Asked to assess the Tacoma Rainiers’ season-opening eight-game homestand – which included more rainouts (three) than victories (two) – manager Roy Howell couldn’t help but get a good chuckle.
“It’s hard to get the guys in a rhythm,” Howell said. “When you get here and get ready go and can’t go, it beats on them a little bit. It messes up your pitching rotation.”
The Rainiers, following their 5-2 loss Thursday in the series finale against El Paso, head to Albuquerque Friday for their first road trip of 2014 – albeit a brief, four-game trip – and look to play three games in a row for the first time this season.
The rainouts pushed James Gillheeney’s season debut on the mound back three times. The left-hander finally got the start Thursday, and while he showed glimpses of effectiveness and poise (five strikeouts, plus pitching out of a bases-loaded jam to end the second inning), a high pitch count and three walks led to an early exit after 3 1/3 innings trailing 4-0.
The defense didn’t do Gillheeney any favors, committing three errors over the first three innings.
“We didn’t help him,” Howell said. “He made 20 more pitches than he needed to make."
Both Albuquerque and El Paso hitters roughed up Rainiers’ starting pitching. In three of the six games played, Tacoma starters didn’t make it past the fourth inning.
The bullpen was a different story, particularly Thursday.
Tacoma struck out 16 El Paso hitters, between Gillheeney, Brandon Maurer and Carson Smith in relief.
Maurer’s appearance in long relief was noteworthy; he struck out nine of the 13 batters faced after coming in the fifth and surrendered just one run on an Alex Castellanos’ RBI double that gave the Chihuahuas (4-3) a 5-1 lead.
Maurer, who had a 5-8 record with the Mariners in 2013, missed time during the Cactus League with back issues but clocked as high as 97 mph on the stadium’s radar gun.
He struck out the side in the sixth and eighth innings and lowered his earned-run average to 2.84 in three appearances.
"Everything was working," Maurer said.
“That’s the dominance that he can have,” Howell said. “When he’s on like that … canoe paddles won’t work.”
While Tacoma’s offense left runners stranded in scoring position late in the sixth and eighth innings, Cole Gillespie continued his hot hitting. He went 2-for-3 with a double. He’s hitting a team-best .417 and has hit safely in all six games.
Nick Franklin (0-for-4) had his five-game hitting streak snapped, dipping his average to .391.
Three Rainiers players – Nate Tenbrink, Leury Bonilla and Andrew Carraway – were reinstated from the disabled list Thursday. Bonilla was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI in his first start, while Carraway is scheduled to make his debut Sunday against Albuquerque.
The Rainiers travel to Albuquerque for a four-game series starting Friday at 6:05 p.m. PDT before returning home Tuesday. Left-hander Anthony Fernandez (0-1, 8.31) goes against Isotopes right-hander Zach Lee (1-0, 3.60). The game will be broadcast on 850-AM and on www.tacomarainiers.com.