SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Bees bullpen has been struggling, but Tacoma didn’t quite see enough of it Monday night in the opener of a four-game series.
Veteran Bees starter Wade LeBlanc pitched into the eighth inning and left with a four-run lead, limiting the bullpen’s exposure as Salt Lake defeated Tacoma, 6-5.
The Rainiers put forth a valiant comeback attempt in the ninth inning, scoring three runs and bringing the winning run to the plate before making the final out.
It was just the ninth loss in the Rainiers’ past 25 games.
“That’s the way they’ve been playing for a while,” said Tacoma manager Roy Howell, who was pleased with the way his team fought to the end. “We’ll play to the last out. We just came up a little short tonight.”
Trailing 6-2, the Rainiers opened the ninth opened the ninth with Xavier Avery reaching base on an error. Gabriel Noriega doubled to right field to score Avery, and Abraham Almonte singled with one out.
Justin Smoak grounded out but drove home Noriega, and Stefen Romero singled in Almonte to make it 6-5 with cleanup hitter Jesus Montero coming to the plate.
Salt Lake reliever Michael Kohn was able to recover to strike out Montero and end the game.
Tacoma trailed 3-2 at the beginning of the seventh inning, but Salt Lake scored three runs off All-Star reliever Logan Kensing.
Kensing came into the game with a 1.83 ERA, but he was charged with three runs after walking the leadoff man. J.B. Shuck’s two-run triple was the key hit.
When asked why Kensing struggled, Howell thought he was hurt by home plate umpire Jeff Morrow’s strike zone.
“We’ll have to ask the guy behind the plate,” Howell said. “When the catcher doesn’t move his glove, and the pitcher’s setting hitters up and hitting his spots. ...”
Smoak had his biggest game since joining the Rainiers, going 4-for-5 with four singles. All four hits came from the right side of the plate off the left-hander LeBlanc.
Romero went 3-for-5 with three singles, and Chris Taylor also had three hits.
Montero went 0-for-5, ending a torrid stretch in which he had 11 hits in 19 at-bats since being optioned to Tacoma by the Mariners.
Matt Palmer started for the Rainiers and lasted six innings, giving up three runs with just one earned. Palmer struck out six and walked three, but was charged with the loss and fell to 1-7 on the year.
Tacoma starts Jordan Pries (5-5, 2.97) against former Rainiers left-hander Justin Thomas (4-7, 5.84), who goes for Salt Lake at 6:05 p.m. Tuesday. The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers