It’s still early, and a lot of the first-year players in the short-season Class A Northwest League are still trying to groove their swings with those foreign objects – aka, wooden bats – they’re being ordered to take with them to the plate.
That reality became apparent again Monday night at Avista Stadium as the Yakima Bears outlasted the Spokane Indians 5-3 in a 10-inning whiff-fest to salvage the finale of their season-opening three-game series against the defending NWL champions.
The Bears (1-2) got run-scoring singles from Brent Greer and Astolfo Inciarte in the top of the 10th to snap a 3-3 tie and make a loser out of Justin King, the fourth of five pitchers used by Indians manager Tim Hulett. But the real story on this night was the struggle both teams had in making contact at the plate.
The 10 pitchers used in the game combined for 29 strikeouts, leaving Hulett searching for an explanation for the early season offensive woes of both teams, who combined for just 17 runs in the series.
“That’s a lot of strikeouts on both sides,” said Hulett, who watched 15 of his batters get punched out. “But I don’t know for sure, to be honest, whether it’s great pitching or not very good hitting.”
Spokane (2-1) pounded out seven hits in the first five innings to take a 3-1 lead, but managed only six base runners the rest of the way – and four of those reached on a pair of walks and two hit batsmen.
The Indians answered Yakima’s first-inning run, which came off Spokane starter Ben Henry without the benefit of a hit, when Santo DeJesus plated Clark Murphy with a single off the glove of Bears second baseman Dan Kaczrowski. But they missed a chance to do some major two-out damage when Shon Landry struck out with the bases loaded.
Zach Zaneski and Cody Podraza also had hits in the potential big inning that never materialized.
“Our approach at the plate was good early,” Hulett said. “We scored a run here and there, but it was just one of those nights where we didn’t get the big hit at the right time.”
The Indians scored again in the fourth on doubles by Zaneski and Denny Duron and went up 3-1 in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Murphy. But Yakima knotted the game at 3 in the seventh when Ryan Wheeler singled and pinch hitter Andrew Fie blasted the first pitch he saw from Spokane reliever Joseph Ortiz over the fence in right centerfield.
“I guess he went up there looking for a fastball and we gave him one,” Zaneski, who made his first start of the season behind the plate, said of Fie. “But you’ve got to give him credit. He hit an opposite-field home run and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Zaneski also offered a theory or two on the unusually high number of strikeouts that were registered.
“It’s a new environment here for a lot of guys – especially the ones just coming out of college,” he said. “It’s a step up, and a lot of them might not be used to swinging a wooden bat. But, actually, a lot of factors play into it, including the fact that some nights the pitching gets the best of us hitters – and in a big way.”
The strikeout total overshadowed an outstanding pitching performance by Spokane’s Henry, who settled in after walking the first two batters of the game and threw five strong innings, allowing only one hit and striking out seven.
John Slusarz, who pitched briefly in Spokane’s season-opening 5-3 win over Yakima on Saturday, has been promoted to the Rangers’ High A farm club in Bakersfield, Calif. … The Indians were scheduled to leave Spokane at 8:30 this morning and bus to Everett for tonight’s first road game of the season against the AquaSox.
Bears 5, Indians 3 (10)
|Van Winkle, c||4||0||0||0||0||3||.200|
|De Jesus, rf||4||0||1||1||1||3||.250|
E—Suss (1). DP—Yakima (Kacrowski-Greer-Wheeler), Spokane (Landry, Murphy). LOB—Yakima 6, Spokane 11. 2B—Greer (2), Murphy (2), Zaneski (1), Duron (1). HR—Fie (1). SB—Rodriquez 2 (3). SF—Murphy.
HBP—Alfonzo (by Harnick), Solis (by Harnick). WP—Wolcott, Henry. Balk—Dollar. T—3:19. A—3,851.