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Indians head into Northwest League playoffs on upswing

What is a team to do when it’s riding a 10-game losing streak?

For the Spokane Indians, it was about having more fun. Last Monday, before the Indians snapped their double-digit losing streak with a 12-1 win against Hillsboro, Spokane played Fungo Golf to boost team morale.

But the Indians, particularly starting pitcher Alex Daniele, also had a long-term solution.

“We were in a slump for a little bit, we were struggling so I figure we should change things up” Daniele said. “Playoffs were right around the corner, so I said, ‘Let’s do playoff ’staches.’”

Ten Indians’ players – Daniele, Kaleb Fontenot, Kevin Lenik, Todd McDonald, Reid Anderson, Mark Vasquez, Kyle Cody, Clay Middleton, Garrett Brummett and Steven Bruce – are sporting mustaches in hopes of a strong playoff push.

“Everybody doubted me, but I came in one day with a big bushy mustache and everybody followed,” Daniele said.

Since Daniele debuted his ’stache last Monday, the Indians have played much better.

Spokane went 4-3 to end the regular season, which includes taking three out of four against Hillsboro. The Indians lost 2 of 3 to Everett with both losses coming on walk-off hits. Since scoring 1.7 runs per game in the team’s 10-game skid, Spokane posted 6.9 runs per game to end the regular season.

And through all of it, the Indians players have sacrificed style for team camaraderie.

“We don’t have anyone to impress,” Daniele said. “It’s just team fun.”

Daniele, who is the ring leader in growing the mustaches, said he got the idea by doing the same thing in college at the University of Oklahoma.

While Daniele admits some are hesistant because “they aren’t the best looking thing,” Anderson was a big supporter of the exercise from the start. Like Daniele, he grew a “rally ’stache” in college at Millersville when the Marauders went to the Division II World Series.

“I was all about it,” Anderson said. “I’m no stranger to the mustache.”

Daniele and Anderson, having previously experienced the “power of the rally ’stache,” are hoping it gives Spokane the boost it needs against Everett in the Northwest League North Division series.

“We’re playing like a team the whole time,” Daniele said. “Things are starting to come together, right in time for the playoffs.”

Phillips to start for Indians in Game 1

Tyler Phillips, an 18-year-old right-handed pitcher, is slated to start Game 1 in Spokane’s divisional matchup against Everett on Wednesday, according to Indians’ manager Tim Hulett.

Phillips (4-7, 6.44 earned-run average) hasn’t been the Indians’ most consistent starter, but he’s electric when he’s on. In his last start against the AquaSox, Phillips breezed through seven innings on 70 pitches in the Indians’ 6-4 win on July 31.

Right-hander Kyle Cody will pitch for the Indians for Game 2 at Avista Stadium and Sal Mendez is scheduled to start on Friday in Game 3, if necessary.

Indians possess lineup flexibility

Hulett knows which players he wants in the lineup. Where they play in the field is what he needs to piece together.

Left field, first base and catcher are question marks for the Indians going into their series with Everett, but there are options for Hulett, with left-handed and right-handed choices at each unsettled position.

Everett’s probable starter for Game 1 is right-hander Brandon Miller, who has a 3.65 ERA against lefties as opposed to a 1.99 ERA against righties. Spokane has five left-handed hitters – and one switch hitter in Leody Taveras – it can employ against Miller.

In Game 2, right-hander Matthew Festa is scheduled to be on the mound for the AquaSox, but his splits against either hand are not as stark as Miller’s. He has a 4.43 ERA against left-handers as opposed to a 3.32 ERA against right-handers.

Darius Day, who bats left-handed, is primed for starts in left field. Seth Spivey, the only left-handed hitting catcher on the Indians, and right-handed Luis Terrero, whose averages against right-handers and left-handers are one point apart, are also expected to be in the Indians’ lineup in the playoffs no matter what, according to Hulett.

NWL MVP Filia rejoining AquaSox

Eric Filia, who was called up to the Tacoma Rainiers on Monday, is back with the AquaSox for their playoff push.

Filia was named Northwest League MVP on Monday after slashing .362/.450/.496 with Everett this season. His .362 batting average, .450 on-base percentage and 89 hits were all league highs. He tied with teammate Kristian Brito for the most RBIs with 46.

He was a key cog, along with fellow Northwest League year-end All-Stars Nick Zammerelli and Brito, in Everett’s second-half dominance. The AquaSox were 27-11 in the NWL second half and won the North Division by 12 games.

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