The Everett AquaSox roster at the start of the season was heralded as perhaps the most high-level prospect-laden squad in all of minor league baseball.
Promotion has rendered that opinion as moot, as many of the Seattle Mariners top hitting prospects, including Julio Rodriguez, have already moved up the ladder.
But there are still several high-profile pitchers in the AquaSox rotation, and one of the most noteworthy took the mound in Spokane on Wednesday.
Emerson Hancock, the Mariners’ top pick in 2020 – and No. 22 overall prospect according to MLB.com – made his ninth start of the season as he missed more than a month with a shoulder issue.
He was faced by Will Ethridge, the Colorado Rockies’ fifth-round pick in 2019, who entered play with a 6.63 ERA in seven starts for the Spokane Indians.
A pitching duel ensued.
Ethridge retired 17 of the last 18 batters he faced and the Spokane Indians rallied in the eighth inning and downed the AquaSox 5-2 in the second of a six-game High-A West series at Avista Stadium on Wednesday.
The Indians (39-41) have won six of eight against the first-place AquaSox (51-28) this season.
Spokane loaded the bases in the eighth against reliever Igor Januario on an infield single sandwiched by a pair of walks. After a pitching change, Isaac Collins bounced one up the middle against a drawn-in infield for a two-run single and a 3-2 lead.
“I kind of knew he was gonna give me a strike cause he needed a ball over the plate,” Collins said. “He gave me fastball over the plate and I put the barrel on the ball and tried to keep it simple.”
“He’s been great,” Indians manager Scott Little said of Collins, who was named High-A West player of the week last week. “He’s been working hard. He’s been trying to get himself to relax. I think he’s finding out when he’s relaxed at the plate he’s a really good hitter.”
“I knew the pressure was on them,” Collins said. “It’s easy as a hitter to put all the pressure in the world on yourself but really all the pressure’s on them.”
Ezequiel Tovar followed with a two-run double to provide an insurance run.
Ethridge gave up two runs on three hits and no walks with seven strikeouts. He did not allow a hit after the second inning. It was a nice bounce-back from his last outing, when he gave up six runs on nine hits against Vancouver.
Ethridge said he doesn’t dwell on poor outings.
“I just try to flush it as soon as I can after the game,” he said. “By the time I’m doing my next bullpen I know what I need to work on.”
“That’s two guys that had tough starts last week, bounced back and had really good ones,” Little said. “So hopefully we’ll get another one coming up here next couple of days.”
Everett went to work early against Ethridge. Joseph Rosa singled with one down in the first and came around on a double by Dariel Gomez, just beating the relay throw.
Connor Hoover led off the second by drilling a 2-0 pitch well over the picnic area past the right-field wall for his 10th homer of the season and a 2-0 lead.
Hancock cruised until two down in the fourth, when Colton Welker launched a long home run to right-center on Hancock’s 49th, and last, pitch of the game. It was the first homer of the season allowed by Hancock.
Hancock went 3⅔ innings and allowed two hits and a walk with three strikeouts. He threw 36 of his 49 pitches for strikes.
Hancock was on a strict pitch count of 50 pitches.
“It was good to get out there and, you know, get a little bit more than 40 pitches and just keep building up,” Hancock said.
“I felt good tonight, I really did,” he added. “Toward that last inning things were feeling really good. I wish I could have gone a little bit more but that’s how it goes.”
Ethridge settled into a groove. After the home run, he set down the next four batters. Rosa reached in the third on an error by Jack Blomgren at second base, but Ethridge picked him off.
The 23-year-old then retired the next 13 batters in order and handed it off to the pen.
“I gave up two runs the first two innings and I was fed up with that,” Ethridge said. “I wasn’t gonna let them walk all over me so I said ‘Enough is enough.’ “
“Honestly, you know, I didn’t know what was gonna happen after the first couple innings,” Little said. “(Ethridge) was able to settle in there and start pitching really well. Kept us in the ball game.”
“We play for each other, for sure,” Collins said. “So (Ethridge) going out like that and having a real good outing and keeping us in the ballgame, it’s huge.”
Fineas Del Bonta Smith pitched a perfect eighth and Dugan Darnell had a 1-2-3 ninth for his sixth save.
“We turned it over them and they put a six-up six-down,” Little said. “Can’t complain too much.”
“Ethridge threw good,” Hancock said. “He’s an SEC guy, so I got to pitch against him a little bit. Pace of play was really good tonight.”