Following a minor hitting slump, Tyler Smith is back in fine form at the plate.
The Rainiers shortshop was 3 for 4 and collected three RBIs on Sunday at Cheney Stadium, powering Tacoma to a 7-5 win over New Orleans.
“The series in Las Vegas and (Saturday’s) game, I wasn’t feeling great,” Smith said. “I started off pretty good this year, and then kind of hit a wall.
“I got here early, hit in the cage, kind of worked on things and just wanted to be on time for the fastball. … It just all came together today.”
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Smith nearly hit for the cycle, finishing with a single, a double and a two-run homer that gave Tacoma the game’s final lead in the sixth inning in front of a season-high crowd of 6,081.
“I’ve always like playing in day games,” Smith said. “You see the ball better, the ball flies, and it was just a good atmosphere here today.”
Smith has been one of Tacoma’s more reliable hitters this season, batting .272, and led a nine-hit charge by the Rainiers to avoid a third consecutive loss.
Tacoma (18-11) had to rally several times during the first six innings after starter Rob Whalen (0-0, 4.50 ERA) struggled.
The Rainiers trailed, 2-0, after Tyler Moore drove in two runs in the first on a double to right.
Leonys Martin evened the score on a two-run homer in the third, but the Baby Cakes again took a two-run lead in the fourth on back-to-back hits by Brandon Barnes and Moore.
Smith’s single in the bottom of the fourth scored DJ Peterson, and Zach Shank hit a sac fly to center to drive in Tyler O’Neill to tie the game at 4-4.
But, again, the Baby Cakes regained the lead on a bloop single by Moises Sierra in the sixth.
Smith hit his two-run home run in the bottom half of that inning to give Tacoma a 6-5 lead, and O’Neill added an insurance run in the seventh on a sac fly to center.
Mark Lowe (2-2, 11.45) picked up the win, pitching 1 2/3 innings in relief, allowing one hit.
“We needed to get him back on track,” said Rainiers manager Pat Listach. “The only way to get him back on track is to pitch him. … That was vintage, old Mark Lowe — locating the slider, throwing the fastball where he wanted.
“He’s had a rough go at it so far. It was nice to see him come in and have a really good outing.”
The Baby Cakes (11-19) didn’t score in the final three innings due to the combined efforts of Lowe, Nick Hagadone and Ryne Harper.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Before Smith’s home run, the Rainiers had not led a ballgame for 23 innings.
Smith cranked a 3-1 changeup from New Orleans starter Justin Nicolino (1-3, 4.46) over the left field fence to score himself and O’Neill, who hit a one-out double in the previous at-bat.
“He had a good year last year against lefties, and he showed some production against a lefty today,” Listach said of Smith. “He had good at-bats, hit the ball hard.
“The double to right was impressive, the single back up the middle and the home run. That’s a really good day for him.”
PLUS: Martin, who cleared waivers on April 27 and has been with the Rainiers since, hit his first home run of the season on a 2-0 breaking ball in the third.
The two-run bomb, which Martin pulled over the right field fence, gave the former Mariners outfielder his fourth and fifth RBIs since joining Tacoma. He is batting .261.
MINUS: The Rainiers had to split this game among five pitchers. Kyle Hunter, Lowe, Hagadone and Harper all made relief appearances.
“We had to mix and match there in the middle,” Listach said.
Whalen dug an early hole in his second start of the season. He exited after 3 1/3 innings, giving up four runs — all earned — on five hits and walking four.
“He didn’t have command of his fastball, so he was having to throw more breaking pitches,” Listach said. “I think if he gets the fastball command back the next time, we’ll see a different guy.”
Whalen entered the season ranked as the No. 17 prospect in Seattle’s farm system by Baseball America.
STAT PACK: Daniel Vogelbach, who returned to the Rainiers from Seattle on Wednesday, has reached base safely in 20 consecutive Triple-A games this season.
That is the second-longest active streak in the Pacific Coast League this year. He walked once Sunday to extend the streak.
QUOTABLE: “He’s here to play. He’s here to work on some things. Today, the big home run against a lefty, that’s promising. ... He’s hungry, he wants to get back to the big leagues, and he’s working hard to prove it.” — Listach on Martin.
ON TAP: Tacoma hosts New Orleans in the third game of a four-game series at 6:05 p.m. Monday. Right-hander Ryan Weber (1-0, 1.09) is scheduled to pitch for Tacoma.
Stephen Fife (1-1, 5.70), a Boise, Idaho, native, will take the hill for the Baby Cakes. Fife is an Everett Community College alumnus.