Inland Empire Notebook

InsidethePark.com's Jonathan Bianchet was on hand to witness the week that was with the Inland Empire 66ers. A visit from the Mariner's 3B Scott Spiezio highlight the recent happenings in San Bernardino. How did things turn out? Check out what the 66ers were up to down in California.

It is never fun to be injured, especially when it prevents you for doing what you love. Just ask Seattle Mariners' third baseman Scott Spiezio.

Prior to Saturday, the last time Spiezio had played in a game that counted was back in September of the 2003 season.

Because of back problems he didn't know when he would play in 2004, making each game he watched from the bench more frustrating.

Originally thought to be on the disabled list close to the first month of the season, if not longer, the new Mariners' third baseman had no reason to smile.

That changed last week, less than two weeks into the regular season, as Spiezio returned to the field for a rehab stint with the Inland Empire 66ers.

Back on the baseball diamond, the classic Spiezio smile returned.

"I did not know when I would be back playing again," Spiezio said, grinning from ear to ear. "There is never a good time to be on the DL, especially when (you're on) a new team and its opening day against your old team."

Opening day for Spiezio didn't go quite how he intended it, or imagined it for that matter. Wearing a new uniform, he was forced to delay his Mariner debut while sitting on the bench and watching his former teammates beat his new ones.

But it April 6 still proved to be a good day, nonetheless, as Spiezio was told to begin running and playing catch, something he hadn't done since the final week of spring. Three days later he was approved to begin swinging a bat.

Spiezio then returned to Anaheim, where he enjoyed a heart-warming standing ovation from the Angels' crowd. It was there that he was notified that he'd be rehabbing with the 66ers.

Spiezio made his return to the California League, which he hadn't been in for 10 years. Back in 1993-94, he played in there as a member of the Modesto A's (Oakland's Single-A affiliate). In his time with Modesto, Spiezio hit for a .275 average with 15 home runs and 81 RBI in 159 games.

"I just remember being enthusiastic having the opportunity to play and continue to the next step," Spiezio said, reflecting back to his California League days.

While playing and being around the 66ers players for two days in San Bernardino, Spiezio was able to not only hone his skill in preparation for his Mariners debut, but also give advice and scout the future of Mariners.

"It's all about putting your work in and believing that you can make it to the big leagues," Spiezio said. "The ones that trust in their ability and concentrate on every pitch of every day are the ones that are going to get there."

Though Spiezio did not get a hit in either game, going 0-5, he was still able to see two quality wins from the 66ers that began the year winning eight of their first 10 games.

In the first game, after Spiezio's teammate Rafeal Soriano pitched four innings in a minor league assignment, phenom Felix Hernandez pitched five sparkling shutout innings. He struck out 10 of the 15 outs, walking two for his second victory of the year. Spiezio couldn't help but rave about Hernandez's outing.

"His presence on the mound was very good," said Speizio. "He has a very live arm."

The following night Spiezio saw Inland Empire win in the tenth inning, thanks to timely situational hitting.

"They are a couple of steps away, but there're far along for this class," Spiezio said. "It's encouraging and nice to know that when we need it, the talent is there."

After his two-day journey to San Bernardino, Spiezio flew back to Seattle where he quickly was plugged into the Mariners lineup and has helped get the team on track. Since his return in the lineup, Seattle has won four of their last six games after a disappointing 1-7 start.

Playing everyday, Spiezio is back where he belongs – still smiling.


Topsy Turvy: Inland Empire continued its winning ways through the beginning of last week, finishing off a six-game winnings streak, but it ended on April 19 in a 6-5 defeat to Lancaster. The Jethawks went on to sweep the four-game series from the 66ers by a total of five runs, taking the next three games 6-4, 4-3 and 3-2 respectively. In each of the games the 66ers had a lead late in the game and failed to finish Lancaster.

Notes: Pitching has continued to be the name of the game for the 66ers as the have the best pitching team in the California League. The team ERA of 2.21 is nearly one full run better than the second best team in the league and opposing hitters are only hitting .199 off them… Bobby Livingston gave up his first runs of the season in a no-decision effort that resulted in a 6-5 loss to Lancaster on April 19. Jarred Ball put the runs on the board for the JetHawks with a questionable home run to left field that appeared to hit off the top of the wall and bounce back into play… Mariner reliever Rafael Soriano pitched in his second minor league game this season in the 6-4 loss to Lancaster on April 20. In his two starts with Inland Empire, Soriano has pitched eight innings, allowed two runs, and has struck out nine while walking only one…Catcher Rene Rivera has been Mr. Clutch thus far for the 66ers. He is hitting .289 with 11 hits, but leads the team with 11 RBI. Entering Thursday, Rivera was hitting .455 with runners in scoring position… Infielder Juan Gonzalez went 0-5 on April 20, ending his 10-game hitting streak. Gonzalez his hitting .300 in 13 games this year and has two stolen bases… For the first time since April of 2002, the 66ers were rained out on April 17. They played a double-header the next day and swept Lake Elsinore, 6-2 and 4-3.

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