After going 44-25 and winning the Midwest League Western Division's first half championship the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have lost four straight games to open the second half. The last of those four losses came Monday night as they lost 4-1 to Quad Cities in their first home game in two weeks.
The story Monday night was Quad Cities pitcher Dail Villanueva, who carried a no-hitter into the fifth and kept Wisconsin off the board for seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out six. Wisconsin designated hitter Cameron Garfield had one of the hits against Villanueva and drove in the Timber Rattlers' only run with a single in the ninth. He said it's tough to say why the team struggled to get on the board tonight.
"It's hard to say, maybe he had us a little off balance," Garfield said. "We didn't do too bad, we battled and we just didn't get the hits we needed there."
Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson also credited Quad Cities' defense. "They took away some hits too. I thought their starter did a nice job. Really, he didn't command the strike zone much with his off speed pitches but did a nice job with his fastball down in the zone," Erickson said. "When you look at the overall result we didn't swing the bats until I little later but I felt we were competitive with the bats."
Quad Cities, meanwhile, blew the game open with a three-run home run off Mark Williams in the fifth inning after back-to-back walks to the eighth and ninth batters in the lineup. Williams had been pitching well before struggling in what turned out to be his final inning.
"He established early, down in the zone he was pretty good and then in the fifth the two walks... He was up in the zone, he had two non-competitive at bats where the ball kind of got away from him and then fell behind to the third guy, he got a good pitch. If you walk people, a lot of times in professional baseball it's going to come back to hurt you," Erickson said. "But Williams has done a nice job for us and I expect him to be real good the next time he's on the mound."
Wisconsin was able to keep the game reasonably close largely because of a solid outing from infrequently-used reliever Kevin Shackelford, who followed Williams to the mound in the fifth and pitched 3.2 perfect innings. Because a runner was caught stealing in the fifth, he actually recorded eleven outs while only facing ten batters.
"At first I didn't know if anything was going to work but I was trying to hit low in the zone fastballs and let my sinker work," Shackelford said. This was only the third time in June he had appeared in a game, but he said he's been trying to throw every day to stay sharp.
"Shack's a guy that pitched real well early in the year, kind of was our long guy and got a spot start and did a nice job," Erickson said. "Then he got banged up a bit and was on the shelf for a while. If he can give us innings like that we'll be doing ok."
Wisconsin will get another shot at their first win of the second half when they face Quad Cities again tomorrow. Erickson said the team's preparation remains the same as it was during the first half.
"Obviously we've been on the short end of four in a row here, six in a row if you count the last two of the first half, so if you look at that we're not getting it done," Erickson said. "But at the same time we've played some competitive games, so there's no need to panic quite yet. I think we'll be ok."
It's worth noting that four players from Wisconsin's first half championship team have been promoted to Brevard County, although Drew Gagnon's move is not yet official. Three of the four players who have moved up were Midwest League All Stars.
"I think we miss a few people, some people got promoted but we've got some other good ballplayers," Garfield said. "We've got some good character on this team, we just need to get a win under our belt and loosen up a bit. But it's going to fall for us, we've got a good team right here."
Regardless of what happens in the second half this team will play in the Midwest League playoffs, but Erickson said the team talks every day about not getting complacent.
"There's so many games left in the second half, but each day is a new day," Erickson said. "We try to break it down and build it back up each day. The ultimate goal for these guys, obviously, is to move on. So one of our team goals was accomplished in the first half but now each day we've got to set new goals. You hope there's no complacency there but I haven't seen it so far, we've just ended up on the short end the last four days."
A Familiar Name Settles In
He wasn't in the starting lineup, but tonight is also the Appleton debut of outfielder and 2012 25th round pick Lance Roenicke, Ron's son. The younger Roenicke made his pro debut last week for Helena, but was promoted to Wisconsin after just three games.
"It's been fun," Roenicke said. "I'm kind of all over the place right now and it's been a little crazy these last couple of weeks, but it's nice to be here and back home in Appleton. It'll be fun to get settled here and have a nice little homestand."
Lance Roenicke was born just a couple of weeks after his father's final major league game, but said his experience as the son of a former major leaguer and coach has been different from most young players.
"I've been around the game a long time," Roenicke said. "I grew up myself playing but I also got to watch my dad grow through the Dodger organization coaching to the Giants for a year, then the Angels for eleven years and the last two with the Brewers. So it's been fun watching him coach. I've definitely learned a lot from him and I get to see some of the best players in the game every day."
Roenicke already has his first professional stolen base and caught stealing, and cited his ability to run as his biggest asset as a player.
"Speed's usually a big part of my game whether it's stealing bases or going first to third or outfield play, being able to run down balls," Roenicke said. "As my dad says sometimes I have a little bit of pop. I've got some sneaky power, which helps me. And I think just the knowledge of the game, being around it so much."
Roenicke's goal for this season is simple: He just wants to improve as a player.
"Obviously the level of competition that I'm playing at right now is better than the college level so you just have to find ways to keep getting better and learn from mistakes and keep moving forward and trying to improve as much as you can," Roenicke said.
New Home For Haniger
2012 supplemental round pick Mitch Haniger went 1-for-4 and scored a run in his home professional debut for Wisconsin tonight. He signed his first professional contract just ten days ago and met up with the Timber Rattlers on the road in Iowa before getting a few days in Appleton during the All Star break to settle in.
"Yeah, I got a host family last night so that's pretty great," Haniger said.
Haniger had three hits in his first three games with Wisconsin, stole a base and scored a run. He said he was excited to play in front of the home crowd for the first time.
"I'm really excited for the first start here, I've heard a lot of great things about the fans here and just the environment in Appleton," Haniger said.
Haniger characterized himself as someone who plays the game hard. "I just do whatever I can to help the team win and put the team first. It's all about winning games. If we win games, everybody will be doing the right thing on the field."
Wisconsin won the first half championship in the Midwest League Western Division, and Haniger said his goal for the second half is to keep winning. "We've got a really good team here and I know a couple guys got called up but we're going to pick up the slack from a couple of real good players that got called up and hopefully win the championship," Haniger said.
Haniger is filling one of the roster spots vacated when first baseman Jason Rogers, outfielder John Dishon and reliever Seth Harvey were called up during the All Star break. Another move is pending this week, as starting pitcher Drew Gagnon is rumored to be headed to Brevard County.
"It's pretty exciting for them," Haniger said, "I didn't get to know very many of them very well but to see, they all seem like great guys and they play the game really hard. It's great to see them get rewarded for playing that way like all those guys did."