Matt Brill appreciates an all-star opportunity, but the Kane County pitcher from Coal Valley isn’t content with his game as the midpoint of the Midwest League season nears.
“I feel like I still have so much to learn,’’ Brill said. “Every day, I’m learning about the game and about myself. It’s been an interesting season, with some good and some moments where I see where I have room to improve.’’
The Moline graduate, selected by the Diamondbacks in the 12th round of the 2017 draft out of Appalachian State, is currently 4-1 with a 3.04 earned run average in 22 appearances out of the Kane County bullpen.
He has recorded six saves in eight opportunities this season, striking out 29 batters and walking 15 in 26 2/3 innings of work for the Cougars.
Brill’s work has been good enough to catch the attention of Midwest League managers who selected him to be part of the pitching staff for the Western Division team at the league’s 54th annual all-star game on June 19 at Lansing.
One of five Kane County players named to the team which will be managed by Quad-Cities manager Mickey Storey, Brill looks forward to getting the chance to meet some of the players he has competed against this season.
“It’s an honor. There are a lot of great players in this league and to be selected by the managers to represent my team and organization is a good feeling,’’ Brill said. “I think I’ve put together a good half, but there is still more that I need to achieve.’’
In his late-game role with the Cougars, Brill’s focus is centered on throwing strikes and reducing the number of walks he has issued.
“That’s the one area where I see a real need to get better,’’ he said. “In my way of thinking, I’m walking too many hitters. It’s a matter of execution and that is something I’m working on every day.’’
The lessons Brill has learned this season extend beyond understanding the nuances of being a closer.
He’s also taken time to listen and talk the game with those around him.
“Just getting a chance to pick the brain of the coaches about how they’ve dealt with certain situations, being able to learn that way, I’ve gained a lot this year,’’ Brill said. “I feel like it’s been a pretty important year for me in a lot of ways, just building on what I’ve done in the past.’’
Brill made his professional debut on July 3 last year for short-season Hillsboro and in the 40 games he has worked at the pro level he has a combined 5-2 record and a 2.11 ERA while limiting opposing batters to a .189 average.
“The time flies, and there is another group of players who were drafted last week who will be headed to Hillsboro soon,’’ Brill said. “It’s a reminder that you have to put everything you have into it every day because there is another group coming up.''
Family first: His team is in the hunt for the first-half title in the Western Division, but Clinton manager Denny Hocking will work his final game of the first half tonight when the LumberKings visit Quad-Cities.
Hitting coach Jose Umbria will fill in for the final five games of the half so Hocking can attend graduation ceremonies for one of his children.
“It’s a tough time to step away because the guys in the clubhouse, they’re family, too, and they’ve worked so hard to put themselves in this position,’’ Hocking said. “But, they’ll be in good hands and I know they’ll finish the task at hand.’’
Hocking said he appreciates the Mariners’ willingness to provide him with the time to be with his family.
“It means a lot to me and it’s good to be part of an organization with those values,’’ Hocking said.
Near perfection: Peoria’s Paul Balestrieri needed 100 pitches to no-hit Kane County on Thursday and just missed a perfect game in the 8-0 road victory.
The Cougars’ only baserunner came in the bottom of the first inning when Chiefs first baseman Yariel Gonzalez misplayed a Yoel Yanqui grounder with two outs.
Making his fourth start of the season, Balestrieri retired the next 25 batters he faced, 14 on groundouts to record the fifth no-hitter in the Midwest League this season.
Another no-no: Balestrieri’s no-hitter came one night after the fourth no-hitter of the season in the Midwest League, a combined effort last Wednesday by Cubs prospects Rollie Lacy and Ben Hecht for South Bend in a 7-0 win over Fort Wayne.
In that game, Lacy walked two batters over seven innings before Hecht worked two perfect innings in South Bend’s first no-hitter since 2014.
Weekly honors: Former Quad-Cities pitcher Jorge Alcala was named Monday as the Texas League pitcher of the week.
Alcala, 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in six outings for the River Bandits last season, scattered three hits over nine innings of relief work last week for Corpus Christi.
Peoria’s Balestrieri was named the pitcher of the week in the Midwest League, while Lansing’s Ryan Noda was named the player of the week.
Alumni report: A former Quad-Cities pitcher who went on to pitch in parts of 12 major-league seasons is giving back to his college alma mater.
Glen Perkins, the Twins’ first-round pick in the 2004 draft, donated $500,000 to help fund a $1.3 performance center for the University of Minnesota baseball program adjacent to Siebert Field on the university’s campus.
The Glen Perkins Family Baseball Performance Center provides a permanent set-up for batting cages that includes an electronic HitTrax system which uses fiber optic and infrared cameras which measure a hit ball’s exit velocity, launch angle and records other analytic information.
Perkins completed his first professional season in 2004 with Quad-Cities, going 2-1 with a 1.30 ERA in nine starts in the Midwest League. He struck out 49 batters and walked 12 in 48 1/3 innings of work.