HOOTS 3, BEES 0: Bases Are Busy, But The Line Doesn’t Move

By John Bohnenkamp

Getting runners on base wasn’t a problem for the Burlington Bees.

Getting them to advance was a different thing.

The Bees had baserunners in seven innings, but lost 3-0 to the O’Fallon Hoots in Saturday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

Burlington (10-10) stayed in a first-place tie with the Normal CornBelters in the Great River Division.

The Bees had six hits and 12 baserunners, but only one baserunner got to third base against O’Fallon pitchers Tyler Denu and Anthony Klein.

“We struggled to get a guy to second, to be honest,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “We just couldn’t string anything together.”

Denu (1-0) threw 80 pitches in seven innings, allowing six hits while striking out three. Anthony Klein hit three batters in the last two innings, but the Bees couldn’t come up with any hits.

“(Denu) threw a great game,” McClure said. “He minimized his pitch count, threw really well. He obviously kept our guys off-balance all night.”

All of the Bees’ hits were singles. Austin Simpson had two hits.

The Hoots got two runs in the first off Bees starter Jalen Evans (1-1) on singles by Elias Stevens and JT Mabry. Jamie Young scored on a fielder’s choice in the fourth for O’Fallon’s other run.

“If you look through the whole game, they didn’t hit one ball on the barrel,” McClure said. “Broken bats, or off the end of the bats. Bloopers. But that’s baseball.”

RELIEF: Burlington’s Simon Gregersen pitched four scoreless innings in relief. He threw 47 pitches, 33 for strikes.

STREAKS: Burlington’s Jackson Jones had his 10-game hitting streak snapped. Jones was hitting .450 in the streak. … Bees shortstop Mason Land extended his hitting streak to four games. 

FAMILY TREE: Mabry is the son of former Major League Baseball player John Mabry.

DEFENSIVE GEMS: Gregersen got some help in the seventh inning. Clayton Stephens led off with a single, then Luke Vinson hit a line drive that Land lunged to catch. Land got up and threw out Vinson had first to complete the double play. Nick Hofmann then doubled, but Gregersen picked him off to end the inning.

UP NEXT: The Bees play host to the Quincy Gems on Sunday in a 2 p.m. game.

Photo: Burlington Bees first baseman Austin Simpson singles in the fourth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Simpson Back On A Familiar Field

By John Bohnenkamp

Austin Simpson lost his 2020 season at Southeastern Community College to the COVID-19 pandemic, and missed most of the second half of this season after suffering a facial injury.

His work over the summer, though, has made a difference.

Simpson leads the Burlington Bees in hitting at .392, ranking 11th among Prospect League hitters. He has 20 hits in 14 games, tied for seventh in the league.

“I’ve just tried to stay consistent, doing what I do,” said the first baseman, who has two home runs and 13 runs batted in while posting a 1.044 OPS.

Simpson hit .317 with SCC in 34 games this season, hitting seven home runs and driving in 39 runs. But Simpson suffered a facial injury when he was hit by a ground ball during batting practice before an April 14 doubleheader at Marshalltown. The injury required surgery and kept him out for the rest of the junior college season.

“Oh, I hated it,” he said. “Couldn’t stand watching and not being out there.”

Simpson’s hitting wasn’t affected by the time off. He had six hits in his first 13 at-bats to open the season, and has had a six-game hitting streak this season in which he hit .455. That streak was snapped with an 0-for-3 game in Saturday’s loss at O’Fallon, but in Sunday’s 12-2 win over Clinton at Community Field Simpson reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-3.

“Austin is just a very, very good hitter,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He hits for average, and he hits for power, and not a lot of guys do that. He gets on base, people have to be careful how to pitch him. He’s a great hitter.”

This is Simpson’s second season in a summer wood-bat league — he played last summer in the Kernels Collegiate League in Normal, Ill. That season was important, since Simpson’s first year at SCC was canceled because of the pandemic.

“It was hard,” Simpson said of missing the spring season. “You work for something the whole school year, and then to see it taken away was difficult.”

Simpson grew up in nearby Fairfield, graduating in 2019 from Fairfield High School. He grew up watching the Bees when the team played in the Class A Midwest League.

“It’s close to home. And I grew up watching the team,” he said. “So it’s cool to be a part of it.”

Playing in the Prospect League means long bus trips. The Bees got back from O’Fallon early Sunday morning, but were back in the batting cages for work at noon.

“It’s what we do,” Simpson said. “You can’t change it or do anything about it. It makes you grow up a little bit.”

Simpson will play at Quincy University next season.

“They’ve got a really good program, and they develop players,” he said. “When I went there and took my visit, it felt like I was home.”

Simpson knows what this season can mean to him.

“I just want to be better than I was when I got here,” he said. “Be an elite player.”

BY THE NUMBERS

• Jackson Jones is on a seven-game hitting streak. Jones, who is hitting .333 with a 1.094 OPS, is batting .429 during the streak. He has four home runs in the last six games. Jones is tied for third in the league with five home runs, and is tied for third with six doubles.

• Kevin Santiago has a six-game hitting streak. He is batting .360 in the streak with eight runs batted in. Santiago is tied for four in the league with 19 RBIs.

• Pitcher McLain Harris is third in the league with 24 strikeouts.

• Reliever Garrett Langrell is tied for league lead in wins with three.

THE WEEK AHEAD

• At Lafayette, Wednesday and Thursday. The Bees go into the Eastern Conference for two games against the Aviators, who lead the Wabash River Division at 12-4. Lafayette’s Tanner Craig is second in the league in hitting at .462, and leads the league with six home runs. Pitcher Chase Stratton is seventh in the league with a 1.88 ERA.

• At Normal, Friday (doubleheader). The Cornbelters (7-8) are 1 1/2 games behind the Bees in the Great River Division. Catcher Eddie Niemann is hitting .389 for the Cornbelters.

• O’Fallon, Saturday. The Bees come home for a game against the Hoots (9-5). Outfielder Brett Johnson leads the Hoots with a .379 average.

• Quincy, Sunday. It’s the first appearance of the Gems (5-10) at Community Field. 

Photo: Burlington Bees first baseman Austin Simpson catches a foul popup in Sunday’s game against Clinton at Community Field. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 12, LUMBERKINGS 2: Evans, Relievers Combine For One-Hitter

By John Bohnenkamp

Jalen Evans hadn’t pitched in more than a month.

It didn’t seem like much of a problem.

Evans and relievers K.J. Baker and Jackson Gray combined on a one-hitter as the Burlington Bees won, 12-2, over the Clinton LumberKings in Sunday’s game at Community Field.

The Bees (9-7) took a one-game lead in the Prospect League’s West-Great River Division after a win in a game decided by the 10-run rule in the eighth inning.

Evans threw 49 innings in 15 appearances at Texas Wesleyan University this season, with a 4-1 record and a 3.12 earned run average.

Getting some time off helped.

“Just felt good,” said Evans, who joined the team on Friday. “Just tried to get a feel today.”

Evans struck out the first two hitters he faced and faced the minimum in the first three innings.

“He’s got a great arm,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “He hadn’t pitched in a few weeks, but he commanded it pretty good.”

“Everything felt good,” Evans said. “Fastball felt good. Could work on the command a little bit more. But we’ll get there. Knowing what’s wrong, that’s the first thing. Then we can make adjustments.”

Evans’ only trouble came in the fourth, when he surrendered a two-run home run to Luke Ira. He hit Kyle Lehmann with a pitch with two outs and then walked Dominic Milano, but struck out Jay Beshears to end the inning.

Evans gave up a leadoff walk to Adam Weed in the fifth inning, but retired the next three hitters to end his day.

“He threw all of his pitches for strikes,” McClure said. “He did a good job of getting ahead of all of the hitters, especially the first four innings. It was big for us for him to get through the fifth.”

Baker walked one and struck out three in two innings. Jackson Gray did not allow a hit in his lone inning of work, striking out one.

“A lot of these guys have a lot of potential,” Evans said of the Bees’ pitching staff. “They just need the reps. We’ll get that this summer. It’s only going to get better.”

The Bees built a 7-0 lead through the first two innings, sending nine batters to the plate in both innings. They scored four runs in the seventh inning without a hit, taking advantage of six walks and a hit batter. Jackson Jones’ home run to lead off the eighth inning ended the game.

Bees first baseman Austin Simpson reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-3. Kevin Santiago had a home run and drove in four runs.

The Bees had 13 hits.

“This offense,” Evans said, “is really dynamic.”

Photo: Burlington Bees pitcher Jalen Evans and two relievers combined on a one-hitter in Sunday’s win over the Clinton LumberKings. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: League Rules Keep Pitch Counts In Mind

By John Bohnenkamp

Pitch counts have always been important for past Burlington Bees teams, but those were determined by the Major League Baseball parent club when the Bees were a Class A Midwest League affiliate.

Counts are still important now that the Bees are in the Prospect League for college players.

The league’s rules dictate how much a pitcher can be used, depending on the number of pitches he throws. And it can be costly if a team exceeds that usage.

The Bees have 17 pitchers on their roster, including outfielder Marcos Sanchez, who has pitched in two games this season. All but two of the pitchers have thrown in a game this season. Six pitchers have at least one start.

“I tried to get six or seven starters, (and) seven or eight guys who would work out of the bullpen,” said Bees manager Gary McClure. “A lot of these guys haven’t pitched a ton, but they’ve got really good arms. Just try to develop them into something.”

Bees starting pitchers have averaged 4 2/3 innings per start. Four starts have gone between 5-7 innings.

But innings don’t matter. It’s all about the pitch counts.

The league rules state:

• Any pitcher who throws two consecutive games must rest the next day 

• Any pitcher who throws 30 pitches or less can pitch the next day 

• Any pitcher who throws 31-45 pitches must rest for one day 

• Any pitcher who throws 46-60 pitches must rest for two days 

• Any pitcher who throws 61-80 pitches must rest for three days. 

• Any pitcher who throws 81-90 pitches must rest for four days 

• Pitchers cannot face a new batter after they have thrown 95 pitches. Should the pitch count be reached while a pitcher is facing a batter, he can complete the at-bat, but must be removed after it is completed.

And it can be financially costly if a manager doesn’t follow those rules. The first offense will result in a $250 team fine and an immediate one-game suspension for the violating team’s manager. The second offense would be a $500 fine and a 3-game suspension of the team’s manager. The third offense would be a $1,000 fine and a 6-game suspension of the team’s manager.

Pitch counts are kept by the official scorer. Bees pitching coach Scott Barnum also keeps track of the pitch counts in the dugout.

Sometimes the pitch counts determine in-game strategy as well.

“We have a chart with everybody’s name on it, when they pitched last,” McClure said. “We keep a pitch count with each guy, make a decision if we want to get them out and have them the next day or not. Because if they pitch over 30, they can’t pitch the next day.”

Four pitchers — Jacob Greenan, Garrett Langrell, Grady Gorgen and Greg Ryun — have pitched in four games this season. Langrell has had the most work with 7 2/3 innings. Gorgen has thrown five innings, Ryan has thrown 4 2/3 innings, and Greenan has thrown 3 2/3.

Most of the pitchers have had a full college season already, so they are stretched out for longer work if needed.

“They’ve got innings under their belt,” McClure said. “Or they’re young guys who haven’t pitched a ton, but they’ve got a really good arm, and needed innings. That’s kind of the combo we used to go get guys.”

Photo: Burlington Bees pitcher Jacob Greenan throws in relief during Friday’s game against the O’Fallon Hoots. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)