GRINDING AWAY Rainiers looking to catch some fire

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The last week has been a bit of a test for the Tacoma Rainiers. The team hit the road for a short, five-game series against the Fresno Grizzlies with the top of the standings just 2.5 games away. Unfortunately for the Rainiers, the Grizzlies chose to play the part of poor hosts and dropped Tacoma in three of the five games, extending their lead in the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern standings.

While the Rainiers now trail the Grizzlies by 4.5 games, it’s certainly no time to start getting nervous. There’s still an entire summer ahead, filled with what is sure to be gorgeous days and nights at Cheney Stadium.

However, it sure would be great if they didn’t continue this trend and let the Grizzlies get too much room ahead of them. After winning just four out of their last 10 games, the Rainiers have now been joined by Sacramento in second place. Both teams sit just below .500 at 12-13.

The Rainiers began their Fresno road trip on Wednesday, April 25, with a resounding thud. Tacoma was shutout by the Grizzlies to the tune of 10-0 on a sweltering, 87-degree evening at Chukchansi Park. Tacoma knocked around seven hits on the night, but that was the extent of the Rainier excitement. Starter Max Povse had a rough four innings on the mound, giving up nine hits and seven earned runs before Tacoma skipper Pat Listach brought out the hook. The bleeding continued from the hill, as relief pitcher Ashton Goudeau quickly gave up three hits and three earned runs.

Pitchers Ryan Garton, Shawn Armstrong and Mike Morin would blank the Grizzlies the rest of the way, but the damage had already been done.

Tacoma came out strong the following night, pushing Fresno to the limit for nine innings. Unfortunately, it was that everything inning that was everything for the Grizzlies. With the score tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, two Fresno doubles put a run across the plate. Tacoma was unable to match it in their half of the ninth and fell 4-3.

Starting pitcher Christian Bergman was denied his third win of the season after pitching five solid innings and scattering three Fresno runs.

Tacoma’s fortunes turned around on Friday, April 27. Left fielder Cameron Perkins went 2-for-4 and drove in all three runs as the Rainiers grabbed a 3-1 victory. Starting pitcher Casey Lawrence pitched five solid innings, while giving up just one run on five Fresno hits. Erik Goeddel pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his fourth save of the season.

The Rainiers kept the ball rolling the following night. Fresno was unable to match Tacoma’s 10-hit output, falling by a score of 7-3. Three Grizzly fielding errors didn’t help matters for the home team. Designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach made his second appearance with Tacoma, since being sent down from the Seattle Mariners. The stout slugger belted a home run over the right-field fence in the fifth inning to extend Tacoma’s lead to 4-0. Perkins belted his own solo shot in the top of the ninth inning to give Tacoma an insurance run.

Starting pitcher Ariel Miranda gave up just three runs, while scattering five Fresno hits and fanning five batters. It was Miranda’s first win of the season. Armstrong took over on the mound in the eighth inning and shutout the Grizzlies over the final frames. It was the first save of the season for Armstrong as he struck-out three Fresno batters.

The series concluded on Sunday, April 29, and Tacoma looked to be in a winning position as they sent Rob Whalen to the mound. Instead of earning his fourth win of the season, Whalen was blistered for six runs on 10 hits over his five innings of work. Four runs in the fifth inning sent Whalen to the dugout. Fresno would go on to win the series with an 11-5 win. Vogelbach would hit his second home run of the season in the fifth inning, while Zach Vincej followed it up with a grand slam.

Hoping to spark some home cooking, Tacoma returned to Cheney Stadium on Monday, April 30, to face the Albuquerque Isotopes. A three-run fourth inning pushed the Isotopes to a 5-3 victory over the Tyler Street gang, and Tacoma was now sitting at .500 again. Povse pitched a strong 6.2 innings, giving up three earned runs. However, the Tacoma bats hadn’t woken from their road trip.

The Isotopes stung the Rainiers the following night and nearly pulled off a no-hitter. A lead-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning saved Tacoma’s bacon, but wasn’t enough in the 3-1 loss. Albuquerque looked to have the combined no-hitter in the bag, but center fielder Ian Miller slapped a single past the shortstop to deny the Isotopes their possible no-no.

Tacoma hopes to get outfielder John Andreoli back in the mix soon. The right-handed slugger has been on the disabled list since April 22 and the Rainiers have missed his pop. Andreoli leads the Rainiers in hitting with a .346 batting average to go along with his two home runs and five doubles in just 13 games.

Tacoma concludes their current four-game series with Albuquerque on Thursday, May 3, at 7:05 p.m. The Rainiers will then embark on a 12-game road trip to Reno, El Paso and Sacramento, before returning home for a four-game set against Las Vegas beginning on Thursday, May 17. Tacoma will then host El Paso for four games beginning on Monday, May 21.

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