Snapping out of a slump

Corey Ray registers two hits as Missions win again

(Reynaldo Holguin )

By Jerry Briggs / San Antonio Missions | April 14, 2019 10:44 PM

To watch Corey Ray go through the daily routine of playing baseball for the San Antonio Missions, you'd hardly know that he has struggled to establish himself in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

For instance, as the hitless at-bats and strikeouts piled up, Ray took time out a few nights ago to entertain a large group of autograph-seekers near one gate at Wolff Stadium.

At least a dozen people stood outside the third-base side gate, waiting patiently under the stadium lights, as Ray smiled and signed and talked with the fans.

On Sunday afternoon, the 2016 first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers did more than just entertain with his engaging personality.

He broke out of a career-high, tying 0-for-23 slump, slapping two hits in the Missions' 5-4 victory over the Nashville Sounds in front of a season-high 7,919 fans.

In one electrifying sequence, Ray singled, stole second and third base and then scored to help the home team improve to 2-1 in the four-game series with Nashville.

The Sounds (3-8) and the Missions (7-4) will close out the series Monday, with the first pitch at 11:05 a.m.

Ray described his inter-action with the paying customers last week as a courtesy gesture.

"I usually stay an hour and a half or two hours after the game," he said. "And if you stay here and you need my autograph, then, you know, I'll stay and sign. Because that's a lot, (for fans) to stay an hour after, I'm honored (because) it means people are interested in my autograph.

"I think of it as a common courtesy. If you're still out here, I'll sign whatever it is you need me to sign."

Ray ended a slump that had spanned five games in five days when he stroked a soft liner to right field in the third inning.

In the fifth, the lefty-swinging hitter singled to right again, this time with more authority, to start a one-out, two-run rally.

Ray promptly stole second, getting a huge jump and then blazing his way to the bag without even a throw from the catcher. Later, with two out, Tyrone Taylor walked to bring up Tyler Saladino.

With the hottest hitter on the team at the plate, the Missions played razzle-dazzle, as Ray stole third and Taylor took second.

A few of the Sounds argued the call as Ray went feet first into third, but replay showed he was clearly safe.

Saladino promptly added to the visitors' frustration by hitting a two-run triple to center against reliever Miguel Del Pozo, lifting the Missions into a 3-0 lead.

For the day, Ray finished 2-for-4, with a run scored, the first time he had registered a hit since April 8 in Oklahoma City.

"It was probably bigger for him than it was for us," Missions manager Rick Sweet said. "It was big for us. But for him to get a couple of hits and a couple of stolen bases, and get some stuff rolling, for the type of player he is, that's a big thing.

"It'd be nice to have that carry over."

After both teams scored twice in the sixth inning, the Missions took a three-run lead into the seventh.

But it didn't last long, as Nashville slugger Andy Ibanez slammed a two-run homer in the eighth, trimming the Missions' lead to 5-4.

Relief pitcher Jay Jackson, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Japan, closed out the game in the ninth with three straight outs.

On the last play of the game, Willie Calhoun, who had homered in a three-hit performance, struck out swinging.

It was a welcome sight for Sweet, who has seen his bullpen register eight blown saves this season. Now he's got a player in Jackson, 31, who is throwing well and doesn't seem fazed by tight situations.

"His last two outings, (on Saturday) and today, his stuff was better. It was sharper," Sweet said. "It was more electric than it was early on."

But the story of the day was Ray, the No. 2 prospect in the Brewers' system, who contributed to a victory.

"It felt good," Ray said. "I felt like, lately, in the last couple of games, I'd been taking better swings. Swinging at better pitches. Getting better pitches to hit. It was just, things hadn't gone my way.

"I think the biggest thing that I focused on, was, I felt good at the plate. I didn't want to go in search of quick fixes. But to know that, as a player, I'd come out of it, and everything would be all right."

Missions notes

Sweet said after the game that relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress has left San Antonio on a return to the parent-club Brewers.

A victory on Monday would give the Missions three straight series victories to open their first season in the PCL.

Saladino continued his hot streak at the plate, ripping a couple of hits Sunday and improving to 5-for-12 against Nashville.

The former Chicago White Sox veteran has hit three homers and a triple and produced six RBI in the past three games.

Adrian Houser (1-0, 1.10 ERA) pitched into the sixth inning for his first victory of the year. He worked 5.1 innings and yielded five hits and two runs, both on solo homers in the sixth.  Jackson picked up his first save. He has struck out six in 4.2 scoreless innings.

The losing pitcher was Nashville starter Taylor Hearn (1-2, 3.86). Hearn was charged with one earned run on two hits in four innings. He struck out seven.

Calhoun, who has played parts of the past two seasons with the Texas Rangers, went 3-for-5 and slammed a solo homer. Matt Davidson and Ibanez also homered for the Sounds.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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