Baseball: Matt Stalcup serves up shutout as Beloit blanks the Cougars

Matt Stalcup could hardly be considered a likely candidate to keep the Cougars’ lineup in check.

It was that kind of lethargic night.

Beloit’s left-hander, lit up the last time he faced Kane County, combined with two relievers for a 7-0 shutout on Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

Even with the best record in the Midwest League, Cougars manager Mark Johnson recognizes that there will be occasional blips on the radar.

“It’s baseball. You’re going to have games like this,” Johnson said. “It’s just one of those days.”

A night after the Cougars (60-31, 15-6 second half) hit four homers in a 6-3 win, the power went out. The Cougars were handed their first nine-inning shutout loss since May 29.

Who guessed Stalcup had it in him to flip the power switch?

Stalcup came in sporting a 5.65 ERA, and was roughed up for six runs on eight hits in 4⅔ innings against the Cougars on June 29.

This time he handcuffed the Cougars on just four hits and two walks, striking out three and leaving with two runners on in the sixth.

The Cougars stranded two runners in that inning, and left the bases loaded in the ninth, going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

“He did a good job, you have to tip your hat every now and then,” Johnson said. “He established in with his fastball. We had a couple chances but he made some good pitches when he needed to.”

Cougars third baseman Jeimer Candelario had half of his team’s hits against Stalcup, his 2-for-3 effort with a walk running his hitting streak to six games. Candelario is batting .480 (12-for-25) during that stretch.

Rated the Cubs’ eighth-best prospect by Baseball America before the 2014 season, Candelario returned to Kane County in June after hitting just .193 in 62 games at Class A (Advanced) Daytona. The 20-year-old switch hitter batted .256 with a .742 OPS with the Cougars last season.

“I’m just looking for my pitch every time, being aggressive,” Candelario said. “If they make a mistake I’m ready for it. You just have to work hard every day and be the best player you can.”

Even after the demotion, Johnson has noticed the same happy kid he managed last year.

“He hadn’t had a whole lot of games hitting from the right side, but he didn’t look like he’d missed a beat from that side against the left-hander,” Johnson said. “He’s been hitting the ball hard from both sides of the plate. It’s good for his confidence. He’s starting to stay through the ball more and driving it to the opposite gap.”

Kyle Schwarber went 2-for-4 for the Cougars and threw out two runners from behind the plate, but also let two pitches get by him.

Cougars starter Tyler Skulina skirted into and out of trouble in his five innings of work.

Coming off a strong six-inning outing at Clinton, Skulina (4-5) danced around a one-out single in the first inning and leadoff single in the second. He nearly emerged from the tightrope unscathed after allowing a leadoff double to Justin Higley in the third, but with two out, a pitch in the dirt squirted past Schwarber to allow Higley to come in with the game’s first run.

Skulina, who never did throw a clean inning, was touched again for a run in the fifth on Matt Chapman’s towering triple just beyond the reach of David Bote at the left-field fence.

Beloit put things out of reach with two runs in the seventh, one in the eighth and two more in the ninth. The seven runs were the most given up by the Cougars since a 9-7 win at Beloit June 29.

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