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Comeback bid falls short as River Cats take series opener

Get to know the Tacoma Rainiers

The Tacoma Rainiers are the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. They play at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
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The Tacoma Rainiers are the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. They play at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

The Rainiers fell behind early and couldn’t get the bats going Friday night until it was too late, falling 8-6 to open their three-game series against Sacramento.

“We just didn’t throw up enough zeroes to keep it where it was something we could do,” manager Daren Brown said. “We dug too big a hole and couldn’t get back over the top of it.”

Tacoma put the tying run on base with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning after back-to-back singles by Eric Young Jr. and Tim Lopes, but Ryan Court lined out and Jaycob Brugman struck out to end it without any damage done.

Sean Nolin, who had allowed one run in each of his past two starts, had a rough night on the hill, giving up seven runs on five hits.

“A couple of offspeed pitches he left up in the zone, they hit for homers,” Brown said. “Sometimes it happens. It doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s been pretty good for us since he’s been here. He just wasn’t that way tonight.”

Nolin’s night ended after he loaded the bases and brought a run in on four consecutive walks to lead off the fifth inning.

Tacoma went into the seventh-inning stretch down 8-1 but rallied to make it close, thanks in large part to a two-out Lopes grand slam to cut the deficit to 8-6.

Brandon Brennan, making his third rehab appearance with the Rainiers, walked two and allowed a hit but kept the River Cats off the board in a scoreless seventh inning.

Reggie McClain came in for the eighth and threw two perfect frames, striking out five and rolling himself an easy comebacker for the only ball in play against him.

“It was good to see him bounce back after a rough last outing that he had,” Brown said. “That’s a little more what we expect to see out of him tonight.”

Tacoma will be back for the penultimate game of its 11-game homestand Saturday at 7:05, with Nabil Crismatt set to start for the Rainiers.

Fresh off his second stint with Mariners, David McKay is focusing on consistency

David McKay is starting to get used to the trips on I-5.

The right-handed reliever, in his fourth year in professional baseball, made his first appearance in Cheney Stadium after returning from his second stint in the big leagues this season. He spent April in Tacoma, half of May in Seattle, all of June in the South Sound, and just returned after another nine days with the Mariners.

How does he handle the back-and-forth between Triple-A and the major leagues?

“It’s tough for sure,” McKay said before the Rainiers’ Friday night game against Sacramento. “You get a rhythm here, you get a routine here. Then you go up there and you try to keep your routine as close as possible. There’s always little adjustments you have to make, but the biggest thing is trying to keep your routine as similar as possible.”

That continuity is something pitching coach Lance Painter has built a job around, working with pitchers that run the range from short-term call-ups from the lower rungs on the ladder to veterans with MLB experience.

“I don’t ever try to do any wholesale changes,” Painter said, “I just try to tweak a little bit when I feel like it’s necessary. Otherwise, it’s more about talking about approach and how we’re going to try to get these guys out.”

For McKay, that means keeping the mental side of things simple.

“A lot of guys, including myself, try to overthink sometimes,” McKay said.

In 39.1 innings with the Rainiers, McKay is boasting a 3.66 ERA with 65 strikeouts and a .175 batting average against.

His first time up with the Mariners, he had four shutout outings before allowing an earned run in his final appearance of the stint. The second time around, he had more trouble locating pitches, walking five in two innings.

“It’s tough not to lose some confidence, but it’s something that you have to try to realize and say ‘I’ve got to get better,’” Painter said.

But in his first trip to the mound back in Tacoma, McKay may have started the rebound, striking out two in a scoreless frame Thursday. Now, he’s focused on using his experience at the highest level to build that continuity — both in the short-term with the Rainiers and to be ready for his next call to the big leagues.

“As soon as you run out of the bullpen gates, you’re like, ‘Oh man, I’ve done this before,” McKay said. “‘It’s the same thing as everywhere else, it’s the same thing I’ve done my whole life. It’s just baseball.’”

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