Tacoma Rainiers are ready for home opener

// Team fields great mix of prospects and veterans

  • SLICK FIELDING. Rainiers shortstop Nick Franklin is one of a number of promising young players on the squad this season. (Photo by Rocky Ross)

  • STRONG FUTURE. Left-handed starter Danny Hultzen returns to anchor the Rainiers' staff after getting a good taste of Triple-A baseball last season. (Photo by Rocky Ross)

Tacoma baseball fans, meet the future. When the Rainiers play their opening series at Cheney Stadium April 12-19, the roster will include four of the Mariners organization’s top prospects as ranked by Baseball America, along with some old favorites and many new players added to the team over the offseason.

Catcher Mike Zunino (No. 1 prospect,) pitchers Danny Hultzen (No. 3) and James Paxton (No. 4) and infielder Nick Franklin (No. 5) all began the season with Tacoma. Zunino, who was drafted in 2011, spent most of 2012 at Double A Jackson as did Paxton, drafted in 2010. Paxton’s record at Double A was 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA through 21 starts.

Hultzen made 12 starts for Tacoma in 2012 and Franklin played 64 games here as well. Hultzen was the winning pitcher of the Rainiers’ first game of the 2013 season in Fresno on April 4, striking out eight while giving up three hits and one run and walking two in six innings. Zunino hit his first home run, which travelled approximately 425 feet, in the 9-1 trouncing of Fresno.

Lefties Hultzen and Paxton are part of the team’s starting rotation, along with right handers Andrew Carraway and D.J. Mitchell and Major League veteran Jeremy Bonderman, who signed a minor league contract with the Mariners this offseason. The Pasco native has appeared in more than 200 MLB games over eight seasons with the Detroit Tigers, but has not pitched since the end of the 2010 season while recovering from elbow surgery.

Members of the bullpen who were in Tacoma last year include Danny Farquhar, Steven Hensley, Bobby LaFromboise, Yoervis Medina, Brian Moran and Brian Sweeney. Logan Bawcom and Jhonny Nunez were added over the winter. Alex Liddi, Scott Savastano and Carlos Triunfel will be rejoining the Rainiers’ infield. They will play alongside newcomers Rich Poythress and Nate Tenbrink. Veteran Carlos Peguero returns to the outfield, along with first-time Rainiers Denny Almonte, Endy Chavez and Eric Thames. Jesus Sucre, who was with Jackson in 2012, will back up Zunino behind the plate.

Daren Brown starts his seventh season as manager of the Rainiers, and his 13th overall in the Mariners’ minor league system. Brown’s regular-season record with the club is 416-419 plus one post-season victory from 2009. He became the Rainiers’ winningest manager on May 28, 2012, with 376 wins, surpassing Dan Rohn. Brown also served as the Mariners’ interim manager for 50 games in 2010. His record in Seattle was 19-31.

Pitching coach Dwight Bernard also is back for his seventh season with the Rainiers. After being with the Rainiers from 2006-2009, Bernard was the pitching coach with the Mariners’ Class A team in Clinton, Iowa in 2010, before returning to Tacoma last year. He’s starting his 10th season as a coach in the Mariners’ minor league system.

Howard Johnson replaces Jeff Pentland as the team’s hitting coach. Known as “Ho Jo," Johnson spent 14 Major League seasons playing third base with the Tigers, Mets, Rockies and Cubs. He also has 11 years of experience coaching and managing.

Other members of the coaching staff include trainer Tom Newberg, athletic trainer B.J. Downie, performance coach Rob Fumagelli and first base coach Brent Johnson.

The Rainiers open their home slate against the Salt Lake City Bees April 12-15. Opening night has a 7:05 p.m. start time, followed by games starting at 5:05 p.m. (April 13), 1:30 p.m. (April 14) and 6 p.m. (April 15.) Fresno comes in April 16-19. In this series all games start at 7:05 p.m. except for April 16, which starts at 6:05 p.m. There will be fireworks following the games on April 12 and April 19.

Tickets range from $7 (grass berm seats) to $25 (box seats). Reserved seat prices are $13 for adults and $12 for children 14 years old and younger, seniors 60 years old and older and military. All general admission seating is on the grass berm located at the end of the right field line. Fans sitting there can bring blankets to sit on but are not allowed to bring in folding chairs or other seating.

All Rainier games can be heard on KHHO 850 AM radio. Mike Curto begins his 15th year as the team’s play-by-play announcer. Once again legendary sportscaster Bob Robertson will join Curto on the air for every Monday home game. Robertson was the radio voice of Tacoma baseball from 1984 to 1998, and has broadcast Washington State University football games since 1964. He has been named Washington State sports broadcaster of the year 12 times.

So get out the Sharpies and oil the gloves. The 54th season of Triple A baseball in Tacoma is about to begin. With a great mix of outstanding prospects and seasoned performers it should be an amazing one for all involved. Even the Canadian geese will likely do an opening night fly-over to celebrate the occasion.

Contact the writer at missbaseball9@juno.com.


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