AJ Lewis hasn’t had as many opportunities to contribute to the success of the Spokane Indians this season as some others.
The 23-year-old native of Chicago played two years at Eastern Kentucky, where he hit .451 in 61 plate appearances over 13 games in 2020 before the pandemic shut everything down.
After going undrafted in the shortened five-round MLB Draft last summer, Lewis never doubted he’d get another chance, whether it was back at college or at the pro level.
“I just kept working,” he said. “I was ready to go with whatever option I had to go with, whether it was going to Arkansas or coming here and playing. I was ready to go with the opportunity, whichever opportunity presented itself and I’m here and I’m ready to go.”
Entering play Saturday, Lewis had one hit with six walks in 26 plate appearances for the Indians in his first taste of professional baseball. A catcher by trade, he’s made one appearance behind the dish this season and six starts at designated hitter.
He made the most of his start at DH Saturday night.
Lewis reached base each of his first three trips to the plate, with an RBI double in a two-run fourth, and the Indians beat the Tri-City Dust Devils 8-3 in the fifth of a six-game High-A West series at Avista Stadium.
Willie MacIver and Aaron Schunk hit home runs, while Brenton Doyle doubled twice and scored twice.
[BOX SCORE courtesy of MILB.com]
Lewis reached after getting grazed on the elbow in his first trip, doubled and scored in the fourth and walked and stole second in the sixth.
“It felt really good,” Lewis said about contributing to the win. “I’m going about it daily just trying to get my work in, stay prepared, stay ready. To see it pay off there, that was great.”
“It was a huge night for him,” Indians manager Scott Little said. “His parents are in town, they got to see him play professional baseball. He sparked us in that one inning. It was a big night.”
Indians starter Ryan Feltner (2-1) continued his strong start to the season. The 24-year-old out of Ohio State went 6 1/3 innings and allowed three earned runs on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts.
“I thought all my pitches were working,” Feltner said. “There were times where I was indecisive on what pitch I wanted to throw, kind of stuck in-between, readings swings. But I think I’m starting to sort that stuff out.”
“The guy’s been really good,” Little said. “The stuff’s been really good, another quality outing. He’s been there every time, keeping us in games and he’s got big league stuff so it’s good to see, good to have him on the team. Our job is getting him to the next level so I don’t think he’s gonna be too far away.”
Spokane got on the board in the second without the benefit of a base hit. With two down, Kyle Datres and Luke Morgan walked, then Lewis was hit by a pitch to load the bases. No. 9 hitter Jack Blomgren worked an eight-pitch walk to force in a run to make it 1-0.
MacIver made it 2-0 in the third with his sixth home run of the season, a no-doubt shot to straight left.
Feltner allowed just one base runner in the first three innings but saw a 13-inning scoreless streak at home ended in the fourth.
With one down and a runner at first, Francisco Del Valle bounced to short for a potential inning-ending double play, but Blomgren had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and could only get the force at second.
Kyle Kasser then laced a single to right to plate the Dust Devils’ first run of the game.
Pitching coach Ryan Kibler came out for a word of encouragement and Feltner came back to strike out Brandon White to end the inning.
“He kind of said, let’s just stick with the fastball a little bit more,” Feltner said. “I was trying to pitch too much – if that makes sense – and kind of work around some things instead of just attacking with my fastball, because it had been working up to that point.”
The Indians got it right back – and more. With one down in the bottom half Morgan singled and raced home from first on Lewis’ double into the left field corner. Two batters later, Isaac Collins singled to right to plate Lewis for a 4-1 lead.
“I was just getting in the box, trying to be aggressive,” Lewis said. “First time seeing some pitches I want to get up there swinging the bat.”
Doyle doubled to lead off the fifth and scored on a one-out triple to right-center by Michael Toglia. He led off the seventh with his second double of the night, stole third when Tri-City was in a shift and not protecting the base, and scored on a line-drive single by Datres.
“He looked like he was pressing the first couple of at-bats,” Little said of Doyle. “Then he got that double, then he got another double, had a big steal of third and we left him there for a second but it was a big hit by Datres to extend our lead.”
Schunk’s second round-tripper of the homestand, a two-run poke in the eighth, gave the home team some cushion.
Around the league
Eugene 7, Vancouver 4: Franklin Labour drove in two and the visiting Emeralds (19-10) beat the Canadians (16-13) in Hillsboro, Oregon. Eugene starter Seth Corry, the San Francisco Giants No. 5 prospect, earned his first win allowing three earned runs over five innings on five hits and five walks.
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