With a big assist from starter Justin Nicolino, the Vancouver Canadians and Spokane Indians cleaned up their Northwest League baseball act considerably on Saturday night.
Less than 24 hours after Vancouver disposed of Spokane in a raggedly played slugfest on Friday night, Nicolino put together a masterful five-inning starting stint to lead the Canadians to a 2-1 win over the Indians in front of an Avista Stadium crowd of 4,879.
The 6-foot-3, 19-year-old left-hander, a second-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, went 4 2/3 innings before giving up his only hit – a lasered single to center by Spokane’s Edwin Garcia – and finished with nine strikeouts, including seven straight during one particularly dominant stretch.
Garcia’s line drive nearly clipped the ear of Nicolino (3-1), who pounded his glove in disgust and came back to strike out the final batter he faced, Braxton Lane, to end the fifth inning.
Vancouver’s bullpen took over after that, with a quartet of relievers holding Spokane (12-11) to a run and just two hits the rest of the way to protect the 2-0 lead the Canadians (14-9) had built against Indians starter – and loser – Santo Perez (3-1).
“He’s probably the best guy we’ve faced,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said of Nicolino, who sat out last season after signing late out of University High School in Orlando, Fla. “He pitched to both sides of the plate and had great command of all his pitches.
“That’s one very nice lefty they have.”
The Indians got a decent effort from Perez in a game that lasted just 2 hours, 42 minutes and finished almost an hour sooner than Friday night’s 9-7 affair.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander allowed six hits, struck out three and walked one in the five innings he worked.
“When you’re throwing strikes, the game goes a lot quicker,” Hulett said. “And our guy did a pretty good job of throwing them, too. He had a couple of innings where he got behind hitters and it kind of cost him. But he still pitched a pretty good game.”
The Canadians, in going up 2-1 in the five-game series that will continue at Avista tonight at 6:30, scored their first run in the third on a one-out single by Bryan Kervin, and touched Perez for another in the fourth when Balbino Fuenmayor was hit by a pitch to open the inning and later scored from third on Matt Newman’s double-play grounder.
Spokane had runners on base in four of the last five innings, but scored its only run in the fifth when Zach Cone stroked a one-out single to left, stole second, went to third on an infield out and scored on a wild pitch by Vancouver reliever Shane Davis.
“Tonight, we didn’t really get the guy to third base with less than two outs, like we did last night,” Hulett said. “So, it wasn’t really about that. It was more about not getting a two-out hit, which you have to have, at times, in games like this.”
In conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Night on Saturday, the Indians wore pink jerseys that were sold as part of a silent auction held during the game. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation.