Rainiers Lose Game, Gain Heart

Tacoma’s four-game winning streak ended with an 8-4 loss in Fresno on Sunday evening, but something really cool happened.

At some point on Sunday, catcher Rob Brantly found out that his wife was going into labor in Tacoma, and he needed to fly home immediately to be with her.

So he scrammed out of town, as he should, and the Rainiers were left with one catcher – Mike Zunino – for Sunday’s game.

If there is one thing I have learned during my lifetime working in baseball, it is that no manager anywhere wants to ever be stuck with just one catcher. They are just too concerned about injury, and want to make sure they have someone on the roster who can fill-in if the starter gets hurt.

Enter PJ Jones.

Jones is from Vancouver, WA and played at Washington State. He played for Everett last year, and was in spring training with the Low-A Clinton group in March but got released. The Mariners baseball people liked him, though, and offered him the bullpen job with Tacoma.

PJ Jones has been the Rainiers bullpen catcher all season. He travels with the team, stays in the nice (OK, mostly nice – 15/16, current housing conditions being the lone exception) Pacific Coast League hotels, gets paid something by the Mariners, gets meal money on the road, and is a part of the team.

He’s a part of the team, except he doesn’t get to play. Everybody he hangs out with plays, but he never gets in the game, because he’s not allowed to. He’s not on the roster.

That changed on Sunday. Down to one catcher, Rainiers manager Pat Listach activated his bullpen catcher, and had him fill in for Brantly who was placed on the Paternity Leave List.

That’s a heckuva gesture right there, but we’re not done with this.

Before the game, I asked Pat if he would try to get Jones an at-bat if the game was out of hand. He told me he wasn’t sure – he would have to get permission from the Mariners front office, because if Jones was injured on an HBP there would be medical responsibilities.

Somebody in the Mariners front office decided the kid had earned it, and let Listach use him in a non-emergency situation.

So there we were, Tacoma down 8-4 in the ninth, one out, nobody on, the best closer in the PCL (James Hoyt) available in the Fresno bullpen if Tacoma started to rally, and Listach decided to let the Jones kid hit.

PJ Jones pinch-hit for Stefen Romero, took two pitches from Fresno’s Josh Fields, and grounded out to first base.

He’s in the books as a Triple-A player.

RAINIERS ROUND-UP

Yesterday: Fresno scored five runs in the second inning and never looked back in an 8-4 win over Tacoma on Sunday evening. The loss ended Tacoma’s win streak at four games, and the Rainiers are 4-2 so far on this eight-game road trip.

Roster Moves: Rob Brantly went on paternity leave, and PJ Jones was activated as discussed above. Today the club expects to add Jesus Sucre to continue his rehabilitation from a broken leg suffered in the Venezuelan Winter League – he’s already played in four games in the Arizona Rookie League, but hasn’t caught nine innings yet.

Today: Tacoma (43-33-1) at Fresno (37-38), 7:05.

Opponent Affiliation: Houston Astros.

Season Series: Tied, 5-5.

Starting Pitchers: RHP Joe Wieland (6-4, 7.18) at RHP Brad Peacock (2-3, 4.59).

Hot Rainiers: Rob Brantly has gone 9-for-24 over his last seven games, but he’s going to be away from the team for a few days…Tyler Smith is 6-for-13 over his last four outings… Zach Shank is always a hot hitter, and right now he’s 6-for-his-last-13.

Look Out For: Outfielder Preston Tucker has hit safely in nine of his last ten games, going 17-for-37… Andrew Aplin has a seven-game hitting streak, and his two-out, two-run double in the second inning last night put Fresno in charge… closer James Hoyt has seven saves in the last 14 days.

Broadcast: The pregame show starts at 6:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM. The broadcast also streams online via the TuneIn app – just click here.

PCL Scoreboard: Follow all Pacific Coast League games in real-time with links to Gameday screens right here.

Links:

PCL Game Reports:

  • Reno and El Paso split a doubleheader. Austin Hedges homered in his fifth straight game as El Paso won the first game, and Reno had a walk-off homer by former Mariners prospect Gabby Guerrero in the second game. Tacoma leads the division by 2.5 games over Reno. Ex-Rainiers outfielder Jabari Blash told his story to the El Paso Times.
  • An error by the shortstop buried Las Vegas in a 6-4 loss to visiting Sacramento.
  • Poor little Isotopes. Albuquerque lost its tenth game in a row yesterday, a 7-6 decision at home against Salt Lake. The ‘Topes actually had a 6-4 lead going to the eighth when Todd Cunningham hit a three-run homer.
  • Round Rock’s Michael Roth carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before it got broken up with one out. He finished a two-hit shutout of Colorado Springs and won, 7-0.
  • Nashville hit three homers in a rare high-scoring game at their new ballpark, resulting in a 9-4 win over Omaha.
  • New Orleans rallied in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough to beat the reanimated Jerome Williams and Memphis. The Redbirds won, 6-4.
  • Oklahoma City lost to Iowa, 6-5, in the first game of a doubleheader – and the second game got rained out. They’ll try to play two again today. The Iowa paper has a feature on slugging first baseman Dan Vogelbach. He earned my all-star vote at first base – the dude can hit.

Let’s see if the Rainiers can clinch a winning road trip tonight!

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