Zach Cone’s professional debut started slowly.
The outfielder, the second of the Texas Rangers’ first-round draft picks earlier this month, got to Spokane on Monday and was in Tuesday night’s lineup.
He struck out his first time up. A fielder’s choice followed.
But, in the fifth he came up for a third time. On a 2-1 pitch, he grounded a single up the middle, scoring two runs and helping to ignite a Spokane Indians offense that led to a 15-8 rout of Salem-Keizer before 4,776 at Avista Stadium.
“Yesterday, watching, I just wanted to get out on the field,” Cone said. “I’m just glad I got to be out here. It’s crazy how much offense we produce, but I’ve already learned a lot (about hitting) in my two days here, so it doesn’t surprise me.”
Cone’s 2-for-5, three-RBI night also included scoring from first on Ruben Sierra’s ensuing double, showing the speed the Rangers coveted when they drafted him out of the University of Georgia.
“He’s a tool guy, he’s got all the tools,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said. “He can really run, has a great body. This kid, you know, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Cone’s debut was just part of another powerful offensive night (14 hits, including four for extra bases) that raised Spokane’s team batting average to .298 and earned it four wins in the season-opening five-game series. The Indians scored 43 runs in the series.
But Spokane’s pitching, for the most part, was effective as well. Only Carlos Melo struggled as he couldn’t find the plate and gave up five runs in an eight-hit, one-out appearance in the seventh.
The Indians’ starter, right-hander John Kukuruda, was the 16th pitcher Spokane used in the series. Though Kukuruda threw four consecutive no-hitters as a senior at Northern California’s East Nicolaus High just two years ago, Northwest League hitters proved a bit tougher.
But not that much.
In his four innings, Kukuruda gave up a couple of runs on three hits, one of which was a possible double-play ground ball second baseman Rougned Odor lost behind runner Chucky Jones, who ended up scoring the Volcanoes’ (1-4) second run.
The Indians’ offense, which was the driving force behind the four-game winning streak, exploded in the fifth and sixth, though Spokane’s first two runs came with a big assist from the sun on the longest day of the year.
Jones, Salem-Keizer’s left-fielder, lost Odor’s leadoff liner in the first for a triple, and Odor scored on Nick Vickerson’s check-swing grounder. Two innings later Jones misplayed another liner – this one for a two-base error – and that led to a Hanser Alberto RBI ground out.
The misplays proved irrelevant, though, when the Indians batted around in the fifth against Volcano reliever Matt Graham. The right-hander, who gave up three runs in his first appearance this season, saw his ERA rise to 45.00 when he gave up six hits, walked two and yielded seven runs in the 10 hitters he faced – only two of which he retired.
Cone, who signed for a reported $873,000 bonus, had the first of four two-out RBI hits. His grounder up the middle sneaked through, scoring two and starting the rout.
“We’ve had some big innings and that’s not the norm,” Hulett said. “These guys seem to feed off each other. Once they get it going it’s like ‘I don’t want to finish the inning.’
“We had a ton of two-strike, two-out hits. That says a lot about these guys.”
When the Indians scored six times in the sixth, it marked the fifth times they had scored five or more runs in an inning it their winning streak.
Lefty Juan Grullon relieved Kukuruda in the fifth, with his two scoreless innings earning him his second win.
Every Indians starter got a hit and eight had RBIs. … Spokane heads to Yakima today for a three-game series with the Bears. The Indians return to Avista on Tuesday.
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