Missions Notebook

San Antonio may not have the talent that it has had in each of the previous two seasons, but that hasn't stopped the city from loving its Missions baseball team. The Mariners' Double-A affiliate is wrapping up a week that saw them play one of the best teams in the Texas League and one of the worst. InsidethePark's Joe Ruiz was there, taking it all in, and has this report.

When last we visited with the Mariners Double-A affiliate, the San Antonio Missions finished their most exciting game of the season and were departing for a road trip against a division rival.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

San Antonio's last game was one that had a separate story brewing within the game and saw the Missions nearly close a large deficit. But there were also eight games before last night that deserve their own attention.

The Missions opened up a brief road trip against the Texas League's cellar-dwellers, the El Paso Diablos, although in classic irony, the Diablos were riding a three-game winning streak and bolstered their roster before the start of Friday's game.

Game one of the series saw the Diablos get out to the early lead by scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning, but Missions starting RHP Gustavo Martinez settled in afterwards and allowed only two out of his five hits through the next six innings. Well-placed hitting allowed the Missions to score three runs in the top of the third and one more an inning later. C Jim Horner's double in the fourth and subsequent advance to third on a IF Rob Gandolfo groundout allowed CF Dustin Delucchi to steal second after earning the base-on-balls. A throwing error by Diablo C Mike DiRosa on the steal allowed Horner to cross the plate.

A passed ball by Horner in the bottom of the eighth allowed Diablos CF Marland Williams to score the winning run and gave relief LHP Tim Rall (2-1) his first loss of the season.

San Antonio fell in the second game 11-7 with Delucchi and OF Shin-soo Choo providing the bats and OF/DH Greg Jacobs, 1B/DH John Lindsey and IF Hunter Brown driving in the runs. Starting RHP Elvis Perez (1-5) gave up five runs in 4.1 innings and relief LHP Chris Key and RHP Rick Guttormson gave up three runs a piece. The bright spot out of the bullpen was recent arrival RHP Renee Cortez, who pitched two shutout innings.

Enter RHP Juan Doñe. The 23-year-old out of Miami, FL has been one of the surprises of the season for San Antonio's rotation. Doñe pitched 7.1 innings and gave up the only two runs of the game for the Diablos in the bottom of the first. Rall pitched an inning of relief and Guttormson atoned for his outing the night before by earning his third save of the season. Every Mission got on base and all but one hit safely at least once. Brown, Choo, Lindsey and Jacobs all had multi-hit games and Brown scored twice in the 6-2 Missions win.

The last game of the road trip was a change of pace for this squad as the bottom four hitters (Oliveros, Gandolfo, SS Eddy Menchaca and OF/DH Cristian Guerrero) accounted for seven of the team's 11 hits and seven of the team's eight runs. The Missions entered the top half of the second inning already down one run. Two of the inning's four runs came on Delucchi's single, which allowed Gandolfo and Guerrero to score. The Diablos felt more pressure in the top of the fourth when an error and a fielder's choice allowed Guerrero and Menchaca to score on consecutive at-bats.

After El Paso scored two in the bottom of the fourth to make the score 6-3, the teams traded runs in the seventh and San Antonio scored once more in the eighth to enter the bottom of the ninth with an 8-4 lead. RHP Allen Levrault entered the game and promptly gave up two singles to bring up Diablos 2B Steve Garrabrants. Garrabrants ended Levrault's night by taking him over the left-field wall to make it an 8-7 game. Cortez replaced Levrault and Delucchi committed an error that allowed the Diablos to put a runner in scoring position.

Cortez turned on the fire extinguisher and sat down the next three batters to earn his first save of the season and secure the 8-7 victory.

The team's biggest test of the season came when they drove south down Interstate 35 for a four-game set back at The Wolff. The West Division-leading Round Rock Express entered the series 3.5 games in front of the Missions.

Prior to the first game Tuesday night, the Missions placed RHP Chris Buglovsky on the disabled list retroactive to May 15. To fill the starting role, the organization tapped into the starting rotation at High-A Inland Empire and promoted RHP Rich Dorman to San Antonio.

Dorman's first start in Double-A, starting against the division leader to open the series? No problem.

Dorman showed command of his pitches and varied his pitch speed from the mid-70s to the mid-90s. He pitched seven shutout innings and struck out nine Express batters in his debut. Jacobs and Choo teamed up to score the winning run for the Missions. Choo walked and Jacobs plated him on a double to the gap in left center in the bottom of the fourth. Jacobs would later score that same inning on a double to the gap in right center by Horner.

After the game, Dorman complimented the pitching staff at Inland Empire for sticking to the basics.

"We're working on mechanical things," he said. "Most of all, no walks, being aggressive and attacking the hitters with strikes."

The next night, only four Missions reached base as the team could only muster up four hits and one run in a 2-1 loss.

Thursday night, the injury bug's bite started to show. Martinez was unable to start due to flu-like symptoms for the second night in a row and the Missions sent the relievers to the hill all night. RHP Emiliano Fruto made his first start of the season and looked good for 2.2 innings. Recording the final out in the third was Fruto's downfall. The 19-year-old Columbian gave up three solid hits and allowed two runs to score for the Express. Newcomer RHP Ruben Flores out of El Paso, TX allowed one run in 1.2 innings and Cortez allowed the go-ahead run (and took his first loss of the season) by giving up a home run to Diablos SS Tommy Whiteman.

Three days prior to Friday night's series finale, Arizona Diamondbacks LHP Randy Johnson became the oldest player in MLB to pitch a perfect game. Express LHP Wandy Rodriguez paid his own tribute to the "Big Unit" by pitching five innings of perfect baseball against the Missions.

Doñe gave up seven earned runs, including a grand slam in the top of the sixth inning, before the Missions would finally get on the board by scoring two in the bottom half of the inning. The Missions would score one more run in the eighth inning and tried to come back in the ninth. Lindsey took Rodriguez deep onto the berm in left-field to score Dobbs, but Express relief RHP Mike Burns would get the final three outs to shut down the rally and clinch the series with a final score of 7-5.

The Missions climbed on the bus early Saturday morning to begin a nine-game, eight-day road trip to Midland and Round Rock. Your roving reporter will be on location at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, TX to file reports from the road.

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