TIME TO START PLAYING CATCH UP

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With catcher Chris Herrmann now serving as back-up to Mike Zunino with the Seattle Mariners, 25-year old Garrett Kennedy has seen increased action behind home plate for the Tacoma Rainiers. Photo by Rocky Ross

When the Tacoma Rainiers return home from their current road trip through Texas and Louisiana, they’re probably going to need to see Cheney Stadium filled with fans already wearing their rally caps. After suffering their seventh consecutive loss on Tuesday, July 24, the Rainiers find themselves sinking in the Pacific Coast League standings.

On Friday, July 13, Tacoma had closed the gap with PCL Pacific Northern Division leading Fresno to just 2.5 games. Since then, the Rainiers have dropped nine of their next 10 ballgames. The tailspin has put several dents in the post-season hopes for players and fans alike, as the Rainiers now trail the Grizzlies by eight games with just 37 games remaining on the season.

While the 214 player transactions via the Seattle Mariners have obviously had an effect on the Rainiers’ season, it is nothing unusual. Most Triple-A teams see their best players moving back and forth with their Major League Baseball parent club throughout the season. It’s a fact of life for MLB farm teams. However, it’s often tough to see some of these transactions go through, only to see our Tacoma stud spend most of their time sitting in their team’s dugout.

For instance, the Mariners called up Daniel Vogelbach (again) on Friday, July 20. Since then, Vogelbach has seen just three at bats. Of course, the Tacoma slugger hasn’t helped his case this season under the big lights. Without getting regular playing time, Vogelbach has been unable to find his groove at the next level, and the end result has been another trip back down to Tacoma.

Tacoma sure could have used his bat over this recent stretch, as the Rainier bats have been rather chilly. As a matter of fact, Tacoma has scored just 11 runs over their last six games. That’s not a winning recipe.

On Wednesday, July 18, Tacoma was upended by the Reno Aces in Nevada by a score of 7-3. Starting pitcher Christian Bergman (6-7) gave up five earned runs in his 5.2 innings of work, giving up three home runs to the Aces in the process. Meanwhile, Tacoma’s Vogelbach delivered all three runs via a double and a two-run home run in the eighth inning.

It was a similar story the following night, with Tacoma falling short of the Aces by a score of 5-3. Tacoma pitchers surrendered 14 hits to the Reno batters, with starting pitcher Ross Detwiler (2-3) giving up five earned runs in his five innings of work. Detwiler was also stung for two home runs in the sixth inning. Without Vogelbach in the lineup, Tacoma could only muster seven hits on the night. First baseman Gordon Beckham and right fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis each added a double, with third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean adding a triple.

On Friday, July 20, Seattle Mariners’ starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez made his first appearance after a long stint on the disabled list. The veteran made a rehabilitation start with the Tacoma Rainiers and delivered two innings of perfection, striking out three Salt Lake batters while tossing 19 strikes over a total of 23 pitches. Photo by Rocky Ross

Tacoma looked forward to some home cooking, as the Rainiers returned home to Cheney Stadium to host the Salt Lake Bees on Friday, July 20. A big crowd of 6,789 fans were in attendance to witness another power outage by the Rainiers, as the home team was unable to get on track with just five hits. After two perfect innings from starter Erasmo Ramirez, Tacoma sent Tyler Jackson (0-1) to the mound and the Bees would sting the right hander for four runs in his 1.2 innings of work. That was all Salt Lake City would need in the 6-0 shutout. Jackson was sent back down to Single-A Clinton following the outing.

The teams took it to the limit on Saturday, July 21, going extra innings, only to see Salt Lake get a game winning run in the top of the 10th that Tacoma was unable to answer. The Rainier bats would cobble together just a single run on seven hits in the 2-1 defeat. No Rainier collected an extra-base hit. Reliever Shawn Armstrong (1-3) was tagged with the loss.

The Rainiers were looking to fend off a sweep by Salt Lake the following afternoon, and again, the bats failed the Tyler Street boys. The Bees hung a 3-2 loss on Tacoma, holding the Rainiers to just six hits. Reliever Daniel Schlereth (2-2) gave up a single run in the seventh inning to earn the loss. Niewenhuis and Miller each registered a two-bagger to highlight the Tacoma offense.

Sometimes you have to hit the road to get back in the groove, and this is what Tacoma was hoping for when they paid a visit to the Round Rock Express on Tuesday, July 24. Despite knocking around 10 hits in the game, the Rainiers were unable to claw their way back into the game following a rough start by Bergman (6-8). The starting pitcher gave up 11 hits and seven earned runs in just three innings of work in the 7-2 loss. Tacoma left fielder John Andreoli was the only Rainier batter to garner an extra-base hit with a double.

Tacoma will return home on Wednesday, Aug. 1, to face the Oklahoma City Dodgers (55-44) for three games, followed by a four-game series against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (55-45). Remember to put on the rally cap in the parking lot, prior to entering Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers are going to need every bit of mojo they can get to scratch their way back into the division pennant race.

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