The Eugene Emeralds are returning to their early-season form, which should put the Northwest League’s South Division on alert.
Mixing in some unexpected punch with their usually reliable pitching, the Emeralds handed the Spokane Indians their fourth consecutive setback Friday night, 7-0 at Avista Stadium.
Emeralds starter Carson Sands (2-3) held the Indians to four singles over five innings to continue Eugene’s pitching dominance in a five-game series it leads 3-0.
“This was by far my best (start) of the year,” said Sands, drafted in the fourth round last year out of North Florida Christian in Tallahassee. “My first few games I wasn’t bad, but I still had a couple of innings every game where I’d give up a couple of runs in one inning.”
Eugene staked the left-handed Sands to a 4-0 lead with a four-run second inning that included three of the eight doubles the Emeralds had on the night.
“Sometimes when you get behind early in the game like that, it changes the game plan a little bit,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “We just need to get it back together. We haven’t fared well against lefties all year. That’s the part that’s been troubling.”
Spokane (1-4 second half, 20-23 overall) has scored one run in the last 15 innings against Eugene pitching.
Eugene (4-1, 21-22) started the first half of the season 14-8 and led the South Division by two games. The Emeralds dropped 13 of their last 16 first-half games to finish five games behind champion Hillsboro.
“At the beginning we went through a really, really strong stage,” Sands said. “Right before the end of the first half we kind of hit a wall, a lot of us. It was kind of like that wall we had to get over. At the start of the second half, I think we’ve figured it out.”
Starter Cole Wiper (0-2) allowed four hits and a walk during Eugene’s big second inning. Indians left fielder Darius Day appeared to have trouble with the blazing sun on back-to-back RBI doubles by Adonis Paula and Ricardo Marcano for a 3-0 lead.
“I don’t think the sun played a part in either one of those balls,” Hulett said. “One went over (Day’s) head and the other was in front of him. It didn’t look like he lost either one of them to me. … But that sun’s out there for us, too, so we need to use it if that was the problem.”
One problem, for sure, was the Indians’ base running. Blunders in the third, sixth and seventh innings – two leading to double plays – kept them from rallying.
“We were down early and you don’t need to score six runs or five runs to get back in the game,” Hulett said. “You just need to score two or three at a time. When you’re down that much, you need to be a little more conservative.”
The Indians played before a sold-out crowd of 7,018.
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