The Tacoma Rainiers celebrated Salute to Armed Forces Night at Cheney Stadium on a beautiful Saturday evening. As it turned out, the Rainiers had all the arms they needed, and Johan Limonta added the force in a 6-1 win over the Round Rock Express.
Limonta, the Rainiers’ designated hitter, drove in four runs with a two-run homer in the fifth and a two-run single in the sixth to match his best RBI night this season, in which his average had dipped to .260.
“I had been struggling the last couple weeks, but I’ve been working hard, coming to the (batting) cage every day to work,” Limonta said. “So I’m feeling better … and today I felt a lot better.”
The Rainiers weren’t going to need much offense, particularly with the way Erasmo Ramirez started, spreading three hits around five shutout innings that featured six strikeouts.
Ramirez, who appeared in seven games this season in relief for the Mariners, is getting some starting action in Tacoma to stretch out his pitch count with the potential of returning as a long reliever or starter.
“Ramirez set the tone,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said. “He threw the ball well; he maintained his stuff the whole time he was out there.”
Relievers Sean Henn and Chance Ruffin carried the shutout into the ninth before Express left-fielder Ryan Spilborghs homered off Scott Patterson.
Limonta’s production was the story of the night, though. The 28-year-old was born in Havana and defected in 2004 along with several teammates and a couple dozen others in a small boat across stormy seas. He eventually attended Miami Dade Community College and was taken by the Mariners in the 20th round of the draft.
In 108 games with the Rainiers last season, he led the team in batting (.319).
“We’ve got a few guys who’ve been struggling,” Brown said of Limonta’s early batting average. “At some point, you figure they’ll turn it around. April is always tough; we play in some cold places, and you hope when the weather warms up, so will we.”
It took the Rainiers a while to get started, going hitless against Express starter Derek Hankins until Guillermo Quiroz led off the fifth with a bloop single.
Limonta soon drove him home with his second home run of the season. “I had to be patient. He was throwing a good game,” Limonta said. He said he expected an inside pitch, and when Hankins delivered a fastball inside, Limonta turned on it.
In the sixth, shortstop Carlos Triunfel hit a leadoff double and came home on a wild pitch by reliever Aaron Heilman to stretch the Tacoma lead to 3-0. First baseman Scott Savastano later drove in Vinnie Catricala to make it 4-0 before Limonta struck again with a two-run single against Heilman to make it 6-0.
Spilborghs’ solo shot in the ninth spoiled what could have been back-to-back shutouts for the Rainiers. The last time they put together two of those was May 2010. They scored a shutout win over Albuquerque Friday night when starter Andrew Carraway gave up just one hit in 7 innings.
With Saturday’s win, Brown moved into a tie for second on the Rainiers’ list of all-time wins by managers, matching Dave Myers’ 366. Brown is just nine behind all-time leader Dan Rohn.
The Rainiers play host to the Express in the second of a four-game series at 1:35 p.m. Tacoma starts LHP Anthony Vasquez (3-2, 5.88 ERA) against Round Rock RHP Neil Ramirez (4-2, 4.98).email@example.com 253-597-8440