The learning process continues for Matt West and the Spokane Indians.
The embattled closer, suspended for 10 games for his role in an unsightly brawl earlier this month, got his first save opportunity since and came through with flying colors Saturday night as the Indians held off Eugene 4-3 before a sellout crowd of 6,953 at Avista Stadium to even their Northwest League series 2-2.
West, who worked the ninth, was a second-round draft choice out of high school in Texas in 2007 and a third baseman. But he struggled at the plate, including a .258 season in Spokane in 2008.
Converted to a closer in spring training, West may have found his spot.
“I feel like I was born to do this,” the 6-foot-1, 220-pound right-hander said. “It’s been a while. It’s definitely great to get that adrenaline feel back.”
He had two strikeouts, giving him 18 in 12 innings with no walks, before Donovan Tate gave the ball a pretty good ride to deep center that was tracked down by Zach Cone.
It was the only perfect inning by four Spokane pitchers.
“It’s good for him and it’s good for us,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said of getting his green pitcher back into a situation to pick up his third save. “He’s our guy we’re going to run out there in the ninth inning. You feel good about having him on the mound. No matter how he pitches, you feel like he’s going to get the job done.”
West had a previous stint as a closer, in high school in Bellaire, Texas, but that was much different.
“I would come in in the seventh inning and throw 96,” he said. “I had no idea how to pitch. Now I’m a pitcher, but it’s definitely a process. It’s been a process throughout the year. It’s learning little bits and pieces.”
That secured a win for a struggling starter who gave his team a chance and a team that picked up four runs on just five hits.
Spokane starter Santo Perez had pitched at least five innings in all seven of his starts this season, building a 5-1 record with 20 strikeouts and just six walks in 40 innings. However, he was done after four innings and 88 pitches, courtesy of going to a full count on eight of the 19 batters he faced.
“I’m pleased with him,” Hulett said. “He really struggled today. He had a lot of deep counts. He was pounding the zone down low but wasn’t getting the calls. He was around the plate all night.”
Still, Perez lasted longer than Eugene starter Juan Herrera, who was pulled with two outs in the fourth, despite giving up just three hits.
His wildness set the table for Rueben Sierra’s two-run double after catcher Yefry Castillo lined a home run to left field for his first home run. Two walks and a passed ball followed before Sierra knocked one off the wall in left.
Eugene (3-2 in this first week of the second half of the split season) got a run in the third on a pair of walks and a single by Zach Kometani. Another walk scored on Kometani’s two-out double off Chris Hanna in the fifth.
Spokane (2-3) got the clincher in the bottom of the fifth when Edwin Garcia led off with a single and Trever Adams knocked him in with his league-leading 15th double.
“It was a different kind of game,” Hulett said. “Not a whole lot of hits, good pitching. Timely hitting is about all we had.”
Jose Dore had a leadoff double in the eighth for the Ems and scored on a ground out, helping make the situation tailor made for West.
“I felt good,” he said. “My slider was definitely working. I’ve been working on the angle of my fastball, keeping it low in the zone and it was on tonight.”