CEDAR RAPIDS ó Of all the Cedar Rapids Kernels, this April weather has affected Brett Lee the most.
Not because heís a Floridian and canít stand pitching in cold and wet weather. Thatís a pretty universal thought around the home clubhouse.
Itís more that all those rainouts last week, four in a row, prevented him from making his first pitching start. The sixth man in a six-man rotation, Lee kept getting pushed back, actually having to throw a couple of relief innings to stay fresh before his debut.
It was a debut that finally came†Tuesday night, and it was a beauty, as he threw six shutout innings in a 3-0 Kernels win over Wisconsin in the first game of a double-header at Veterans Memorial Stadium. An eight-run first inning lifted Cedar Rapids to the sweep, 9-1.
"I really didnít think this was going to come," said Lee, who gave up six hits and struck out three. "I thought I was going to be a reliever. Iím glad it finally came. I got my first start out of the way. I felt really good. Everything was working really well, especially my changeup."
Lee (2-0) said he didnít pitch more than two innings in any spring training game, so was surprised when told he would be a starter for the Kernels. The 22-year-old was a 10th-round draft pick of the Twins in 2011 out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College.
It was the third time heíd been drafted, including out of high school in Pensacola, Fla., (40th round by Pittsburgh) and during his freshman year at Bishop State JC in Alabama (33rd round by the Dodgers).
"Going to St. Pete was a good experience," he said. "Really tough opponents, and that helped me out a lot with the draft. When I got that call from the Twins, I was more than ecstatic."
The Kernels (9-3) were more than ecstatic with what they saw†Tuesday night.
"He kept getting pushed back," said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. "Had a couple of touchup innings in relief where it was 15 pitches here, 15 pitches there. But to get up and down six times and maintain that aggressiveness, heís an aggressive guy. The stuff was right around the zone, and he was able to move the ball within the zone. I thought he did a fantastic job of getting outs."
Byron Buxton sat out the first game but went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs in the nightcap. He left Monday nightís game late after getting hit in the left elbow by a pitch and seeing it swell.
X-rays taken Tuesday came back negative.
"I didnít put him in the (first-game) lineup because I wanted to see him take (batting practice)," Mauer said. "You ask him, and heís going to say heís feeling good. Even if heís got one arm dangling, heís going to tell you he wants to play ... First round of BP, he was a little tentative. Then he kind of loosened up and swung pretty good. Obviously you saw he swung the bat pretty good tonight, so I donít think itís bugging him too much."
Travis Harrison had a two-run home run and Buxton and Jorge Polanco two-run doubles in an elongated Kernelsí first. All the damage came against Wisconsin starting pitcher Jorge Lopez, a second-round draft pick of the Brewers last year.
Tyler Jones got his third save in the opener for the Kernels, who conclude this four-game series tonight at 6:35. Steven Gruver and Tim Atherton combined for a four-hitter in the nightcap. Polanco had four hits in the double-header.
The Kernels are expected to receive highly considered pitching prospect J.O. Berrios from Twins extended spring training by Thursday. Berrios, 18, was a second-round pick of Minnesota in the 2012 MLB draft and threw for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic last month.
Here are the game boxscores: