If the Tacoma Rainiers can get this kind of production in 2017, both hitting and pitching, it is going to be a fun summer at Cheney Stadium.
Christian Bergman tossed five scoreless innings, and top prospect Tyler O’Neill homered in his first home at-bat as the Rainiers bopped reigning Pacific Coast League champion El Paso, 7-2, on Tuesday night in Tacoma.
The Rainiers have now won home openers in back-to-back seasons. Tacoma edged Albuquerque last year.
Gordon Beckham also homered for Tacoma, which scored in four of the first five innings against Chihuahuas starter Walker Lockett.
“We swung the bats like I know we are capable of,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said.
Bergman, who has primarily been a starter in the minors, but was in Colorado’s bullpen last season, extended his dominance over El Paso. He now has two wins over 19 scoreless innings for his career against the Chihuahuas.
He struck out seven hitters in his five innings, one short of his career-high for a game. He’s had eight strikeouts twice, the last coming for Single-A Modesto in 2012.
“He just throw strikes, and uses both sides of the plate,” Listach said. “He reads hitters pretty well.”
But plenty of anticipation surrounded the home debut of O’Neill, the Southern League most valuable player. He hammered an 0-1 Lockett pitch way over the left-field fence for a solo shot – his second home run of the season.
O’Neill’s left-corner double leading off the fifth inning triggered a Rainiers’ three-run outburst to push their lead to 7-0.
Boog Powell’s 80-game PED suspension ended Tuesday, meaning there is a good chance he will be in the Rainiers’ lineup Wednesday in center field. He took batting practice with the team before its home opener, then left before first pitch. “He had a great spring,” Listach said. “He is itching. He is ready to go.” … New bench coach Denny Hocking, who joined the Rainiers in their first road series in Sacramento, will primarily work with the outfielders, and with the team on base running, Listach said. … The Foss High School boys basketball team, which won the Class 2A state title in March, was on hand to throw out the first pitch Tuesday. Coach Mike Cocke’ delivered it right over the plate.
The Rainiers and Chihuahuas will play the second game of their four-game series Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Scheduled opening day starter Sam Gaviglio, who was rained out in Sacramento, gets another crack at it for the Rainiers. Right-hander Matt Magill (0-0, 1.50 ERA) goes for El Paso. All the action can be heard live on 850-AM.