Inland Empire Notebook - April in Review

No team in the Mariners farm system has been as successful in 2004 as the pitching-dominant Inland Empire 66ers. Jonathan Bianchet recaps the 66ers terrific month of April, highlighting the memorable moments, in this week's Inland Empire Notebook.

There is a saying in baseball that states, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish." In many ways that it is true, but a win is a win and the more you get the better the season.

For the Inland Empire 66ers, the season got off to a great start and April finished with wins in their last four games. Thanks to the four-game winning streak, the 66ers were able end the month 15-7, their best start to a season since 1997 when they started 17-9 in the month of April.

During the month, Inland Empire had a California League best .282 batting average and 2.91 ERA.

Of their seven losses, five came to their toughest competition thus far, the Lancaster Jethawks. In the eight games played against Lancaster, seven were decided by two runs or fewer. The Jethawks also finished the month 15-7, tied with the 66ers for first place in the Southern Division.

Offensively, Inland Empire was led by 6-foot-5 right fielder T.J. Bohn. A third-year pro, Bohn batted .338 in the month of April and led the team in runs scored at 17. Bohn also had two home runs and nine RBI in the team's first 22 games, and defensively he gunned down five base runners.

The team averaged 5.6 runs per game as six players scored more than 10 runs each in the month. Center fielder, Garry Harris led the 66ers in RBI, while Matt Hagen led the team in home runs with 3. While the pitching was solid during the month, the starting pitching staff was particularly impressive.

With the league leading 2.91 ERA, the starting staff had nearly a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. Led by southpaw Bobby Livingston (3-0; 1.27 ERA), the starting pitching had a combined ERA of 2.37. It also had 12 quality starts (6 IP, three or fewer runs). Young 18-year old phenom Felix Hernandez went 2-1 in the month with 27 strikeouts. Opponents only hit .215 against the 66ers pitching staff, who surrendered only 153 hits, fewest allowed in the Cal League.

While finishing strong is a key to a successful season, a great start in April can set the tempo for the rest of the season. And just one month into the season, the tempo for the 66ers is already beating fast and furious.



Game Summaries:

On Thursday, April 29 the 66ers completed the three-game sweep of Visalia with a 7-3 victory. Inland Empire starter Juan Sandoval went 6.0 innings, surrendering three runs and improved his record to 3-0 on the year.

The next night the 66ers traveled back to Southern California to play a four-game road series in Rancho Cucamonga. Bobby Livingston went 7.2 innings and allowed three runs for his third win of the year in a 11-3 victory over the Quakes. Both TJ Bohn and Jon Nelson hit home runs in the game and all but center fielder Garry Harris got a hit in the 14-hit outburst.

In the marquee match-up of the week, Felix Hernandez got the better of Anaheim's first-round draft pick, Joe Saunders, in a 6-3 66er victory. Hernandez (3-1) had some of his best stuff of the year as he went 6.0 innings with nine strikeouts and one walk, touching 95 on the radar gun. Catcher Rene Rivera touched Saunders for the only two runs he allowed with a third inning blast to left-center.

On Sunday, May 2 the Quakes ended the 66ers five game winning streak with a 5-3 victory, getting a good performance by pitcher Steve Shell. Shell (2-1) went 7.0 innings and struck out 10 Inland Empire batters. Bohn hit his third home run of the year on a day where the 66ers racked up 11 hits but failed to get come through in the clutch.

The 66ers took three of four from Ranch Cucamonga with a 4-3 victory on Monday, scoring two runs in the ninth inning to take the lead for good. In the game, Bohn's 12-game hitting streak was snapped as he went 0-3.

Inland Empire then traveled back up North to begin a three-game series against Stockton. On Tuesday, Stockton controlled the 66ers hitters. Four Port pitchers combined to strike out 13 Inland batters in a 10-4 victory over the 66ers. Sandoval (3-1) had his worst outing of the season, giving up five runs in 4.2 innings. But on Wednesday it was Livingston (4-0) again giving the 66ers a quality start in a 7-1 victory over the Ports. Bohn hit is fourth home run of the year in the game.

Notes:

Sadly, the season of infielder Ismael Castro is over, ending prematurely for the second season in a row. Castro injured his knee in a game against Lancaster on Sunday, April 25 while running out a ground ball. After tests were done, it was discovered that he has severe damage in his left knee, damaging his MCL, ACL and tearing his meniscus. He left for Seattle earlier in the week to have surgery and is done for the season. Castro was batting .303 in 16 games with two home runs and 10 RBI. He also had not committed an error on defense… Outfielder T.J, Bohn has his 12-game hitting streak snapped on May 2. During his streak Bohn hit .409 with 2 home runs and seven RBI. Bohn is currently on a 18-game on-base streak, the longest such streak in the Cal League this season Bohn also hit three of his four home runs in last week's games… The next day on May 3, outfielder Jon Nelson's 10-game hitting streak was snapped. Over the last two weeks, Nelson has increased his average from .209 to .307… The 66ers hitters are still leading the league in hits with 260 and team average of .287… Over the last week the Inland hitters hit .294, averaging six runs per game, but averaged just over seven strikeouts a game in the process… The staff combined to have 5-2 record with a 3.84 ERA during last week's games… Lefty Bobby Livingston had two wins in the week and now leads the Cal League in innings pitched with 41.1 and wins with four. T.A. Fuller had only surrendered two runs in the first three weeks of baseball but in one start he allowed five runs… During the current 13-game road trip, the 66ers are 7-2 and have one more game in Stockton then three game weekend series against San Jose before returning home to play High Desert for four… The 66ers are currently 18-9 on the year and are in first place, a game and a half ahead of Lancaster in the standings.

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