The Tacoma Rainiers fell into a first-inning hole on Tuesday night and could never quite climb out of it.
Fresno scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and never trailed, beating Tacoma by a final score of 5-3.
The Rainiers and Grizzlies split the four-game series, although Tacoma will fly home having had a winning road trip. Tacoma went 5-3 on the eight-game trip against division rivals Sacramento and Fresno.
Making his second start since being acquired by the Mariners, Zach Lee struggled in the first inning.
Tony Kemp doubled to the gap in left-center to open the frame, and Colin Moran followed with a long triple to right-center. After Lee recorded his first out, Preston Tucker roped an RBI double to right-center, which scored Moran. A two-out RBI single to center by Jon Kemmer made it 3-0.
Tacoma came back with two runs against Fresno starter Cesar Valdez in the third inning. Mike Zunino and Efren Navarro had back-to-back RBI singles with two outs in the inning.
But Fresno immediately scored against Lee in the bottom of the third. Matt Duffy doubled to right-center, and he scored on another single by Kemmer to make it 4-2.
The Rainiers once again pulled within a run in the fourth inning, when Dario Pizzano scored on an infield single by Tyler Smith. That made it 4-3, but Tacoma could muster only two more hits and did not advance a runner to second base the rest of the way.
Valdez (5-1) made it through six innings to earn the win. Brendan McCurry pitched scoreless relief in the seventh and eighth innings, and James Hoyt struck out the side in the ninth to earn his Pacific Coast League-leading 19th save.
A bright spot in the Tacoma bullpen was former Mariners reliver Tom Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen delivered two perfect innings of relief, needing just 16 pitches to retire all six batters he faced, striking out two.
Tacoma and Fresno have played three series against each other, and each one has been a split. The season series is tied 6-6. … Rainiers third baseman Zach Shank went 1 for 3. He has nine hits in 19 at-bats over his past five games. … Zunino has reached base with a hit or a walk in 12 consecutive games.
The Rainiers are off Wednesday before hosting Las Vegas at Cheney Stadium in a four-game series beginning 7:05 p.m. Thursday. Tacoma will send out Jarrett Grube (0-0, 3.77 ERA) against Las Vegas’ Darin Gorski (0-1, 7.20).
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Rainiers.