EUGENE, ORE. --- Hard work and preparation pay off. With the Hops slated to face tough sinkerballer Ryan Williams on Monday night at P.K. Park, Hillsboro hitting coach Micah Franklin broke out the pitching machine for pregame batting practice. The machine was set to throw sinker after sinker, and the Hops did their homework.
A few hours later, it paid off.
Eugene led 2-0 in the top of the fifth when Francis Martinez took Williams deep, an opposite-field shot that cut the deficit in half. Ryan January was hit by a pitch, and one out later Tra Holmes had an infield hit. Jorge Perez lifted a two-seam fastball to left field deep enough to bring home January with the tying run. Holmes stole second and went to third on an errant peg into center. With two out, Jose Caballero --- who has had so many big at-bats on the road trip --- laid down a perfect bunt up the third base line to bring Holmes home and put the Hops up 3-2.
Earlier, left-hander Bryan Valdez had come into the game as expected for the Hops to begin the second inning after righty Jackson Goddard had allowed two runs in the first. Valdez retired 11 of the 14 to face him --- five on strikeouts --- allowing just a pair of singles and a walk. West Tunnell came on with two out and one on in the fifth and retired all seven hitters he faced.
The Hops added a run in the seventh, as Caballero came through again. Holmes was hit by a pitch to begin the inning, Perez singled up the middle to put runners at the corners, and Caballero's ground-out brought home Holmes.
From there, Hillsboro's bullpen continued their roll, with Ethan Larrison working the eighth (allowing just a two-out single) and Kyler Stout working a perfect ninth with two strikeouts to earn his first save. Stout --- who somehow lasted until the 18th round in this year's draft --- featured his usual 92-93 MPH fastball and back-breaking slider. He now has 22 strikeouts in 11.1 innings in the Northwest League.
Hillsboro (17-8) has the best record in the NWL, and they again have a three-game lead on both Boise and Salem-Keizer with 13 games remaining in the first-half pennant race. Eugene is eight games behind. (On or before the games of July 23rd, a first-half champion in each division will be determined, and all teams' records revert to 0-0 on July 24th for the second-half pennant chase.)
The Northwest League will enjoy its first league-wide off day tomorrow, and the Hops (a Diamondbacks affiliate) return home on Wednesday to begin an eight-game homestand against a couple of affiliates of D-backs National League West rivals. Hillsboro will play five with Tri-City (a Padres affiliate) and three with Boise (a Rockies affiliate).
Game one of the Tri-City series begins at 7:05PM on Wednesday, and the radio broadcast begins at 7:00 on Rip City Radio 620 AM and www.RipCityRadio.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.