Safeco no advantage for Rainiers

RIVER CATS 6, RAINIERS 2: Playing at M's ballpark because of renovations at Cheney Stadium, Tacoma suffers first loss in series

September 11, 2010 

Playing in the not-so-familiar confines of the big league organization didn't seem to faze the Tacoma Rainiers. But the Safeco Field advantage didn’t exactly live up to expectations.

Sacramento crept back into the best-of-five Pacific Conference Playoffs with a comfortable 6-2 win over Tacoma on Friday night.

The River Cats jumped all over starter Mauricio Robles, tagging the left-handed prospect for six runs in six innings of work.

Even with the loss, the Rainiers can still clinch the series in today’s matinee at Safeco Field. The Game 4 matchup, which starts at noon, will pit a pair of right-handers against one another: Tacoma’s Yusmeiro Petit against Sacramento’s Brett Tomko, a former Seattle Mariner .

The Rainiers were playing at the Mariners’ park only because of the $30 million renovations currently under way at Cheney Stadium. And their stay in Seattle is only temporary. Should the Rainiers win the series, the next round against Memphis would be played entirely on the road since Safeco is occupied.

A few players whom the Mariners organization holds in high regard didn’t exactly impress in their Safeco debuts. Acquired in a 2009 trade with Detroit, Robles struggled with his command . Velocity, however, wasn’t a problem. Robles delighted the announced crowd of 2,450 fans with a fastball that repeatedly reached 95 mph and helped him tally a game-high nine strikeouts while allowing just four hits.

For Robles (0-1), the bulk of his problems were related to command, whether it was the walks (five) or the grooved fastballs to River Cats hitters Matt Watson and Michael Taylor, who hit two-run and three-run homers, respectively.

Watson’s shot initially staked the River Cats to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and Taylor made it 6-1 with an opposite-field bomb in the sixth.

“He was erratic with his command,” said manager Jose Castro. “He kept the ball up; not commanding the fastball. When you’re not throwing strikes, as a hitter, you tend to look for a good pitch to hit, and if it’s not there, it’s probably a ball, and that’s what was happening with (Robles).”

The most telling statistic for Robles on the stat line highlighted his inconsistent night – just 55 strikes out of his 101 pitches.

And Robles wasn’t the only Rainier to struggle. Dustin Ackley, playing where many Mariners fans envision him having a long career, struck out in his first two plate appearances at Safeco and finished 0-for-4 with five runners stranded.

River Cats starter Vin Mazzaro picked up the win after five innings of work during which he turned away the Rainiers’ threats with minimal damage.

“(Mazarro) kept all of us off balance,” Ackley said. “When a pitcher does that and he’s locating, there’s not much you can do. That worked to his advantage tonight. He’d go up two strikes and you knew he wasn’t going to give you anything to hit.”

Tacoma pulled within 6-2 in the seventh on an RBI groundout by Ackley but could get no closer.

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