Two runners reached base for the Tacoma Rainiers in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Reno Aces. And the Rainiers had Jesus Montero approaching the plate representing the tying run.
Montero, though, hit a ground ball to short that turned into a double play. Although the Rainiers did score to end a streak of 17 2/3 scoreless innings, they lost to Reno, 3-1, at Cheney Stadium.
It was their 10th loss in 13 games.
“All you can do is get into those situations and hope they deliver,” said Rainiers manager Roy Howell. “But you have to understand that these guys are trying to do the right thing, he doesn’t want to hit into a double play. ... He could have just as easily hit a line drive off the scoreboard.”
Montero was 0-for-3 with a walk. He hit a liner up the middle in the first inning that would have scored Abraham Almonte from third base had Reno pitcher Mike Bolsinger not snagged it out of the air.
Though Montero didn’t come through Wednesday, he feels like he’s making progress in his attempt to become a major leaguer again.
Montero, who showed up to spring training 40 pounds overweight, says he has lost between 12-15 pounds. He runs two sets of stairs in four-day intervals among his workouts.
He’s not perfect, but he’s better.
“Last year was terrible for me,” said Montero, who hit .208 in 29 games with the Mariners. He then hit .247 in 19 games with the Rainiers before tearing his meniscus and getting served with a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
“But I feel like I’m swinging a lot better. I got more confidence and I’m feeling a lot better with the team and the guys. It’s great to be healthy and to be playing every day.”
Montero is batting .263 in 39 games and has six errors at first base for the Rainiers this season. Though unspectacular, it is his highest batting average since 2011, when he hit .288 with Triple-A Scranton in the New York Yankees organization and .328 in 28 games with the Yankees.
Montero also leads the Rainiers with eight home runs.
He attributed it to his daily work with first-year Rainiers hitting coach Cory Snyder. They are focusing on Montero’s balance, approach and helping him better anticipate pitches to hit. Snyder said the key is Montero’s take position and making sure it’s consistent.
“Just small, little things out there and he does it every day and he’s really good at it. That is why he is getting better,” Snyder said.
And because Montero is in better shape.
“Oh yeah, that is huge,” Snyder said. “He looks a lot better and you can see he’s moving a lot better.
“I see him every day. He works hard in here, works hard in the gym and in turn he’s working hard (on the field). It’s going to pay off for him. We just have to stick with it every single day.”
Snyder said Montero’s routine seemed to be hit-or-miss at the start of the season.
“His routine is good every single day now,” Snyder said. “He still chases pitches like everybody else, but he’s getting better and better. For him to get back to Seattle, he’s got to be more consistent here of attacking fastballs and not missing the mistake off-speed up.
“It’s not about getting hits, or the average. It’s about being in a good position and hitting it hard somewhere every time.”
Howell and Snyder both said they see Montero eventually returning the majors, despite general manager Jack Zduriencik’s saying in spring training that he “has zero expectations for Jesus Montero.”
“He’s come a long way from the beginning of the year,” Howell said. “He is starting to stay back on the breaking ball and not swing at bad pitches. I think he had some hesitation with his knee, but now I think he’s free and easy and comfortable and getting better at first base, too.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be here or (Seattle) – that’s their decision,” Montero said. “I’m just trying to have fun here and help the team and try not to think about it.
“If they call me up, I’ll be happy. But we’ll see what happens.”
Jordan Pries (3-2, 1.85 ERA) makes his seventh start of the season for the Rainiers since being called up from Double-A Jackson at 7:05 p.m. Thursday. Reno starts Lucas Harrell (1-0, 4.71) in the final game of the series before Tacoma hosts El Paso. The game will broadcast on 850-AM.