RAINIERS LOOKING FOR THAT SPARK

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The Tacoma Rainiers will be looking forward to the return of Cameron Perkins from the seven-day disabled list. Perkins has had a solid season for Rainiers, batting .293 on the season through 46 games. Photos by Rocky Ross.

While much of the Puget Sound baseball world is justifiably focused on the incredible turn of events for the Seattle Mariners, the boys down in Cheney Stadium are grinding through a different sort of season thus far. The Tacoma Rainiers didn’t do themselves any favors when they dropped four of five games on their recent home stand against the Salt Lake Bees. Still, as the Pacific Coast League season creeps toward the mid-point, the Rainiers are well-within striking distance of the division-leading Fresno Grizzlies.

After maintaining a better-than .500 mark at home, the Rainiers have now slipped to 13-16 on the season at Cheney Stadium. If the Rainiers hold out any hopes of a true pennant run this year, they’re going to have to protect their home digs over on Tyler Street.

Otherwise, it could be a long, cruel summer.

Realistically, the Rainiers’ current record of 29-30 is pretty good, considering the number of player moves they have went through so far this season. The Seattle Mariners have put the Tacoma roster through several bends and twists this spring. As of Sunday, June 3, there have been 125 roster transactions concerning the Tacoma Rainiers. The number itself may not mean much, but it’s the rundown of names involved that paint a possible picture as to why Tacoma hasn’t been a little more consistent this season.

Kirk Niewenhuis goes up to steal a home run off Salt Lake City bat.

Tacoma was without second baseman Gordon Beckham for a long stretch this season, as well as two separate call-ups for first baseman Daniel Vogelbach. Those are two cornerstone-type players for this ball club. The Rainiers have missed both players very much. Luckily, after another round of roster transactions, both Beckham and Vogelbach are back in the Tacoma fold. Let’s hope their consistent, hot bats begin to raise the temperature for the Rainiers.

Tacoma will be wrapping up a three-game road set against the Memphis Redbirds on Thursday, June 7. The Redbirds are currently sitting atop the PCL American Southern Division standings with a 35-24 record. After visiting one great music town, the Rainiers will head to possibly the most famous of them all when they visit the Nashville Sounds (28-28) for a four-game tilt.

If the Rainiers can pull off a solid road trip, they will be in prime shape heading back home for a huge chunk of home games. As a matter of fact, beginning on Wednesday, June 13, Tacoma will play 16 of their next 20 games at Cheney Stadium. If there was ever going to be a time to make a serious move up the PCL Pacific Northern standings, it’s going to be this stretch of games.

Let’s take a look back at the past week for Tacoma.

On Wednesday, May 30, blue skies welcomed the Salt Lake Bees to Cheney Stadium. Tacoma starting pitcher Casey Lawrence ended up being a little too welcoming on the mound, giving up five earned runs in 5.2 innings of work. Despite a late push, including two runs in the ninth inning, Tacoma was unable to reel in the Bees’ lead and fell 7-6.

The teams would go into extra frames the following night. Starting pitcher Christian Bergman had a mixed-bag on the mound for the Rainiers.  While the right-hander has been solid for Tacoma this season, he didn’t have his best stuff on this night, giving up five earned runs over 6.2 innings. Bergman was able to fan six Salt Lake batters, but he also offered up two home runs. Tacoma’s Mike Morin would surrender two runs in the top of the 11th inning, and the Rainiers were unable to answer in their half in the 10-8 loss. Vogelbach and Jayson Werth both had doubles on the night, while Mike Marjama clubbed his fourth home run of the season.

A big crowd of 6,819 showed up for the third game of the five-game series on Friday, June 1. Tacoma pushed across two runs in the first and the third innings, and that would prove to be enough as starting pitcher Darren McCaughan and reliever Darin Gillies combined to stymie the Bee’s, surrendering just one run on six Salt Lake hits. Vogelbach and Marjama each dished up a double in the 4-1 Tacoma win.

You never know what you’re going to see at Cheney Stadium.

Salt Lake would knock around a host of Tacoma pitchers the following evening for a 5-2 victory. While starting pitcher Lindsey Caughel was tagged with the loss, relief pitchers Matt Tenuta and Ashton Goudeau didn’t help matters, giving up two runs each. Tacoma’s Adam Law crushed a two-run home run in the sixth inning for Tacoma’s bright spot on the night.

Tacoma rolled out their stud pitcher on Monday, June 3, but the bats didn’t follow suit. Right-hander Rob Whalen gave up just two earned runs in his five innings of work. However, Tacoma would only muster one run in support. It was a tough 2-1 loss for Whalen, who is easily one of the best pitchers in Triple-A. Werth provided the only fireworks for Tacoma, with two doubles on the night.

The Rainiers began their seven-game road trip in style on Tuesday, June 5. Lawrence pitched a complete-game shutout in Tacoma’s 5-0 victory. The right-hander surrendered just three hits, while striking out six Salt Lake batters. A third-inning grand slam by Vogelbach was all Tacoma would need on the night against the first-place Redbirds.

Tacoma returns to Cheney Stadium on Wednesday, June 13, against the Omaha Storm Chasers (25-32) at 7:05 p.m. The teams will play a short, three-game series before the Iowa Cubs (22-34) come to Tacoma for a four-game set starting on Saturday, June 16, at 5:05 p.m.

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