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Spokane Indians

Starter Mike Ruff pitches into eighth, Spokane Indians down Tri-City in first game of series

After a successful jaunt to Everett last week with four wins in six games, the Spokane Indians came back to Avista Stadium on Tuesday to host a six-game series with the Tri-City Dust Devils, coming into the series as leaders of the compacted Northwest League at 11-9 – with four other teams within a half-game, including the Indians.

A pitcher’s duel ensued, with the home team reaping the benefit.

Starter Mike Ruff pitched into the eighth inning, Luke Taggert came in to quash a rally and the Indians edged the Dust Devils 2-1 to move into the top spot in the league.

“It’s nice to come out on a team we haven’t played yet and get them on the first night,” Ruff said. “It leads to good things later.”

Ruff (3-1) went 7 innings and allowed seven hits and a walk with eight strikeouts.

“The slider actually was better than usual tonight,” Ruff said. “I was able to put some guys away with that. So that was good.”

Ruff said he likes pitching in close games.

“(But) I don’t want to every time,” he said.

“These hitters are gonna get more fastballs when you get a big lead. With a tight game, I’m pitching to get the every guy out at that plate.”

The Indians (12-10) got to Dust Devils starter Brandon Olthoff in the first inning. With two down, Drew Romo doubled to the gap in left-center and scored on single through the hole by Grant Lavigne.

Gabe Matthews led off the Tri-City second with a double and scored on consecutive sacrifice flies.

In the bottom half, Daniel Montano doubled, went to third on a sacrifice and scored when a pickoff throw hit him in the back and rolled into left field.

The rest was up to Ruff.

He only had two 1-2-3 innings, but he pitched quickly and efficiently, benefiting from weak contact – and a couple of would-be base stealers caught by catcher Romo.

After Matthews came around in the second, the Dust Devils didn’t have another batter reach second base until the eighth, when Francisco Del Valle walked and Kyle Kasser hit a clean single to left.

Ruff threw 96 pitches, 69 for strikes.

“Ruff was outstanding,” Indians manager Scott Little said. “He got it done again. He’s been solid every time out there for us.”

After the walk, Little lifted Ruff in favor of Luke Taggert, who retired Kyren Paris and Jordyn Adams with strikeouts – both looking.

“(Taggert) was our (organizational) pitcher of the month for the Rockies and you see why,” Little said. “He’s had a great first month and so far he’s done pretty damn good this month.”

Game notes

• Automatic strike: In the third, Zac Veen was called for too much time for a called strike three. The Colorado Rockies’ top prospect has been one of the Indians’ batters testing the limits of the pitch clock and in this instance, he paid for it.

“He’s not deliberately doing it,” Little said. “He’s just a patient guy who likes to get his mind set. Good learning experience. I mean the rule is, you have to be attentive. He was in the box with 9 seconds. But he wasn’t attentive. So I mean, technically, they got the call right.”

• Comebacker: Ruff helped himself on defense as well. With two down in the sixth, Adams hit a hard one-hop comebacker that took Ruff’s glove off. The pitcher gathered his senses, recovered the ball and got the speedy Adams at first to end the inning.

“That comebacker scared me a little bit,” Ruff joked.

“It looked like it was coming back way harder than it was, and that almost makes me look worse because when it feels like it’s coming back that hard you get a little flinch. And it was all for nothing because it was, you know, pretty routine. But at first when it came off the bat I thought that thing was smoked at me.”

• Note 3: Bladimir Restituyo has been one of the best hitters for the Indians this season, but the 20-year-old is still learning. In the bottom of the sixth, he swung through strike three on a ball in the dirt and dejectedly started to walk off the field – without noticing the catcher not only lost where the ball was, but he fell down.

Del Valle recovered to tag Restituyo several steps toward the dugout to complete the play.

Little signaled for a defensive replacement for Restituyo as he was walking off the field from the third-base coaches box.

“I’m not mad at the kid, it’s just – we can’t get upset,” Little said. “We got to play the game. You know, we make that guy throw that ball.

“You never know what’s gonna happen. (Restituyo) is an awesome kid, awesome person.

“I love him. I’m not mad at him. You’re gonna see him tomorrow. It’s just a learning experience for our whole team.”