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Kernels Nuggets: Thorpe Notches First MWL Win

It took a little longer than usual to get to Cedar Rapids, but it was worth the travel because we were treated to a terrific game on Friday night. We saw the best start at this level from one of the Twins top pitching prospects and we saw some offense, followed by a tight game at the end.

The drive took a little longer because of some scary, torrential rainfall we encountered north of Cedar Rapids. We drove out of it about 20 miles north of Cedar Rapids. When we got to the ballpark, the terrific Kernels grounds crew was putting on the tarp and the rains came. This was at 4:30, and it rained hard for an hour, and yet, due to the work of the grounds crew, the game started on time at 6:35.

Attached Image: CIMG9034.jpg

Lewis Thorpe with his mother, Lynette, after the game.

Minutes before the game, I was approached by a kind gentleman who spoke to me with an Australian accent. He introduced himself as Lewis Thorpe’s dad and introduced me to his wife, Lewis’s mom. We had a nice chat. They have been in the States for two weeks and will be here for another week.

The couple had intended to fly to Ft. Myers but were forced to change their plans when Lewis was promoted to Cedar Rapids. The Kernels haven’t had a lot of home games of late, so the Thorpes have traveled across the Midwest League. They said they are loyal listeners of the Twins Hangouts podcast and that they listened to it the entire 16-hour flight from Australia to the US. I asked if that was just one episode? They will be around for another week. Thorpe’s mom is really looking forward to celebrating the Fourth of July in the USA.

They witnessed their son’s best performance with the Kernels. The line doesn’t look great. Thorpe was charged with three runs on four hits. He walked two and struck out three in 5.1 innings.

He got out the first five batters that he faced. Then he gave up a long home run. Starting in the third, he gained control of his curveball and really mixed his three pitches very well. The first strikeout came on a changeup at 82 mph. Then next came on a curveball at 75. The third came on a fastball at 92.

Aside from the home run, there wasn’t a lot of hard contract. The second run came when a ground ball took a horrible hop and bounced over the head of first baseman Bo Altobelli. All in all, an impressive showing for the young Australian making his fourth start in the Midwest League.

His manager, Jake Mauer, thought he looked much better than he did in his first three starts. “He looked more comfortable than he has, whether it was nerves or trying to fit in or trying to do too much. I thought he trusted his stuff much better tonight. He used his changeup, which is a pretty good pitch. I think he took advantage of their aggressiveness.”

His catcher, Alex Swim, agreed, “We got through the lineup once with fastball and changeup, and then we started mixing in curveball/slider. He was on point. Everything was good, sharp.”

Thorpe was just happy with a positive result in this start after his first three were rough. “In the first two innings, I wanted to pound the fastball. Then I brought the curveball out in the third inning, and I think that helped me a lot to establish my pitches. Curveball was better. Slider was good, nice and firm down in the strike zone.”

He was quick to give credit as well. “It was good. I had a little change in mechanics. (Pitching coach) Ivan (Arteaga) helped me a lot. Everything was working, so it was great.”

Thorpe explained that the mechanical change involved his non-throwing arm. The change appears to have increased his velocity and control. According to Arteaga, in his previous starts, his fastball was averaging 89 and touched 90. In this start, he was sitting 92 and touched 94.

According to Arteaga, “We actually worked on some stuff the last two weeks, tweaking his mechanics to make sure he can compete. The competition is different than what he has been facing before. The strike zones are tighter, and the hitters are more experienced. He’s an 18 year old kid throwing to kids who are 22, 23, 24. He’s still a work in progress.”

He continued, “When he (added his changeup), then he was able to compete and showed everybody what he can do. He’s resilient. He’s smart. He wants to go out and compete, and he really showed today what he’s all about. I’m really happy about that.”

Arteaga said he was very pleased with Thorpe’s performance, though he did acknowledge that he will talk to Thorpe about the fact that he threw first-pitch strikes to just eight of the 22 batters he faced.

But Mauer hopes this is the start of something bigger for the lefty. “He’s going to be just fine. Hopefully this is something we can continue to build off of.”

Arteaga agreed, “I think he did good today. I think he can be better.”

Thorpe said that in Extended Spring Training, he was being limited to 65 to 75 pitches. He went over 80 pitches in this game and said it felt good.

Though things got interesting late, fellow Australian Todd Van Steensel got the final five outs for his seventh save.

Mauer would like to get him more save opportunities. “He’s been really good for us all year. Just trying to get him opportunities when we actually have the lead. He goes out there, and three punch outs. Three of the five outs were strikeouts and we’ll take that any day of the week.”

Jon Murphy got the Kernels on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third inning when he launched a solo home run well beyond the fence in left centerfield.

In the fourth inning, Chad Christensen singled and advanced to third on a couple wild pitches. He scored on a triple to right center by Jason Kanzler who scored one batter later when Alex Swim singled to left center.

In the fifth inning, Bo Altobelli led off with a double. Two outs later, he was on third base and Tanner Vavra drove him in with an infield single. Next, Chad Christensen doubled down the left field line to score the speedy second baseman. He advanced to third on the throw to the plate and then scored the Kernels’ sixth run on a wild pitch.

Thorpe was very good. Alex Muren replaced him and was charged with two runs on four hits over two innings. Todd Van Steensel came on and got a strikeout with the bases loaded for the second out of the eight inning. However, on an 0-2 pitch, he threw a 58-foot curveball that got by Alex Swim and cut the Kernels lead to one. One pitch later, he closed out the eighth. He worked a perfect ninth and the Kernels four-game losing streak ended.

And for Thorpe, it’s great that his family can be here to see him. “It’s good to have them here. It feels a little bit like home having them here.”


  • I had the chance to catch up with outfielder Zach Granite after the game. The speedster missed over two months with a shoulder injury sustained in the third game of the year. There was an issue with his humerus (which isn’t very funny) and he had shoulder impingement. He told me that he wasn’t able to raise his left (throwing) arm up above his shoulder. He returned to the Kernels recently and said he’s having a blast. He’s still working out some of the rust, but he’s getting there.
  • Mitch Garver is currently on the 7-day disabled list after suffering a concussion. On Thursday, he was catching and the batter foul-tipped a pitch. Garver told me that it hit the facemask squarely, and with enough force that the mask cut his chin and he needed six stitches. He was told that he was on the ground for 60 seconds before getting his bearings. The team immediately took him out. Jake Mauer made the comment earlier that it is a requirement to put him on the disabled list with the concussion. Garver said he is feeling much better and will be able to start working out again on Saturday. Mauer and Garver hope he will need no more than the seven days.
  • Fernando Romero – When we asked Jake Mauer about Fernando Romero, he immediately said that he didn’t think he would pitch again this year. He added that they know he has bone chips in his right elbow, and they suspect it will be more. He is going to travel to Minneapolis and see Dr. John Steubs. He will most certainly have surgery to remove the bone chips, and while in there, the doctor will be able to determine if Tommy John surgery is going to be necessary.
  • Nick Burdi did arrive at the Kernels ballpark on Friday afternoon. Mauer said before the game that he wouldn’t pitch Friday, but there is a chance he could pitch as early as Saturday.

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