Zach Cone began heating up as the Spokane Indians started cooling down.
The Indians and Cone were on the same red-hot level Saturday in Spokane’s 12-3 thumping of the Everett AquaSox to open a three-game series at Avista Stadium.
Cone homered for the fifth time in seven games and Spokane banged out 16 hits while trimming its magic number to one in the chase for the Northwest League’s North Division first-half title. The Indians (24-12), coming off a 1-4 road trip to Boise, need one win or one Vancouver (23-13) loss in the final two games of the first half to clinch a postseason berth.
Cone hit three homers in Boise and is tied for the league lead with seven.
“I’ve always had power,” said Cone, who also played with the Indians in 2011. “It’s just been showing a lot more. I’ve been working with (Spokane’s coaches), figuring out little things and get it out a lot more. It’s paying off.”
“(Cone) was asked to come down here (on a rehab assignment) and make some adjustments in his swing,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “It took some time and he wasn’t very good early. I think he’d be the first to say it, but all the work is paying off now.”
Spokane batted around during a four-run fourth and five-run sixth. But hitting wasn’t the problem in Boise, where the Indians compiled 45 hits during the five-game series.
Spokane’s pitching, especially its relief pitching, struggled on the road. The trend continued through two innings on Saturday, as Everett (10-26) seized a 3-0 lead on Kristian Brito’s three-run homer to left field on a first-pitch change-up by Nick Gardewine (5-1) in the second.
“Overall, it was just misplaced,” Gardewine said. “It was supposed to be lower. … It was just a bad pitch and I shouldn’t have thrown it.”
Gardewine, who threw 67 pitches through four innings, atoned by holding the AquaSox without a hit for the next 4 2/3 innings. Jason Hoppe followed with two hitless innings and Nick Dignacco worked a perfect ninth.
“Really, (Gardewine) only made one bad pitch tonight,” Hulett said. “He threw a change-up to a guy who hadn’t seen his fastball yet. … I think he’d like to have that one back, but outside of that he threw well tonight.”
Gardewine took over the league lead in wins despite a 4.89 earned-run average.
“It’s a good honor,” Gardewine said. “That’s my ultimate goal. I don’t really worry about ERA, because that comes and goes. The only thing I’m worried about is wins.”
Every Indians player had at least one hit. Among the highlights: Leadoff Isiah Kiner-Falefa went 3 for 5 with three runs; league batting leader Seth Spivey (.381) went 2 for 3 and was aboard all five times; Marcus Greene went 2 for 5 with three RBIs; Fernando Vivili tied the game at 3 in the fourth with a two-run double; and Saquan Johnson was 2 for 3 from the No. 9 spot.
Then there was Cone, who went 3 for 4 with three runs and three extra-base hits, including doubles No. 8 and 9.
“Getting back in front of our own fans was a little energy boost, a little confidence,” Cone said of Spokane’s 13-3 record at Avista.
Indians outfielder Doug Votolato (broken ankle) was transferred to the Arizona Rookie League. Left-hander Kevin Matthews will join Spokane’s roster from the AZL. … Spokane completed its season series with Boise with a 5-5 record.
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