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Figueroa steals spotlight from Tanaka

RailRiders second baseman goes 5-for-5, plates five in career day
May 27, 2015

Cole Figueroa knows that, if he's going to have a good day at the plate, it's going to be a day when he is aggressive. How's this for aggression? Figueroa saw 10 pitches Wednesday. He got hits on five of them.

On a day when Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka struggled on the mound, the 27-year-old utlityman set a career high for hits in a game by going 5-for-5 with a homer, a double and a career-high-matching five RBIs to lead Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to a 9-6 win over Pawtucket at McCoy Stadium. 

Playing second base and batting out of the ninth spot in the RailRiders lineup, the left-handed hitter put the visitors on the board with a bases-loaded, three-run double in the second inning off the second pitch he saw from PawSox starter Keith Couch. He added singles in the third and sixth, taking only two pitches apiece to collect the two base hits. 

"Well, obviously seeing the ball is a big part, but the first thing on your mind on a day like this is, 'How long is this gonna keep up?'" he said. "Is it going to be three at-bats? Two? It depends on the day. I've never got five hits as a pro before, so after four, I really thought I was playing with house money."

"All day, I was just trying to stay aggressive and not think too much. Laying off-speed, waiting for a fastball -- that was a big part of it."

Figueroa put those words into action in the eighth, turning on a first-pitch fastball from right-handed reliever John Cornely and taking it out to right field for his second homer of the season. He needed to see a game-high three pitches from right-hander Zeke Spruill in the ninth to collect his fifth hit and fifth RBI on a single up the middle.

Figueroa, a native of Florida who played 23 games in the Majors for the Rays last season and signed as a Minor League free agent with the Yankees during the offseason, pushed his average from .233 to a much more solid .261 with his Wednesday performance alone. After playing at Triple-A Durham and Double-A Montgomery each of the past four seasons, he credits some of those early-season struggles for an inabilty to acclimate to the April chill of the Northeast. As much as he hopes Wednesday was a chance to get warm and build some momentum, he knows a perfect 5-for-5 day isn't easily replicated. 

"Honestly, the key to staying hot after this is not worrying about just what happened right today," Figueroa said. "Obviously, I want to keep the same approach and make sure my back half is in the right area. But at the same time, I don't want to overdo anything and try to force everything to be the same. When I'm doing well, I'm being aggressive. When I'm not doing well, I'm not being aggressive, and leave it at that."

Making his second rehab start with the RailRiders, Tanaka lasted only three innings, allowing three earned runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four. He threw 62 pitches, 44 for strikes.

PawSox center fielder and leadoff hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. hit the right-hander especially hard by striking a leadoff double in the first frame and going deep for a solo homer in the second. (He finished 3-for-5 and just a triple shy of the cycle.)

Figueroa believed that the PawSox used Tanaka's approach to his rehab appearance against him Wednesday.

"I didn't see anything different from the first start," Figueroa said in reference to Tanaka's successful rehab debut. "I think they just came out aggressive. They know he's trying to find his command and throw into the strike zone, and that plays to their advantage. They were popping early pitches that were strikes. Maybe in a different setting, his stuff would have played up more."

That being said, having a 2014 American League All-Star on the bump played into the hands of Figueroa and his teammates as well.

"I think the difference for us today is that we're coming in having won two in a row, so today's supposed to be a sweep day, and now we have Tanaka on the mound. Everybody's feeling pretty good because we have a guy who should do pretty well on the mound. That just kinda made everyone comfortable coming in, and we took advantage of that feeling."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.