Zach Cone doesn’t figure to be around to witness how this Spokane Indians team pans out, but he likes what he’s seen in his short return to Avista Stadium.
“This is a special group,” Cone said after his solo home run in the sixth inning Sunday afternoon helped the Indians improve to 3-0 this Northwest League season with a 5-2 win over the Eugene Emeralds. “Just hanging with them the last three days, you can tell they’re in it for the right reasons.”
The Indians are 3-0 for the first time since 1997, when they started the season with a five-game sweep of Salem-Keizer.
Cone, a center fielder, played for the 2011 Indians after being drafted in the first round by the Texas Rangers. He hit .201 with 15 doubles and 29 runs batted in for Spokane that summer.
Cone was playing at High-A Myrtle Beach (S.C.) this season when a calf injury sent him to the disabled list.
“I’d been struggling a little, so they put me on the seven-day DL and assigned me here,” Cone said. “It was nice to come here and not (rookie league) Arizona. … I’m just here to work on some stuff with my hitting and get some confidence and keep playing.”
“Really, we want him to develop and get his swing back again,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “I’m sure once he got it going, we’d probably lose him.”
Spokane continued its early-season pattern of solid starting pitching, stingy relief work and timely hitting.
Lefty Derek Thompson (1-0) became the third consecutive starter to earn a win, overcoming a shaky start to allow two hits and one earned run in five innings. He retired the last nine batters he faced, five by strikeout.
“I just locked in more and tried to keep the ball low,” said the second-year pro from Effingham, Illinois. … “I felt good in the fourth and fifth. I felt like I could throw my change-up and off-speed a lot better.”
Thompson was on the ropes in the first after hitting leadoff batter Franchy Cordero with a pitch and loading the bases with a pair of two-out walks. Edwin Moreno grounded out to first base to end the threat.
“The first couple of innings I just think he looked a little rusty to me,” Hulett said. “But innings four and five, he had his stuff.”
Relievers Nick Dignacco and Jason Hoppe worked two solid innings apiece. Felipe Blanco, who homered off Thompson to lead off the second, doubled and scored off Dignacco in the seventh.
Indians leadoff hitter Eduard Pinto continued his torrid pace, roping a two-out, two-run single to center to highlight a three-run second. Pinto has seven RBIs after mustering just two in 22 games with Spokane in 2013.
Spokane took a 4-1 lead in the third. Luke Tendler blasted a one-out double over the head of center fielder Moreno, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Alberto Triunfel’s bouncer over shortstop Jose Bravo’s head.
The Indians will start righty Reed Garrett tonight and righty Andrew Barnett on Tuesday night to cap the five-game series. Spokane will begin a three-game series at Vancouver on Wednesday.