SALT LAKE CITY — Brandon Maurer was cruising.
Tacoma’s starting pitcher had retired 17 of the first 20 batters of the game, scattering three singles. He had thrown only 65 pitches and was working on a shutout with two outs in the sixth inning.
Out of nowhere, he stopped throwing strikes.
Maurer walked three consecutive batters, Chris Nelson hit a two-run single, and the Salt Lake Bees were on their way to a 5-0 Pacific Coast League victory over the Rainiers on Saturday night.
The Salt Lake win pulled the Bees three games back of the first-place Rainiers in the Pacific North Division. Tacoma can still earn a split of the series with a win in the final game Sunday.
Maurer (2-3) would go back to the mound to start the seventh inning, walking Trent Oeltjen to start things off, then allowing a long RBI double to John Hester.
He ended up being charged with four runs in six innings, on five hits and four walks. The final line gives no indication of how well he pitched before losing his control — 10 of the first 17 outs he recorded came on infield groundouts.
Perhaps he simply tired due to the late hour — the game was delayed by rain for 2 hours before the first pitch finally happened at 8:05 p.m. (PDT).
But Tacoma (52-38) also could not muster any offense against Salt Lake starter Dustin Richardson or relievers Ryan Brasier and Daniel Stange. The trio combined on a six-hit shutout, marking just the third time the Rainiers have been shut out all season.
Ty Kelly had two of Tacoma’s hits — a leadoff double in the first inning and a single in the eighth. Kelly is 8-for-18 with four extra-base hits in his first five games with the Rainiers.
Pitcher Andrew Carraway (muscle strain in back) is slated to come off the disabled list and start Tuesday’s game in Tucson. He’ll fill the rotation spot previously held by Danny Hultzen (injured shoulder)... After Sunday’s start, Taijuan Walker’s next appearance will be in the MLB All-Star Futures Game in New York on July 14. He’ll return to the Tacoma starting rotation after the All-Star break.
The series concludes at 12:05 p.m. (PDT) Sunday with the right-hander Walker (2-0, 0.00 ERA) starting for the Rainiers versus Salt Lake’s right-hander A.J. Schugel (4-6, 7.11). The broadcast airs on 850-AM.Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.