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Cullen Kafka goes deep out of pen, Spokane Indians beat Tri-City 5-1 in opener

From staff reports

PASCO – The “long man” in the bullpen is often overlooked, but Cullen Kafka made all the difference Tuesday.

Kafka went 4⅓ shutout relief innings and the Spokane Indians beat the Tri-City Dust Devils 5-1 in the opener of a six-game Northwest League series at Gesa Stadium.

Kafka, who came on in the third inning for starter Carson Palmquist, got the win (4-1) and allowed just two hits and a walk, striking out four.

Bryce McGowan struck out two in the eighth and Tyler Ahearn handled the ninth. Indians relievers retired 13 of the last 14 batters of the game.

The Indians (24-21) loaded the bases in the third inning and Yanquiel Fernandez walked to force in a run. Tri-City starter Connor Van Scoyoc avoided major damage by coaxing a fly out by Jordan Beck to end a potential big inning.

The Dust Devils (23-23) tied it in the bottom half. With two down, Palmquist issued back-to-back walks and manager Robinson Cancel went to the bullpen for Kafka.

Arol Vera’s ground ball got through the left side for a single and Gabe Matthews beat Juan Guerrero’s throw to tie it.

It was a short night by design for Palmquist, who had a pitch limit in his first outing off the injured list. He went 2⅔ innings and allowed one run on three hits, striking out four and walking two. He threw 52 pitches, 31 for strikes.

Spokane’s Zach Kokoska led off the fourth with a single and went to second after Guerrero was hit by a pitch. Ronaiker Palma lined one over the head of left fielder Gustavo Campero for an RBI double.

But Guerrero was thrown out trying to score on a ground ball to short and Adael Amador grounded out to end the inning.

The Indians made it 3-1 in the seventh. Nic Kent (3 for 4) and Amador hit consecutive singles to put runners on the corners and Kent scored on Benny Montgomery’s groundout.

Kent singled and Amador doubled to lead off the ninth. After Montgomery struck out, Fernandez was walked intentionally to load the bases. Beck struck out, but Kokoska’s broken-bat single to left scored two insurance runs.

Transactions: Catcher Braxton Fulford was promoted to Double-A Hartford. The 24-year-old spent 37 games with Spokane, hitting .307/.398/.511 with six homers, 21 RBIs and four stolen bases. Fulford was recently added as the Colorado Rockies’ No. 30-ranked prospect.

Palma was sent down from Hartford to Spokane in a corresponding move. He hit .263 in 11 games with the Yard Goats this year. The 23-year-old catcher hit .300 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 65 games with Spokane in 2022.