Boog Powell needs to wait one more day to return to the Tacoma Rainiers lineup, but that won’t stunt his enthusiasm.
“I love it here,” Powell said. “I love the Mariners, and I’m excited to finally be back.”
Just as Powell was getting ready to make his return to Cheney Stadium, Wednesday night’s game was rained out.
Powell, Tacoma’s usual starting center fielder, was slated to play for the first time since June 22. He was suspended for 80 games last summer after testing positive for a banned substance, ending his season.
“Rough,” Powell said, recalling the past nine months. “That’s kind of the only way to explain it. Stuff happens, but you’ve got to move past it. It’s all in the past now. I’m starting a new year right now.”
Powell, who believes he was wrongfully suspended, said he is still trying to clear his name.
Rainiers manager Pat Listach said Powell has insisted to him many times during the past year that he did not knowingly take a performance-enhancing drug.
Listach said it was clear this spring that Powell was eager to get back on the field.
“He’s paid his dues,” Listach said. “We’re going to treat him like it never did happen, and hopefully it never happens again. He’s ready to go.”
Powell played 16 games with the Mariners during spring training, posting a .577 batting average and a .607 on-base percentage before he was optioned to Tacoma on March 17.
“I knew I had to come into spring training and start swinging (the bat),” Powell said. “I ended up doing that. I felt really good in the spring — really good at-bats, really good in the outfield.”
Powell hit .270 in 64 games last season with Tacoma. He hit leadoff in 51 games, and recorded a .326 on-base percentage before his suspension.
“That’s a leadoff hitter with a proven track record in the minor leagues to get on base,” Listach said.
Listach said Powell had one of the best springs he’s seen a player have, and Powell makes an already dangerous offense that much more potent.
“We have a really good offensive setup,” Powell said. “Everybody can swing. So I’m really excited to see what we can do this year.”
O’NEILL AT HOME IN TACOMA
Tyler O’Neill is close enough to his home in British Columbia that he’s already had a few fans trek south to watch him play.
A former high school coach, some players and his girlfriend were in the stands Tuesday for the Rainiers’ home opener. He said some family members are headed to Tacoma this weekend.
“It’s so great to be so close to home,” O’Neill said. “I love it here. This is my home.”
O’Neill is already winning over local fans, after he cranked an 0-1 pitch over the wall in left field during his first at-bat in Cheney.
“You feel the energy right in the opening ceremonies,” O’Neill said. “I kind of fed off that a little bit. I got a good pitch to hit and put a good pass on it.”
That was Powell’s second home run of the season. Listach said O’Neill is — quickly — learning how Triple-A pitchers are approaching him, which has led to early success.
“I’m always improving,” O’Neill said. “Everyone has room for improvement — on the offensive side of the of ball, on the defensive side.
“I’m just trying to play every day, go about my business the right way, and good things will take care of themselves.”
Wednesday night’s game is the third this season that has been affected by the rain. Tacoma’s road opener in Sacramento was postponed, and the second game of the series was suspended in the bottom of the first inning. … Thursday’s doubleheader will be the second of the season for Tacoma after splitting with Sacramento on Monday. Since 2014, the Rainiers are 10-10 playing doubleheaders, splitting with the opposing team eight times.
The first of two seven-inning games begins at 6:05 p.m. on Thursday. Right-hander Sam Gaviglio (0-0, 0.00 ERA) is scheduled to pitch the first game for Tacoma, and will meet El Paso righty Matt Magill (0-0, 1.50).
Tacoma right-hander Chris Heston (0-0, 5.40) and El Paso right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (1-0, 0.00) are slated to take the hill in the second game. Both games will be broadcast live on 850-AM.