June 21, 2009 in Sports

Ross, Indians top Bears 5-3 in opener

Lefty tosses gem to lead Spokane past Yakima
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

The Indians’ Cody Podraza dives back to first base to beat a tag.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Finding a decent investment in these troubling economic times can be difficult, if not impossible.

But from all early indications, the Texas Rangers might have stumbled onto a real future money-maker in Robbie Ross, the left-handed pitcher they drafted out of high school last spring, later signed for just more than $1.5 million and recently assigned to the Spokane Indians.

Ross made his professional debut Saturday night and undoubtedly impressed the vast majority of those in a sellout crowd of 6,839 that was on hand at Avista Stadium to watch the Indians open defense of last year’s Northwest Conference championship with a 5-3 win over the Yakima Bears.

Ross, a 19-year-old Kentuckian, who arrived in Spokane last week following a stint of extended spring training with the parent-club Rangers down in Arizona, started for the Indians and picked up the win after striking out nine – all swinging – and allowing just four hits and two runs in five innings of work.

He was dominant, especially early, when he struck out the first three hitters he faced on 10 pitches. And he showed some mental toughness beyond his years in the fifth when, after allowing a two-run home run to Yakima’s Tyrell Worthington, he came back to once again strikeout the side.

“We knew he was going to be pretty good,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said of the 5-foot-11 Ross, who was Texas’ second-round pick in the 2008 first-year player draft. “But that was one very impressive first outing right there.”

Ross, who was on a pitch count of 75, needed only 59 to get through his five innings. And 43 of the 59 he threw were strikes.

“He really pounded the zone,” Indians catcher Vincent DiFazio said. “His fastball has some electricity behind it that I haven’t seen in a long time, and I’ve been catching a lot of years. His slider was breaking sharp, and his change-up was in the zone and dropping off the table.”

Still, DiFazio was most impressed with the way Ross responded after giving up the first two runs of his minor league career.

“He gives up a home run there in the fifth, but rather than hang his head, he comes right back and bulldogs the next three guys – bang, bang, bang,” DiFazio said. “That’s what you want to see in a pitcher, especially one as young as him.

“He was fun to catch tonight, and it’s very exciting to think about getting to catch Robbie Ross the rest of the season. He’s something very special.”

Ross, who had more than a dozen friends and family members in the stands, admitted to feeling some fluttering in his stomach before the game.

“But once I got out there, I really felt comfortable,” he added. “I just asked God before I pitched to let me go out there and have fun. This was my first official minor league game, and I figured I might as well have a good time with it and not get all stressed out about winning or losing.”

The Indians didn’t exactly cuff around Yakima starter and loser Rafael Quezada, but they did manage to back Ross’ splendid pitching effort with a pair of runs in the second inning, another in the third and a couple of more in the fifth on Aja Barto’s towering two-run home run to left-center field.

Barto also opened Spokane’s second with an infield hit, stole second and took third when the throw from Bears catcher Jorge Corniel sailed into center field. Following a walk to DiFazio, former Washington State standout Jared Prince plated Barto with an infield groundout before Emmanuel Solis doubled to right center to drive home DiFazio.

The Indians added an unearned run in the third when Prince opened the inning with a grounder to third, ended up on second because of a throwing error and scored on Clark Murphy’s one-out single to center.

“That was a great way to start,” Hulett said. “I thought we battled well at the plate, made them throw a lot of pitches and got some key hits.”

The same two teams will meet again tonight at 6:30 in Avista Stadium in the second game of their three-game season-opening series.

Notes

Longtime Indians radio announcer Bob Robertson handled the play-by-play for Saturday night’s game but is not expected to return this season after taking a year-long leave of absence to help his wife deal with some health issues. … Saturday night’s crowd exceeded Avista Stadium’s seating capacity by 37. … The blue jerseys the Indians wore to commemorate their 2008 Northwest League championship were auctioned off as part of a silent auction held during the game in the stadium’s main concourse. Proceeds from the event will benefit the YMCA/YWCA Capitol Campaign. … Among the promotional events tied to Saturday’s season opener were a postgame fireworks display and a Magnet Schedule Giveaway.


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