If Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson had it his way, his team's bats would have been as hot as the scalding temperature was at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium Tuesday afternoon.
Problem was, that didn't happen. Instead, the defending Midwest League Champions put on what can only be described as a disheartening performance against the South Bend Silver Hawks and lost by a score of 12-3.
The loss was the Rattlers' fourth in five games and third straight overall. Heading into Wednesday's off day, Wisconsin finds itself at 8-13, tied for last place in the Western division.
"That's a pretty good ballclub," Erickson said after the game about the Silver Hawks, who at 16-6 are firmly entrenched in second place in the Eastern division. "We lost two ballgames late the first two days they were here, so you'd think we'd have some sense of urgency to get here today with a little chip on your shoulder, and that just didn't happen. (Our) energy level seemed to be low to start the ballgame...there just wasn't much fight."
That lack of 'fight' manifested itself throughout Tuesday's game in the form of poor plate discipline and a failure to execute pitches from start to finish. Offensively, Rattlers hitters struck out a combined 10 times, drew five walks and scratched out just six hits in 31 combined at-bats. On the hill, five separate pitchers got significant work in on Tuesday. Only problem was, none were particularly efficient -- as a unit, Wisconsin gave up runs (nine earned) on 17 hits and walked six batters to striking out just two.
Yet the first inning of Tuesday's game portended a competitive affair.
After starting pitcher Preston Gainey recorded three outs in his first inning of work, allowing just one hit and no walks, Rattlers designated hitter Michael Reed put himself in scoring position with his fourth double of the season in the bottom of the first. The hit gave Reed a seven-game hit streak and bumped his season batting average up to .323.
"I was just looking for a fastball," Reed said after the game, "and the first pitch he put one on the inside part of the plate, and I put a good swing on it."
However, Wisconsin was unable to capitalize. Right-fielder Mitch Haniger followed Reed's double with a looking strike out, and left fielder Victor Roache ended the inning with a fielder's choice ground-out to shortstop.
The following inning yielded different results for Gainey.
South Bend center fielder Socrates Brito led off the inning with a double down the right field line. Two ground-outs later, right-fielder Mike Lang plated Brito with his own double, this time to Roache in left field, and by the end of the top of the second, the Silver Hawks lead 1-0. The Rattlers responded in the bottom half of the inning with two strikeouts and a ground-out to short.
Two singles and a hit-by pitch loaded the bases for South Bend in the top of the third, but Gainey rebounded to force an inning-ending ground out to first baseman Adam Giacalone. Wisconsin was unable to capitalize off of a Tyrone Taylor single and Haniger being hit by a pitch in the home half of the third. The Rattlers' struggles at the plate would persist late into the game.
The Silver Hawks increased their lead to 3-0 with a two-run single by second baseman Fidel Pena. A subsequent single from third baseman Brandon Drury was enough for Erickson to make the call to the Rattlers' bullpen in favor of right-hander Martin Viramontes. Two pitches later, the fourth inning was complete.
Viramontes started the fifth with a hit-by-pitch and a walk, and was consequently pulled in favor of left-hander Taylor Wall, who ended the inning without allowing a run. The Rattlers were unable to score in the bottom half of the inning despite their first two batters reaching base.
Right-hander Eric Semmelhack took the mound in the top of the sixth, but allowed two unearned runs to cross home, one of which came on a costly throwing error on shortstop Orlando Arcia. After getting out of the inning, yet another scoreless inning from Rattlers' hitters followed.
Wisconsin would get its only runs of the game in the seventh inning thanks in part to a two-run single from Taylor. Reaching on a fielding error from Medrano, Reed drove in his lone run of the game and the Rattlers suddenly found themselves down by just two runs.
The final two innings would put to bed any hope that remained for a comeback.
After a one-run eighth inning, the Silver Hawks caught fire, scoring six runs in the top half of the ninth. Erickson wanted to stick with Semmelhack, but was forced to pull him in favor of Rodolfo Fernandez, who finished the game on the bump for Wisconsin. In total, Semmelhack threw 79 pitches, 48 of which were strikes.
"I just wasn't executing pitches," Semmelhack said. "I left pitches up in the zone. When you do that with a good team, they'll do what they did to me. You've got to learn from your mistakes and you've got to go out there the next day and just find a way to do it to somebody else the next time."
While Rattlers' pitching was by no means impressive, the lack of run support throughout Tuesday's game certainly didn't make matters better. As a team, Wisconsin went just 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. And as Erickson knows, that simply wasn't enough to get the job done.
"They did make some plays," Erickson said, "but it seemed like their pitching was feeding off our 'overagressiveness' today. Whether we're pressing a bit because we've lost a couple, (I'm) not too sure. But we made it a little too easy on their starting pitcher. If we were a little more patient, I think we get more opportunities."