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Hitting woes offset pitching, defense for Indians

Slide hits five

The Spokane Indians recently seem bent on proving an old baseball cliché wrong. Maybe pitching and defense aren’t the keys to championship teams.

Despite a healthy dose of both, the Indians lost their fifth consecutive game Thursday night, a 3-2 decision to Tri-City before 3,801 at Avista Stadium.

“We pitched well, just not well enough to win,” said Spokane manager Tim Hulett. “You can’t fault our guys. You know, three runs. We’ve got to score some more runs then we have in the last few games.”

The Indians have given up five runs in two nights to the Northwest League East Division-leading Dust Devils. The pitching has been complemented by stellar defense – Spokane turned two highlight-quality double plays, third baseman Tommy Mendonca took away two hits and left-fielder Aja Barto another – but the eight-game homestand has still started with two defeats.

“Those are crucial double plays and then we had some other plays that kept them from extending innings,” Hulett said. “Defensively, we did a great job tonight.”

It wasn’t enough because the Indians haven’t been able to shake the offensive doldrums – they are in the bottom three in league statistics in nearly every key offensive category – that have plagued them all season.

“We didn’t have many quality at-bats early on,” Hulett said of the latest loss. “Late in the game we’re getting a lot better but we’ve got to have better at-bats early in the game and put something together early.”

Despite the offensive woes – for the second consecutive game Spokane had just six hits – the Indians trailed just 1-0 going into the bottom of the seventh. Starting pitcher Robbie Ross put together another fine outing, limiting the Devils to six hits and one run over the first five. Kyle O’Campo followed with two more shutout innings.

But the Indians’ offense was sputtering against starter Sheng-An Kuo and the Tri-City bullpen. Though Spokane put runners on base, eight of its first nine reached with two outs.

Spokane rallied twice but only scored in the seventh, and even that was with two outs.

Denny Duron greeted reliever – and winner – Rod Scurry (3-1) with a walk. Joe Bonadonna did the same. Cody Podraza singled to right to tie it at 1, then Bonadonna scurried home on Scurry’s wild pitch.

The lead lasted for an out. Spokane reliever Justin Miller (0-1) walked Orlando Sandoval and hit Kent Matthes to open the eighth. A sacrifice moved up both and Ben Paulsen, who drove in the game-winner Wednesday, chopped one over the drawn-in infield to raise Tri-City’s record to 18-8.

Though Spokane (9-17) wasn’t done. Jason Ogata led off the ninth with a double off the left-center field wall and pinch runner Kyle Rhoad took third on Charles Ruiz’s wild pitch. But Clark Murphy struck out and, after Duron walked, Bonadonna popped out to second and Podraza flew out.

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