Photo: Cole Duensing threw five strong innings in the Burlington Bees’ 3-1 win over the Lake County Captains. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
By John Bohnenkamp
The final pitch of Cole Duensing’s night was a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch to Lake County’s Connor Smith.
Duensing, who thought he might have been out of the fifth inning a pitch earlier, slapped his glove, then pumped his fist to celebrate.
Duensing and relievers Greg Veliz and Austin Krzeminski combined on a two-hitter as the Burlington Bees took a 3-1 win over Lake County in Monday’s Class A Midwest League game at Community Field.
The Bees (49-45 overall, 10-14 second half) completed a 6-3 homestand, heading into Tuesday’s off day and a six-game road trip through the Eastern Division with some confidence.
“The second half didn’t start the way we wanted to for us, but things are kicking into gear,” said Duensing (6-4), who picked up his first win since June 5, a span of seven starts.
“It’s kind of would-have, could-have,” said Bees manager Jack Howell, whose team had leads get away in the first two games of this three-game series with the Captains. “But that was a good way to go out.”
It was impressive work by Duensing, who allowed two hits and walked three while striking out six in five innings.
Duensing had a four-strikeout second inning — Makesiondon Kelkboom reached on a dropped third strike with two outs — in which he left the bases loaded. He had two runners on in the fifth, but Kelkboom was thrown out trying to steal third to derail the inning.
Duensing thought he had struck Smith out with a 2-2 fastball, but umpire Steven Rios called it a ball. The third strike came on the next pitch, and Duensing’s night of 78 pitches for 45 strikes was done.
“It was huge,” Duensing said. “I had good stuff tonight. I really wanted to get out of that inning.”
“I think, slowly, over the course of the season, as it’s unfolding, you’re seeing guys get through things,” Howell said. “Being OK with calls not going your way, or plays we should have made. Just unfortunate circumstances that are out of your control. So, instead of pitching away from contact, trying to be fine, they understand just limiting damage.
“It’s been part of their development plan. Don’t be afraid to throw different pitches in different counts. Attack hitters and control damage.”
Duensing, a sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft, was coming off an 0-10 season at Rookie League Orem in 2018. He had a 10.32 earned run average this season, but has a 4.11 ERA this season, with 71 strikeouts in 76 ⅔ innings.
“It’s gone really well, especially since the last season I had,” Duensing said. “This has been a very good bounce-back year, if you will. I’m really happy with how things are trending right now.”
The Captains (54-39, 14-10) weren’t going to get anything in the late innings, as they did in a 3-2 win on Saturday and a 5-2 win on Sunday. Greg Veliz, making his first appearance with the Bees, and Austin Krzeminski pitched four perfect innings to close the game.
Veliz struck out two, then Krzeminski struck out the final two hitters he faced for his third save of the season.
Morgan McCullough singles in the Bees’ first run in the second inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
The Bees got all of their runs off Lake County starter Zach Draper (5-2). Morgan McCullough drove in a run with a second-inning single. Keinner Pina had an RBI in the third, and Spencer Griffin closed the scoring with an RBI single in the fifth.
“It wasn’t like the last two nights, when we got two runs and lost,” Howell said. “I was really happy to get that third run.”
ON DECK: The Bees open a three-game series at Lansing on Wednesday.
NOTES: Veliz, a 15th-round pick in this year’s draft, has struck out 17 in 12 ⅔ innings so far this season. He has not allowed a walk. … Bees shortstop Alvaro Rubalcaba went 2-for-3, raising his July batting average to .325. Right fielder Francisco Del Valle had two hits and is batting .318 for the month.