Rehabbing ace pitcher Felix Hernandez might have promptly left the building Friday night.
But he didn’t swipe the scorching Tacoma bats to take with him.
One night after defeating the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening-day pitcher — Wily Peralta — the Rainiers took their turn against another hopeful impact right-hander within the pitching-starved organization.
It was a short and painful night for Aaron Wilkerson, who had arguably the worst start of his promising minor league career.
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The Rainiers scored early and often, and pummeled Colorado Springs, 7-2, on Saturday night at Cheney Stadium.
Tacoma won its fifth game in a row, and will go for its first four-game sweep since mid-May, when it dominated Iowa at home.
Wilkerson, making his second career start for the Sky Sox, has an interesting back story.
He holds two college records for consecutive scoreless innings (55) and consecutive decisions won (26) with NAIA’s Cumberland (Tennessee) University, earning All-American honors in 2010 and 2011.
But after it was discovered he was pitching with a serious elbow problem in his final year of college, Wilkerson was not drafted.
He climbed the ladder by pitching for four independent-league teams in 2013.
Finally, he was signed by the Boston Red Sox a year later — and was a centerpiece of the organization’s trade to the Brewers 10 days ago in exchange for infielder Aaron Hill.
Make no mistake, Wilkerson has established himself as a quality minor leaguer, holding a career 2.48 ERA heading into Saturday’s game.
And the Rainiers beat him up from the get-go.
They scored in the first inning on Stefen Romero’s run-scoring single to grab a 1-0 lead. An inning later, Rob Brantly’s RBI single to right field gave Tacoma a 2-0 lead.
Then came D.J. Peterson’s turn.
A strikeout victim in his first at-bat, Peterson walloped the first pitch he saw in the third over the left field fence for a two-run homer and a 4-0 Rainiers advantage.
It was Peterson’s fourth home run in 14 games since his promotion to Tacoma on June 29.
Wilkerson never made it out of the fourth, surrendering an RBI double to Nori Aoki, and a run-scoring single to Guillermo Heredia down the third-base line.
The six earned runs given up by Wilkerson tied a career-high. And he had never given up as many as nine hits — until Saturday night.
In all, 11 of the 20 batters that Wilkerson faced reached base.
ROACH IN RELIEF
What got lost amid the Hernandez hoopla Friday was the great relief effort by Donn Roach — whose slot Hernandez took for a rehab start.
Roach pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out three batters in 34 pitches to register his first save since 2011.
Tacoma manager Pat Listach said the right-hander should get used to that kind of schedule — he has been permanently moved to the bullpen, on orders by the reliever-depleted Mariners.
“It was good that (Roach) got his feet wet right there,” Listach said. “He throws strikes with more than one pitch, and it is quality.”
Listach said Roach will continue in a multiple-inning role.
With that first-inning single Saturday, Romero has hit safely in his past 12 games — and 15 of his past 16. He holds Tacoma’s longest hitting streak of the season at 15 games. … The Rainiers have had 10 or more hits in each of their past five games. … Approximately 3,000 promotional T-shirts and “K” placards were handed out to fans Friday night for the King Felix appearance.
The series will conclude with a 1:35 p.m. finale Sunday. Right-hander Joe Wieland (6-5, 6.63 ERA), the team’s opening day starter, will go for Tacoma. Right-hander Jorge Lopez (1-6, 6.33) pitches for the Sky Sox. The game is on 850-AM.