The one thing the Spokane Indians may be missing this season is a power hitter who can decide a game with one swing.
The Boise Hawks don’t appear to have that concern, as Yasiel Balaguert demonstrated Friday night with the 290th and most memorable at-bat of his professional career.
Balaguert jumped on a 3-0 fastball from Justin Sprenger (0-1) and lined a two-out, three-run homer to left field in the eighth inning to give the Hawks a 4-1 win over Spokane at Avista Stadium.
Kevin Encarnacion also homered for Boise in the opener of a five-game series that left the Indians (1-6) winless at home in four attempts.
Balaguert’s fourth pro homer was his first three-run shot and his first winner.
“This one was probably the most important one,” the 20-year-old Cuban said through interpreter Rony Rodriguez, a Boise catcher.
“I was looking for my pitch, got the fastball where I wanted and hit it out.”
The Indians are hitting .195 (45 for 231) as a team, with no homers. Hawks pitchers Paul Blackburn, Carlos Martinez-Pumarino (2-0) and Michael Hamann checked Spokane on three singles and a double.
“History shows that last year we were hitting .206 as a team about halfway through the season and ended up hitting (.249), third best in the league,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “This team has good, quality talent. It’s just going to take a little bit of time.”
Spokane led 1-0 through five innings, courtesy of an unearned run in the second. Evan Van Hoosier doubled to left field off Blackburn with one out. The next batter, Kevin Torres, hit a sharp grounder to Blackburn, who attempted to get Van Hoosier at third base. His high throw went off the glove of Jose Dore into shallow left, allowing Van Hoosier to scamper home.
Blackburn, a first-round draft selection last year, was otherwise stingy. After two NWL starts, he has allowed four hits and no earned runs in 10 innings, striking out 12 and walking one.
Indians starter Yohander Mendez allowed three hits and no earned runs in 42/3 innings, with five strikeouts and one walk. Mendez and Blackburn both had streaks of retiring 10 consecutive batters.
“This was a terrific outing for (Mendez) because he came in and showed some composure,” Hulett said. “He threw the ball well, got ahead of hitters and pitched inside a lot better.”
Abel De Los Santos relieved for Mendez in the fifth and allowed Encarnacion’s leadoff homer in the sixth, a shot to right that hit halfway up the light pole and caromed back onto the field.
Sprenger, who had struck out six in two innings this season, retired the first two batters in the eighth before Encarnacion singled to center. After a balk, Jacob Rogers walked and Balaguert worked the count to 3-0.
“We have a lot of power hitters,” Balaguert said. “Especially playing in this small field, we have a chance of hitting a couple of homers.”
The Indians and Hawks will play a pair of seven-inning games today to make up for Thursday’s rainout.
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