When James Paxton and his Tacoma Rainiers teammates arrived at Isotopes Park on Friday afternoon, they encountered extremely difficult conditions for pitching.
Not only does Albuquerque sit a mile above sea level, but winds were gusting out to left field at 35 mph. A wind advisory was in effect for the evening.
Paxton overcame the elements and had his best performance of the season, lasting seven innings in Tacoma’s 6-1 victory over the Isotopes.
“He had an overpowering fastball, and he worked ahead in the count,” said Tacoma manager Pat Listach. “He was a big league pitcher today.”
The win was Tacoma’s season-best sixth in a row, and it marked the fifth time over the past six games in which the Rainiers’ opponent was limited to one run.
Paxton, a left-hander, gave up four hits without issuing any walks. He struck out seven — but, most importantly, he generated ground ball after ground ball.
Of the 21 outs he recorded, Paxton got 11 infield groundouts, the seven strikeouts, two outfield flyouts, and one foul popup. For the most part, he prevented the wind from affecting the outcome.
“There was a low strike zone today,” Listach said. “(Paxton) pounded the ball down in the zone, and he got the ground balls and strikeouts.”
Albuquerque scored its run on a homer by Cody Decker, a hooking line drive that cleared the fence in the left field corner.
Tacoma’s offense had a chore, trying to score against Pacific Coast League ERA leader Jeff Hoffman.
Boog Powell singled sharply to left field to open the first inning. A wild pitch and a groundout put him at third base, and he scored when a Hoffman pitch glanced off the mitt of catcher Tom Murphy for a passed ball.
The score remained 1-0 until the fourth inning, when Hoffman had a brief bout with wildness.
Mike Zunino was hit by a pitch to start the inning, and Mike Baxter drew a four-pitch walk. Shawn O’Malley reached on a throwing error by Murphy, and Rob Brantly bounced a two-run single through the middle of the diamond. Dario Pizzano brought home O’Malley with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0.
“Brantly got that single, it was a jam shot but it got through, and Pizzano’s sac fly gave us a comfortable lead,” Listach said.
Zunino pulled his PCL-leading ninth home run of the season in the sixth off Hoffman, a high fly to left field that the wind and elevation helped carry well beyond the fence.
Sacramento’s Jarrett Parker and Reno’s Peter O’Brien also have nine home runs, tying Zunino for the league lead. Travis Demeritte of Class-A High Desert leads the minors with 10 homers. … Tacoma has allowed seven runs during the six-game winning streak.
The teams play at 6:05 p.m. (Pacific) Saturday. Tacoma will start RHP Adrian Sampson (3-1, 2.67 ERA) against Albuquerque RHP Shane Carle (2-2, 7.92). The broadcast airs on 850-AM.
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers