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Cougars must get Billo, Cuthbert back on track

Updated: August 28, 2011 10:15PM

With the Midwest League playoffs just over a week away, one item on the Kane County Cougars’ to-do list is to get a couple of key players back on track.

While up to this point right-hander Greg Billo and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert had both been having outstanding seasons, the duo have been scuffling as of late. Getting them back into their respective grooves is a necessity for a good postseason run.

Billo, an MWL All-Star who two weeks ago led the minor leagues in ERA (1.40), has followed that up with two consecutive uncharactaristic starts where he has given up 12 runs (seven earned) on 20 hits and has watched his ERA jump to 1.95.

He was racked for nine hits and eight runs (three earned) in 2⅔ innings in his start last Monday against Clinton, then Saturday against Peoria gave up four runs on 11 hits in six innings to suffer his third straight loss.

Billo attributed his issues in Clinton to getting frustrated early and gripping the ball too tightly, causing it to lose movment. That carried into Saturday’s start, but after being touched for all four runs he allowed in the third he settled in and held the Chiefs off the board the rest of the way.

While the 130 innings he has pitched this year is far and away the most he has ever thrown in a season, the 21-year-old wasn’t about to make excuses.

“I feel fine and feel like we just started the season,” Billo said. “I’m just trying to finish strong.”

Billo will get one more start Thursday in Cedar Rapids to make some adjustments before opening the playoffs next Wednesday, and he hopes to work out a few more kinks to be ready for the postseason.

“I want to get back to where I was, keep the ball down and throw some clean innings,” he said. “That should get me ready for the playoffs.”

The 18-year-old Cuthbert, who hit .356 in July, has gone the opposite way this month, as he is mired in a 2-for-30 slump that has left him hitting .129 in August. His season average has dropped close to 40 points in the last several weeks, and he now sits at .277 for the year.

Cougars manager Vance Wilson says that Cuthbert is trying to pull the ball and hit home runs as opposed to using the entire field as he was during his run of success. After striking out on three pitches in his second at-bat Sunday, Wilson pulled him aside to offer some guidance. Cuthbert later battled out an eight-pitch walk and flew out to right to end the game, but Wilson was pleased with the approach as opposed to the result.

“Even though he flew out his swing was more gap-to-gap, and that is part of him learning to be a hitter,” Wilson said. “Pitchers come inside, then they get you pulling off and they go away, and great hitters know that. That’s what he was really good at (earlier) and it’s just getting him back on that.”

Recker gets the call

After seven minor-league seasons — including four where he made a league all-star team — and 2,347 at-bats, former Cougars catcher Anthony Recker made his big league debut for the Oakland A’s last Thursday against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Recker, who hit .287 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs as part of Kane County’s 2006 Western Division champions, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his first game then picked up his first big league hit two days later in Boston.

The 27-year-old Recker became the sixth player from that squad to reach the majors, joining Jeff Baisley, Jeff Gray, Brad Kilby, Vin Mazzaro and Justin Sellers, who made his own debut with the Dodgers on Aug. 12. He is also the 114th player in team history to make the majors.

With regular backups Landon Powell and Josh Donaldson leaving the A’s still searching for a backup solution to every day catcher Kurt Suzuki, this could provide Recker with the opportunity to show he should be a part of Oakland’s future plans.

Injury update

Outfielder Alex Llanos, who hurt his left shoulder diving for a ball back on July 13, was activated Monday and is back in the regular lineup. To make room on the roster, fellow outfielder Julio Aparicio was moved to the disabled list with a left hip bruise.

Catcher Juan Graterol, sent to the disabled list on Aug. 12 after sustaining injuries in a home plate collision, was activated Thursday. He replaced Travis Jones, who was sent to High-A Wilmington.

Cougars notes

Graterol became the first position player to pitch for the Cougars this season when he tossed one inning to finish off Friday night’s 19-7 loss. Reportedly hitting 90 m.p.h. on the radar gun, Graterol allowed a run on two hits while striking out two...With 501 runs on the season, the Cougars need to plate 47 more over the last eight games of the season to avoid becoming the lowest-scoring team in club history. The 1992 team holds the record for futility with 547...The Cougars have the best record in the league in one-run wins (24) and one-run winning percentage (.632)...Brian Fletcher, who is hitting .341, is creeping closer to accumulate enough plate appearances to qualify for the league batting title. The minimum standard is 2.7 plate appearances per team games, and Fletcher is now at 2.6.

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