(Photo: Burlington Bees pitcher Luis Ramirez delivers a pitch in the sixth inning on a clear night at Modern Woodmen Field)
By John Bohnenkamp
DAVENPORT — It wasn’t a matter of getting hits for the Burlington Bees.
It was the matter of getting the right hits.
The Bees had nine hits in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Quad Cities River Bandits, but the timely hits — the ones that drive in runs — weren’t there.
“We swung the bats well, we just didn’t get the hits when we needed them,” Bees manager Jack Howell said.
The Bees (54-53 overall, 15-22 second half) had runners in scoring position in six of the nine innings, but the only run they could get came in the fifth inning, when Harrison Wenson scored on Connor Fitzsimons’ sacrifice fly.
Other than that, it was a series of missed chances — the Bees were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position — and it started right away. The Bees had three hits in the first inning, but didn’t score.
Livan Soto led off the game with a single. Kevin Maitan followed with a slicing drive that Quad Cities left fielder Alex McKenna trapped. McKenna then got up and threw Soto out at third.
“(McKenna) is going to have to make a perfect throw on that play, and he did,” Howell said.
Adrian Rondon then singled to right field to send Maitan to third. Francisco Del Valle then hit a line drive that third baseman Trey Dawson caught with a dive, then Dawson got up to double up Rondon at first.
That was just the beginning.
Nonie Williams had a one-out triple in the second, but was stranded when Wenson and Ryan Vega struck out.
Fitzsimons led off the third with a double and moved to third base on Maitan’s one-out grounder to the right side, but was left there.
Quad Cities (63-40, 20-17) took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on Oscar Campos’ single that scored Freudis Nova and Grae Kessinger.
The fifth looked like it could be a big inning for the Bees. Wenson doubled and advanced to third on Vega’s single. Fitzsimons hit his sacrifice fly to score Wenson, then Vega advanced to second on a wild throw to the plate by Quad Cities right fielder Carlos Machado. But Soto hit a fly ball to right field that moved Vega to third, then Maitan struck out to end the inning.
Quad Cities added single runs in the sixth and seventh. Campos drove in a run with a single in the sixth, then McKenna’s single in the seventh brought home Cesar Salazar.
The Bees threatened in the ninth. Del Valle walked to lead off the inning, then Justin Jones doubled. But Williams and Wenson struck out, then Vega was retired on a checked-swing grounder to end the game.
Kyle Tyler (6-1) suffered his first loss of the season. He walked three and struck out one in four innings.
Abdiel Saldana (1-0) struck out five and allowed eight hits in six innings. Brett Daniels pitched three scoreless innings for his second save. The two pitchers combined for 11 strikeouts.
“Too many strikeouts, and we couldn’t get the big hit,” Howell said.
Photo: Bees first baseman Connor Fitzsimons celebrates after a grand slam against the Quad Cities River Bandits earlier this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
Game times: 6:35 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday.
Where: Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport for Tuesday-Wednesday, Community Field for Thursday-Friday
Second-half records: Bees 15-21, River Bandits 19-17
Overall records: Bees 54-52, River Bandits 62-40
Season series: River Bandits lead, 6-5
Last 10: Bees 4-6, River Bandits 4-6
Home vs. road: Bees are 32-24 at home, 22-28 on the road. River Bandits are 25-22 at home, 37-18 on the road.
Run differential: Bees plus-8, River Bandits plus-89
Extra innings: Bees 7-4, River Bandits 6-2
One-run games: Bees 22-18, River Bandits 15-11
HEAD TO HEAD
Batting average: Bees .187, River Bandits .243
ERA: Bees 4.40, River Bandits 3.73
WHAT TO WATCH
The two teams were 1-2 in the Midwest League’s Western Division for most of the latter part of the first half. The Bees got to the River Bandits early, winning three of the first four games to start the season. Quad Cities went on to win the division title, while the Bees missed out on the tiebreaker for the second playoff spot in the division.
Quad Cities has the fifth-best record in the Western Division in the second half, but the No. 2 record overall in the league for the season. The Bees are eight games out of the second playoff spot with 34 games to play.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bees catcher Harrison Wenson has hit well against Quad Cities, with a .304 batting average and a 1.060 OPS. Wenson and first baseman Connor Fitzsimons have each driven in six runs against the River Bandits. Infielder Livan Soto has a .273 average with a 1.060 OPS against Quad Cities.
Quad Cities outfielder Carlos Machado has a .500 average and a 1.250 OPS against the Bees in three games. Infielder David Hensley has driven in six runs against the Bees, as has infielder Michael Wielansky.
Only four pitchers on the current Quad Cities roster have made a start against the Bees.
Photo: Bees reliever Greg Veliz hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances since joining the team in mid-July. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
Greg Veliz is 22 years old.
“I’m not a young 22-year-old,” the Burlington Bees reliever said, laughing.
Chad Sykes is 23.
They were two members of the Los Angeles Angels’ 2019 draft class in June, and they’ve made it to the Midwest League.
Veliz and Sykes are showing that experience matters, as college pitchers who have already played a full season and are transitioning to professional baseball.
Veliz has pitched in three games with the Bees, not allowing a run in 4 ⅔ innings while striking out three. Sykes has made two appearances, allowing one hit and three walks while striking out six in four innings.
“It’s definitely a transition from college,” said Sykes, who was picked in the 10th round out of UNC-Greensboro, where he led NCAA Division I with an 0.96 earned run average this season. “Just knowing your role on the team.”
“I was excited when I was sent here,” said Veliz, a 15th-round choice out of Miami (Fla.).
They’ve shown so far just what Bees manager Jack Howell has come to expect out of college pitchers.
“Those guys come in pretty salty,” Howell said. “It doesn’t always mean that they’re going to dominate and be effective. It is pro ball, they’re trying to show what they can do. But what you notice is, they’re not as (nervous). They’re used to being in pressure situations.
“These guys have all come to us with two or three pitches that they can throw in most counts, and throw strikes.”
Veliz proved Howell’s point in last Thursday’s 5-3 win over Beloit at Community Field. In the ninth inning, he fell behind 3-1 to Anthony Churlin leading off the inning, and got Churlin to foul out. Veliz got a 3-0 count on Skyler Weber, worked the count back to 3-2, then got Weber on a comebacker. He fell behind Nick Ward 3-0, worked the count back to 3-2, then got an infield grounder to end the game.
“He probably wasn’t his 100 percent self,” Howell said. “But he’s got good stuff and he seems like a guy who has been in those kind of situations.
“These guys that come from experience, they kind of know how to get back on track.”
Both pitchers were closers at their schools — Sykes was 6-3 with 11 saves, and Veliz was 2-1 with eight saves.
“Being able to get out of jams, crazy situations, and get out of them, that experience is huge,” Sykes said. “I would say college, in general, has definitely helped me as far as being here. If I had to do it again, I would do it the same way.”
“Out of high school, I wanted to sign (to play professionally), but I’m glad I turned it down,” Veliz said. “Just from the maturing process. If I’m 19 or 20, getting to 3-0 out here, I’m probably freaking out — 3-0 counts, I’m probably walking them all. But now with experience, going to college, getting the discipline, being around older guys, being part of a team, it definitely helps. It matures you a lot.
“It makes you relax. You’ve been there a lot. You’ve been there 100 times, so you know what it’s like.”
Photo: Chad Sykes was a 10th-round pick of the Angels in the June MLB draft. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
As college pitchers, their seasons started in late February. Sykes pitched 56 innings in 27 games at UNCG, and Veliz pitched 42 ⅓ innings in 30 games at Miami.
Their schedules in college included pitching in two games, and maybe all three, in weekend series.
Now, there is more time between appearances. Veliz had five days of rest between his three games with the Bees, and Sykes has pitched just three times since July 12.
“It’s like a blessing and a curse,” Veliz said. “Your arm feels great, but you’re not on the mound every day or every other day. You’ve got to get in side sessions more than I did in college. Sometimes in college we would throw two, maybe three times. Now we’re getting more breaks.”
“It’s almost weird having four or five days off here,” Sykes said. “In college, you’re used to throwing back-to-back days. Or throwing Friday, resting Saturday, throwing Sunday. It’s nice, but it’s also cool to throw every other day, just because you’re into it. As far as arm health, it’s definitely better, since we’ve already thrown upwards of 70 innings.”
Both pitchers were sent to the Angels’ Rookie League team in Orem to start the season. Veliz struck out 15 in 10 ⅔ innings, while Sykes struck out 15 in 9 ⅔ innings.
Veliz was added to the Bees’ roster on July 14. Sykes was promoted on July 23.
Veliz went on the road with the team for a six-game trip to play at Lansing and Great Lakes, and found that life in the Midwest League was going to be better.
“In Orem, you’ve got 35, 40 guys, so you’re crunched up on a coach bus,” Veliz said, laughing. “You would have to hit the deck. Lay on the floor.”
Then he got on the bus with the Bees.
“Leather seats, more room, Gatorade for everyone,” Veliz said. “Yeah, travel, a hundred times better.”
Both pitchers were added to a clubhouse environment with players who had been here since the beginning of the season.
“It’s exciting to move up,” Sykes said. “Coming in, you’re ready to do it, but you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know how guys are going to be. But they welcomed me, like we were here the whole year.”
“Everyone welcomed me with open arms,” Veliz said. “They were really cool about it.”
It’s been a quick introduction to the professional game, but both pitchers appreciate the moment.
“It’s a dream come true,” Sykes said. “When I was a kid, I dreamed of playing professional baseball. I never really had the expectation of playing professional baseball until a couple of years ago, when I thought this could actually happen. It’s really cool seeing it play out and happen.”
“Yeah, dream come true,” Veliz said. “For sure.”
BASEBALL AMERICA RANKINGS
Baseball America released its Best Tools rankings in the August issue.
Bees pitcher Jose Soriano was selected as having the best breaking ball in the Midwest League, according to a poll of the league’s managers.
Outfielder Jo Adell, who played for the Bees in 2018, was voted the Double-A Southern League’s Most Exciting Player.
NEW MLB.COM RANKINGS
MLB.com has updated its prospect rankings at midseason.
Adell was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Angels’ organization, and No. 4 overall. He was ranked the top outfield prospect overall.
Six current Bees were on the Angels’ top 30 prospects list. Outfielder Jordyn Adams was No. 3. Soriano was No. 12. Infielder Livan Soto was 18th. Pitcher Hector Yan was 19th. Infielder Kevin Maitan was 25th. Pitcher Robinson Pina was 29th.
Bees alumni on the list were outfielder Brandon Marsh (No. 2), infielder Matt Thaiss (No. 6), infielder Jahmai Jones (No. 7), pitcher Jose Suarez (No. 8), pitcher Luis Madero (No. 14), pitcher Chris Rodriguez (No. 17), pitcher Oliver Ortega (No. 20), pitcher Jeremy Beasley (No. 21), two-way player Jared Walsh (24th), infielder Leonardo Rivas (No. 27) and outfielder Michael Hermosillo (No. 28).
OPERATION GRAND SLAM
Maitan and Justin Jones each had grand slams in the Bees’ 15-5 win over Peoria on Sunday.
Maitan now leads the Bees with nine home runs, and is tied for the RBI lead with 39. Jones is fourth on the team with seven home runs.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Batting average: .245
Opponents’ average: .209
Opponents’ ERA: 5.26
Notes: Outfielder Francisco Del Valle batted .458 for the week and drove in five runs. … Maitan batted .333 for the week. … Infielder Adrian Rondon batted .308 for the week.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Quad Cities (6:35 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday) — Another four-game home-and-home with the River Bandits, the first two games in Davenport and the second two at Community Field. The Bees are 5-6 against Quad Cities this season.
• At Cedar Rapids (6:35 p.m. Saturday and next Monday and Tuesday, 2:05 p.m. Sunday) — The final time the Bees will see the Kernels this season. Cedar Rapids has won 10 of the 14 games against Burlington.
Outfielder Nonie Williams is sixth in the league with 50 walks. Outfielder Spencer Griffin is tied for seventh with 49. … Griffin is tied for eighth in runs with 55. He tied for sixth in triples with six. … Pitcher Kyle Tyler is second in ERA at 2.75 and in batting average against at .188. He is third in WHIP at 1.00. … Pitcher Hector Yan leads the league with 117 strikeouts, while Robinson Pina is tied for third at 107. … Batters are hitting .214 against Pina, which ranks him seventh in the league.
Photo: Chase Briscoe pauses during the press conference after his win in Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.
By John Bohnenkamp
NEWTON — It was Christopher Bell’s show.
It was Chase Briscoe’s win.
The final race of the season at Iowa Speedway was more Bell domination until it wasn’t.
Bell’s Goodyears were dying as the laps ran out in Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250. The four tires on Briscoe’s Ford Mustang were fresh, and grabbed the pavement of the .875-mile oval better as the sun was setting.
Which is why Briscoe led the last seven laps for the second win of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career.
Briscoe had speed all day, but he said, “I felt like we had a second-place car,” a thought his crew chief would echo.
It turned out that it was first place, actually, with just the right moves.
“There’s a lot of times,” Briscoe said, “the fastest car doesn’t win the race.”
Briscoe got by Bell on Lap 244 after testing him for a couple of laps. Once Briscoe was in front, Bell had no chance.
“That was tough, holding him off as long as I did,” Bell said. “The best bet to win the race was to stay on his door, try to chase him into the corner.
“I don’t know, looking back on it, it’s always easy to … I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Briscoe’s strategy nearly was a disaster. When the leaders pitted under caution with 99 laps to go, the call was for Briscoe to take fuel only, and save his final set of tires for later in the race.
Briscoe fell back to 14th on the restart, and Bell, who took his final set of tires, started pulling away again.
“I don’t know,” Bell said of his strategy. “It’s kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you don’t.”
“I just felt like 99 laps to go was too early to put our last set on,” said Richard Boswell, Briscoe’s crew chief. “But I also knew if we didn’t pit for fuel, we would be in trouble. It was a gamble. I thought we had a second-place car all day to Christopher. We were just little adjustments away from being there. I knew as soon as those guys said they were going to pit for four tires, I knew that was an opportunity to win the race.
“Heroes or zeroes. Fortunately for us it worked out.”
Briscoe would get his final set more than 50 laps later after Michael Annett’s spin brought out a caution flag, but there still were concerns.
“I was definitely getting worried, just because our car definitely changed a lot whenever we got back (in traffic),” Briscoe said. “My biggest thing was not knowing where Bell was. If we get a lap down, our strategy was out the window.”
Briscoe battled side-by-side with John Hunter Nemechek, racing on a similar strategy, before he could get to Bell.
“I wasn’t worried about burning my stuff up getting (to Bell), I was worried about just giving Bell so much of a lead that once I did single-file out, I wouldn’t be able to get back to (Bell),” Briscoe said.
There was a familiarity between Briscoe and Bell that stemmed not just from racing each other on the track, but going against each other in online competitions.
Briscoe finally got by Bell with a pass that started in Turns 1 and 2, and was completed in 3 and 4.
“I think we both drove in there wide-open, so far past where we should have been going,” Briscoe said. “But we knew whoever had the top (line) on the exit would win the race. We were able to do it.”
Bell led 234 laps to become the all-time leader in Xfinity laps led at the track. Bell, who had won the last two Xfinity Series races here, also won the first two stages, extending his stage-win streak to seven.
It was similar dominance to what Bell did in the June race here. Not that there was a lot of attention to that on that day — while Bell was running away with the CircuitCity.com 250, leading 186 laps, the media center focus was more on Ross Chastain’s win-then-disqualification in the Truck Series race earlier that day.
It seemed to be all Bell’s show on Saturday. He was the fastest driver in qualifying, and the fastest driver for almost all of the race.
He couldn’t finish the performance.
“A heck of an effort, guys,” Bell said. “Just not enough.”
“The 20 was definitely in a league of his own,” Briscoe said.
Briscoe was the one who left with the win.
“There’s multiple variables. There’s restarts. There’s pit strategy, everything else,” Briscoe said. “I don’t care how we won it, we won it. It’s not like we were a 15th-place car all day. We were a second or third-place. I agree, (Bell) was the class of the field. But he could have done the same thing.
“Hats off to our guys for trying something different. And it obviously paid off.”
Photo: Burlington’s Spencer Griffin has batted .378 with two home runs against Peoria this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
A look at the Burlington Bees’ three-game road series against the Peoria Chiefs.
Game times: 6:35 p.m. Saturday and Monday, 5:05 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Dozer Park, Peoria, Ill.
Second-half records: Bees 14-19, Chiefs 8-25
Overall records: Bees 53-50, Chiefs 38-64
Season series: Bees lead, 9-3.
Saturday: Robinson Pina (4-5, 4.42) vs. TBD
Sunday: Clayton Chatham (0-0, 0.00) vs. TBD
Monday: Luis Alvarado (4-6, 3.08) vs. TBD
Last 10: Bees 5-5, Chiefs 4-6
Home vs. road: Bees 21-26 on the road, Chiefs 20-32 at home.
Run differential: Bees plus-3, Chiefs minus-104
Extra innings: Bees 7-4, Chiefs 2-5
One-run games: Bees 22-18, Chiefs 10-19
HEAD TO HEAD
Batting average: Bees .262, Chiefs .225
ERA: Bees 2.88, Chiefs 4.56
WHAT TO WATCH
The two teams will reach the halfway point of the second half on Sunday. The Bees, who lost out on a first-half playoff spot on a tiebreaker, need some work to get into contention in the second half. The Chiefs, with the second-worst overall record in the Midwest League, haven’t improved in the second half.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Several Bees have thrived against the Chiefs. Shortstop Livan Soto has a .500 average and a 1.238 OPS in three early-season games against Peoria. Outfielder Spencer Griffin has a .378 average and a 1.068 OPS. Outfielder Francisco Del Valle has a .364 average and a 1.033 OPS. Catcher Keinner Pina has played in two games against the Chiefs, but is 4-for-7 with the only home run of his pro career.
Robinson Pina has struggled against the Chiefs in two starts, with a 9.00 ERA. Chatham and Alvarado will be facing them for the first time.
Peoria catcher Ivan Herrera had a .318 average vs. Burlington this season. Outfielder Brandon Benson has two of the Chiefs’ three home runs against the Bees.
Photo: Spencer Griffin (21) leaves his bat at home plate after walking with the bases loaded. Kevin Maitan (right) scored on the play. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
By John Bohnenkamp
It looked good.
It sounded good.
But when Adrian Rondon’s fly ball was caught on the warning track for the final out, it ended the frustrating night for the Burlington Bees.
A four-run fifth inning was all the Beloit Snappers needed in Friday’s 4-3 win in a Class A Midwest League game at Community Field.
It was a costly loss for the Bees (53-50 overall, 14-19 second half) who are seven games out of the second playoff spot in the Western Division as the second half closes in on the halfway mark.
It was an aggravating night for the Bees, who also lost center fielder Jordyn Adams to injury in the seventh inning. Beloit (38-62, 11-21) took two out of three games in the series.
“Frustrating,” Bees manager Jack Howell said. “At home you want to win two out of three. We just didn’t get the big knock, especially today.”
The Bees had just four hits, but left 10 baserunners, including the bases loaded in the third and seventh innings.
Bees starter Hector Yan breezed through the first 4 2/3 innings, although the Snappers made him work. Yan’s 78th pitch of the night was turned into a sinking fly ball by Beloit’s Lester Madden that was just out of reach of right fielder Spencer Griffin.
It was only the second hit of the game against Yan, but he was done, one out short of being in a position to get the win.
The look that typified the night came from Griffin, who bent over in frustration at not being able to make the play.
“Yan was good, and then we had to get him out because he was on a pitch count,” Howell said. “He was electric, I think.”
Reliever Austin Krzeminski then gave up a slicing double to Joseph Pena that just eluded the slide of left fielder Francisco Del Valle. Max Schuemann followed with a two-run single that got past the dive of shortstop Livan Soto. Devin Foyle and Anthony Churlin followed with RBI singles.
“Although Krem didn’t give up hard contact, it was base hit, base hit, base hit,” Howell said. “It’s the one thing about putting the ball in play versus striking out.”
The Bees rallied in the seventh when the Snappers got sloppy. Justin Jones singled to drive in one run, then Burlington loaded the bases with one out when Beloit reliever Chase Cohen dropped an infield popup. Alvaro Rubalcaba struck out, then Griffin walked to bring in a run. Del Valle then hit a fly ball to left field that settled into Madden’s glove for the third out.
“One more big hit,” Howell said.
Adams, the first-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in last year’s Major League Baseball draft, was injured on an awkward fall as he tried to chase down Schuemann’s drive into the right-center field gap in the seventh. Adams was checked by Bees trainer Nick Faciana.
Adams tried to run and make a couple of cuts, but after consulting with Faciana and Howell, left the game. He was not limping.
Howell said he didn’t have an update on Adams after the game.
The Bees begin a five-game road trip, playing three games in Peoria starting with Saturday’s 6:35 p.m. game.
“We’ve got to get reorganized,” Howell said. “Get back on a little track.”
Photo: Bees pitcher Kyle Tyler allowed one hit over five innings. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
By John Bohnenkamp
Jack Howell knows the pulse of his team.
The Burlington Bees manager figured Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Beloit Snappers was coming.
The Bees snapped a three-game losing streak, a perfect bounce-back from Wednesday’s lackluster 5-1 defeat.
“A much better performance,” Howell said. “Timely hits, good pitching. Totally different game. Better hitting, and our pitching was back to what we expected.”
The Bees (53-49 overall, 14-18 second half) built a 5-0 lead, breaking open the game with a three-run seventh, then had to survive a three-run eighth inning by the Snappers (37-62, 10-21).
Kyle Tyler (6-0) mastered five innings, allowing one hit while facing the minimum. He threw just 45 pitches on a piggyback night with reliever Dylan King.
“Tyler was outstanding. Very efficient,” Howell said.
King ran into trouble in the eighth, but all three runs charged to him were unearned because the Bees made two errors in the inning. Greg Veliz closed the inning, then pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save.
The Bees scored in the first on an RBI single by Adrian Rondon, then added a run in the fourth when Francisco Del Valle doubled to score Spencer Griffin.
The big inning was the seventh. Kevin Maitan’s double brought in Livan Soto, then Rondon drilled a bouncing single up the middle through the drawn-in infield that scored Jordyn Adams and Maitan.
Rondon, who joined the Bees over the weekend, is hitting .450 since his arrival.
“Early sample size, it seems like he has the ability with two strikes to just shorten up and barrel the baseball,” Howell said. “He just barrels it, the swing doesn’t change through the at-bat — 2-2, 3-2, he seems like the same guy.”
Tyler wasn’t going to be touched. He threw just eight pitches, seven for strikes, in the first inning.
Tyler threw 33 strikes in his five innings.
“He was working it,” Howell said. “I don’t think he was even sweating.”
Angello Infante (1-2) took the loss.
ON DECK: The two teams conclude the three-game series with a 6:30 p.m. game on Friday. Burlington’s Hector Yan (4-3) faces Beloit’s Jhenderson Hurtado (0-0).
NOTES: Adams went 2-for-3 and scored two runs. He is batting .349 over his last 10 games. … Adams has an 11-game on-base streak at home. … Del Valle and catcher Keinner Pina each have five-game hitting streaks. Del Valle is batting .333 over his streak. … Beloit right fielder Nick Osborne has a 17-game on-base streak, third-longest currently in the Midwest League.