New Manager? No Problem!

New Rainiers manager John Stearns had about as easy of a debut as possible yesterday. Tacoma beat Tucson, 8-0, in a no-drama affair that included four home runs and a sterling two-hit shutout performance over eight innings by Jeremy Bonderman.

The victory was Tacoma’s ninth in a row, and it completed the team’s second consecutive four-game series sweep.

Tacoma has not won ten straight games since the 2008 season, when the Rainiers terrorized American Conference foes Round Rock and Albuquerque, sweeping an eight-game homestand (the team book-ended that homestand with a pair of road wins). That streak started on July 29, and it kicked off a 26-8 sprint to the finish line – the Rainiers were 54-56 when it started, and finished the year at 80-64.

One thing seems clear right away about new manager John Stearns: he’s going to bring a lot of energy to the table.

This didn’t reveal itself during the game; it came out during batting practice. Stearns threw to all three groups before the game – 45 minutes of BP pitching; normally three coaches each throw one 15-minute round. All the while he was shouting encouragement to the hitters, on nearly every pitch. It got to a point where if he didn’t yell something on a particular swing, you noticed the silence.

Tacoma players all know Stearns from spring training camp, and they have all hit against him in BP – this was nothing out of the ordinary for them.

There was one funny moment where he was pitching to one of his starters and calling him by his last name, and when the batter finished his round and started around the bases, Stearns looked to a Mariners Assistant GM behind the cage and said, quietly, “what’s his first name?” The Assistant said, “His name is —, and we’ll get you a roster!”

When it’s 8-0, with four homers and a two-hit shutout, no roster is needed.

Reno Series Preview

The Aces come stumbling into Tacoma ten games under .500 with a 9-19 record – a rare sight, indeed, for a Brett Butler-managed team. Reno is the defending PCL and Triple-A Baseball champion, so this is a bit of a surprise.

The Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate managed to avoid being swept at home by Las Vegas, salvaging the final game of the series last night 5-1 behind the pitching of Triple-A rookie Zeke Spruill. Still, the Aces took six losses during an eight-game homestand against Vegas and Fresno.

Reno has struggled at Aces Ballpark. They are 4-12 at home, and 5-7 on the road. Offensively, they haven’t been lighting up the scoreboard like they need to in order to win at Reno (Aces Ballpark is the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the league).

Still, the Aces are a threat. In typical Brett Butler fashion, this team will steal bases until you have no bases left for them to steal – if you let them. They have 35 steals and have only been caught seven times this year, for a remarkable 83.3% success rate as a team.

Outfielder Tony Campana is the primary thief. The former Cub has already stolen home plate – on a straight steal – and he has stolen second, third, and home on the same trip around the bases. He is a threat to go at any time – I can only imagine that Campana enjoys playing for Butler, who will encourage him to use his speed all of the time.

Triple-A slugger Kila Ka’aihue has patience and power – he can change the game with one swing, and if pitchers try to nibble around the corners he’ll take a walk down to first base. Veteran outfielder Brad Snyder (.293-4-24), infielder Chris Owings (.349-2-17), and catcher Ed Easley (.373-2-10) have been the Aces other top offensive performers.

Pitching-wise, Reno’s team ERA of 6.25 is last in the PCL with an (upside-down) bullet. Their staff just hasn’t been very good so far this year, and of course the home ballpark isn’t helping matters at all.

Reno is pulling an ace out of its sleeve for this series: major league center fielder Adam Eaton is starting a rehabilitation assignment tonight in Tacoma. Eaton was slated to be the Diamondbacks center fielder and leadoff hitter this season, but he sprained his left elbow during spring training and has been out all season. Eaton won the PCL Most Valuable Player award last year – hopefully he’ll be a little rusty as he begins his rehab.

Prospect watchers: keep an eye on Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson. Top pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs is scheduled to start Sunday’s game.

The Reno Aces have no former Rainiers on the team. Pitching coach Mike Parrott is a former Mariner.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and it’s Friday Night Fireworks. Tacoma starts LHP James Paxton (1-2, 6.00) against Reno RHP Chase Anderson (1-3, 6.26). The broadcast is on 850 AM and streaming online through this link. Also, you can get it on your mobile device through TuneIn.

Links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune leads things off. A correction: the Tacoma record winning streak is 16, set in 1961. We’re not even close yet.
  • On his Minor League Report, Ryan Divish includes a video shot of Carlos Triunfel‘s three-run homer.
  • John McGrath has a column on baseball lifers Daren Brown and new manager John Stearns. Stearns has an interesting background.
  • Larry Stone also wrote about the manager change, with lots of quotes from Stearns.
  • Tacoma hitting coach Howard Johnson will miss the Reno series, to attend his daughter’s college graduation. It’s probably for the best, since we are going to play his unfortunate “Get Metsmorized” rap on the big screen for Thowback Weekend.
  • No Mariners made Baseball America’s weekly Prospect Hot Sheet – but hey, at least they avoided the Not-So-Hot Sheet.
  • In the PCL, here is the story on Reno’s victory over Las Vegas last night.┬áThe Aces are adding a new front office executive.
  • Salt Lake defeated Colorado Springs, 2-1, on a game-ending sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Fresno waxed Sacramento and earned a series split.
  • Oklahoma City is nearly as hot as Tacoma – the RedHawks won their seventh in a row yesterday, crushing Nashville, 9-1. The Rainiers visit OKC on Tuesday – wouldn’t it be cool if both team’s streaks were still going?
  • Everybody in Albuquerque has a book coming out this season (Traub’s seems interesting to me – I’ll pick that one up when we go down there in August). Meanwhile, Oscar Taveras went off and Memphis beat the ‘Topes last night.
  • Omaha shut out New Orleans, 1-0.
  • Even in Iowa they are surprised to have a game snowed out on May 2nd.

 

Last chance to get that ticket deal for Throwback Weekend – check it right here!

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