Four hits and one walk was the sum total of the Tacoma Rainiers offense Tuesday. Yet with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Rainiers had their best and only chance to get something going off Las Vegas 51s pitcher Duane Below.
Stefen Romero strode to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Below didn’t buckle, however, getting Romero to ground out to preserve his 2-0 shutout in front of 3,756 fans at Cheney Stadium.
“I really thought we had a chance at the end,” said Rainiers shortstop Shawn O’Malley, who represented 40 percent of Tacoma’s baserunners against Below by reaching on a single and a walk. “Romero’s the guy you want in that situation but he just didn’t quite get it.”
The Rainiers didn’t get much off Below, who retired 16 of the first 18 batters to face him. O’Malley was the only Rainier to crack Below in that time. No Rainier reached second base until Austin Jackson did with two outs in the ninth.
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O’Malley and Rainiers manager Pat Listach agree that Below (3-2) wasn’t overpowering but effective, using a changeup that looked like his fastball until it dropped away. Below struck out just two but was efficient, throwing 98 pitches (67 for strikes).
“He’s a strike thrower and he kept the ball out of the middle of the plate today,” Listach said about the lefty Below, who’s pitched 43 games in the majors with the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins. “We’ve just got to do a better job swinging the bats.”
Rainiers starter Forrest Snow (1-4) deserved better than he got. He surrendered a home run in the second to thorn-in-the-side Travis Taijeron and an unearned run in the sixth when Alex Castellanos smacked a two-out double.
Taijeron, who is tied for the PCL lead in batting average with the Rainiers’ Ketel Marte at .346, wore out Tacoma in the four-game series. Taijeron had two hits vs. Snow and finished the series 7 for 16 with two homers, four runs scored and four RBIs.
“The second time I faced him I threw him sliders and he was waving at them and missing them by a foot,” said Snow, who had been battling back tightness but threw seven strong innings. “(In his first at-bat) it was first-pitch fastball, well located, and he didn’t miss it.
“Next time I face him, I will have a better idea of what to do.”
Romero made his first career start at first base. And, of course, the first batter of the game hit a ball into the hole, which Romero made a nice diving stop to initiate a 3-1 putout. Two batters later, Romero was tested down the line. Again, he laid out, fielded it cleanly and threw to the pitcher covering to end the inning. … Reliever Rafael Pineda made his Triple-A debut in the eighth. He walked the first batter on four pitches but got out of the inning scoreless thanks to a nice catch by catcher John Hicks on a fouled bunt attempt and a line drive turned into a double play by second baseman Ketel Marte.
The Rainiers are off Wednesday. They begin an eight-game trip to Iowa and Omaha on Thursday. Scheduled starter for the 4:35 p.m. game is lefty Mike Montgomery (3-3, 3.73 ERA) against Iowa lefty Eric Jokisch (2-1, 3.00).