The past five days, Joe Wieland said, have been busy.
Before his Wednesday start against the Salt Lake Bees, the Tacoma Rainiers right-hander had put together three consecutive outings that each featured some lopsided numbers. And not good ones.
Ten runs allowed in 1 1/3 innings at Albuquerque. Seven runs allowed in 1 2/3 innings against Sacramento. Ten more runs allowed in one inning last week at Las Vegas, an effort that bloated Wieland’s earned-run average to 17.31 and necessitated some in-depth video analysis in order to identify his mistakes.
The 26-year-old sat down with Rainiers pitching coach Lance Painter and, after extensive study, concluded: “I wasn’t quite upright. I was swinging open and it was exposing the ball. I had no deception, wasn’t hiding it very well. So guys were able to see it from the start. We worked on just going straight down the hill. Just better direction. And, obviously, the results show.”
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They did. Wieland pitched deeper into the game (5 2/3 innings) on Wednesday and struck out more batters (eight) than he had in any of his previous five starts this season, allowing one run and five hits as the Rainiers beat Salt Lake, 3-1, before a crowd of 4,513 on Star Wars Night at Cheney Stadium.
“After about my third or fourth pitch, it all kind of clicked again,” Wieland said. “I’m back to myself. This is what I do.”
Rainiers manager Pat Listach said Wieland didn’t need to make any sweeping changes. Instead, he simply needed to get back to who he was.
“This is a guy who pitched in the big leagues last year, the same guy who won double digits in games in Triple-A last year,” Listach said. “It’s the same guy. He got out of whack for about 15 days or so, and he’s back. Hopefully, this is something he can build on.”
The Bees did load the bases against Wieland with three singles in the second inning, but left fielder Brandon Bayardi flew out to end the threat.
Otherwise, Wieland mostly sailed, striking out the side in order in the fourth inning and at one point retiring seven consecutive batters. Three of his eight strikeouts, he said, came via his changeup — something “unheard of” for him. But a new grip developed in spring training has given that pitch new life.
“I think the big thing was, I was throwing it for a strike,” Wieland said. “At the end of the day, if you can’t throw anything for a strike, you’re not going to get outs. But I was mixing it, throwing it for a strike, and that was working.”
Center fielder Boog Powell drove in all of Tacoma’s runs. He put the Rainiers ahead 1-0 with his first home run of the season, a leadoff blast to right field in the first. And with nobody out and runners on second and third in the third inning, Powell smoked a two-run double into the right-center field gap.
At first, he had squared to bunt with Tyler Smith on first base and Dario Pizzano on second. But after a passed ball moved each runner up a base, Powell swung away and gave the Rainiers (15-11) a 3-0 lead.
“Overall,” Listach said of Powell, “he had a good offensive game.”
Salt Lake (15-12) scored on second baseman Sherman Johnson’s solo homer to right field leading off the sixth.
Jordan Pries, Kraig Sitton and Casey Coleman (save) combined to hold Salt Lake scoreless over the final 3 1/3 innings.
Tacoma’s four-game series against Salt Lake concludes at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Cheney. Rainiers RHP Cody Martin (3-2, 8.49 ERA) faces RHP Kyle McGowin of the Bees. The game can be heard on 850-AM.