With yesterday’s victory over the Tacoma Rainiers, the El Paso Chihuahuas have taken control of second place in the PCL Pacific Southern. They also brought their overall record up to .500 with the sweep of the Rainiers.
In total, the Chihuahuas outscored Tacoma 27-11 in the series. Christian Villanueva hit two home runs, bringing his batting average up to .307. Andre Rienzo and Zach Lee both had starts where they gave up only one earned run apiece and Carter Capps had two relief appearances without allowing a run.
The Rainiers came in to the series looking like the better team, and Louisiana-born manager, Pat Listach, was more than happy to travel south from Tacoma and play in the heat of Texas. When accused of bringing the heat with him, Listach referred to the 100 degree heat as “good baseball weather”. But despite the good baseball weather, Tacoma never really got their bats going, only scoring more than three runs once in the series.
The Rainiers pitching was also a problem, as they never allowed fewer than three runs and twice allowed the Chihuahuas to score nine runs. Fans were disappointed that Felix Hernandez, who is on a rehab assignment with Tacoma, was not brought along for the trip, but it did not coincide with his rehabilitation plan.
Game one of the series was the Andre Rienzo show. He allowed base runners, giving up four hits and two walks, but pitched out of situations when he needed to. PCL pitching stats are deceptive, as good pitchers often wind up with higher ERA’s and WHIP’s than you’d expect from Triple-A hurlers with potential to perform well in the majors.
With a 2.43 ERA after 40.2 IP Rienzo’s high 1.45 WHIP can be forgiven. If the Padres’ bullpen continues to have trouble getting outs, he could be an option going forward, though it’s likely Carter Capps and Kevin Quackenbush are the first two in line if they perform comparably.
Game two featured more offensive production from Rafael Ortega, who homered in the first game of the series. Bryan Rodriguez gave up three ER in six innings and Keith Hessler gave up another two in a third of an inning. Kevin Quackenbush made his first appearance since being demoted by the Padres on June 11th. He gave up one run in the 8th, which was enough for the blown save. But a Carlos Asuaje home run in the bottom half of the inning was enough for Quackenbush and the Chihuahuas to get the win. Jabari Blash also hit a home run in the game, which was his 4th home run in his last four games.
Games three and four featured solid pitching from the Chihuahuas.
Zach Lee only went 4 1/3 innings, but considering he threw exactly 90 pitches, it looks like that move was only due to pitch count management. The former 1st-rounder has already pitched with the Padres this season, and if his pitch count is being managed that could be a sign that he’s being considered for promotion soon. However, given his 5.32 ERA and 1.901 WHIP, he does not seem a likely candidate.
However, pedigree matters, and scouts and coaches see things that aren’t always reflected in the numbers. Logan Bawcom pitched the final two innings, allowing no hits or walks and dropping his ERA to 3.00. Matt Magill started the final game of the series, allowing two runs in five innings. Christian Bethancourt appeared in relief and had a solid inning.
Adam Cimber, who will likely be sharing save opportunities with Carter Capps, gave up a home run to Leonys Martin, but that was the only hit he allowed in two innings. Capps finished the game with a scoreless 9th.
The Chihuahuas went on the road tonight, squaring off against a Fresno team that took two out of three in a series earlier this month.
The games to watch will be the ones started by Rienzo and Lee, both of whom are looking to bolster their case for promotion. Christian Villanueva and Rafael Ortega are the bats to watch, but neither of them have clear opportunities in San Diego. Continued success for those two will make it difficult for the big league team not to consider them for promotion when rosters expand in September.