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Blanchette: Skole just happy to be playing ball


Baseball’s transaction wire has sent the Spokane Indians a familiar face, reassigned from the Blessing-in-Disguise League.

And it looks as if Jake Skole is ready to make the most of his restart.

In his first appearance after a 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance, the one-time No. 1 draft pick of the Texas Rangers was back in the Spokane uniform he wore in 2010 – and after some reflection, conceded it’s probably just where he needs to be.

“Just to get the opportunity to come back and play is the biggest thing,” said Skole. “I’m just trying to make a positive out of what was a bad mistake.”

The positives were obvious Wednesday night, when Skole reached base all four times he came to the plate, including three hits. But that was exactly half of Spokane’s offensive output in a 3-0 blanking at the hands of Salem-Keizer that spoiled a marvelous start from Indians righthander C.J. Edwards.

Skole, the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft, was Spokane’s regular center fielder on the team that reached the 2010 championship series. He put together a solid sophomore season at Class A Hickory last year, but struggled mightily this spring one step up the ladder at Myrtle Beach – then tested positive for a performance-enhancing amphetamine to run afoul of baseball’s drug policy.

So he retreated to the Rangers’ complex in the Dominican Republic to work with the organization’s instructors, and later to the Winning Inning academy in Florida. If there was rust, it hardly showed against the Volcanoes.

“What a great night to get three hits right off the bat and steal a base,” said manager Tim Hulett. “That’s not easy to do, believe me.”

Skole was grateful for success, but also just for the chance.

“It’s eye-opening to get something taken away from you that you love,” said the 20-year-old Georgian. “It’s hard to take at first, but then you realize you can’t change it and try and move forward and learn from what happened.”

Skole continued to play at Myrtle Beach while he appealed the results of his initial positive test, and there was speculation that the process exacerbated his problems at the plate. When the suspension was invoked on June 29, he was hitting just .185, with a single hit in his last 37 at bats.

“You feel sometimes that the only thing that can help a struggling season is home runs and doubles,” he said, “and the result of trying to hit those is usually not very good. I was in my own head a lot.

“In that respect, I think the suspension was good for me to get away from the game a little bit and work with our coordinators to straighten some things out.”

But for all Skole’s success Wednesday night, it didn’t generate any momentum against S-K starter Joe Biagini, whose ability to pitch to the corners kept the Indians off-balance all night. Only three Spokane runners reached scoring position.

And still Edwards (1-3) was the game’s most impressive hurler. Just a 48th-round draft choice a year ago and a professional rookie, the 20-year-old righthander struck out the side to open the game, fanned nine in six innings and allowed just two hits.

The first was an infield single. The second, a quick shot off the bat of Chuckie Jones, went for a double down the third-base line and scored Rafael Rodriguez, who had reached on an error and moved around on a stolen base and another error. Hulett gave home plate umpire Louis Williams an earful about calling the ball fair.

A two-run homer by Mac Williamson in the ninth off reliever Joe Burns accounted for S-K’s other runs.

Nonetheless, it was a glittering outing in a sensational season for Edwards. Between Spokane and the Rangers’ Arizona League team, he has 1.60 earned run average in 62 innings, and batters are hitting just .151 against him.

“I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished,” he said, “but I have a lot more to do.”

Skole understands the feeling, with a short time to make up for a lost season.

“I was disappointed at first – I wanted to be sent back with my guys in Myrtle Beach that I’d been playing with,” he said. “But thinking about it, it’s a great atmosphere and a good situation with Tim and our staff. I’m very pleased, really, and very happy to be back.”

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