Vegas Brings In The Cooler

June 30, 2013

Las Vegas starter Jacob deGrom tossed seven stellar innings and shut down Tacoma on Saturday night, 4-1.

After allowing a run in the second inning, deGrom led 2-1. He gave up a leadoff double to Abraham Almonte in the third inning – and then stranded him, setting off a run of 15 straight batters retired. Only the iron-clad 100-pitch barrier stopped him – he’d probably still be retiring hitters now, well on into the night, if Vegas manager Wally Backman had left him in.

The Rainiers have lost two straight games, scoring a total of one run.

This is a new Tacoma team: gone is the club that routinely scored 6 or 7 or 8 runs per game, and led the PCL in scoring. Yes, Tacoma still leads the league in runs, but the lineup has changed – and that ranking is going to change. Now Tacoma must win with pitching.

Erasmo Ramirez started, and he didn’t have his best command. He wasn’t walking batters, but he was hittable in the strike zone, allowing 10 hits and four runs over six innings. Right now, allowing four runs in six innings at home is not going to win many games (it would’ve been fine a few days ago).

I’m curious to see what the Mariners are going to do with the Tacoma lineup. I don’t get the sense that they are going to prematurely move up hitters from Double-A who might not be ready. Will they sign some free agents? For example, Omaha just released veteran Xavier Nady, who would be a perfect fit for Tacoma right now. Will the Mariners sign a guy like that just to help the Triple-A club? I don’t know; I guess we’ll find out.

In the meantime, let’s get some good pitching.

Today’s game is at 1:35, and you can hear the broadcast on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming online right here, or on your iPad or smart phone via the TuneIn app. Tacoma starts RHP Brandon Maurer (2-1, 3.33) against Las Vegas RHP Matt Fox (2-2, 5.32).

Links:

  • We start as always with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • My minor league notebook for the paper looks at some of the prospect-packed Tacoma starting rotations from the past. This was a fun one to research.
  • So much for hoping Eric Thames clears waivers. Baltimore claimed him, and the Mariners will get infielder Ty Kelly from the Orioles. Kelly hit .283 with lots of singles, doubles, and walks in the Double-A Eastern League, and he is getting promoted: he’ll join the Rainiers.
  • The Mariners lost in 11 innings to the Cubs, 5-3.
  • Larry Stone’s Sunday baseball package is online now at the Seattle Times: a column on the status of the Mariners youth movement, a notebook following up on the Oakland A’s sewage disaster, power rankings, and thumbs up-and-down.
  • Sad news from Florida: former major league pitcher Justin Miller has passed away. Miller spent about two weeks with the Rainiers in April of 2011.
  • Nice piece from Meg Wochnick on Jared Sandberg, the Olympia resident who is managing the Tampa Bay Rays Class-A team.
  • How do you win 6,500 feet above sea level? Get 23 ground outs in a nine-inning game, like the Colorado Springs Sky Sox did last night against Tucson.
  • Salt Lake rolled to a 7-1 win at Fresno, as former Rainiers pitcher Jarrett Grube tossed seven shutout innings. Meanwhile, Fresno catchers try to figure out how to beat the heat.
  • Reno topped Sacramento, 1-0, as Aces starter Tyler Skaggs struck out 13 River Cats. He also struck out five ushers, a group of fans sitting near the third base dugout, the River Cats trainer, and Sacramento mascot Dinger (twice).
  • Brad Peacock tossed a gem and Oklahoma City held on for a 6-4 win at Nashville.
  • Albuquerque edged Memphis, 3-2.
  • Omaha, we feel your pain. The Storm Chasers lost their two best hitters when Johnny Giavotella was called up, and Xavier Nady opted out of his contract. Then they lost the game to Iowa – at least the scored five runs.
  • Round Rock picked up a 6-2 win over New Orleans amid some attendance figures funny business.
  • Good story from Reno on PCL ballparks, elevation, and their hitting environments.
  • This has nothing to do with anything Rainiers-related, but I enjoyed the story of how Cardinals reliever Edward Mujica got his nickname.

Should be a beautiful day, come out to the ballpark!


Rainiers Lose Liddi, Game

June 29, 2013

Tacoma’s four-game winning streak got snapped yesterday, 9-0, by the Las Vegas 51s. More importantly in the big picture, the Rainiers lost third baseman Alex Liddi.

When the Mariners called up Brad Miller yesterday, they needed to add him to the 40-man roster. That meant designating someone for assignment, and that someone was Alex Liddi. Liddi is currently on waivers and can be claimed by any other team as long as they place him on their own 40-man roster.

I think Liddi will be claimed, and perhaps already has. He’s simply too young and talented to slip past 29 other big league clubs.

That being understood, it makes total sense from the Mariners perspective to let him go. While he has been tried at other positions, Liddi has shown us that he is a third baseman first and foremost. Much of his value as a player comes from his strong defensive skills at third. The Mariners don’t have an opening at that position, and don’t figure to for several years.

Some team that needs a third baseman in the majors or at Triple-A will claim Liddi on waivers, and that will end his time with Tacoma.

This creates a huge hole in the Tacoma lineup. Yes, the Rainiers received Carlos Triunfel back from Seattle when Miller was called up, so they got a quality player back in that exchange. But Liddi leaves without anyone filling the slot – and he was Tacoma’s cleanup or No. 3 hitter in the lineup all season.

Compounding the problem is the continued injury woes of Stefen Romero, who missed his fourth straight game with wrist soreness yesterday.

The Rainiers don’t have much thunder in the lineup right now. There isn’t anyone knocking on the door from Double-A, except possibly outfielder Julio Morban, who would not be counted on to provide much in his first taste of Triple-A.

There is still a chance that Eric Thames and/or Liddi might clear waivers. In Thames case, he’s still injured and probably won’t be playing until late July or August.

One bat that could help soon is Jesus Montero. He was injured May 29, with the torn meniscus in his knee, and was said to be out for 4-to-6 weeks. We’re four weeks into that period, so he should be coming back soon. Tacoma can play him at first base, and move Rich Poythress to DH, and that should help the offense.

Tacoma did activate Scott Savastano from the disabled list yesterday, and he went 1-for-4 in his return to the lineup. It was his first game since suffering an elbow injury on June 2.

It’s a good thing that the Rainiers have this prospect-laden starting rotation right now. We could be in for a stretch of low-scoring games.

Now that I’ve typed the previous sentence, get ready for a 13-11 slugfest tonight.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and as always it can be heard on 850 AM, streamed online right here, or picked up on an iPad or smart phone via the TuneIn app. Tacoma starts RHP Erasmo Ramirez (2-2, 2.23) against Las Vegas RHP Jacob deGrom (0-0, 0.77).

Links:

  • We start with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune, in which manager John Stearns talks about dealing with the losses to the lineup.
  • Ryan Divish has more on the Mariners roster moves.
  • The Mariners beat the Cubs on Mike Zunino‘s RBI single in the bottom of the tenth inning.
  • Colorado Springs picked up a game on the Rainiers by beating Tucson, 4-2. Ben Paulsen had the go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning.
  • Fresno tallied 19 hits in a 9-6 win over Salt Lake. Former Rainiers pitcher Yusmeiro Petit returned from the disabled list for Fresno.
  • Reno crushed Sacramento, 8-1. Alfredo Marte had a big game at the plate.
  • Former Royals closer Joakim Soria made his Round Rock debut last night. Not sure if he changed the spelling of his first name, or if that’s a bad typo in the Austin Statesman.
  • Justin Sellers had the big hit as Albuquerque topped Memphis, 4-3.
  • The Iowa Cubs mashed 16 hits in a 5-1 win at Omaha.
  • Oklahoma City swept a doubleheader from Nashville.

This should be an interesting one tonight – I’m very curious to see how the Rainiers offense does. Furthermore, Erasmo tossed eight scoreless innings the last time he faced Vegas. Can he do it again?


Hultzen Shines; Miller Moves On

June 28, 2013

It was a funny sight in the Rainiers locker room, 45 minutes after Tacoma’s 2-0 win over Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Winning pitcher Danny Hultzen – fresh off an impressive six-inning stint in his first appearance since April 19 – playing the part of a bell hop, carrying Brad Miller‘s bags out to his car.

Miller was going to the big leagues, and Hultzen took a big step in that direction, himself.

Miller got the news from manager John Stearns immediately after going 2-for-4 with a homer, extending his hitting streak to 22 straight games.

Miller meteoric rise through the system (he was drafted in June 2011) brought to mind Kyle Seager‘s brief stay in Tacoma in 2011. Seager came up from Double-A in late June, played in just 12 games for Tacoma and hit .455, and was called up by a Seattle team struggling to find some offense.

Miller was promoted from AA on May 25th, played in 26 games and hit .356, and was called up by a Seattle team struggling to find some offense.

Personally, I would have preferred to wait five days – for my own entertainment, if nothing else. Miller’s 22-game hitting streak is just four away from tying the franchise record, set in 1965 (Rex Johnston) and tied in 1999 (Chad Akers). Miller’s streak is still alive if he gets sent down this year – it happened to Seager in 2011, and of course it could happen to Miller, too. For Miller’s sake (and the Mariners), here’s hoping it doesn’t happen.

As for Hultzen, he was terrific. Limited to 75-80 pitches by a pregame decree, Hultzen managed to make it through six economical, shutout innings of two-hit ball. He walked one and struck out six, threw 52 of his 78 pitches for strikes, had excellent fastball command, and baffled many hitters with his change-up.

It was a terrific outing for Hultzen, who missed a little more than two months with a rotator cuff strain. There is still plenty of time left for Hultzen to have a very successful 2013 season.

The victory was Tacoma’s fourth in a row, and second place Colorado Springs was swept (at home!) in a doubleheader by Tucson. Tacoma now has a four-game lead over both the Sky Sox and Salt Lake.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and there will be Friday Night Fireworks right afterwards. The broadcast airs on 850 AM, streams online, and is available on iPads and smart phones via the TuneIn app. Tacoma starts LHP James Paxton (4-5, 4.75) against Las Vegas RHP Giancarlo Alvarado (first appearance of season).

Links:

  • We start with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune, which has reaction from Danny Hultzen after his excellent start.
  • Hanging out at Cheney Stadium on his day off, Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish stumbled into the Brad Miller call-up story.
  • Larry Stone has an article on Brad Miller’s Triple-A accomplishments and his connections with his fellow Mariners infielders.
  • Alex Carson of Prospect Insider caught up with Miller before yesterday’s game – and before the call-up. Some good stuff in this one.
  • John Sickels tries to answer the question, why wasn’t Miller hyped as a prospect?
  • Holy smokes – two Rainiers made this week’s Baseball America Prospect Hot Sheet.
  • The Mariners are counting on Dustin Ackley to produce some offense.
  • Just in (no link): Mariners activate Josh Kinney and outright him to Tacoma. Because of his MLB experience, he is allowed to become a free agent if he chooses. He needs to pitch; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him accept the assignment to Tacoma.
  • The Cubs-Mariners series is a battle between miserable franchises, Larry Stone writes.
  • Logan Bawcom‘s hometown newspaper did a feature on the Rainiers closer.
  • Here’s the story from The Springs on Tucson’s doubleheader sweep of the Sky Sox.
  • Fresno had a bullpen meltdown and lost to Salt Lake, 9-4. It was 4-4 after seven innings.
  • Grant Green homered twice and Sacramento defeated Reno, 7-4.
  • Taijuan Walker is going to the Futures Game – and so is his high school teammate, Matt Davidson of Reno.
  • Iowa beat Omaha yesterday, 4-2. The Storm Chasers threw some pitches clocked at 00 mph.
  • Hiram Burgos had an excellent rehabilitation start for Nashville.
  • Centralia’s Brock Peterson hit his PCL-leading 19th home run – and it was a walk-off shot in the tenth inning, giving Memphis a 5-3 win over Albuquerque.
  • Round Rock outfielder Joey Butler keeps hitting, and the Express beat New Orleans, 6-1.
  • We have our Triple-A All-Star Game broadcast team. Have fun, guys – I’ll be enjoying my three days of peace and solitude.

Heat wave starts today! Try telling that to the Las Vegas 51s; it was 110 degrees during their last homestand.


The Future Is Now

June 27, 2013

Three members of the Tacoma Rainiers have been named to the MLB All-Star Futures Game, which will be played as part of the all-star festivities at Citi Field in New York on Sunday, July 14.

Each major league organization send two players to the game, with a chance for a third via a fan ballot. Usually these players come from lower in the farm system, but this year both Mariners representatives will be from Tacoma: Taijuan Walker and Brad Miller will play for the USA team at the event.

Furthermore, Rainiers hitting coach Howard Johnson has been named a coach for the USA team. This will be a big weekend for HoJo, who is a former Mets all-star.

In recent years, Alex Liddi has been a regular participant in the All-Star Futures Game, playing for the World team. As a native of Italy, it was a natural fit for him – he made the World team three times (which may be a record), most recently in 2011. He has too much MLB time to be eligible anymore.

The game is always televised – probably on the MLB Network. I’m sure Taijuan, Brad, and HoJo will have a blast.

The Rainiers enjoyed the off-day yesterday, with several of the players and coaches participating in the annual Tacoma Rainiers Golf Tournament. This year the event raised roughly $30,000 for Mary Bridge Tree House.

Tonight the Rainiers are back in action, welcoming the Las Vegas 51s to town. Vegas just split a four-game series with Salt Lake, and the 51s are 6-6 since the end of the Eight Game Mega Series on June 13.

If it seems like the Rainiers are playing Las Vegas nearly all of the time, it’s because they are. When this series ends on Sunday, Tacoma will have played 12 of its last 24 games against Las Vegas. However, this is the final series of the year between the two teams. Tacoma is 9-3 against Las Vegas so far.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, and streaming online right here. Use the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts LHP Danny Hultzen (3-1, 2.78) in his much-anticipated return from the disabled list. He’ll be opposed by Las Vegas RHP Chris Schwinden (3-7, 6.37).

Links:

Tickets are still available for the July 3rd Fireworks Extravaganza, but that game always sells out. We advise you to act soon if you don’t have tickets and are planning to attend.


Walker Shines In Rainiers Win

June 25, 2013

Taijuan Walker was terrific in his Triple-A debut on Tuesday night, earning the victory in the Rainiers 1-0 win over Fresno.

Walker went six innings, allowing three singles and two walks. Only one runner reached second base against him, no one made it to third. He recorded four strikeouts.

Josh Kinney and Bobby LaFromboise closed out the win. Tacoma’s only run came on Abraham Almonte’s solo homer in the fifth inning.

Wednesday is an off day for Tacoma and the blog. We’ll be back with a full post on Thursday, and all of the links to the stories on Walker’s debut.


Offense Breaks Out

June 25, 2013

After a three-and-a-half game stretch in which scoring runs wasn’t so easy for the Tacoma Rainiers, the team broke out in a big way on Monday night.

Tacoma pounded out nine extra-base hits and added six more singles in a 14-4 win over Fresno. It was the second straight win for the Rainiers, who will now try to claim a series victory with a win tonight.

Carlos Peguero led the way, going 4-for-4 with two doubles, three runs, and three RBI. Nate Tenbrink had two hits and four RBI, and Rich Poythress had two hits, two walks, and two RBI.

Brad Miller extended his hitting streak to 20 straight games with a pair of doubles. He’s six games away from tying the franchise record of 26 (Rex Johnston, 1965, and Chad Akers, 1999).

Tonight should be a good one: Mariners top prospect Taijuan Walker makes his Triple-A debut. He was dealing in the Southern League, posting a 2.46 ERA while leading the league with 96 strikeouts (in 84 innings).

Hopefully Walker will do well. Yes, expectations are high, but remember that he will be facing better hitters than he has ever faced before. This is a challenging assignment for him (just like any other Triple-A rookie).

Good note from Rainiers PR wizard Ben Spradling: at age 20, Walker will be the youngest Tacoma Rainiers starting pitcher since Felix Hernandez was in the rotation at age 19 in 2005.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online. The TuneIn app works on iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts RHP Taijuan Walker (Triple-A debut) against Fresno RHP Austin Fleet (0-1, 4.43).

I checked with our ticket guys and there are still plenty of good seats available for tonight’s game. Come see the kid pitch, this should be fun.

Links:

  • We start with Meg Wochnick’s Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • Taijuan Walker ranks No. 9 on Baseball Prospectus’s Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects list (subscription required).
  • James Paxton was named PCL Pitcher of the Week. Nice work, James!
  • Larry Stone has a blog post on the Rainiers impressive starting rotation.
  • Make sure you read Ryan Divish’s guest piece at Baseball Prospectus on Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan‘s greatest play (it’s free).
  • Apparently Nick Franklin absconded with his Rainiers batting helmet and continues to use it in Seattle. Hey Nick, if you keep hitting, you can keep the helmet. But if you go into a slump, you gotta ship that thing back to 2502 S Tyler.
  • The Mariners were off yesterday, but that didn’t stop Jerry Brewer from writing this fun column about Raul Ibanez’s “old pop.”*
  • Buster Olney’s MLB column is available on a free preview today. Usually you have to be an ESPN Insider to read it – this near-daily column is the main reason I pay for their service.
  • In the PCL, Las Vegas slowed down the Salt Lake Bees win train. The Bees are now four games behind Tacoma. Thank you, Las Vegas!
  • Colorado Springs remains 2.5 games behind Tacoma – the Sky Sox bullpen starred in a 5-3 win at Sacramento. It’s starting to look like Sacramento’s Hiroyuki Nakajima might be ready for the big leagues.
  • Tucson ace Sean O’Sullivan pitched the Padres to a 4-2 win at Reno.
  • The Des Moines Register has an interesting, thorough story on what starting pitchers go through when the manager calls ’em in and says, “Son, we’re moving you to the bullpen.” Meanwhile, Brooks Raley tossed seven scoreless innings in Iowa’s 6-1 win at Memphis.
  • The Oklahoma City RedHawks would lose to the Omaha Storm Chasers. Wouldn’t they?
  • New Orleans was in command all the way during a 7-2 win over Nashville.
  • Scott Van Slyke is rehabilitating with Albuquerque, and the ‘Topes topped Round Rock on Monday night, 10-9.
  • I think we’re going to have a nice crowd in Tacoma tonight to see Taijuan Walker – which is not the case in other cities. For example, the Las Vegas 51s didn’t get a boost when Zack Wheeler pitched, according to this column.

This could be one of those fun nights of the season which we’ll remember for years to come. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be able to brag to your friends or kids, “I saw that guy when he was in the minors!”

* Initially I accidentally typed a second ‘o’ in pop, and upon discovering it I spent quite some time sitting in my office, laughing. Yes, I’m 12.


Rainiers End Skid

June 24, 2013

The top of the lineup and the bullpen led the way as Tacoma ended a three-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the Fresno Grizzlies on Sunday afternoon.

Top three Abraham Almonte, Brad Miller, and Dustin Ackley combined for five hits, four runs, and four RBI.

Miller extended his hitting streak to 19 games with a two-run homer in the first inning, and added a game-tying sacrifice fly in the eighth.

Ackley went 2-for-4, with a line drive double to left-center and the go-ahead RBI single through the drawn-in infield.

Almonte reached base twice with a pair of hits, scoring two runs.

Tacoma starter Erasmo Ramirez struck out ten batters, but allowed four runs (three earned) over 5.2 innings. Most of the damage came in the third inning, when Fresno scored three runs on four hits. The rest of the game, Erasmo looked pretty sharp.

With James Paxton striking out 11 on Saturday, and Ramirez punching out ten yesterday, Tacoma’s starting pitcher struck out ten-or-more batters in back-to-back games for the first time since August 14-15, 2001. Back then it was Brett Tomko and Denny Stark who pulled off the trick, doing it at home against Colorado Springs.

The Rainiers bullpen had struggled the previous three games, but on Sunday Bobby LaFromboise, Jonathan Arias, and Brian Moran combined to deliver 3.1 shutout innings.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming online, and via the TuneIn app for your iPad or smart phone. Pacific Northwest broadcast legend and College Football Hall of Famer Bob Robertson joins me in the booth. Tacoma starts RHP Brandon Maurer (1-1, 2.41) against Fresno RHP Fabio Castillo (0-4, 6.55).

Links:

  • We start with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • John McGrath caught up with Taijuan Walker, who makes his Triple-A debut on Tuesday.
  • The Mariners beat the A’s on a walk-off home run by Kendrys Morales.
  • Ryan Divish dropped a “Father Time” on Raul Ibanez.
  • Franklin Gutierrez had more hamstring trouble. He might set a record with three rehabilitation assignments in Tacoma in one season.
  • A pair of Mariners farmhands (including one Rainiers player) are noted in this Baseball America Prospect Notebook.
  • Former Rainiers outfielder Mike Wilson had a huge game for the Tucson Padres last night, going 3-for-5 with two homers and six RBI in an 8-2 win at Reno.
  • Colorado Springs rather emphatically fell 2.5 games behind Tacoma, losing at Sacramento, 20-4. Sacramento’s Bruce Billings became the PCL’s first nine-game winner.
  • Salt Lake rallied in the eighth inning to win in Las Vegas, 6-3. The Bees remain three games behind Tacoma.
  • Top prospect Carlos Martinez was dealing as Memphis shut out Iowa, 6-0.
  • Albuquerque collapsed in the ninth inning and lost to Round Rock, 10-7.
  • New Orleans topped Nashville, 2-1, in a game that had a two-hour rain delay.
  • Oklahoma City split a long doubleheader with Omaha.
  • Remember former Mariners slugger Danny Tartabull? His son Quentin just committed to play football at my alma mater.