Tacoma Rainiers

Rainiers bullpen not up to challenge after Niese’s sharp outing

Jon Niese took a no-hitter into the fifth inning — the longest no-hit start for Tacoma so far this season — but the bullpen couldn’t hold a close lead and the Rainiers fell 6-1 to El Paso on Saturday at Cheney Stadium.

Tacoma led 1-0 going to the top of the eighth, but a single, a walk, and a three-run home run off of Darin Gillies gave the Chihuahuas all they needed to turn the result around.

Niese walked three batters in the first two innings, but snapped into a groove retiring 11 straight after the beginning of the third.

“I thought he did a nice job of keeping them off-balance, doing what he does, mixing his pitches.” manager Daren Brown said after the game. “Really good job against a tough lineup.”

Ty France hit a solid liner into left field with two outs in the top of the sixth inning to end Niese’s no-hit bid. Niese needed just one pitch after that to get Jose Pirela to ground out, ending his outing after just 72 pitches. Aside from the walks, he got to just one two-ball and one three-ball count.

It’s Niese’s third start this season of at least six innings and his third without allowing a run.

Gillies worked out of a jam in the sixth inning, but couldn’t pull out another escape act in the seventh and took the loss. He struck out four but allowed four hits.

Jake Fraley continued his hot start in Tacoma, gapping a triple into right-center and coming home two batters later on a wild pitch for the Rainiers’ only run of the day.

The Rainiers had a chance for a late comeback in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded and two outs, but Fraley popped out to end the threat.

“We faced good arms today, and got beat,” Brown said.

The Chihuahuas added three more in the ninth against Tayler Scott on Michael Gettys’ third home run of the series.

Tacoma and El Paso will come back for a Sunday matinee at 1:35 p.m. at Cheney Stadium. Mike Wright is set to start for the Rainiers.