Maybe earlier in his career, Donn Roach would have climbed down the proverbial dark, confining “rabbit hole,” as he calls it.
It is not a good place to go for a struggling pitcher.
Coming into his start for Tacoma on Tuesday night, Roach’s earned-run average was 10.59.
Ground balls were turning into a string of hits.
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So Roach sought counsel from a familiar voice earlier this week — and it certainly worked out in, arguably, his best showing of the season.
The right-hander gave up one run in six innings, and the Rainiers edged Salt Lake, 3-1, at Cheney Stadium.
Ed Lucas and Tyler Smith each hit solo home runs, and Shawn O’Malley’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly provided a much-needed insurance run.
Tacoma’s bullpen continues to mow down opposing lineups. Jonathan Aro, David Rollins and Blake Parker all pitched scoreless innings, lowering the relievers’ ERA to a combined 1.81 this season.
But Rainiers manager Pat Listach and the staff desperately needed to see some sort of breakthrough with Roach, who nearly made the Mariners’ club out of spring training.
After Roach’s last start at Las Vegas on Thursday, in which he gave up eight runs in two-plus innings, the 26-year-old from Las Vegas reached out to his former manager with the Iowa Cubs — Marty Pevey.
Roach asked Pevey about some of the infield defensive alignments he utilized last season — one in which Roach went 7-2 with a 2.33 ERA.
It was simple: If a right-handed hitter was up, the second baseman played closer to the bag. If a left-hander was up, the shortstop occupied that spot.
“I asked Pat if we could do it,” Roach said. “He said, ‘Yes.’ ”
It worked at least on Tuesday. Roach got seven groundouts with only two grounds making it through the infield.
“It is hard for guys to stay inside his sinker when it is really good, so they pull it, and he gets a lot of ground balls,” Listach said. “We might as well be on the pull side.”
Roach said he had not reached a state of anxiety about his results.
“If I had another couple starts like my last three, I think I would have been pretty desperate,” Roach said.
Lucas’ solo shot off Nate Smith in the second marked the first time in his career he’s homered in three consecutive games.
“I’ve been driving the ball pretty well, and my power numbers have been decent, but I can’t seem to get any base hits,” said Lucas, who is batting .213 but has 17 RBI. “It feels good. Hopefully they will start falling soon.”
SITTON UP TO TACOMA
The fraternity of Oregon State products in the Rainiers clubhouse grew one more Tuesday.
Left-hander Kraig Sitton was promoted from Double-A Jackson after reliever Stevie Johnson was called up to the Mariners.
A former seventh-round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies back in 2010, Sitton was 1-0 at Jackson, and had not been scored on in nine-plus innings.
Raised just outside McMinnville, Oregon, when Sitton walked into the home clubhouse hours before the game, the first person he recognized was hitting coach Scott Brosius, the former coach at Linfield College.
“I watched a lot of Linfield baseball,” said Sitton, a McMinnville High School graduate. “I was recruited by them and pretty close to going there.”
Instead he joins infielders Stefen Romero and Tyler Smith, and outfielder Daniel Robertson as draftees out of Oregon State.
Romero went 0-for-3, seeing his 15-game hitting streak end. It was one short of his career best. … Smith’s home run was his first in Triple-A. … With Mayckol Guaipe and Johnson up with the Mariners, Listach said he would not hesitate to turn to Rollins, a left-hander, to close games with Parker.
The Rainiers host Salt Lake for the third game of the four-game series Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Tacoma sends right-hander Joe Wieland (1-3, 17.31 ERA) to the mound. He will be opposed by fellow former major-leaguer Kyle Kendrick (1-0, 6.94) for the Bees. All action can be heard on 850-AM.