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Indians crumble in ninth inning of season opener

Spokane Indians Clayton Middleton autographs a baseball for Jonah Lincoln, 3, on opening night of the Northwest League baseball season on Friday at Avista Stadium. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Indians Clayton Middleton autographs a baseball for Jonah Lincoln, 3, on opening night of the Northwest League baseball season on Friday at Avista Stadium. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Josh Horton joshho@spokesman.com

The Spokane Indians fell to the Vancouver Canadians 5-3 after blowing a lead in the top of the ninth in front of a sellout crowd on opening night of the Northwest League at Avista Stadium.

After a two-run eighth inning put the Indians up 3-2 for their first lead of the game heading into the ninth, the heart of the Canadians lineup quickly changed that. Christian Williams and Gabe Clark hit back-to-back doubles off Indians reliever Sal Mendez to ignite a three-run rally.

Despite the season-opening loss, Indians manager Tim Hulett is more interested to see how his team responds during the rest of the series.

“We’ll just see what they’re made of now,” he said.

Chad Smith hit a ground-rule double in the bottom of the eighth to score Alex Kowalczyk and Darius Day and give Spokane its brief lead.

”I was just looking for a pitch down the middle I could drive, and he gave me that pitch,” Smith said.

Vancouver scored the game’s first two runs on a Deiferson Barreto double to right-center field in the fourth. The Indians responded in the bottom of the inning as Blaine Prescott hit a leadoff doubled to right-center field and scored on a groundout from Seth Spivey.

The Indians’ lineup struggled at the beginning of the game with Vancouver starter Justin Maese retiring the game’s first nine batters and escaping the second inning after throwing only nine pitches. Maese pitched five inning, giving up one run and two hits.

Indians’ starter Michael Matuella posted three scoreless innings, giving up one hit and two walks. He was shut down after the third after throwing 55 pitches. The Indians planned to limit his pitch count to 60.

The Texas Rangers’ No. 7 overall prospect left Hulett impressed after his shortened outing.

“We got a good start out of Matuella,” Hulett said. “I really like what he did.”

Smith went 1 for 4 with two RBIs to lead the Indians’ offense. Williams went 2 for 5 and Clark finished with two RBIs for the Canadians.

Contact problems

Starting shortstop Charles LeBlanc left the game in the top of the fourth inning after losing a contact, according to Hulett.

“You can’t go out there and see with one eye,” Hulett said. “His backup pair was at the house.”

LeBlanc was the highest 2016 draft pick on the Indians roster, going in the fourth round out of Pittsburgh.

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