Dust Devils top Emeralds

Special to the HeraldJune 23, 2014 

— The last of the 100-plus kiddos who began the scamper across the outfield at Gesa Stadium as part of the traditional, post-fifth-inning "Dusty's Dash" here Monday ran out of steam in the grass behind second base, plopped to the ground, and refused to get up.

Perhaps the young lad coveted a better vantage from which to observe the Tri-City Dust Devils' burgeoning ace pitcher do work.

One start after picking up his first victory of the season, Dust Devils left-hander Helmis Rodriguez was at it again, allowing just one run over seven strong innings to anchor a 5-1 victory. The win inched his club closer to a .500 record in the third game of a five-game, inter-divisional set against Northwest League South foe Eugene.

"All three of his starts, he's been great," Tri-City manager Drew Saylor said. "He is attacking hitters and staying down in the zone."

Rodriguez, who entered the contest with the second-lowest earned run average among all NWL starters, actually saw that figure rise from 0.79 to 0.98. But his lone earned run allowed was all the more impressive for the company it could have had on the scoreboard but didn't, thanks to Rodriguez's fiendish curveball and some crafty defensive support.

The Dust Devils had Rodgriquez's back after he surrendered a run in the top of the first, using Mike Tauchman's RBI single to tie it and Francisco's chalk-hugging, run-scoring double down the left field line to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning.

Tauchman helped protect the advantage in the top of the third with a sprinting catch in the left-center gap after Eugene strung together consecutive singles to open the frame. Rodriguez picked a baserunner off at first later in the inning, then retired the side on a groundout.

"Huge," said Saylor. "One thing we focus on is making the routine plays. We've been doing a great job in the infant part of the season."

An equally impressive escape kept Eugene stalled at one run in the fifth. After Rodriguez issued a walk -- his only one of the game -- and a flare single to left put baserunners at the corners with no outs, Rodriguez struck out a flailing Michael Miller with a darting curveball, then coaxed a 5-4-3 double play.

By then, the Dust Devils (5-6) led 5-1, having scored twice in the bottom of the third and once in the fourth. They managed five runs on just six thanks to aggressive base-running (three steals), patient approaches (four walks) and a trio of Emeralds miscues.

"We're playing for the guy in the on-deck circle," Saylor said.

Rodriguez rationed seven hits, struck out four and allowed just one walk. William Waltrip slammed the door with a 1-2-3 eighth and Josh Michalec dead-bolted it in the ninth, pitching around a one-out walk to retire the side.

Francisco Sosa was 2 for 4 to pace Tri-City. Leadoff batter Drew Weeks walked and scored in each of his first two plate appearances. Tauchman had two RBIs and stole his team-high sixth base.

The series continues at 7:15 p.m. today.

Notes: Dust Devils right fielder Richard Prigatano's two-out single in the bottom of the third inning was his first hit as a professional. ... Tri-City entered the game leading all Short Season Class A clubs with 26 stolen bases. It added three more steals Monday. ...Rodriguez ducked a pair of line-drive scares: Once, on the mound, when Eugene's Marcus Davis buzzed a cap-high single up back up the middle in the top of the fourth, and again in the dugout, when teammate Trea Turner fouled a pitch into the box seats to the right of the bunker in the bottom of the sixth. Rodriguez hit the deck both times.

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