Ex-Rainiers & Locals In The Wild Card Games

The Wild Card games start tonight, with the Houston Astros facing the New York Yankees at 5:00. The National League game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates is Wednesday at 5.

We’ve got a few ex-Rainiers in these games, so let’s take a look.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Houston Astros

The Astros included three ex-Rainiers players on their just-announced roster for the wild card game.

Relievers Josh Fields and Oliver Perez each had fairly brief careers in a Tacoma uniform, while infielder Luis Valbuena was here quite some time ago.

Fields – a Mariners first round draft pick in 2008 – reached Tacoma for nine appearances in July of the 2011 season. He was traded to the Red Sox, and then made his way over to the Astros who gave him his first big league opportunity in 2013.

The Mariners receive credit for resuscitating Perez’s career. A former starting pitcher in the major leagues, Perez saw his performance fall apart. He remade himself into a relief specialist after the Mariners plucked him from the Mexican League in 2012. Perez pitched in 22 games for Tacoma in 2012, performing so well against left-handed hitters that he was summoned to Seattle where he was a regular in the bullpen for a season-and-a-half.

Valbuena made his first appearance with the Rainiers in May of 2005 – he was one of those emergency fill-ins from extended spring training because the Rainiers had a roster problem. He joined Tacoma for real in 2008, hitting .302 with two homers in 58 games before getting called up by Seattle. He finished that season with the Mariners, then was traded to Cleveland in Jack Zduriencik‘s first big trade – that huge, 11-player, three team deal with the Mets which involved JJ Putz, Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Vargas, Mike Carp, a couple of batboys, an umpire, and I think even some fans were moved. Valbuena was a slappy singles hitter with the Rainiers in 2008. Now he’s a stocky, power-or-nothing guy. A very odd transformation.

New York Yankees

The Yankees have two former Rainiers players on their roster for tonight’s game – and they are both very well-known to Mariners and Rainiers fans.

Dustin Ackley hit .288 with four homers in just 52 at-bats for the Yankees after being traded at the deadline – he was not an everyday player, appearing in 23 of approximately 60 Yankees games after the deal. Ackley played in 143 games over three season with Tacoma, from 2010-2011 and 2013 – he always hit very well in Triple-A.

A-Rod played for Tacoma in 1995. I laughed at this line I saw at Baseball Prospectus yesterday: “Alex Rodriguez is likely to be the first player to win Comeback Player of the Year immediately after winning Goaway Player of the Year.”

A word about Michael Pineda: the gigantic former Rainiers pitcher is not on the Yankees roster for the wild card game, because he wouldn’t be used. If the Yankees win tonight he’ll be added to their roster for the AL Division Series, in which he could even be the Game One starter.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs and Pirates don’t have to set their rosters for the one-game playoff until tomorrow morning (I think), but it seems unlikely that the Cubs will have an ex-Rainiers player on their club.

They could put reliever Yoervis Medina on the roster, but he spent most of the season with Triple-A Iowa after being traded in June – although he did get called up in September.

The Cubs will certainly have a local flare, with Jon Lester (Puyallup/Bellarmine Prep) and Jason Hammel (Port Orchard/South Kitsap HS) starting playoff games should they advance.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have two ex-Rainiers players who may make the cut for the wild card game roster: reliever Bobby LaFromboise and pinch-hitter Mike Morse. Both players could have value in a key moment in tomorrow’s game.

Morse hit .275 in 69 at-bats for Pittsburgh after being picked up at the trade deadline. He was 8-for-22 (.364) in pinch-hitting roles. He should make the cut – he’s still a big threat against a left-handed pitcher. Morse played shortstop for Tacoma from 2005-2007, and we had him again in 2009, and he even had a handful of rehab games for Tacoma in 2013.

The lefty LaFromboise pitched nearly the entire season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but he shined down the stretch for Pittsburgh after a September call-up. Used almost entirely against left-handed hitters, LaFromboise held them to 3-for-19 with eight strikeouts. You could picture him coming in to face a left-hander like Rizzo or Coughlan in a key situation on Wednesday. LaFromboise pitched for Tacoma in 2012 and 2013.

The Pirates also have some local guys: Travis Ishikawa (Federal Way HS) and Travis Snider (Mill Creek/Jackson HS) could be on tomorrow’s roster.

Finally, a Cheney Stadium note: Pirates reliever Joe Blanton served up the first ever in-game home run over the giant wall in center. AJ Zapp took Blanton – then with Sacramento – over the wall on September 1, 2004.

Have fun with these games. The win-or-go-home structure makes for some thrills.

Links:

On Thursday we’ll take a look at the ex-Rainiers on the other playoff teams.

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