Emeralds pitching and defense struggles

EUGENE - Coming into tonight's game against the Spokane Indians, the Emeralds were leading the Northwest League in walks allowed with 41 in their first seven games, and tonight was no exception.        

On a 100 degree night in Eugene that saw Ernesto Frieri struggle on the mound and get his first loss since July 15 of last season, the Emeralds gave up eight free passes, including five in a row to start the top of the seventh inning, and also made four errors, leading to their third loss of the season.

"We're concerned," said a frustrated Manager Doug Dascenzo, after the game. "It was a sloppy game, you can't give the other team extra outs."

Ernesto Frieri allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in each of the first three innings. That trend continued throughout the game, in all the Ems allowed the leadoff man to reach in six innings. Frieri ended up pitching 3.2 innings, which was his first start of the season and 11th in his career, allowing three earned runs on four hits and is now 0-1 on the season as his ERA jumped to 3.24. Although he struggled at times, giving up a homerun to catcher Chad Tracy in the third, he did strike out five.

Spokane started the scoring in the first, as leadoff hitter Craig Gentry scored from second on an error by Emerald shortstop Tom King. The Emeralds struck back in their half of the first as centerfielder Mike Epping started the game with a perfect bunt base hit down the third baseline, which extended his hit streak to seven games. After King popped out to the catcher, Matt Antonelli walked and Casey Smith got his first of two infield hits of the night to load the bases. Designated hitter Chad Huffman followed with a deep fly to center to bring in the tying run. Smith went 3-for-3 with a run scored in the game.

Later, in the third inning, Gentry led off with a fly ball to leftfield that Luke Cannon lost in the sun, dropping in for a double. He scored one batter later on a single by Grant Gerrard. A homerun by Tracy followed to put the Indians up 4-1.

Again, the Emeralds retaliated in the bottom half of the inning. Epping led off with a walk and later scored on a single down the first baseline by Antonelli. Antonelli finished the game by going 2-for-4, with a walk.

In the seventh, Ems pitcher Rolando Valdez walked three straight batters by throwing 12 straight balls. Riki Paewai replaced Valdez, but also struggled as he walked the first two batters he faced. After a visit from Dascenzo, however, Paewai struck out the next batter and forced the next to fly out to Epping, who threw out the tagging runner at the plate, which received a loud ovation from the fans.

Epping hit a one out double in the bottom half of the seventh and stole third when the Indian catcher threw it lazily back to the pitcher. He was, however, stranded there when Antonelli was robbed of a line drive base hit on a diving catch by third baseman Nick Cadena.

Paewai continued with how he finished the seventh by retiring the side in order in the eighth. "I just patted him on the back, and I pointed to [Luany] Sanchez's chest protector at a little red square, that says Rawlings on it, and said throw it right there," said Dascenzo, about his visit that settled Paewai down in the seventh.

The Emeralds mounted one last rally in the bottom of the eighth when Smith and Huffman led off with a single each and scored on a double by Willy Crafort. Cannon followed with another single to bring up David Freese, pinch hitting for Ray Stokes. Freese, who was 2-for-2 with a homerun in his previous two pinch-hitting assignments this season, struck out. Epping followed with a walk to load the bases with two outs, but the rally ended there as King flew out to end the Emerald threat.

"If you think we're going to give the other team 30, 31, 32 outs, and they give us 27, that's what's going to happen," said Dascenzo about the way the team played.

Epping, drafted in the 13th round this year out of University of New Orleans, went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a league leading sixth stolen base and was awarded player of the game for his effort. His outfield assist to end the Indians bid for insurance runs was the play of the game. So far this season, he is hitting .375, including 12 hits during his seven game hit streak.

"It's always nice to start off on a good note," said Epping. In regards to the pitching staff's struggle with walks, Epping said: "They're not trying to throw balls, they're doing the best they can to throw strikes. Some days we don't get as many hits as we should, so it goes both ways. They'll come around."

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