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Rainiers Recap - 7/3/14, Reno 1, Tacoma 5

Skydivers entered the stadium pre-game. America!
I attended the Rainiers' annual Independence Day spectacular, and it was spectacular indeed! I also chose it as my annual game to take score at, simply to find out if I still remember how to score a baseball game. It turns out that I do, and armed with my score card, I'm capable of a nice little game recap.

Aces 1, Rainiers 5

Summary: This game was a cluster luck special, though the Rainiers gleefully accepted the good fortune. Tacoma, according to Mike Curto's recap, went 20 innings without scoring a run before breaking though in the sixth inning last night. Jordan Pries stranded base runners left and right throughout his seven innings of work, while his adversary for the Aces, Charles Brewer, proved largely untouchable until the fateful sixth inning. The Rainiers strung together six consecutive hits in the sixth inning, with the pivotal blow stuck by Ji-Man Choi, a bases-clearing double (sort of - Justin Smoak got thrown out at the plate, so only two runs scored despite the emptied bases). Abraham Almonte added a home run that appeared to land on the hill across the street right outside the right field fence in the eight inning, adding a finishing touch to the game and serving as a fitting prelude to the fireworks extravaganza that followed the Rainiers victory.

Game notes:

  • Jonathan Stewart, a current NFL running back for the Carolina Panthers, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He graduated from Timberline High School and obviously maintains a connection with his hometown roots. It is odd to see the best athlete on a professional field throw out a ceremonial pitch and do nothing else. The wonders of AAA baseball, particularly on one of the biggest nights of the year.
  • Jordan Pries makes the most of his talent thanks to his composure. Ultimately, his pitching line was pretty nice - 7 innings, 1 run, 6 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 99 pitches. However, the line does not capture everything. Pries labored early on, throwing 18 pitches in the first inning and 25 in the second, where he also managed to wriggle out of a bases-loaded jam. His only clean 1-2-3 inning came in the third. He worked around a Chris Taylor error in the sixth. Pries had to deal with the stress of a very tight game too, given that the Rainiers did not score until the sixth inning. Pries topped out at 90mph, which is normal for him (I've seen him start a few times now), and if he threw a few miles an hour harder he would get way more buzz. His ability to manage his pitch count, continually strand base runners, and keep the Rainiers in the game until they broke through, was probably a bit lucky, but not all luck. Pries has high "pitchability" as scouts would say. He knows how to pitch.
  • Stephen Kohlscheen pitched the eighth inning for the Rainiers. This was my first chance to see him and I was interested to see him. He hasn't generated much buzz despite blitzing through the M's minor leagues with impressive numbers out of the bullpen. He worked a fairly clean eighth inning, allowing no hits or runs with a walk and a strikeout. The first thing that stands out about Kohlscheen is his height - he's listed at 6'6" and looks every bit that tall. His eighth inning enthralled me because I'm not entirely sure how he generates the results that he does. Kohlscheen doesn't throw particularly hard. He consistently hit 90mph, and occasionally touched 91 or 92 when he reached back for a little extra on his fastball. However, he generated a surprising number of swings and misses, and some batters looked late and uncomfortable in the batter's box. The best explanation I have is Kohlscheen's wind-up. He uses his height to his full advantage with a high arm slot, which creates an abnormally downward angle for the ball's path to home plate. Moreover, Kohlscheen appears to hide the ball well from batters by keeping his pitching arm low behind his back and plant leg most of the delivery. The first comp that came to mind as I watched him last night is current Mariners miracle-worker Chris Young.
  • Stephen Pryor worked the ninth inning for the Rainiers. He sat at 92mph early in counts with an easy delivery. However, the old flame-throwing Pryor seems to still be around, because once he got two strikes on a batter he dialed up to 95mph, again with a relatively easy delivery. He gave up a hard-hit double (that, by the way, probably gets caught by a better right fielder than Stefen Romero, who took a circuitous route before jumping up against the right field wall to try to catch it) but followed that with two strikeouts to finish off the Rainiers victory.
  • Nick Franklin extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a double in the middle of Tacoma's sixth-inning barrage.
    Jesus Montero (#40) didn't play in the
    game, but warmed up Jordan Pries a
    few times between innings.
  • Abe Almonte had a very promising night. He saw 10 total pitches in his first two at-bats before getting aggressive in his final two. He ended up with two hits, a solid single the opposite way to left field in the sixth inning (on the second pitch of the at-bat), and the aforementioned bomb he pulled to right field that led off the eighth inning. What also made the home run impressive to me is that it came on the first pitch of the at-bat, off of Kevin Munson, whom the Aces had just inserted into the game. This suggests to me that Almonte's confidence at the plate is on the rise. He went into that at-bat knowing he would swing if he saw a particular pitch - clearly, he got it, and did not miss it. He wasn't just swinging at anything thrown, as evidenced by his extended at-bats early in the game. Almonte has holes in his swing and must compensate for them with a disciplined approach at the plate. He exhibited great discipline in this contest.
  • Justin Smoak had an unassuming night at the plate. He went 1-4, collecting a single in the middle of Tacoma's sixth-inning outburst. The single in the sixth inning was easily his most impressive at-bat as it came on the eighth pitch in a 2-2 count.
  • Stefen Romero is too aggressive at the plate. He ended up with a single in the sixth inning on a hard-hit ground ball that just eluded the shortstop. He only saw seven pitches total in his three plate appearances on the night and did not make memorable contact.
  • Chris Taylor, despite an error on defense and a strikeout in the seventh inning, had a solid night overall. He got two singles, one to left field and one to right, along with a stolen base. He also did a solid job working counts, seeing 15 pitches total in his 4 plate appearances. The only plate appearance he saw less than four pitches was his sixth inning single, which he hit on the second pitch of the at-bat and got an RBI out of. At the time, that single tied the score at one. It turns out Taylor's single was the first of Tacoma's six consecutive hits in the sixth inning.
  • Xavier Avery deserves a shout-out. He went hitless on the night but was a pest. He only got three trips to the plate but saw 15 pitches. This is even more impressive given that he only saw one pitch in his second plate appearance, which he dropped down for a beautiful sacrifice bunt that moved Humberto Quintero to third base in the sixth inning (right before the Rainiers strung together six consecutive hits.) Avery lacks power but has good speed and does little things that at least make him an annoying out.
The Rainiers hit the road for a week before returning to Cheney July 11 for a quick three-game home stand against the Fresno Grizzlies before the AAA all-star break.