Inland Empire Notebook

No team in the Mariners farm system has played as well this season as the High-A Inland Empire 66ers. InsidethePark's Jonathan Bianchet recaps the highlights from the past week of play in this Inland Empire Notebook.

Even with losses of infielders Ismael Castro and Michael Garciaparra, the Inland Empire 66ers haven't missed a beat. The reason? Versatility of the 66ers' infield.

Inland infielders Juan Gonzalez, and Matt Roglestad each have played three infield positions more than twice. Matt Hagen, usually a first baseman, has played a game at third and backed up at catcher. Brian Lentz and leftfielder Jon Nelson each have played a game at first.

Meanwhile the replacements for Castro and Garciaparra have been able to fill the holes, helping the team stay in the win column on a regular basis. Hyung Cho, who graduated from the University of Houston last year, has hit .316 with eight RBI and four runs scored in his first 11 games with the club. Jesus Guzman has hit .286 with seven RBI and has scored 11 times this year.

Defensively, Cho and Guzman have combined for only five errors. Castro and Garciaparra, when they were healthy combined for three errors, all of which belonged to Garciaparra.

While infielders like Gonzalez and Rogelstad are moving around to fill holes in different positions, Cho and Guzman haven't and won't be making any changes.

"We feel it is better if we let the younger new players stay at one position," said manager Daren Brown. "They need to learn to play one position well."

While Castro and Garciaparra are sidelined by their injuries, the healthy infielders are gaining a large amount of experience.

"The goal down here is to get these players to the major league level," said Brown. "Many times it means having a history of playing multiple positions."

That is exactly what the 66er infielders are achieving right now. As a result they are gaining the much-needed experience and, at the same time, getting to feel what it is like to win game after game as they continue to pound their opponents.

Game Summary:

Thursday, May 6: Thanks to a five run eighth inning the 66ers were able come from behind and beat the Stockton Ports in Stockton. Catcher Rene Rivera and shortstop Juan Gonzalez each had three hits on the night and a combined five RBI. Phenom Felix Hernandez started for the 66ers and went five innings allowing one run and struck out five hitters.

Friday, May 7: Starting pitcher T.A. Fulmer allowed the most runs of any starter one night as the San Jose Giants began a three game sweep of the 66ers with a 12-2 victory. Fulmer pitched only three innings and gave up 10 runs, all earned, on 11 hits. Inland hitter combined for mere five hits in the loss.

Saturday, May 8: Two runs in the top of the seventh and ninth innings were not enough for the 66ers as they failed to complete the comeback in a 5-4 defeat to San Jose. T.J. Bohn and Matt Rogelstad each drove in two RBI.

Sunday, May 9: For the second time in three days the 66er hitters were silenced for second time in three nights as San Jose completed the three game sweep of the 66ers, 4-1. Again the team was held to just five hits. Juan Sandoval picked up the loss even though he pitched six innings and surrendered just two runs. The loss ended the longest road trip of the season. The team went 8-5 on the trip.

Monday, May 10: Once again ace lefthander Bobby Livingston restored order for the 66ers as he pitched six innings and gave up only one run in a 11-1 victory over the High Desert Mavericks. Livingston struck out eight batters in the game, a new season high. Pichi Balet had his best game of his career as he went four for five with five RBI, nearly doubling his total this season, which now stands at 11. Jon Nelson and Hyung Cho each drove in two runs in the game.

Tuesday, May 11: Down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs, the 66ers had nine straight men reach base in a seven run outburst to beat the Mavericks 9-3. Jon Nelson had the big hit of the day, a three-run home run to left center field, giving the 66ers a 6-3 lead. Felix Hernandez got the start and was not as sharp as his previous starts this season. Hernandez went six innings; only giving up three runs but allowed ten hits and just a mere two strikeouts. Relief pitcher Melvin Pizarro struck out the side in the seventh inning to keep the game close for the 66ers.

Wednesday May 12: Starter T.A. Fulmer redeemed himself for his last start with seven shut out innings in a 8-0 victory over High Desert. Fulmer and relief pitcher Darwin Soto combined for a four hit shut out. Fulmer struck out eight in the game and did not walk a batter. Lefthander Garry Harris collected three hits against a lefty and drove in three. He now has 23 RBI, the most on the team.

Thursday, May 13: The 66ers completed the four game sweep of High Desert last night thanks to yet another strong pitching performance in a 6-1 victory. Starter Rich Dorman (3-2) pitched six innings surrendering only one run. He did not walk a batter in the game and struck out nine batters. Relief pitcher Tanner Watson continued the dominating pitching performance with three shut out innings. Watson struck out two batters. The 66ers walked six times and were hit by a pitch twice. Because of that they were able to score three runs in one inning with only one hit. T.J. Bohn roped a triple down the left field line and to score three runs. Inland Empire did not get more than one hit in any inning in the game. Over the four game series against High Desert the 66ers outscored the Mavericks 34-5.

With the 4-3 week the 66ers had, they improved their record to 22-12, good for first place in the South Division in the California League. They are currently one game ahead of Lancaster in the standings. Infielder Pichi Balet hit .417 (10/24) and drove in five, all in one game, during the week. Thanks to his hot hitting, his batting average jumped from .288 to .326… Juan Gonzalez's 40 hits puts him seventh in the Cal League in hits. He is batting .315 on the season and also leads the team in stolen bases with nine… Infield replacements Hyung Cho and Jesus Guzman hit .353 and .350 respectively this week. Combined, they drove in seven runs and scored 11 times…

The team scored 45 times throughout the week, the most of any week this season… Inland hitters as a team are currently second in hitting, .289, and hits, 330. Lancaster is ahead of them in each category…

The pitching staff combined to have the most strikeouts of any week thus far with 63. They only walked 13 in the week for nearly a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio… In the week Felix Hernandez pitched 11 innings. Within those 11 innings Hernandez gave up 14 hits but only four runs and a mere seven strikeouts… Left-handed starter Bobby Livingston leads the Cal League in wins (5) and is second in ERA (1.33)… Three 66ers starters are in the top seven in strikeouts. Hernandez is third with 43, TA Fulmer is fourth (41), and Livingston is seventh (38)... Melvin Pizarro has been the most consistent pitcher out of the bullpen for the 66ers this season. In 14.1 innings Pizarro has only allowed one earned run for a 0.63 ERA. He has 11 strikeout to just three walks…

The 66ers are 17-3 when they score first in the game, one of the best in the Cal League. They are also 18-1 when leading after seven innings of play. The 66ere will begin a three series against Ranch Cucamonga in Cucamonga on Friday. They will then play three games in High Desert in the middle of next week.

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