El Paso, Texas -- It was an ugly game from the outset on Friday as 10 pitchers combined to labor through a three hour thirty minute marathon that the Rainiers ultimately claimed as an 11-8 victory.
The good for El Paso included a three-hit night for Cory Spangenberg, a pair of homers by Jamie Romak, who now leads the minor leagues, and a couple of scoreless innings by Jake Smith in his first outing of the year.
The bad included a shaky start by Bryan Rodriguez, who gave up seven earned over five innings, a error and a few other rough efforts by Spangenberg defensively, and a four-strikeout night by Jabari Blash to drop his season average to .200.
And the ugly on the night was exemplified by the would-be final out of the game when Boog Powell flat dropped a can of corn fly to center. But the weirdest play of the evening came in the top of the ninth when, after Michael Dimock came on with the bases loaded to face the human incarnation of Mt. Rainier, Dan Vogelbach.
He induced a pop fly behind third which Spangenberg couldn't find and fell in. Home plate umpire John Libka was apparently the only one on the field who realized he had called the infield fly rule, so when the ball hit the grass, the runners at second and third made a break for it. Ultimately, the trail runner was tagged out, but not before Tyler Smith had come across the plate with the Rainiers' final run.
Just another night in the Pacific Coast League.
For Rodriguez, his fourth start of the year was by far his roughest. Although he came in with a 0.75 ERA, the big righty was down 2-0 before he'd recorded his first out thanks to a single, hit batter and then a double by Vogelbach.
While he recovered over the next two innings, he ran into more trouble in the fourth and then grooved a fastball to Zach Shank, who hit the second Tacoma grand slam in as many nights.
Rodriguez, as has always been the case, showed good velocity, hitting 95 in his middle innings. But hitters get a good look at the ball out of his hand and are able to attack his pitches pretty consistently.
At this point in the year, Jamie Romak is attacking virtually all pitches well. The 31-year-old slugger hit a two-run shot down the right field line in the third inning off righty Brett Ash, then capped his night with a two-run blast to deep left center off lefty former big-leaguer Nick Hagadone.
"You take as many hits as you can possibly get," said Romak. "Obviously, when things go well to start the season, it stands out. When you go through a little hot streak in the middle, you don’t really notice it as much. But it’s nice to get off to a good start."
With the two blasts, Romak now has eight in 54 plate appearances.
"We came into the season with him penciled into the middle of the order, and he’s definitely taken advantage of the situation," said manager Rod Barajas. "It’s nice to see a guy get an opportunity and take advantage of it."
For Spangenberg, the night encapsulated both why he's opened the year in El Paso, and why he will eventually be back in San Diego at some point. He's still working on his transition to third base defensively. While he made a stellar diving catch toward the line to end the second inning, he had an ugly error in the eighth behind Carter Capps, and the missed pop up in the ninth. He also had a few plays charging balls that still didn't seem instinctive.
"Spangy is already, at the spectacular play, he’s as good as anybody," said Barajas. "We’re getting a glimpse of how good this guy could be at third base. We’re still refining everything. It’s new to him. I think he’s going to continue to get better."
At the plate, Spangenberg is making the case for what he can offer the big league club. He legged out a double in the third by being aggressive out of the box, then lashed a second double to right field later. He capped his night with an RBI single to left-center off of Hagadone, who remains a tough match-up for lefties.
The left-handed hitters at the top of the Chihuahuas lineup had good at-bats against rehabbing big league close Steve Cishek in the first inning. Franchy Cordero drew a walk after a pair of good takes, but then got picked off first. Carlos Asuaje also worked a walk. Cishek threw exactly 20 pitches before he was lifted with two outs. ... Carter Capps worked the eight for El Paso, still struggling to find his command. He worked with a fastball at 94-95 and a two-plane slider that was in the low 90s. He seemed to be fighting for control of the fastball, issuing a pair of walks. Just eight of his 22 pitches were for strikes. ... Gordon Beckham was the Rodriguez HBP victim. While he initially stayed in the game after taking a pitch off his arm, he gave way to Shank as a pinch-hitter in the fourth. ...