Saunders Goes Off, Vegas Gives Up Early

July 31, 2011

The Rainiers blasted Las Vegas on Saturday night, 12-1, and the 51s gave up in the fifth inning.

It was the earliest I have ever seen a team bring a position player in to pitch.

Trailing 9-1 after four innings, Las Vegas manager Marty Brown brought left fielder Jason Lane in to pitch, and he used non-pitchers for the remainder of the game.

Now, to be clear, Lane knows what he is doing on the mound. He pitched a lot at USC and was even the winning pitcher in the College World Series championship game for the Trojans. But that was back in 1998 – since then, Lane has had a major league career as a slugging outfielder, and he must be a baseball lifer (like many of us) because he keeps re-signing with Las Vegas even though he hasn’t played in the majors since 2007.

Lane fared pretty well, giving up three runs in three innings before turning it over to fellow outfielder Danny Perales for the eighth.

Las Vegas is short pitching right now – the Blue Jays traded three pitchers to St. Louis for Colby Rasmus, and as a result they have pitchers in transit throughout their farm system. And the game was pretty much decided, due to the pounding the Rainiers put on Las Vegas starter Scott Richmond.

Michael Saunders went 5-for-5 with two home runs for Tacoma. He homered to left in his first two at-bats, and singled in his next three (although his last two singles came off outfielders).

It was Saunders second career five-hit game – he did it June 6, 2007 when he played for High Desert in the California League. It was also the first five-hit game for a Tacoma player this year – the first since Tug Hullet did it late last season.

It was the fifth career two-homer game for Saunders – the last time he homered twice it was at Yankee Stadium on June 30th of last year.

Saunders stole the thunder from Wily Mo Pena, who homered in his first at-bat as a member of the Rainiers in the first inning. Pena’s high line drive seemed to leave the ballpark instantly – was it ever here in the first place?

Jose Yepez and Kyle Seager each had three hits for the Rainiers, who won for just their second time in the last eight games.

Today’s game in Tacoma is at 1:35, and you can hear it on 850 AM or streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Luke French (7-7, 5.57) against Las Vegas RHP Robbie Ray (0-2, 10.29). The real question is, will Vegas shortstop Chris Woodward pitch?

Sunday links:

  • The News Tribune’s Ryan Divish showed up for the Rainiers game, and he filed this report.
  • In my Minor League Notebook for the TNT, I looked at Mariners relief prospects Cesar Jimenez and Stephen Pryor. Also, I recapped the Reno roster situation – they’ve had massive turnover, similar to what Tacoma went through at about the same time last season.
  • Yesterday’s links on the Fister/Pauley trade were rush-jobs – here is a very considered, informative look at the trade from Larry Stone.
  • For more Larry Stone, we have his Sunday MLB notebook, his power rankings (#27 is cruel), and a blog post on his final run-up to Sunday’s trade deadline.
  • Right here in Puget Sound, they found a jellyfish large enough to eat a 7-year-old kid. It didn’t, but… just check out the picture.
  • OK, that previous link had nothing to do with baseball, but it was too good to pass up. Did you see the size of that jellyfish? Imagine if you went for a swim, and that thing started sucking on your leg!
  • John McGrath went up to Safeco Field and watched Michael Pineda pitch, and he wrote about Pineda’s workload.
  • The Rainiers gained a game on first place Reno, since the Aces took a loss at Fresno. Tacoma is 10.5 games back going into Sunday. The Aces have scoured the independent leagues as they try to hang on to first.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks were hoping that Wily Mo Pena would accept an assignment to Reno.
  • On the business side, the Sacramento franchise is transitioning from a major league sized front office to a family business.
  • Tucson held Salt Lake scoreless in every inning except the fifth – when Salt Lake scored 12 runs. The Bees sent 16 batters to the plate, the first nine reached, and each player in the lineup scored at least one run during the inning.
  • Next week the Rainiers are going to have to deal with top prospect Leonys Martin, the centerfielder for Round Rock. The Cuban does not talk about his defection.
  • New Orleans won in the tenth inning, and it looks like Albuquerque is going to be doing some PFP. (PFP = Pitcher’s Fielding Practice).
  • Omaha keeps on winning.

We can’t have a marathon today. We need to wrap things up in nine innings, because I’ve got to get up to Seattle to see these guys. As an aside, I’ve always thought that Josh Homme is a dead ringer for former Rainiers and Mariners pitcher J.J. Putz. Read the rest of this entry »

Trade Season Arrives

July 30, 2011

The Rainiers lost the series finale to Sacramento last night, 6-5. Tacoma had the tying runner in scoring position with two outs in the ninth when the game ended.

Tacoma lost three of four to Sacramento, and all four games were decided by two runs or less. After winning 7 of 9 immediately after the all-star break, the team has now lost 6 of 7 for a total record of 8-8 since the break.

On the plus side, Matt Tuiasosopo showed some signs of life at the plate the last two days. He had a key single in the ninth on Thursday, and then last night he doubled off the left field fence with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, before homering off the scoreboard in right-center in the ninth.

Tonight the Rainiers host the Las Vegas 51s in a 7:05 game at Cheney Stadium, and you can hear it on 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Chris Seddon (6-5, 5.97) against Las Vegas RHP Scott Richmond (6-8, 6.70).

The key player to watch on Las Vegas is third baseman Brett Lawrie, who is off the DL and raking. The 21-year-old Canadian is batting .360 with 18 homers and 59 RBI in 64 games, and he’s been hot lately. Las Vegas also has the leading hitter in the PCL, first baseman David Cooper (.372).

I would also like to point out that the other day, after 102 games, the won-loss record of the Las Vegas 51s was 51-51. Spooky, huh?

The Mariners made a trade today, sending former Rainiers pitchers Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for outfielder Casper Wells, pitcher Charlie Furbush, third baseman Francisco Martinez, and a player to be named later.

Wells and Furbush will join the Mariners, and Martinez is a 20-year-old prospect who is already at Class-AA – let’s go ahead and assume he’ll report to AA-Jackson.

For expert analysis of this trade, I have several links below.

In another roster move, the Mariners called up reliever Dan Cortes from Tacoma, optioning Aaron Laffey to the Rainiers. It’s a good thing Forrest Snow was able to finish that game yesterday, or else Tacoma would have a bullpen problem tonight.


It’s another beautiful day for baseball in Tacoma – hey, that’s three in a row!

Friday Roster Moves

July 29, 2011

Update from the ballpark:

  • Ryan Langerhans was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for “cash considerations” and assigned to Reno.
  • Johan Limonta was placed on the inactive list.
  • Wily Mo Pena is active today, but he’s not physically here. He’ll be here on Saturday.
  • Forrest Snow is back on the active roster. He never actually travelled to High Desert – thank goodness.

Tacoma now has 12 pitchers and 12 hitters – but the overstock of DHs and outfielders with lack of middle infielders remains a problem.

Rainiers Gamble and Lose

July 29, 2011

Tacoma manager Daren Brown rolled the dice last night, gambling that Sacramento left fielder Michael Taylor would not be able to make a perfect throw home on a shallow fly ball to left field in the ninth inning.

If the house always wins, then Taylor has a new nickname.

Taylor threw a strike to the plate, and catcher Josh Donaldson put the tag on Johan Limonta, who had tagged at third and was trying to score with two outs in the ninth. It was the final out of the game, and Sacramento beat Tacoma, 5-4.

It was an aggressive gamble by Brown, but it was perfectly reasonable. If he had not sent Limonta, Michael Saunders would have batted with the bases loaded and two outs, down by a run.

Saunders has been swinging it well, so let’s say he had about a 30% chance of getting a hit (.300 average). Then add another 10% chance he would walk*, and another 5% chance the River Cats make a mistake (error, wild pitch, hit batter etc), and you’re looking at about a 45% chance that Saunders does something to tie or win the game.

What was the chance that Taylor would throw a strike home? I don’t know – but he did it, and that was that.

It was a thrilling finish to a pretty exciting game, but it just went the wrong way for the Rainiers.

So now Tacoma has lost five of the last six games, and the Rainiers need a win tonight to salvage a split of the Sacramento series.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 and there will be Friday Night Fireworks at Cheney Stadium. Tacoma starts LHP Mauricio Robles (1-1, 9.00) against Sacramento RHP Bruce Billings (6-2, 4.60). Sacramento was supposed to start Tyson Ross but he was scratched and now they are having a bullpen day.

You can listen to the game on South Sound Sports 850 AM, and streaming online right here.

Tacoma made a roster move before the game yesterday, activating reliever Josh Fields from the Temporary Inactive List and sending pitcher Forest Snow back to Class-A High Desert. Snow did a great job in his emergency fill-in role and I’m sure we’ll see him in a Tacoma uniform again down the road. 


  • In his Rainiers game story for The News Tribune, Larry LaRue speculates that Ryan Langerhans will be the fall guy when Wily Mo Pena is activated. Update: Langerhans is in the lineup for the Reno Aces tonight. I don’t know the transaction.
  • Speaking of Wily Mo, here’s a blog post from Jeff Sullivan at Lookout Landing.
  • The Mariners were off yesterday, but we have dueling columns about the Mariners options going into Sunday’s trade deadline: one from Ryan Divish of the TNT, and one from Geoff Baker at the Times.
  • Larry Stone digs even deeper into the trade talk, passing along some specific rumors.
  • John McGrath wrote about the guilty pleasure of losing streaks. I’m not sure I agree with him, but it’s a fun read anyway.
  • In the PCL, Reno had a dramatic win over Las Vegas, increasing its lead to 11.5 games over Tacoma. Against their desire, the Aces have had a massive roster overhaul.
  • Out of Fresno we have a story on one aspect of the Triple-A manager’s job: scouting.
  • Here’s a fun story on Tucson Padres who have been traded at the deadline in the past.
  • A 1-0 game in the PCL? Unheard of! Salt Lake beat Fresno 1-0 on Paul McAnulty’s homer in the ninth inning.
  • In a 13-2 win at Oklahoma City, Nashville’s Taylor Green put up this boxscore line: 4-5-4-6. A single, a double, two homers, two walks, five runs scored, six RBI.
  • Green leads off the Baseball Prospectus Minor League Update, which is free today.
  • Round Rock won a wild one in the 11th inning, beating Memphis on a wild pitch.
  • It’s beginning to look like Albuquerque’s Dana Eveland will be the PCL Pitcher of the Year. After yesterday’s 3-hit shutout, the lefty is 11-5 with a 3.26 ERA while pitching half of his games on the moon at Isotopes Park.
  • No Rainiers made the cut, but two PCL players and a recent local high school draft pick made this week’s edition of the Baseball America Prospect Hot Sheet.
  • Looks like I’m going to have to get Curt Smith’s new baseball broadcasting book!

We have another beautiful day in Tacoma – that’s two in a row, folks! – so come on out and join us at the park tonight.

* Saunders is walking in far more than 10% of his plate appearances but I lowered it to 10% because the veteran Sacramento reliever Willie Eyre is an unlikely candidate to walk in the tying run with the bases loaded.

Rainiers Win & Sign Wily Mo

July 28, 2011

Big day yesterday at the ol’ ballyard.

First, the Rainiers ended a four-game losing streak by defeating Sacramento, 3-1. Anthony Vasquez delivered another gem, allowing one run over six innings, relievers Shawn Kelley and Scott Patterson were outstanding, and the Rainiers had some clutch hitting from Ralph Henriquez and Kyle Seager.

After the game, we got word that the Mariners signed Triple-A slugger Wily Mo Pena to a contract, and he will be joining the Rainiers in a few days.

This immediately made me happy, because Wily Mo is one of the most fun players to watch in Triple-A baseball due to the enormity of his home runs. He may not connect often, but when he does, it’s a sight to see. Pena also puts on a display during batting practice every day.

Pena put up big numbers for Reno earlier this season, hitting .363 with 21 home runs and 63 RBI in 63 games for the Aces. He got called up to Arizona and went 9-for-45 with five homers, but 19 strikeouts. Arizona designated him for assignment and Wily Mo elected free agency, signing with the Mariners.

It will be fun having Wily Mo here, but still, it was a curious signing. What, exactly, are we going to do with him?

Pena is a designated hitter. Tacoma already has a DH in Luis Jimenez, who is putting up a solid 285/374/477 line. John Limonta is also primarily a DH, although he does get starts in the outfield corners.

The outfield is full, with 40-man-roster players Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson, and Michael Saunders out there. Then there are Matt Tuiasosopo and Ryan Langerhans – Langerhans is playing very well right now, and while Tui is having a rough season he’s still on the 40-man.

Tacoma already has an unbalanced roster, with 13 position players and 11 pitchers. You need a 12-man pitching staff in the PCL (unlike the majors, in the high-octane PCL you actually need seven relievers). So when Wily Mo gets here, it will put even more of a bind on this roster unless changes are made.

It’s a real logjam. The team has a couple of days to work it out, while Wily Mo is getting in shape down in Peoria.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 at Cheney Stadium and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Nate Robertson (3-3, 7.68) against Sacramento LHP Carlos Hernandez (5-3, 4.55). It seems like something strange happens every time Robertson takes the mound, so be ready…

KJR 950 AM is broadcasting its afternoon show live from Cheney Stadium, and several Rainiers players will be guests – check it out, from 3 to 7!


Off to the ballpark. Tasty Thursday tonight!

Let’s Not Get Any Ideas…

July 27, 2011

Well, it’s nothing compared to the Mariners streak right now, but Tacoma lost its fourth in a row on Tuesday night. Tacoma lost to Sacramento in the opener of an eight-game homestand, 6-4.

There have been two big problems the last few days: the starting pitchers have suddenly had trouble lasting deep into games, and even more surprisingly the offense has sputtered for three days in a row.

On Monday Luke French lasted 5.2 innings, and he needed 118 pitches to get there. He left trailing 6-0, and it ended a string of four consecutive quality starts for French. It was also only the third time in his last 11 starts that the Rainiers lost a game that French started.

Tacoma was nearly shut out – and it would have been for just the second time all season. After collecting just four singles over the first eight innings, Tacoma showed some heart and rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth, eventually putting the winning run in the batter’s box before making the final out.

Cesar Jimenez had a very nice relief outing, tossing 2.1 scoreless innings while striking out six.

The Rainiers try to even the series in a Wednesday day game at Cheney Stadium. First pitch is at 11:35 AM, and if you can’t come join us for a long lunch, you can listen to the game on 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Anthony Vasquez (2-2, 3.62) against Sacramento RHP Travis Banwart (5-6, 5.24).

Look for Seattle Mariners reliever Shawn Kelley to make a rehab appearance for the Rainiers today.


  • Larry LaRue stopped by Cheney and wrote the Rainiers game story for The News Tribune.
  • 17.
  • You know its a long streak when baseball writers are referencing the Cleveland Spiders.
  • Eric Wedge is breaking out all of his moves: first he shaved his mustache, then he told the players not to show up at the ballpark until later. The two strategies had similar results.
  • Send good thoughts out to the Peanut Man, as he needs them right now.
  • Kirby Arnold wrote a piece answering some questions you might have about Mariners minor leaguers Nick Franklin, Alex Liddi, Marcus Littlewood, and James Paxton.
  • The Seattle Times has a feature on former Rainiers knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, who is now in Double-A with the Red Sox.
  • So this is now considered to be safe, not out? I need someone to update me on the new baseball rules.
  • Ex-Rainier Greg Dobbs had a career day for the Florida Marlins.
  • In the PCL, Reno blasted Las Vegas, 10-5, and the Aces lead the division by 11.5 games. Juan Miranda hit a grand slam. According to the story, Collin Cowgill was promoted to Arizona and David Winfree is out with another (unknown) injury. At least Sal Fasano Konrad Schmidt is still there, tougher than ever.
  • Anthony Rizzo is hitting again, but his Tucson Padres lost to Colorado Springs.
  • Fresno got lit up by Salt Lake – the Bees have won four in a row.
  • The Round Rock Express rescued Val Majewski from the independent Atlantic League.
  • Nashville topped Oklahoma City on a two-run double by Erick Almonte in the tenth inning.
  • The Omaha Storm Chasers received the next wave of Royals prospects – but they lost to Albuquerque on a Russ Mitchell homer in the ninth.

Today’s blog was a football-free zone – well mostly, anyway, there is this. Theory: nobody (including me) knows how to judge a defense-first team in the Pac-12, since we normally don’t have those.

Back Home

July 26, 2011

The Rainiers open up an eight-game homestand tonight at Cheney Stadium, after going 4-4 on a road trip to Tucson and Salt Lake City.

Tacoma lost the last three games in Salt Lake City, including a 9-2 decision on Monday evening.

This team has been terrific on the road all season, and this was its first stumble in a long, long time.

Tacoma lost a road series for just the second time this year – and the first time since dropping three of four at Fresno, April 11-14.

The Rainiers have lost three road games in a row for the first time since early May.

Monday’s defeat leaves Tacoma back under .500, at 51-52 on the year.

Tonight’s game against Sacramento is at 7:05, and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Luke French (7-6, 5.37) against Sacramento LHP Josh Outman (6-1, 3.83).

As usual, Sacramento is playing well – they just won four out of five games against Reno, helping the Rainiers stay 10.5 games behind the first-place Aces. Sacramento has a big lead in the South and is well on the way to winning the division for the 10th time in the last 12 years.

One particularly hot River Cat to look out for: third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. Kouz has homered in three straight games, and he has five home runs in his last five games. Let’s see if the Rainiers can keep him in the ballpark.


  • Here is my Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • Sixteen.
  • Larry Stone asks, how embarrassing is it?
  • Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) compares the 2011 Mariners to the 1960 Phillies.
  • The Mariners are going to activate Erik Bedard from the disabled list so he can start Friday. Blake Beavan has pitched well enough to make the companion roster move not so obvious.
  • Sacramento beat Reno so soundly, the Aces had 38-year-old third baseman Andy Tracy on the mound.
  • Salt Lake reliever Michael Kohn was a shortstop in college – and his fortunes changed with one bullpen session.
  • Las Vegas catcher Ryan Budde is PCL to the core – heck, even his father is in the league, working in the front office of the Oklahoma City RedHawks.
  • Fresno finally beat Colorado Springs – the Grizzlies went 4-12 against the Sky Sox this year.
  • Oklahoma City completed a four-game sweep of Memphis, and outfielder J.B. Shuck is the most difficult batter to strikeout in the PCL.
  • Nashville can send a gift basket to the PCL schedule maker for giving them eight straight games against Iowa – they won seven of them.
  • The World Series Champions met the president, and if you haven’t seen the photo of crazed Giants closer Brian Wilson giving President Obama a respectful stare-down, well… here it is.

Pressing “publish” from the Salt Lake City airport – can’t wait to get home!