Inland Empire Notebook

Two teams are in hot pursuit of the first-place Inland Empire 66ers of the California League, and just when it looked like the Mariners High-A affiliate might fall into second place for the first time in nearly three weeks a certain 18-year-old pitcher stepped up to save the day. Read more about it in this report from InsidethePark's Jonathan Bianchet.

The Inland Empire 66ers are in danger of losing first place in the Southern Division in the California League. With a third-straight loss on Wednesday night, the 66ers saw their lead shrink to just half a game ahead of Lake Elsinore in the standings. A win on Thursday pushed their lead to 1.5 games.

Many have been watching the 66ers and Jethawks of Lancaster battle in playoff-like games over the course of the season, including last weekend. But the Storm quietly snuck up the standings, making it a three-team race for the first half crown.

The six-game stretch against Lancaster and Lake Elsinore began last Friday night in San Bernardino with a 16-run explosion by the 66ers hitters. By the end of the third inning, the 66ers held a commanding 10-2 lead. They scored four quick runs in the first inning when right-fielder T.J. Bohn hit a three-run bomb to left center and out of Arrowhead Credit Union Park, an estimated 430-foot blast. In the third inning, 10 batters came to plate and combined to nearly hit for the cycle, missing only the home run. Bohn tied his career high with five RBI as phenom pitcher Felix Hernandez got back on track, pitching six innings with seven strikeouts in a 16-2 victory. The 16 runs tied the season high for the Sixers.

The next night, the bats began right where the left off with three early runs. Relief pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith earned the start in absence of Rich Dorman, who was shipped to Double-A San Antonio earlier in the week. Rowland-Smith pitched five innings and allowed just one run on four hits. However, it was Matt Roglestad who was the hero of the game. His fourth hit of the game won the contest in the ninth inning, driving home new addition Vince Faison for an 8-7 final score.

Unfortunately that was the best of the five games so far. The 66ers didn't win again until Thursday night's gem from Hernandez.

On Sunday, Lancaster shut down the 66ers hitters in a 7-2 victory. Inland Empire committed four errors in the game, two by starting pitcher T.A. Fulmer.

After a day off on Monday, the 66ers began a three-game series against Lake Elsinore, who entered Tuesday's game 2.5 games behind the 66ers.

On Tuesday, Inland Empire lost 1-0, the second time they have lost 1-0 against the Storm this season. Wednesday night the Sixers lost 5-3, putting the Storm just a half game behind Inland Empire.

In the two games the 66ers have gone a pathetic 4-32 with runners on base. In the first game, 66er batters struck-out 10 times. Last night, they struck-out nine times as they were unable to help ace lefthander Bobby Livingston on a night where he did not pitch his best. Livingston pitched five innings and allowed all five runs to score. He has now lost his last two starts, making his record now 6-2 with a 2.14 earned run average.

The 66ers have lost 7 of their last 12 games, and will look to rebound at home with three games against High Desert and three more with Rancho Cucamonga.

Over the last six games the 66ers have scored an average of 5.2 runs per game, thanks largely to the 16-2 rout over Lancaster. If that game is taken out of the equation, the 66ers have averaged just three runs a game over their last five games.

To fill Rich Dorman's roster spot, the organization called up Vince Faison from extended spring training to help in the outfield. He has made an immediate impact for Inland Empire. In his first four games Faison is hitting .313 (5/16) with one home run, five RBI and four runs scored.

Inland batters struck out 50 times this week, more strikeouts than the pitchers recorded against their opponents (48). Their pitchers have more strikeouts than any pitching staff in the Cal League.

TJ Bohn has continued to work the count and draw walks. Bohn has 30 walks this season, two times more than Juan Gonzalez, who is second on the team in walks. Bohn has an on base percentage of .438, third best in the Cal League.

Juan Gonzalez is seventh in the league in hits with 56.

By far pitcher Bobby Livingston had his worst week of the year. In two starts the lefty went 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA. However, he was not out of the strike zone. He only walked one batter in the 11 innings he pitched in. His first loss of the week snapped his seven game winning streak, dating back to his final start of last season.

The pitching staff has walked the least amount of batters in the Cal League with 110. In fact, the only team in all of minor league baseball that has allowed less walks is Double-A Erie with 104.

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