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Spokane Indians

Connor Staine tosses seven sparkling innings, Spokane Indians take finale from Hillsboro 8-0

Every minor -league baseball player goes through some ups and downs. Spokane Indians starter Connor Staine is no different. Last Sunday against Everett, Staine got roughed up for six runs in 31/3 innings.

But growing as a ballplayer is all about making adjustments and bouncing back. The 23-year-old starter did just that in his next opportunity.

Staine was scintillating for seven innings, Robby Martin Jr. hit the team’s second grand slam in as many games and the Indians beat the Hillsboro Hops 8-0 to split a six-game High-A Northwest League series at Avista Stadium on Sunday.

“We needed to get the split at least,” Martin said. “We didn’t get to win the series but tying it up, going into Vancouver is good. We’re going with momentum on our side.”

The first-place Indians (30-23) remained one game ahead of Eugene (30-25) with 11 games left in the first half. Third-place Hillsboro fell to 27-28.

“Every team in this league for the most part is kind of in it, so there’s not really one lopsided side,” Martin said. “It’s fun playing competitive baseball.”

Staine faced just three batters over the minimum and struck out nine. He allowed two hits, both doubles, and two walks. Staine threw 98 pitches, 65 for strikes. He retired 11 batters in a row through the middle innings.

“The defense was great today, you know, we made no errors. We were on top of everything. And me and (catcher Bryant) Betancourt were a good battery today,” Staine said.

“In the beginning (of the game), the fastball felt real good, moving well. We were getting to the spots we wanted to. … As the game progressed, we were trying to play on their weaknesses and more of our strengths.”

Staine felt like this outing could be a turning point for him after the tough start last week.

“We worked on a lot of stuff,” he said. “We saw some things I was tipping and wasn’t executing well – over the last couple seasons, to be quite honest. And we made some big changes, you know, trusting the process, putting the work in during the week and it’s just a great feeling to have it work out in the end.”

“It was pretty boring in the outfield for the most part when (Staine) was going through it today,” Martin said. “But he’s a dog and competes on the mound. He goes right after hitters, so it’s always fun playing the outfield when he’s pitching.”

After Staine struck out the side in the top of the first, the Indians loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half. Jake Snider, who hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to force extras Saturday night, drew a walk to force in a run.

A double play brought in another run and the Indians led 2-0 after one.

Spokane loaded the bases again with two down in the third on a double by Snider and a pair of walks, but Bryant Betancourt grounded to first to end the potential rally.

Meanwhile, Staine continued to mow down Hops hitters. He faced two batters over the minimum with five strikeouts through four innings. He allowed a walk in the second but picked the runner off, and a two-out double in the third that was stranded.

He added a 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts in the fifth.

The Indians loaded the bases for the third time in the game with two down in the bottom half on three walks, and Hillsboro went to the pen for reliever Junior Cerda. But Martin got the better of him with an opposite field line drive home run over the left center field fence for a grand slam and 6-0 lead.

“I don’t remember if I’d faced the guy (before Sunday), but I was just trying with the bases loaded and two strikes I was just trying to get something I could get the bat on,” Martin said. “I didn’t want to go down looking. So luckily, I got a good pitch to hit and did damage with it.”

Staine retired the Hops in order in the sixth. In his final inning he gave up a one-out double off the glove of third baseman Kyle Karros and a walk, and manager Robinson Cancel came out for a mound visit. But Staine came back to strikeout Christian Cerda and get a popup to end the inning.

“It meant a lot because we finished the sixth inning real fast. And when the manager comes out, you expect to get yanked. So, he asked me if I was good to go, I said ‘Yeah, I want to do it.’ ”

Violator: Second baseman Jack Blomgren, who is on a rehab assignment from Double-A Hartford, committed a pair of violations. Early in the game he was called for a defensive alignment violation, starting a pitch while standing on the outfield grass.

Later in the game during an at-bat he took too much time getting back in the box and was issued an automatic strike three on a pitch clock violation. He was subsequently ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Tyler Hovick.