Playing on the road in the Northwest League is never easy.
But for the Indians, who were swept in a five-game series by Eugene before embarking on a road trip, their time away from Avista Stadium was insufferable.
“We actually played well on the road until this last road trip,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said of his team, which has lost seven straight and 12 of their last 13. “One night we don’t hit, one night we don’t pitch, one night we don’t play defense. You can’t keep having those kind of nights against good teams.”
Part of the issue has been uncertainty within the Indians’ roster. The Texas Rangers, who lead the American League west by 7 ½ games, were major buyers at the trade deadline. Those transactions trickled down and made a major impact on the Indians.
Key players, such as Xavier Turner and Tyler Ferguson, were promoted and Spokane’s roster were supplemented with younger players, such as 17-year-old Leody Taveras and 18-year-old Anderson Tejeda.
“They’re just trying to feel their way through,” Hulett said. “You get 17, 18-year-old kids, they’re trying to fit in and know their role and help the team win. They take it really personal and it kind of knocks them down a little bit. They need to learn to show up everyday and just play the game.”
It also didn’t help the Indians offense went ice cold at Vancouver and Hillsboro. Spokane scored only nine runs during its seven-game losing streak and hit .223 as a team.
“The guys that were swinging the bat really well in the first half, that kind of carried us through have kind of hit that lull,” Hulett said. “Every hitter is going to go through that, it just so happens they are all going through it at the same time.”
While Hulett hopes returning home for an eight-game homestand (three games against Tri-City followed by a five-game series with Hillsboro), facing the Dust Devils’ pitching staff is no easy task.
Tri-City is second in the Northwest League in team earned-run average at 3.40. The Indians are facing two first-round picks in Cal Quantrill on Friday (the eighth overall pick) and Eric Lauer on Saturday. Quantrill is 0-2 with a 1.84 earned-run average and Lauer is 1-0 with a 1.29 earned-run average. In game three, Spokane will face Joey Lucchesi, who is 0-2 with a 1.50 earned-run average.
Hulett knows facing Tri-City’s lights out starting rotation will be tough, but gaining momentum will be key as the playoffs loom.
“We’re kind of set on cruise control right now,” Indians catcher Alex Kowalczyk said. “I think last series we had a realization moment that you can’t just cruise into the playoffs losing games. You got to come in there with momentum. … That’s what successful teams do.”
Prescott set to return next week after injury
Indians’ second baseman Blaine Prescott has missed the last eight games with a hamstring injury, according to Hulett, but is making progress with his recovery and expected to return Tuesday or Wednesday.
Prescott left the Indians game with Eugene on Aug. 16 in the fifth inning while running from first to second base.
“It was actually before the slide,” Hulett said. “When he slid he felt something behind the knee, in the [hamstring] area.”
With the Indians taking every precaution they can with Prescott, who missed all of 2015 with a torn hamstring.
“When a guy gets a leg injury like that, you would rather err on the side of caution,” Hulett said.
And for a player like Prescott, known for his speed, not being able to utilize that facet of his game would be difficult for him, Hulett said.
“I mean, he could go out and play right now,” he said, “but I know Blaine. Tell him to run at 70 percent and he couldn’t do that.”
Perez promoted to Hickory
Brallan Perez, who hit .307 in 75 at-bats, was promoted to Hickory on Friday.
“It was time for him because he was playing well here,” Hulett said. “It only made sense. It was a good opportunity for him. I’m really happy for him.”
It gives the Indians one less infielder, who are short-handed with Prescott on the bench.
“It takes away a piece, a guy that brought a lot of energy to the game everyday,” Hulett said. “Whenever he was in the lineup, he really did a nice job all the way around, playing the game the right way.”
“We’re just trying to catch a second wind. A lot of times, the playoffs will do that. And being at home, hopefully that brings some life back into us” – Hulett on gaining momentum.
“You play a team that isn’t as good, but you play a team that has momentum going — like Vancouver, they’ve struggled most of the year but when we went in there and they were on a roll, it makes a difference.” – Hulett on toughness of league.
“We definitely went down in age … but that shouldn’t be an excuse for why we’re losing games.” – Alex Kowalczyk on roster changes.
“We’re not hitting the good pitches were getting. We’re not hitting the fastballs early in the count and were getting in the whole in counts or taking bad swings at off speed pitches. We got to stay locked in there and it’s getting toward the end of the season where guys are falling down in a dip. Some guys might be getting tired, but we have to realize we have a good shot at doing something good here and possibly getting a ring these next few weeks.” – Kowalczyk on offensive struggles.
“I think that we’ve all been doing a pretty good job. … the pitching staff itself is doing a really good job of staying in ballgames and that’s all we can really ask for.” – Sal Mendez on the pitching staff.
I wrote a feature story on Indians catcher Clayton Middleton, who is the first person in his family to not enlist in the military out of college. Also included, details on Everett, who is one win away from clinching the Northwest League north division second half title.