly as his pitching line would indicate. The first two batters of the game had seeing-eye hits. The second was a triple just out of reach of a diving Jacob Rogers at first base. Paniagua struck out the next hitter and induced a run-scoring infield out, but it's never a good thing when you're trailing 2-0 after four hitters. He settled down and allowed just three more baserunners through the next three innings (one on a throwing error by shortstop Carlos Penalver), hitting 96 (!) a couple of times on the stadium radar gun.
Then he ran out of gas in the fifth, when he allowed three hits and a sacrifice fly, the third hit being a home run by Dawel Lugo, who went 4-for-4 on the night. Manager Mark Johnson allowed Paniagua to finish the fifth inning, so his pitching line doesn't look that great, but he did throw strikes (no walks), had good velocity, and struck out five.
Meanwhile, the Cougars were doing... nothing. They managed just two singles and a pair of walks through the first six innings off Lugnuts starter Shane Dawson, a 2012 17th-round draft pick who I was told had been "mediocre" most of the year. Even though the Cougars eventually scored four runs off Lugnuts relievers and actually forced an eighth-inning pitching change by having the tying run on deck, I can't say that any of the actual prospects on the Cougars impressed me at all. Last year's third-round pick, Jake Hannemann, didn't do anything particulary notable. He went 1-for-5, a line-drive single up the middle in the sixth. Shawon Dunston Jr. went 0-for-4 and let a couple of catchable balls get by him in right field. Corbin Hoffner, a 14th-round pick in 2012, gave up hits to the first five Lugnuts he faced and got touched up for three runs. That could have been a lot more if not for some bad Lugnuts baserunning; one runner was caught in a rundown and another was tagged out trying to advance from second to third on a comebacker to the pitcher.
Zak Hermans, last year's 13th-round pick, threw a pair of scoreless innings.
In addition to seeing the son of a former big leaguer play for the Cougars (Dunston Jr.), I saw Dickie Joe Thon, son of ex-major leaguer Dickie Thon, play for the Lugnuts. A second baseman, he went 2-for-4.
Cooley Law School Stadium, originally constructed in 1996 and renovated in 2008, is a typical park for the Midwest League. There are about 7,500 fixed seats, with plenty of available seats Wednesday night (attendance was announced as 3,888, but maybe half that many were in the park). There are grass berms that can seat up to an additional 6,000 in both left field and right field (though the berms were mostly empty for this one), suites down the first-base line and an upper-level "club" down the third-base line, which is where I wound up Wednesday night. The food was quite good and priced, thankfully, somewhat lower than major-league ballparks. All the employees were friendly and helpful and they had the usual mid-inning events involving fans led by a young (and extremely high-energy) man playing the "host" role. No dizzy-bat race, though; maybe that's disappeared from the minor-league entertainment repertoire. The stadium is getting a renovation after the 2014 season that's being paid for by a public-private partnership which will include up to 80 apartments overlooking the field.
Perhaps the Cougars will play better baseball Thursday night. I'll be back at the ballpark in Lansing to have another look, when Duane Underwood (the Cubs' second-round pick in 2012) faces Brent Powers.
I'll have a complete photo essay from Lansing after the series.