Surely the Tacoma Rainiers were not going to allow somebody else to blow out the birthday candles of their gregarious local owner Monday.
With Curtis High School graduate and fifth-year owner Mikal Thomsen in the Cheney Stadium grandstands celebrating his 60th birthday, the Rainiers gave him a nice present — a 6-1 victory over Salt Lake to start a quick four-game homestand.
And right-handed pitcher Adrian Sampson continued to baffle opposing hitters at home – and remain the team’s most consistent starter.
He finally gave up a run after 16 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season at Cheney Stadium. Juan Graterol’s RBI single to right field scored Kyle Kubitza in the fifth inning.
But that was it on Sampson’s watch. In 19 1/3 innings, his home earned-run average is now 0.47.
Tacoma manager Pat Listach likes the way Sampson pitches to contact early in the count. And the Skyline High School graduate has a sinker and slider to get strikeouts, too.
“He throws strikes — it’s all he does. And he works ahead,” Listach said. “When you work ahead, hitters are defensive.”
It is a bit odd how this rotation has shaken out: James Paxton was the anointed ace pitcher, but until recently, he was hit or miss. Also with major league experience, Joe Wieland was given the opening-day nod, but he has struggled. And Donn Roach, who nearly made the big club out of spring training, has had a string of short starts.
It has been Sampson, acquired by Seattle in the J.A. Happ trade with Pittsburgh last July, who has been Mr. Reliable.
“I have family and friends who come to every game, so it helps a lot,” Sampson said. “It settles me in. I pitch with so much confidence, so it’s nice.”
His seven-inning start Monday was the longest by a Tacoma starter this season. Of his 90 pitches, 63 were strikes.
He also had seven strikeouts — with a fastball that touched 94 mph.
Sampson said his velocity is up 2-3 mph from last season, and credits that to a new long-toss program.
He said with the Pirates, he threw from 150 feet in between starts. But he has almost doubled that distance with the Mariners organization — a la Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians.
“I get it out there pretty far,” Sampson said. “I am pretty close from the foul pole to the wall. I try and do that once or twice a week.”
Shortstop Chris Taylor gave the Rainiers all the runs they needed with a two-run home run in the first inning.
It was quite a celebration for Thomsen, who threw out the first pitch. Birthday cake was handed out to all fans in the ballpark starting in the fifth inning. And the traditional seventh-inning “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was also sort of a birthday tribute song, too. And a local band — Just Press Play — played live music all night set up just over the left-field wall. …
After being taken off Seattle’s 40-man roster, Wieland cleared waivers and will remain with the Rainiers. He is scheduled to start Wednesday against another former major leaguer — Mount Vernon native Kyle Kendrick, who has started for Philadelphia and Colorado. … Slugger Stefen Romero extended his hitting streak to 15 games with an RBI single in the third inning. … Ed Lucas’ solo shot leading off the sixth inning was his second home run in the past two games. … Mariners’ hall-of-fame first baseman Alvin Davis was in the Tacoma clubhouse before and after the game.
The Rainiers host Salt Lake for the second game of the four-game series Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. Tacoma sends Roach (1-2, 10.59 ERA) to the mound. He will be opposed by left-hander Nate Smith (2-0, 3.94) for the Bees. All action can be heard on 850-AM.