There was no doubt about Erick Mejia’s first-inning grand slam Sunday at Las Vegas Ballpark, the first of six Tacoma home runs in what became the Rainiers’ highest-scoring performance all season.
Having worked a 3-1 count, Mejia found his fastball offering — low, but a strike over the heart of the plate. There was no animated bat flip, though Tacoma’s shortstop made sure to admire the blast before an accelerated trot around the bases.
Aviators left fielder Cal Stevenson, well out of room, gave up shy of the warning track.
Mejia’s slam was the first of 11 extra-base hits Sunday. Tacoma swatted 20 hits, in total, and stormed to a 19-9 win and series victory.
Standing outside Cheney Stadium’s home dugout last month, manager Tim Federowicz was certain his offense was on the rise: “The offense is getting a little bit better,” he said.
Then came his prediction: “It’s going to be fun to watch this team (for) the next few months.”
The Rainiers grabbed four of six in a week-long set with the Triple-A Aviators, first on Tuesday and Wednesday by identical 8-7 scores.
They’re rapidly approaching the .500 mark, now 59-50 in their last 109 games.
“We definitely started out hot, swinging the bats well, and we actually threw the ball well pitching-wise,” Federowicz said of the series.
Las Vegas rallied for wins on Thursday and Friday, evening the set at two apiece. Miscues plagued Tacoma in the former’s loss, which featured a five-run seventh inning for the Aviators.
Starter Roenis Elias lasted 6-2/3 innings Friday, but surrendered eight runs and three homers. Las Vegas poured on nine to even the six-game set.
“It’s tough playing in Vegas sometimes,” Federowicz said Saturday morning. “Elias saw it last night with some weak-hit homers that ended up carrying, and I mean, they kind of deflated our offense. We just couldn’t get the same success.”
But that’s when luck turned for the Rainiers, first with a roller-coaster 12-11 win on Saturday night. Catcher Brian O’Keefe tallied a game-high four RBI and Tacoma rallied for four runs in the eighth inning, cementing a comeback win.
Sunday’s blowout was the weekend’s exclamation point.
The Rainiers remain firmly in third place in the PCL West, 10 games behind division-leading Reno (77-62). Tacoma’s latest series closed their deficit to a single game behind Las Vegas, in second.
MOORE MAKES BRIEF TACOMA APPEARANCE
Federowicz was certain Saturday morning that infielder Dylan Moore’s stay at Triple-A Tacoma on a rehab assignment for a strained right oblique would be a short one, having reported to the Rainiers only the night before.
After a single appearance at shortstop for the Rainiers on Friday night – he went 1-for-4 with a stolen base – Seattle reinstated Moore ahead of Saturday’s game with Los Angeles. His Triple-A stay lasted nine innings.
“(Dylan) was ready to go,” Federowicz said. “And he wanted to play all night.
“He’s been swinging the bat well. He’s been running well. He stole a base when he got on base last night. I can tell you he’s ready now, if he wants to go back up.”
Moore started Sunday’s game in center field for the Mariners on Sunday, replacing an injured Julio Rodriguez (back tightness). He reached base four times, going 2-for-2 with two walks and a run scored.
Moore is likely to split time at third base with Abraham Toro for the Mariners in the final weeks of their postseason push, with Eugenio Suarez nursing a fractured right index finger. Rodriguez, in center field, is considered day-to-day.
“Nice to get Dylan Moore back in there,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said Sunday. “I thought D-Mo played a really good game. He’s been out for almost three and a half weeks.”
KELENIC HEATS UP
Jarred Kelenic continues to demolish baseballs, still on an 11-game hitting streak with Sunday’s 2-for-6 performance.
The 23-year-old outfielder mashed two home runs for the Rainiers on Thursday – albeit in a 7-5 loss – though Kelenic’s dwindling strikeout rate is the more-dramatic improvement since an option to the Rainiers on Aug. 11.
Kelenic struck out only four times across Tacoma’s 12-game road trip, good for a 7.8 percent clip (51 plate appearances). In September, Kelenic is slashing .350/.412/.650 with four home runs, 11 RBI and six doubles.
“His swing is coming along,” Federowicz said. He’s making the adjustments he needs to get the ball in the air a little bit more consistently.
“He’s a good hitter. I mean, hitting is hard at times. You’re going to have streaky moments, but Vegas is a good time to get hot. I can tell you that.”
▪ Tacoma’s 191 stolen bases this season lead the Pacific Coast League by 40 (Sugar Land, 151).
▪ Seattle promoted OF Cade Marlowe to Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday morning after he launched 20 homers for Double-A Arkansas in 2022.
The 25-year-old and 20th-round pick in 2019 was Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. Award winner last season, bestowed to the top minor league hitter in the organization.
In the two weeks prior to Marlowe’s Triple-A promotion, he led all of Minor League Baseball with a .538 batting average, 1.096 slugging percentage, 28 hits, and 57 total bases.
“He earned the call up here,” Federowicz said. “And he’s gonna finish out the season here playing a lot for us.”
Marlowe made his Triple-A debut in last year’s season finale at Cheney Stadium. Already in town to collect the award at T-Mobile Park, he was pegged to start one game as a Rainier, going 2-for-3.
“But this is a little different now,” Federowicz clarified. “We have an older team than he’s used to, but he’s had great success down in Double-A, and we’re excited to have him.”
▪ Second baseman Luis Torrens provided another highlight-reel putout at second base on Wednesday night, snaring a short-hopping grounder before pouncing on the bag for an unassisted forceout.
In four full games at the position (36 innings), Torrens’ fielding percentage remains at 1.000, having yet to record an error. Primarily a catcher, he’s added 17 clean innings at first base.
“(Luis) has been very impressive out there,” Federowicz said. “He enjoys playing out there. … Versatility is going to help him in his career as well. He was drafted as an infielder … and we’re proud to see how he’s doing.”
The Rainiers return home to Cheney Stadium to host Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday. A six-game homestand concludes Tacoma’s home slate.
Nine games remain on Tacoma’s 2022 schedule. The Rainiers conclude their season with a three-game road series at Triple-A Reno (Sept. 26-28).