The Northwest League is on notice – Zac Veen is heating up.
Veen went 2 for 3 with a homer, double, walk and two RBIs and the Spokane Indians came back to beat the Hillsboro Hops 7-5 Tuesday in the first game of a six-game Northwest League series at Avista Stadium.
Veen led off the seventh with his first home run of the season, a no-doubt shot to straight center that cleared the tall wall at the 395-foot mark with plenty to spare to give the Indians (4-6) a two-run cushion.
“I was just trying to put a good swing on it,” Veen said. “Luckily, I got a little bit under it and it got out of here. I was happy with the swing and happy with swinging at the right pitches.”
The Colorado Rockies’ top prospect entered Tuesday’s game hitting .138 (4 for 29), but the left-handed hitter also had seven walks and leads the NWL in stolen bases with seven.
“Honestly, I’ve had some good at-bats,” Veen said. “I think today, you know, finally I got some to fall. I’m definitely just sticking with the process and hopefully a lot more start falling.”
“I think we’re gonna see a lot of guys heat up a little more when it starts warming up a little bit,” Indians manager Scott Little said. “We were overswinging a little bit and it’s been cold, but like last year we just strive to improve everyday and get better and better.”
With two down in the second, Hillsboro’s Tim Tawa drilled a line drive over the fence in left-center to give the Hops (5-5) a 1-0 lead.
Ryan Bliss, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ second-round pick last summer, smacked a no-doubt shot to left on the third to double the Hops’ lead.
Julio Carreras led off the bottom half with a triple and scored on Veen’s two-out opposite-field double.
Spokane took its first lead in the fourth, as Grant Lavigne crushed a 2-1 breaking ball over the caboose in right-center – a two-run shot with Drew Romo aboard.
“I just recognized the slider middle-in and just pulled the trigger,” Lavigne said. “Once you see a bunch of guys starting to put together good (at-bats), it’s definitely contagious.”
Hillsboro leadoff hitter Jorge Barrero tied it in the fifth with a solo shot to left-center. After Bliss ripped a single to center, AJ Vukovich wrapped one around the left-field foul pole for a two-run shot and 5-3 lead.
Daniel Montano and Bladimir Restituyo hit back-to-back doubles with one down in the sixth. Montano scored on a fielder’s choice, then two scored on an infield single by Ben Sems and a throwing error.
The game was delayed 25 minutes at the start due to a brief rain shower
• Quick step: The game was played in 2 hours, 14 minutes. It was the first game at Avista Stadium played this year with the pitch clock enforced.
Minor League Baseball started enforcing the pitch clock (30 seconds between batters, 14 seconds with bases empty, 18 seconds with runners on) during Friday’s games.
Game times over the weekend came down roughly 20 minutes across all levels of the minors according to a report by ESPN.com compared to the first week of the season.
In the eighth inning, Hillsboro hitter AJ Vukovich was called for an automatic strike three for not getting into the batter’s box quickly enough.
“I think it’s definitely interesting,” Veen said. “I think it’d be more exciting if we didn’t get the strikes called on (hitters) honestly. I think there’s a lot of good hitters who can get robbed of some at-bats that way.
“At the end of the day, you got to adjust and it’s gonna be in the game at some point.”
• Home cooking: Indians starter Austin Kitchen made his first start of the season at Avista Stadium. The 25-year-old lefty allowed five runs on eight hits and a walk over six innings, tossing 56 of his 81 pitches for strikes.
“Kitchen kept us in the ballgame,” Little said. “When he leaves it up, bad things can happen. But he kept battling in there and gosh, he gave us six innings and kept us close.”
• Web gem: With two down in the fifth, Drew Romo singled with Eddy Diaz on second and manager Scott Little waived him in. But Adrian Del Castillo, the D-backs No. 17 prospect, nailed the speedy Diaz at home with a perfect throw from medium left.
“It was a great play, but I mean, I’m gonna send my fastest runner with two outs on a blooper to left field every time,” Little said.
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