After the Spokane Indians walked off the Vancouver Canadians 7-6 in 10 innings on Wednesday, their offense went cold – like deep-space cold. On Thursday, four Vancouver pitchers limited the Indians to two hits in a 1-0 loss.
For much of Friday’s finale of the three-game Northwest League series the situation remained the same as the Indians produced five baserunners through the first five innings.
But sometimes in baseball all you need is a couple of swings to make the difference.
Luis Asuncion and Kellen Strahm hit back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning and the Indians edged Vancouver 2-1 at Avista Stadium to take two of three in the series.
The Indians (13-9) have won seven of their past nine games and will retain at least a share of the North Division’s second-half lead.
Five Indians hurlers combined to limit the Canadians (8-14) to five hits and two walks. Billy Layne Jr. (2-0) earned the win with four shutout innings in relief.
Asuncion broke the Indians’ 14-inning scoreless streak with a blast to left center in the bottom of the sixth for his fourth home run of the season. Strahm followed with a massive shot to straightaway left for his fourth to put the Indians up 2-1.
Asuncion, who spent the past three seasons with Tri-City, went 2 for 3 and is hitting .273 for the season.
“What an unbelievable at-bat by Asuncion to get into a full count and lay off some sliders and get that pitch,” Indians manager Kenny Hook said. “And then Strahm, I didn’t realize when it left the bat that it was that far because of how high it was, but it’s great to have him back in the lineup.”
“I thought I got under it a little,” Strahm said. “It was a fastball inside. I was getting beat with fastballs in the previous two at-bats. I was kind of sitting (fastball) there so I knew it was coming in and, you know, just took a hack.”
Strahm played his first game since Aug. 9 when he collided with Tri-City first baseman Carlos Luis, who broke his arm in two places in the incident.
Indians starter Zak Kent allowed a single to leadoff hitter Tanner Morris but got the next three batters for a scoreless first.
The second inning didn’t go as well. With one down, Cameron Eden drew a walk and went to second on a wild pitch. Kent struck out Brett Wright on a nasty slider, but he left a fastball up to Luis De Los Santos and the shortstop lined a single to center to plate Eden to give Vancouver the early lead.
Layne came in for the third inning and got into a rough spot right away. With one down, Trevor Schwecke reached on an infield single and Jesus Lopez walked.
Will Robertson gave one a ride to the warning track in left-center but Strahm made a sprawling catch for the second out and Lane coaxed a routine grounder to third by Ronny Brito to get out of the jam.
“I thought it was a lot shallower than what it was,” Strahm said of Robinson’s line drive. “I ended up taking a little ‘banana route’ to it and made a good catch.”
“(Strahm’s catch) was a huge play at the time because it was runners on base,” Hook said. “(Schwecke) thought the ball was going to drop and didn’t end up tagging, and that gave us two outs so that was a huge play for us.”
Layne had no such trouble in his three remaining innings of work. He allowed one hit and one walk with three strikeouts – and induced five groundouts.
“When you have that sinker and you can get ground balls, that’s a good a good weapon to have,” Hook said.
All that was left was for the bullpen to finish up.
Juan Castillo needed just five pitches to retire the side in the seventh inning. Triston Polley tossed a clean eighth, then gave up a pair of two-out hits in the ninth.
Hook called for righty Joe Corbett, who struck out Wright looking.
It was Corbett’s first save of the season. A 10th-round draft pick out of West Texas A&M, Corbett has been used in a variety of situations this season, but this was his first one-batter save situation. He’s posted a 2.12 ERA over 12 appearances with 22 strikeouts in 17 innings.
“There was definitely a lot of adrenaline,” Corbett said. “Pretty much I’ve got to come in there and throw strikes. That’s the game right there.”
Corbett said he didn’t realize Wright had struck out in two previous appearances.
“All I knew was he was a righty,” he said. “I pitch better against righties so my slider plays better against those guys. So I threw him four sliders. It just came down to throwing strikes.”
NWL All-Star pitchers Ricky Vanasco and Daniel Robert were scheduled to be promoted to Low-A Hickory and were removed from the Indians active roster for Friday’s game.
Right-hander Spencer Mraz, the Texas Rangers’ 33rd-round pick in the MLB draft out of Miami (Ohio), was promoted from the Arizona Rookie League. Mraz, who stands 6-foot-10, was 1-1 with a 1.52 ERA in 14 relief appearances (32K, 10BB).
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