The Midwest League playoff-bound Wisconsin Timber Rattlers improved to 69-50 on the season and 25-25 in the second half tonight with a 7-4 win over Clinton to clinch a series victory and close out a 4-2 homestand. Eight of the nine Timber Rattlers position players had a hit in the game, and they also combined for five walks and two hit batsmen.
That was enough to get the win for Wisconsin native and 2012 12th round pick Eric Semmelhack, who allowed a run on six hits over five innings with five strikeouts. It was an impressive bounceback outing for Semmelhack, who struggled in his previous start against Beloit. He said his approach was pretty simple.
"Just tried pounding the zone, getting outs quickly. After my outing in Beloit we came in this week trying to get early outs early in counts. That's about it," Semmelhack said.
Semmelhack grew up in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and said his parents, grandparents and girlfriend have been able to make it to most of his home games with the Timber Rattlers.
Meanwhile, one of the bats powering the offense behind Semmelhack tonight was outfielder Ben McMahan. He went 2-for-5 in the game and each of his hits drove in a run. His first hit of the game came in the first inning, when he hit a first pitch fastball for an RBI double.
"When you've got guys in scoring position you want to get something to hit early in the count and I did," McMahan said. "He threw a fastball, something I can handle and I put a good swing on it. So I got things going early."
McMahan entered play Monday hitting .292/.334/.491 on the season and is second on Wisconsin with 57 RBI. This is his first full professional season, but he said he feels "surprisingly good" after appearing in 91 games.
"At this point, surprisingly I feel better than I thought I was going to feel," McMahan said. "At the halfway mark I felt a little tired, but kind of got a second wind there and my body feels actually surprisingly good. I've been working with Pax here every day just kind of getting my body ready to play and he's been a huge help to me with giving me different stretches and exercises to stay healthy. Early in the year I was on the DL for two weeks and that's no fun."
Wisconsin was up 2-0 in the second inning when Clinton outfielder Kevin Rivers was hit by a pitch on a bunt attempt and awarded first base despite the appearance that he had attempted to hit the pitch. It was the second similar play in as many days, and Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson was ejected after coming out to argue.
"Similar call to what we had yesterday, twice in two days I thought a batter offered on a bunt attempt," Erickson said. "Yesterday it was ruled that he was hit in the hand and there was no offering. Today I thought he offered again, was hit by a pitch again and was offered first base. So I questioned both of them and today was, I guess, a little more vicious than the other one and they didn't want to hear any more of it."
Erickson was, however, able to see the rest of the game via a live TV feed in the clubhouse. "It was kind of nice to get a different perspective," Erickson said.
Longtime Brewer minor leaguer Maverick Lasker pitched the final four innings of today's game for his first Timber Rattlers save. He's the 23rd pitcher to appear in a game for the Timber Rattlers this season and the eleventh to record a save. Erickson said consistency is the key to keeping things going in the right direction despite frequent turnover in the roster.
"That's the nature of the business here in A ball but it's been good," Erickson said. "As a staff we deliver a consistent message throughout the year and I think that shows up in our clubhouse. Everybody's on the same page and we have a core of people that have been here for a while. The guys that come in kind of jump on board with it. And obviously there's a transition with all new players that come in but the other players and our staff get them on board as quickly as possible and we move forward."
Wisconsin outfielder Chadwin Stang has been one of the team's hottest hitters of late, and recently had a 19 game hitting streak. Stang said the streak was fun, and the pressure didn't get to him.
"I just kind of stuck to myself and the only person who really talked to me about it was (radio play-by-play man Chris) Mehring all the time on Twitter, which was easy to handle. But I kind of put some pressure on myself to keep it going at times, but I just had a lot of fun with it."
Stang's streak ended on Wednesday when, in his final at bat, he came just short of reaching first on a ground ball to shortstop.
"You really want to get to 20 and try to do whatever you can to do that. I got unlucky that day, I had that good hit taken away in my second at bat," Stang said. "But I just keep doing what I do every day, just work hard. And that's how I've gotten fortunate with some hits and it's paid off."
Stang was an eighth round pick in 2009 but because of injuries 2012 is his first full professional season. Tonight is his 107th game for Wisconsin this year. He's enjoying his first opportunity to play full time.
"Just the consistency of playing every day, playing center field every day, having the opportunity to get at bats and show people what you can do," Stang said. "It's a little wear on the body at times but you just learn how to deal with those kind of things and what you do best, just keep doing those things."
One of the more recent additions to the Timber Rattlers has been a familiar face: 2011 Timber Rattler Maverick Lasker is back with the team after spending most of 2012 rehabbing a back injury. Lasker injured his back in December and spent eight months recovering in Arizona.
"It was tough, mentally and physically. Phoenix was hot, so that sucked," Lasker said.
Lasker was a fifth round pick in 2008 and was already a member of the Timber Rattlers in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He moved up to Brevard County at midseason last year. This year he says he's just focusing on getting back to 100%.
"I'm just trying not to do too much. I just want to work on mechanics, get them there and hopefully help this team win a Midwest League championship," Lasker said.
Through three relief outings with Wisconsin Lasker has thrown 9.2 innings and allowed five runs on eight hits, He's still just 22 years old.
A hot streak for Stosh
One of the hottest Timber Rattlers over the last month or so has been reliever Stosh Wawrzasek, who comes into tonight's game riding a 21.1 inning scoreless streak. That streak covers eight outings (including three innings Saturday night in the 13 inning win) and dates back to July 13. He said he hasn't been doing anything different during his run of success.
"I'm just throwing balls across the plate, trying to pitch to contact like our pitching coach tells us to and it's been working, so I'm not going to change something right now," Wawrzasek said.
Wawrzasek is only 21 years old but is already in his fifth professional season: He was drafted in the 16th round as a 17-year-old in 2008 and has been an AZL Brewer, Helena Brewer, Brevard County Manatee and is now in his second tour as a Timber Rattler. As such he's had a different set of experiences from some of his teammates who went to college, but he's happy he took the route he's traveled.
"It's tough to say since I didn't have that college experience, but I'm glad I got my pro career started earlier," Wawrzasek said. "It was a little different, I didn't have some of the experiences. Some guys went to college and they got to experience different things there. I was a 17 year old kid, I guess you could say I was a little immature, and as you grow up you kind of learn things and you see the other players and how college players act and all that, and you just learn from their actions and try to recreate it, I guess in a sense."
Wawrzasek has pitched multiple innings in each of the eight outings during his scoreless streak, ranging from 1.2 innings on multiple occasions to four innings twice. He said he's always ready to go more than one frame.
"The other day I actually went back-to-back days and I hadn't done that all year, but I felt good and he (manager Matt Erickson) asked me after the second inning how I felt and I said 'I'm good, I can go back out there.' It was fun, I felt good. I don't really prepare to go one inning. I'm prepared to go as many as I can," Wawrzasek said.