Few will confuse Tacoma Rainiers shortstop Chris Taylor for a power hitter. He sure doesn’t.
“That’s not my game,” he said. “I just think about getting on base and let the big guys hit me in.”
That didn’t seem to stop Taylor, the Mariners’ 2013 minor league player of the year, from hitting two home runs in two consecutive at bats – the first two of his Triple-A career – and a double his fourth plate appearance Monday in an 8-5 rain-shortened victory against the Sacramento River Cats at Cheney Stadium.
Taylor, 23, went 3-for-4 to up his batting average to .477 (21-for-44) his past 11 games. That after batting .136 (3-for-22) his first six games.
“I think I just needed to get comfortable,” Taylor said. “I would go in the cage and hit a little bit with (hitting) coach (Cory) Snyder, but no big adjustments.
“It’s easy to look at the batting average and see it in the .100s and get down on yourself. I really just tried to focus on quality at-bats, putting good wings on the balls, and luckily it was only six games in so you get a couple hits and the batting average shoots right up.”
Rainiers manager Roy Howell noticed a change in Taylor’s approach, which he believes was a result of adjusting to Triple-A pitching.
“Him and Cory, they get to work in the batting cage early every day,” Howell said. “The kid is a good player, bottom line. He works hard at this game. You just tip your hat to him.”
Taylor’s first home run, a three-run shot that bounced off the right field wall and ricocheted back onto the field off the light tower behind it, gave the Rainiers the lead in the bottom of the third inning.
Centerfielder James Jones needed one pitch to add to it. He made it back-to-back home runs with his shot over the right-field wall, extending the Rainiers’ lead to 5-2.
It was Jones’ first Triple-A home run in his first game back with the Rainiers. He spent April 16 until Sunday with the Seattle Mariners, the first major-league experience of his career.
Left-hander Anthony Fernandez got in on all the firsts, too – his first Triple-A victory.
But it didn’t go smoothly. Fernandez, on the Mariners 40-man roster, labored to get through 5 2/3 innings. He threw 97 pitches, 61 for strikes, and allowed five runs, walked four and struck out six.
Sacramento’s Jake Goebbert hit home runs on Fernandez in his first two plate appearances. Then was part of a string of four consecutive walks in the fifth inning that helped Sacramento push its Pacific Coast League lead in the category and plate two runs.
“He’s been sharper,” Howell said of Fernandez. “But, hey, a win is a win. And the first one is always very sweet.
But the pitch count had Howell concerned.
“Way too many pitches,” he said. “He got behind in counts and kept battling back. But when you get behind like that, chances are you are going to get hit hard. We took him out because he started having trouble throwing strikes at all.”
Fernandez, 23, has thrown six innings once in four starts and twice didn’t make it out of the fifth.
“He has things to work on,” Howell said. “Next time out, I would like to see him go six or seven innings. He starts having trouble in the sixth and we want him to be able to push through that and not need so many pitches. That means, early in the game, he has to throw strikes and pitch to contact better.”
But Fernandez didn’t need his best stuff to get his first win. Not with the way the offense was hitting.
Cole Gillespie hit a home run in the second inning for his team-best fifth of the season.
Jesus Sucre drove in two runs in a more unconventional way. With two outs and the bases loaded, his pop up didn’t travel much farther than 5-feet from home plate. But with the wind and rain playing a factor, Sacramento catcher Ryan Ortiz did not make the catch and the Rainiers led 8-5 in the seventh.
“You can never say you’ve seen it all in this game,” Howell deadpanned.
Ortiz caught Ty Kelly’s pop up the next at bat to end the seventh inning. The game was delayed after that and later called off.
IWAKUMA START IN JEOPARDY
If the weather doesn’t improve, it’s unlikely All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will make a rehab start for the Rainiers on Tuesday.
Howell indicated that Iwakuma won’t pitch his first rehab game since injuring his middle finger in spring training if the weather is bad. According to AccuWeather, the high in Tacoma is expected to be 54 degrees and the low 43, but the bigger factor will be the 58 percent chance of precipitation.
“We can’t have him slipping or blowing out a groin muscle or pulling a hamstring because the field is wet fielding a bunt,” Howell said. “I would imagine the conditions will factor in majorly on whether he will be here.”
The Rainiers did not list a projected starter for Tuesday’s series finale with the Sacramento River Cats. Howell said before Monday’s game he has a back-up plan if Iwakuma doesn’t make a rehab start, but did not specify what that would be. The River Cats will start Josh Lindblom (1-1, 7.79 ERA). The game will broadcast on 850-AM.