There are still issues to address. Trends to buck. Runs to score.
But on Tuesday night, Joe Maloney helped the Spokane Indians push pause on all of that and begin a new streak.
It was the Texas Rangers’ 2011 10th-round draft selection’s late home run that pushed Spokane ahead for a 4-1 Northwest League win over the Tri-City Dust Devils in front of 4,636 fans at Avista Stadium – making this the second time this season the Indians have been on a winning streak.
Maloney hasn’t necessarily been a clutch hitter for Spokane (10-22) this season – though with a league-low .217 team batting average, not many players have been. He’s hitting .213 – seventh on a team with nine players batting below .200.
So when he stepped up to the plate in the sixth with two runners on and one in scoring position, it went as it typically has for Spokane this season.
“On his first swing he had his head in the dugout, which is a terrible swing,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said.
“We keep striking out with guys on. We can’t keep doing that. That has to change.”
It did in the eighth when Maloney, again, had two runners on. The Indians’ catcher adjusted, Tri-City reliever Michael Wolford delivered, and Maloney punished the first-pitch fastball over the left-field wall.
“It was a relief,” Maloney said. “I haven’t had the season I’ve wanted to have, but we’ve been working a lot on improving with runners in scoring position, and it felt good to finally get one.”
“It was a big hit,” Hulett said. “To see him come back and make an adjustment and play aggressively, instead of swinging at one outside the strike zone, was good to see.”
The Indians also got another strong performance from their pitchers, who gave up a combined seven hits.
Starter C.J. Edwards threw four innings, striking out five and allowing the only run of the game, and reliever Cody Kendall dropped his ERA to 1.04, throwing three scoreless innings.
Alec Asher (1-1) pitched the eighth and ninth and struck out four to earn the win.
“All the way up until game time it felt like we were more relaxed,” Maloney said. “It felt like we were just playing baseball and having fun.”
Although for more frames than Hulett cared to see, the hits were coming and the runs weren’t following. After tying the score at 1 in the third, neither team scored until Maloney’s blast in the eighth.
“We’d like to see a little better approach with guys in scoring position earlier in the game,” Hulett said. “This win is something we can build on, but by no means are we thinking we’ve arrived, because we still have a lot of work to do.”
That work will continue tonight when the Indians wrap up their three-game home series, with a chance to sweep, against the Dust Devils. They’ll travel to Vancouver on Thursday to begin a five-game series against the Canadians to close out the first half of the season.
“You can’t turn it on and off, so we need to put as many as we can together right now before the second half starts,” Hulett said. “The second half has already started for us.”
Already! Just 1.5 hours from Spokane.
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