Minor League Roundup

This is what they call the dog days of summer. The long hot summer is nearing its end, but not before lashing a daily grind of simmering heat and tightly contested three-hour baseball games. This is the time of the baseball season that wears down rosters at every level. Only the strongest survive.

From the winning ways of the Tacoma Rainiers and the Inland Empire 66ers to the struggles of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and San Antonio Missions, nearly ever minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners is on the move in one way or another. Last week, the Everett Aqua Sox of the Northwest League were the only club to fail to sway severely to one side or the other.

Triple-A Tacoma is in the midst of their best stretch of the year and manager Dan Rohn deserves much of the credit. Enduring the injuries to key players such as Brian Falkenborg, Chris Snelling, Rett Johnson, and Ken Cloude among others, as well as dealing with promotions on a regular basis, the Rainiers have hit their stride. They continued the trend of good baseball for the week, going 4-3.

The most impressive thing isn't the outstanding August record of 14-9. Rather, it's the teams they are accomplishing their hottest streak of the year against. Playing the likes of playoff-contending teams such as Salt Lake City, Edmonton, Nashville, and Portland, the Rainiers have more than held their own.

The offensive consistency has been led by the red-hot hitting of CF Jamal Strong, and the timely hitting of 1B JR Phillips and 1B/OF Andy Barkett. The Rainiers also got a boost from rehabbing infielder Carlos Guillen who went 5-14 (.357) with two homeruns in four games.

Strong laced 12 hits in 27 at-bats (.444), stole three bases and scored eight runs. The 25-year-old is now hitting .307 with 22 steals, and 32 runs scored while sporting a .389 on-base percentage in 48 games.

Phillips went 8-26 (.308) with six RBI and is now hitting .292 on the year with 11 homeruns and 42 RBI.

Barkett went 8-19 (.421) with his 13th homerun and two RBI and raised his season average to .243 with 13 homeruns and 58 RBI.

The pitching staff has undergone many changes in the past two months due to injury and promotions and has still found a way to come together and stay effective. Led by spot starter Scott Atchison, and a bullpen foursome of Emiliano Fruto, JJ Putz, Brian Sweeney and Brian Falkenborg, the Rainiers held their foes to 36 runs in seven games. With the exception of a 12-run outburst of Salt Lake City on Saturday the Rainiers pitchers held opponents to a .248 average for the week.

Atchison went seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits. The right-hander walked just two while striking out five.

Fruto, a last minute call-up, went four scoreless innings in relief and allowed just one hit while walking a pair and striking out two.

Putz has taken over as the main closer with fellow righties Aaron Looper and Allan Simpson and has saved five in a row. His two appearances during the week produced two scoreless innings and zero runs. Putz now has nine saves on the year and his 2.50 ERA in 39 games could warrant a return to Seattle in September.

Falkenborg and Sweeney did a fantastic job in middle relief, going a combined 5.1 shutout innings of three-hit ball. The two former starters are likely to remain spot starters and middle relievers for the remainder of the season.

Tacoma is now 61-74 on the year and is 6.5 games behind division leading Salt Lake City.

Double-A San Antonio suffered it's second consecutive losing week by going 2-5. They now have lost nine of their last 14. Still, somehow, the Missions are but a single win away from clinching the second-half championship in the Texas League's Western Division and securing a first-round bye in the playoffs. If they intend to do any damage in those playoffs they are going to need a return to form back to the first half version.

The Missions were outscored 19-18 by their opponents. On one hand that indicates pretty darned good pitching. On the other hand, it shows a scuffling offense.

The offense had few bright spots but did have its leaders. OF Jaime Bubela and SS Luis Ugueto were the lone stars on the roster for the week.

Bubela was 6-21 (.286) with four runs scored and three RBI. Bubela is now hitting .279 with 23 steals and 60 RBI on the year.

Ugueto was 7-20 (.350) for the week with two steals and three RBI. The 24-year-old is hitting .259 with 24 steals for the season.

The pitching staff continues to get solid performances from both the starters and the bullpen. The only difference lately, other than getting very little run support, is that the combinations aren't being pieced together like they were during the first four months of the season. When someone gives a solid starting performance, the bullpen (along with the offense) struggled and the result was a tough loss. Then when the bullpen came through with a strong showing, it was only after the starter was knocked around somewhat leaving the relief corps in a hole. One starter and one reliever did stand out from the rest, left-hander Travis Blackley and right-handed reliever Josue Matos.

Blackley went seven strong innings, allowing just one earned run on three hits. The 20-year-old walked three and struck out four and picked up his league-leading 16th victory against just three losses on the year with a league-leading 2.46 ERA.

Matos just keeps rolling out great appearance after great appearance. The 25-year-old went 5 innings in two appearances on the week and allowed just three hits and one walk. He struck out seven. The right-hander is 7-2 on the year with a 2.27 ERA in 87 innings pitched. Matos has also logged in 103 strikeouts and walked just 36.

San Antonio is 82-47 on the year and 37-26 in the second half with an eight game lead in the West.

Advanced-A Inland Empire of the California League had the sole stellar week of the organization by going 5-1 on the week. Outscoring opponents 33-14 showed the dominance the 66ers exuded in the six-game period that included two shutouts. A solid balance of offensive production and strong starting pitching paved the way for the five victories.

Offensive stars such as OF's Dustin Delucchi and Shin-soo Choo, and DH John Castellano were easy to find during such a week.

Delucchi was 10-25 (.400) with six runs scored and his 3rd homerun of the year. The 25-year-old is hitting .328 on the year.

Choo's red-hot bat produced a .435 average (10-23) including three RBI, three steals, and three multi-hit games. The five-tool prospect is hitting .281 with nine homeruns and 52 RBI on the season.

Castellano was 9-27 (.333) on the week with eight RBI. The right-hand hitting DH is now hitting .311 on the year with 11 homeruns and 77 RBI.

The pitching staff is quickly turning heads on a nightly basis. Left-handers Ryan Ketchner, Glenn Bott and Troy Cate teamed up with right-hander Elvis Perez to dominate the week's games and lead the California League in team ERA at 3.79.

Ketchner tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing just five hits and two walks while striking out five. The 21-year-old southpaw is now 12-7 with a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts on the season.

Bott, also a 21-year-old left-hander, went 7.2 solid innings giving up three earned runs on seven hits. He walked just one and struck out seven in picking up his seventh win on the season. The southpaw ranks fifth in the league in strikeouts with 140 and his 3.10 ERA ranks third in the league.

Cate went 7.2 innings, allowing just five hits, two walks, and two earned runs while striking out three. The 22-year-old is now 9-10 on the year with a 3.89 ERA and a league leading 148 strikeouts in 155 innings pitched.

The right-handed Perez dealt out a total of 13 strong innings on the week, where he allowed just nine hits, struck out nine and gave up just one earned run. Perez is now 5-4 with a 3.81 ERA in 10 starts for Inland.

Inland Empire is now 36-25 in the second half and sits 2.5 games up in their division.

Single-A Wisconsin of the Midwest League went just 1-5 on the week. The pitching staff was roughed up a bit and the offense continued it's year-long struggles en route to being outscored 31-20. While the struggles continue, help is on the way on the form of hard throwing northpaw Felix Hernandez, and reliever Brandon Moorhead.

The offense was led by OF Garry Harris and 1B Jon Nelson.

Harris went 9-21 (.429) on the week with five RBI. The 23-year-old raised his season average to .288 by finishing the week with three straight multi-hit games.

Nelson went 8-26 (.308) on the week with two homeruns and six RBI. The 23-year-old slugger is now hitting .266 with 16 homeruns and 86 RBI for the year.

The pitching staff was led by right-hander TA Fulmer and Bobby Livingston.

Fulmer had two starts on the week and was solid, if not spectacular, in each. The totals? In the first game, he hurled eight solid innings and allowed three earned runs, two walks, and fanned seven. That was followed by a seven-inning stint where he allowed five hits and an earned run. Fulmer has become the staff's most reliable starter. The right-hander is 9-7 with a 2.53 ERA on the season.

Livingston, 20, had one fantastic start and one awful start during the week. His good start lasted 8.1 innings as he fanned six batters. The mirror outing lasted just 6.1 innings and resulted in seven runs on 11 hits. The promising left-hander is 14-7 on the year with a 2.88 ERA.

Wisconsin is now 25-35 in the second half and sits 13 games back.

Short-season-A Everett decided to go stay on the .500 train this time around and went 3-3 for the week. In outscoring opponents 41-25, the raw numbers deceive us, but the offense has vastly improved over the past few weeks.

After the loss of their best two pitchers (Hernandez and Moorhead) to promotion, the Aqua Sox needed the offense to stay consistent and for a starter or two to step up. Did either of those two things occur? Yes. Both.

The offense banged out 27 runs in two wins vs. Vancouver over the weekend and topped off a solid week at the plate. Led by 3B Michael Cox, OF Sam Bradford Jr., and SS Oswaldo Navarro, the Sox kept themselves in games that would have been lost causes back in June.

Cox had his finest week of the year, going 8-19 (.421) with a homerun, four RBI and six runs scored. The defensive-minded three-bagger is hitting just .195 on the year with two homeruns.

Bradford went 7-18 (.389) with a homerun, five RBI, three steals, and eight runs scored for the week. The switch-hitter is sporting a .250 average with five homeruns and 20 RBI to go with 12 steals on the season.

Navarro went just 5-20 (.250) on the week but his eight RBI could not be ignored. The young shortstop is hitting .263 with 23 RBI and 16 steals.

The starting staff needed a pick-me-up and got one each from Randall Frye and Beau Hintz.

Frye went six shutout innings, allowed just two hits, and struck out eight. The right-hander is now 5-4 on the season in ten starts.

Hintz cruised through six innings and gave up just one run on four hits. The left-hander is now 5-5 on the season with a 3.84 ERA in 12 starts.

Everett sits at 28-36 for the year and is eight games back of first place.

Jason resides in North Tacoma, Wash., where his father is his best friend, his mother has a better fastball than he does, and his nephew is the only person better suited for stardom. Feedback is always welcome at DiamondGenius@hotmail.com.

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