WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You know things aren’t going well for the Tacoma Rainiers when Brian Sweeney is walking batters.
Tacoma’s 39-year-old starter has pitched professionally for 17 years, reaching the highest levels in the United States and Japan, primarily because of his ability to consistently throw strikes.
So when Sweeney struggled with his control Sunday against Sacramento, issuing a career-high six walks, it helped fuel a 6-3 loss to the River Cats.
While Sweeney certainly didn’t have his good control, he also was having trouble getting calls on pitches that the Rainiers thought were strikes.
“A lot of our players had an issue with the umpire behind the plate,” Tacoma manager John Stearns said. “There were some marginal calls down in the zone that went against us.”
Sweeney (7-2) had not walked more than two batters in a game this season. Sunday, he walked two in the first inning.
The right-hander was able to battle through his control problems in the first four innings, escaping jams while taking a 2-1 lead into the fifth.
Hiroyuki Nakajima reached on third baseman Nate Tenbrink’s throwing error to open the fifth, and Sweeney issued his sixth — and final — walk to Michael Choice with one out.
Stearns summoned Bobby LaFromboise from the bullpen to face Daric Barton, and Barton singled on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases.
LaFromboise struck out Scott Moore and was poised to escape the jam by getting to a full count on Michael Taylor. Then Taylor lifted a fly to shallow right-center field.
Dustin Ackley, playing center field for Tacoma, sprinted after it and laid out in a full dive. He snagged the baseball — on a short hop. Because the runners were moving on the pitch, all three scored, Taylor had a double, and the River Cats had a 4-2 lead.
“Ackley showed some range and almost got that ball,” Stearns said. “Overall, he’s been solid in center field.”
Stefen Romero was the main source of offense for Tacoma. Romero connected for a long two-run triple in the third inning and doubled home Tacoma’s other run in the sixth.
Both of Romero’s hits came against Sacramento starter Sonny Gray, who is considered the top pitching prospect in the Oakland system. Gray lasted six innings, giving up three runs on eight hits to earn the win.
Outfielder Eric Thames suffered a hairline fracture and needed stitches on his left hand after a collision with third baseman Tenbrink while attempting a sliding catch in shallow left field Saturday night.
“He had a big gash in his left hand by the wrist, and also there is a slight hairline fracture there,” Stearns said. “We could lose Eric for a while. He’s one of our better hitters. We’re going to miss him if he’s out for a while.”
Thames was not placed on the disabled list because the team has just 23 players on the 25-man roster. The three rehabilitating major leaguers with Tacoma do not count on the roster.
Ackley went 0-for-4, ending his hitting streak at 16 games. … Infielder Brad Miller went 1-for-4, extending his streak to 16 games. … First baseman Rich Poythress was ejected in the fourth inning after arguing a questionable called strike. … Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was in attendance.
The middle series of the Rainiers’ 12-game trip concludes with a 7:05 p.m. game Monday in West Sacramento. Tacoma will start left-hander James Paxton (3-5, 5.70 ERA) against Sacramento left-hander Andrew Werner (6-8, 5.42).Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.