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On a night that had the Sacramento River Cats thinking about grounding up Round Rock Express pitcher Mark Hamburger, the first time starter was serving up filet mignon as he blanked Sacramento in his four innings of work to help the Express beat the Cats 7-3 at Raley Field on Friday evening.
For the home team, Josh Outman started to slip a little in the second when the hitters for Round Rock started taking him up the middle with several solid hits.
After Val Majewski and Joey Butler had back-to-back singles, Matt Kata hit into what looked like a tailor-made double play. Cats second baseman Andy LaRoche’s throw was offline and pulled Brandon Allen off the bag. With two men on, one of the power hitters for the Express, Brad Nelson strode to the plate and ripped a liner into right-center for a clean double that scored both base runners.
The other hitter in the Round Rock lineup with 20 homers - Chad Tracy - was up next and took a 3-1 pitch from Outman straight up the middle for a run-scoring single to give the Express a three-run lead after one and a half innings of play.
On the defensive side of things, Cats center fielder Jermaine Mitchell made a sweet diving catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Express catcher Robinson Diaz in the inning that helped put out the rally.
In the third, Cats catcher Josh Donaldson threw out former Cat and ex-Oakland Athletic Esteban German even though he got a great jump on a steal attempt from second. As Kouzmanoff had his glove waiting between the bag and the runners foot, Donaldson thew a bullet that hit Kouz in the perfect spot - right in the glove.
It wasn’t until the fourth inning that the Cats scratched out a hit against the long-time reliever. After Allen ripped a liner into center that was caught, Kouzmanoff hit a clean single for the first hit off of Hamburger. When the Jai Miller was hit by a pitch in the next at-bat, it looked like Sacramento would put some runs on the board against the right-hander.
With two outs, hope came to the plate by way of Chris Carter. The big man worked the count full before striking out on a fastball away to end the threat.
Hamburger was pulled after four innings of work and had a great line for a guy getting his first start in 168 appearances at the professional level. The guy hadn’t made a start since back in college in 2006!
“I was really excited when they told me I was going to start,” said Hamburger. “I’d done well in college so I always had a feel for starting.”
Even though Hamburger had a no-hitter going into the fourth, he knew the coach would only let him throw so many pitches before resting his “reliever” arm.
“I knew I was getting pulled. I had the feeling that if maybe I kept it a no-no, that maybe he would have kept me in there, but once I gave up the hit, I knew I was coming out.”
The boys from Round Rock added some extra cushion to the lead in the seventh when, in between striking out the side, Justin Souza gave up two doubles, a single and a two-run bomb that added an extra four runs to the Express’ lead.
The Cats would get one back in the seventh when Donaldson took one over the A’s logo tarp into left-center field but that was all they could muster in the frame.
Even though Donaldson was one of the lone bright spots for the Cats offensively going 2-for-4 with the home run, he knows that the Cats sticks aren’t right.
“I think for the most part, our guys are struggling a little bit at the plate, even myself lately,” said the Cats catcher. “We need to turn it around so we all finish strong at the end of the year.
In the eighth, newly acquired Allen absolutely crushed the ball over the Jiffy Lube sign and deep onto the grass near dead center for a solo shot to get the Cats to within five.
Then, on the strength of three singles out of the next four batters, the Cats scored another run on a Chris Carter single to bring the score to 7-3 with Round Rock leading.
With the bases loaded, Cats Manager Darren Bush pulled a rare minor league move - bringing in a pinch-hitter. For various reasons, it doesn’t happen much at this level.
The Cats best chance to do some significant damage this day came to the plate in the form of Adrian Cardenas. Cardenas, who had a nice at-bat, would bounce out to second on the seventh pitch he saw to end the inning.
The Cats’s comeback would fall short and the loss would give them six in a row.
Manager Darren Bush had no problems with tonight’s effort. It’s that he just wishes that the team would have played better on the road.
“We didn’t play very good on the road, that’s for sure,” said Bush after the loss. “We didn’t play good baseball. Tonight we played better. We did all the fundamental things correct. We just didn’t push across the runs. That’s okay. You need to play good baseball. Tonight we did, we just came out on the losing end.”
PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
Sara Molina - RIVERCATS.com & Daniel Gutierrez - RIVERCATS.com