It’s been a bit of a rough start of the season for Spokane Indians designated hitter Maxwell Morales. The slugger won the Indians preseason Fan Fest home run derby, but in games that count he was hitting just .115 with one homer and four RBIs in nine games entering play on Monday.
His two-run home run – a massive shot to straightaway left – helped jump start a rally in the fourth inning. It just wasn’t enough.
The Tri-City Dust Devils jumped on three pitchers in the first two innings for six runs and the Indians’ comeback fell just short, a 6-5 decision in the second of a three-game Northwest League series at Avista Stadium.
The Indians (14-11) maintained their hold on first place in the North Division.
Morales has found playing time tough to come by, seeing action in nine of the Indians first 24 games. So his 2-for-4 night is a positive sign.
“I feel better. I felt way better today,” Morales said. “I’m getting my timing down again. Since sitting down a couple of games I’m glad that I got good results.”
“He hasn’t played a ton but that’s kind of his role,” manager Kenny Hook said. “You know, when he is in there we want him swinging, trying to get a good pitch do some damage on.”
The Indians had to play from behind all night.
With one down in the first, Matthew Acosta drove one to the track in center for a double, went to third on a line drive single by Kelvin Melean and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nick Gatewood off started John Matthews (0-2).
Tre Carter lofted a popup down the left-field line that fell in between three fielders for a double and Melean raced from first to score.
Mason House led off the second with a blast over the fence in left center, his first homer of the season. After a strikeout, Hook came out to lift Matthews, the Texas Rangers’ eighth-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft out of Kent State, who gave up three runs on four hits and recorded four outs.
Juan Castillo took over and with two down Jordy Barley singled, stole second standing and swiped third on the next pitch. He walked Acosta and Melean to load the bases for Gatewood, who drew the third consecutive walk to force in a run and make it 4-0.
That did it for Castillo, who retired one of the five batters he faced. Hook called upon Jeifry Nunez, and the righty struck out Tre Carter to end the inning.
“We had four or five walks in the first four innings or something like that,” Hook said. “That’s tough. I mean, they’re a running team to where if you make them hit like last night – we made them hit their way on, didn’t have many walks. That’s the recipe to beat them.”
Stanley Martinez doubled to put runners at second and third with two down in the bottom half for the Indians, but Jake Hoover struck out looking to strand both.
The Dust Devils kept pounding in the third. Luke Becker led off with a walk and singles by House and No. 9 hitter Jack Stronach brought him in. Barley, in his third at-bat in as many innings, bounced to short but House scored on the play to make it 6-0.
The Indians got on the board in the fourth. With two down, Starling Joseph bounced one up the middle for a base hit and Morales followed with a clout for his second homer of the year and his first at home.
“You just keep on working in practice, working in practice, it will show up in the game eventually,” Morales said. “I’ve been in this situation before, you just gotta get better, throw in and work hard during practice and results in the game will come.”
The comeback continued in the sixth. Luis Asuncion led off with a triple and scored on Tanner Gardner’s infield single. After a popout, T-C starter Nick Thwaits hit Joseph – his last batter of the game.
Reliever Deacon Medders came on to face Morales and got the slugger to ground into a rally-ending double play.
Singles by Hoover and David Garcia put runners at second and third with two down in the seventh. Asuncion got down 0-2 but worked the count full before bouncing one up the middle to plate both runners and make it a one-run game.
But the Indians went quietly in the eight and ninth to end their winning streak at four games.
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