Greg Mercer, Record staff
KITCHENER – The Hamilton Cardinals’ Chris Lazar made his Intercounty Baseball League debut Thursday night. That’s normally a reason to be excited, except on this night he was facing the Kitchener Panthers.
The 6-0 Panthers have made a mess of opposing pitchers so far this season, putting up 84 runs in five games going into Thursday’s game at Jack Couch Park. They were hitting .405 as a team.
“There’s no weak spot in that lineup,” said the Cardinals’ manager Dean Castelli, whose team was still chasing their first win. “There’s no easy way to go about those hitters. But you have to go after them. I don’t want my pitchers to be scared and pitch wild.”
Lazar, a lefty, wasn’t helped by sloppy play behind him, and left the game with the bases loaded in the sixth with his Cardinals trailing 6-1 – but only gave up two earned runs. The Panthers’ starter Eric Hall, meanwhile, pitched five tidy innings, giving up four hits, one unearned run, no walks and struck out three.
In the end, it was another lopsided Panthers victory, with Kitchener pounding out 17 hits and winning 14-3, the sixth-consecutive game the high-flying Panthers have scored double-digit runs.
Catcher Frank Camilo Morejon delivered the shot that broke the game wide open, smacking a two-run single that put the Panthers up 8-1.
The Cardinals responded with two runs in the seventh off Mike Schnurr, after loading the bases, but the reliever limited the damage. Jonathan Brouse added another for Kitchener when he scored from second on a single from Darren Saunders.
Kitchener manager Dave teBoekhorst has such a wealth of offensive weapons he can move Tanner Nivins, Kitchener’s centre fielder who would normally hit in the heart of many batting orders, into the leadoff spot.
“We’re in such a hitter’s lineup, with so many great hitters, that nobody has to feel pressure to succeed on any one night,” said Nivins, who launched a lead-off solo home run off Lazar, and had four hits Thursday. “No matter what, one or two guys are going to have a big night.”
Nivins piled on three more runs in the eighth, when he sent a pitch from reliever Tim Black over the left field fence.
Mike Glinka, the Panthers shortstop, said the team came into 2016 more amped up than usual because of their loss in the IBL finals last year. The additions of bats like Justin Interisano and Morejon has only helped, he added.
“Guys came into the season really hungry, and I think that showed from the get-go. We’ve got a lot of good ball players, and we’ve just fed off each other. It’s contagious,” he said. “But this is crazy. I don’t think this is sustainable for the whole season.”
Second baseman Mike Andrulis, hitting .357, said the team is also a year older, and that experience shows.
“We don’t normally start exactly the best, but we came out of the gate hot, for once,” he said. “We’ve been getting good pitching, everybody is hitting, we’re all playing good defense. You’ll start to win a lot of ball games if you do that.”
The manager said he’s been coaching his players to be aggressive early in counts, and try to score runs early. They’ve been doing that, while walking few batters and playing slick defense – but teBoekhorst cautioned against getting too excited this early in the season.
They’ve yet to really be tested by the upper echelon teams in the league, games that will start soon.
“I told the guys let’s not get too high on our horse. We’re only five games into the season. Let’s not plan the parade just yet,” he said.
The Panthers’ next home game is Sunday at 2 p.m., when they host Barrie at Jack Couch Park.