Pitching was the engine that powered Eugene to a first-half championship in the West Division of the Northwest League.
And it continued to hum smoothly along Wednesday night as the visiting Emeralds strong-armed the Spokane Indians 3-2 in a crisply played game witnessed by an Avista Stadium crowd of 3,955.
Four Eugene pitchers combined to limit the Indians (0-2 second half) to just four hits in the first game of a five-game series that continues tonight.
Starter James Needy (1-3), a strapping 6-foot-6 right-hander, went five strong innings to pick up his first win of the year, and the Emeralds (2-0) did just enough at the plate to squeeze out the victory.
“I liked what I saw out of their guys tonight,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said, when asked about Eugene’s deep and talented pitching staff that came in leading the NWL with an earned-run average of 3.13. “That first guy was really good.
“For a big guy, he really commanded his change-up late in the count, which is tough on opponents, especially here, where it’s tough to see early in the game. He had pretty good command of the strike zone and moved it both sides of the plate really well.”
Needy allowed all four of Spokane’s hits, including Guillermo Pimentel’s massive solo home run to left field in fifth inning, but he struck out four and did not walk a batter.
The loss went to Indians starter Nicholas McBride (0-2), who deserved a better fate after pitching five solid innings and allowing just five hits and three runs – one of which scored on a bloop single to right and another that was came as part of a double steal.
“When he pitches down in the strike zone, he’s extremely good,” Hulett said of McBride, a 6-4 right-hander, who came into his third start of the year with an ERA of 8.10 after allowing 20 hits in just 10 innings. “He pitched good for us last year when he was that way, so we talked a little bit about getting back to some of the things he was doing last year, like getting ball down in the zone and not trying to overthrow.
“He’s not a power guy, he’s a sink guy, and he has to trust that.”
But the Indians, who have one of the best offensive teams in the NWL, just couldn’t come up much in the way of run support.
Their best chance to chase Needy came in the second when Brett Nicholas opened with a single, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Yefri Castillo’s one-out double down the left-field line. But Castillo was left stranded when Pimentel and Drew Robinson both flew out to right.
“We’re just not squaring a lot of balls up right now,” Hulett said. “We finished the first half of the season really swinging the bats – except for maybe the last two games – and did a nice job of bunching a lot of hits.
“But hitting is a tough thing to keep up constantly. You’re going to have your ups and downs. But we’ve got to find ways to win games when we’re not getting seven, eight or nine runs – and we didn’t find one tonight.”