Chih-Wei Hu will start the playoff opener against Burlington next week despite a shaky first inning in a 3-2 loss to Kane County Thursday night, but Manager Jake Mauer is not sure who will be available after that.
Left-handers Mat Batts, Stephen Gonsalves and Lewis Thorpe are all approaching their maximum number of innings for the season, as prescribed by the parent Minnesota Twins, and bonus baby Kohl Stewart is on the disabled list.
That leaves Hu, Ryan Eades and a bunch of question marks.
Hu allowed three runs in the first inning Thursday and walked two straight batters with the bases loaded, but he settled down after that.
Hu (7-2, 2.29 ERA) has been exceptional for the Kernels since joining the club July a7 and Mauer hopes Thursday's performance was nothing to be too concerned about.
"We're still staying with Hu," he said. "The other guys we don't know yet. We haven't gotten word from on top (from the Twins).
"We're running into some innings issues with the three lefties. We're going to need clearance to figure out who can go and who can't."
Stewart, a top prospect, is currently on the Disabled List for the second time this season with a sore shoulder. He is scheduled to throw in batting practice Friday to test his arm and see if he's ready to pitch again this season.
"We'll see what he feels like tomorrow and see what he looks like," said Mauer.
The Twins will be extra-careful with Stewart, so the Kernels could be in a bind if Batts, Gonsalves, Thorpe and Stewart all are unavailable for the playoffs. The Kernels have a deep bullpen, but they could be headed for a stiff test in the playoffs if some of the starting pitchers are not available.
Mauer was not able to pinpoint Hu's problems in the first inning.
"I don't know ... The first inning he wasn't right," the skipper said. "He walked in two runs. Not sharp. He settled in after that. Against a good club like that, you can't spot them three runs.
Mauer watched the last three innings on a TV set in his office after being ejected by field umpire Matt Bates after Jacob Rogers of Kane County was ruled safe on a stolen base attempt. The throw beat Rogers to the bag by a considerable margin and Kernels shortstop Engelb Vielma insisted he tagged Rogers, who tried to jump away.
"It was pretty apparent to me," said Mauer. "The ball beats somebody by 10 feet and he decides to do a carnival slide, I don't understand why he called him safe. You know you're going to catch some heat.
"Call him out and everybody goes back to the dugout and nobody says boo."
Relief pitchers Hudson Boyd and Chris Mazza combined for five shutout innings to keep Cedar Rapids in the ballgame. The Kernels staged a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning and pulled within 3-2 on a pinch-hit single by Logan Wade with two outs.
Jonatan Hinojosa walked to load the bases, but Vielma grounded out to the first baseman to end the game.
Hinojosa went 3-for-4, extending his hitting streak to a team-best 15 games this season. He is hitting .352 in the leadoff spot.
Kane County set a franchise record with its 89th victory this season.
The Cougars (89-47) and Kernels (72-64) meet again Friday night on Fan Appreciation Night at the ballpark.
KANE COUNTY (3): Dunston, lf, 4 0 0 0, Zagunis, c, 4 1 1 0, Candelario, 3b, 4 1 2 0, Balaguert, rf, 4 1 1 1, Rogers, 1b, 3 0 0 0, Brockmeyer, dh, 3 0 2 0, Lockhart, 2b, 3 0 1 1, Baez, cf, 3 0 0 1, Penalver, ss, 4 0 0 0. Totals 32 3 7 3.
KERNELS (2): Hinojosa, 3b, 4 0 3 0, Vielma, ss, 4 1 1 0, Christensen, 1b, 4 0 1 0, Garver, dh, 3 0 0 0, Swim, rf, 3 0 0 1, Murphy, cf, 3 1 0 0, Vavra, 2b, 4 0 2 0, Quesada, c, 4 0 0 0, Larson, lf, 2 0 0 0. Totals 32 2 8 2.
Kane County 300 000 000 - 3 7 1
Kernels 100 000 001 - 2 8 0
Ihrig, Heesch (7), Rakkar (8) and Zagunis. Hu, Boyd (5), Mazza (8) and Quesada. W - Ihrig (3-1). L - Hu (7-2). S - Rakkar (1). 2B - Brockmeyer 2 (14), Vavra (14). SB - Rogers (2). E - Ihrig (1). T - 2:55. A - 2,025.
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