The Rainiers were riding high after a 8-6 win over the Albuquerque Isotopes in New Mexico city on Monday night, which extended the team's winning streak to four games, and with the much anticipated rehab start of Taijuan Walker on Tuesday night at home, there was excitement in the air.
The excitement was tempered when it was learned before game time that Walker developed a sore shoulder and was unable to start. With Walker being shut down for an undetermined period of time, James Gillheeney scattered three hits over five innings, and the Rainiers extended their winning streak to five games with an 8-5 win over the Salt Lake Bees.
“We tried to change it up early,” said Tacoma manager Roy Howell, who was referring to his team’s penchant of falling behind early.
The Rainiers jumped out to a 8-1 lead after four innings of play and held on late for the win. With the concern over Walker’s shoulder, Howell held an extended after the game meeting with Mariner General Manager Jack Zuriencik to no doubt discuss possible options, pending the news on Walker’s shoulder after he is examined tomorrow.
“His (Walker’s) shoulder was tight and he could not get loose, we obviously won’t rush him and he will be examined tomorrow” said Howell. No worries about the Tacoma bats. The Rainiers scored often and early with Nick Franklin’s tape measure two-run homer over the right field wall in the first inning that gave the Rainiers a 2-0 lead, it was a lead they would not surrender.
“Our pitchers did a nice job too, we are a better team when we jump out to an early lead,” said Howell.
A major force in the Rainiers early seven run outburst was centerfielder James Jones who went 2 for 4, scored two runs and stole a base. A 2009 fourth round draftee out of Long Island University in New York, Jones has steadily progressed up the Mariner ladder.
“The travel in triple A is long, but I’m adjusting and trying to pick up opposing pitchers’ habits when I get on base” said Jones.
Nursing an 8-1 lead entering the sixth inning, Howell gave the ball to Zach Miner who quickly gave up a two-run home run to Brennan Boesch and the Tacoma lead was trimmed to 8-5. Howell then turned to Steven Pryor who would give up a walk and a single but then would close the door, finishing with a strikeout of Matt Long to pick up a save and preserve the 8-5 win and improve the Rainiers record to 6-5 on the early season.
“I was a little too excited to start the inning but settled down in time to pick my team up, it felt good to finally find the strike zone” said Pryor who was not throwing real hard with a high of 94 on the Jugs gun.
Pryor, who was expected to start the season in the Mariner bullpen wants to gradually get back to his old self, but will not rush his rehab.
“I’m not on any sort of timetable but with my particular type of injury (right shoulder) I want to take as much time as I need to get back to 100 percent” he said.
At game's end Howell had a lot of praise for Gillheeney. “ It was a great start, James went on three days rest and gutted out five good innings, surrendering only three hits and turning it over to our bullpen with a big lead, it was a great start when we needed it” said Howell.
There was plenty of praise to go around the Rainier clubhouse and two other players who caught Howell’s eyes in the early going are Chris Taylor and Nick Franklin. Taylor, who split time between single A High Desert and AA Jackson earned the honor of the Mariners minor League player of the year and Franklin spent much of last year in Seattle.
“They are two great young talents who have a great future ahead of them, the sky’s the limit for them” said Howell.