The Tacoma Rainiers had a nice turnaround from the previous night in terms of their offensive production. But that wasn’t the key to their 5-3 win over the Iowa Cubs on Tuesday night at Cheney Stadium.
It was Tacoma’s battered and worn-down pitching staff, which could not afford a slip-up after using nine pitchers — and one position player, Ty Kelly — in their past two games.
Andrew Carraway’s start on one day of rest — as well as his third appearance in four days — was perhaps the most crucial component in the victory.
After yielding a run in the first inning, Carraway (8-5) pitched five innings, allowing one earned run and striking out three.
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“We really got to tip our hat to Carraway,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “We asked him to go out there three or four innings and he gave us five and just saved our bullpen.”
Carraway’s only walk came in the first, which was followed by an RBI single. But the 27-year-old responded by retiring 13 of his next 15 batters, yielding only three hits.
“I knew our bullpen was short today, so I would come in between innings and talk to Jamie Navarro, our pitching coach, and Roy (Howell) and let them know, ‘I’m good. I feel good. I can keep going,’ ” Carraway said.
“We wanted to go after them and get them to swing the bat and that plan worked.”
Carraway turned in back-to-back one-two-three innings in the second and third to mitigate the damage he sustained in the first.
Rainiers’ reliever Lucas Luetge pitched a scoreless sixth with one strikeout after Carraway departed.
Following a clean seventh by reliever Logan Kensing, the game tightened up when Iowa left fielder Junior Lake hammered a two-run homer off Kensing in the eighth.
Kensing threw four strikeouts in his two innings pitched.
Carson Smith sealed the game with a one-two-three ninth for his 10th save.
Tacoma’s discipline at the plate drew six walks and 13 hits, while five Rainiers had multiple hits. Their solid hitting opened up more than a dozen opportunities with runners in scoring position, but the Rainiers finished 5-for-14 in that category.
Ketel Marte and Stefen Romero had three hits apiece, while James Jones, Nate Tenbrink and John Hicks had two.
Jones’ biggest hit came on a two-out, two-run single in the second to score Corey Hart and Hicks to make the score 3-1. He also made an impressive leaping catch at the center-field wall to prevent a costly base hit on Carraway.
Marte — who finished 3-for-3 — led off the second with a lined single, followed by an RBI single by Hicks to score Marte.
The Rainiers loaded the bases in the fourth after singles from Tenbrink, Hicks, and Jones.
Stefen Romero — batting .416 to lead all of Triple A this month — drove in Tenbrink with a short, hopping ground ball near the mound for an RBI single.
Justin Smoak followed with a sacrifice fly to score Hicks and increase the lead to 5-1.
Kris Bryant drove in the Cubs’ first run with a one-out RBI single in the first.
Bryant entered with 43 home runs combined between Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee and is close to breaking a minor league record that has stood for more than two decades. The last player to hit 50 home runs in the minors was Chicago White Sox slugger Ron Kittle in 1982.
Bryant is 2-for-14 with one home run and RBI in the series.
The only downside: The Rainiers’ bid for making the postseason virtually ended after their 8-0 loss Monday night.
The Tacoma Rainiers play their last home game of the season against Iowa at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. The Rainiers are scheduled to start left-hander James Gillheeney (3-10, 5.81 ERA). The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.