PASCO — Brad McAtee may not want to live there, but the Tri-City Dust Devils bullpen has been a great place for him to visit.
McAtee, a Dust Devils starter since he was drafted out of UC-Davis in 2008, continued his recent emergence as a long reliever during Tri-City’s 4-3 win over Yakima on Sunday at Gesa Stadium.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who was 0-3 with a 9.11 ERA in six starts this year, tossed five innings after taking over for starter Wes Musick in the fourth inning and allowed just two hits while walking none to win his second straight decision.
“He’s been outstanding. The credit goes to McAtee tonight,” said Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio. “We were telling him to be aggressive. Last year, we saw that he had good stuff, and now it looks like it’s coming back to him.”
McAtee (2-3) is 2-0 in six relief appearances this season and has given up just one run in 12 2⁄3 innings for a 0.71 ERA.
“I came out strong in spring training and made some adjustments along the way, but they didn’t help,” McAtee said. “The bullpen has changed my mentality.
“It feels good to put my team in a situation to win.”
But with just 14 games remaining in the regular season, Tri-City’s hold on the East Division’s top spot tightened up another notch.
The Dust Devils (36-26) shaved their magic number down to nine games and maintained their six-game lead over Boise (30-32), which topped Spokane 4-3.
Yakima (23-39) dropped to 13 games back and would be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss today or Tuesday.
Tri-City has won just one division title in the previous eight years, edging out Boise in a 2007 tiebreaker.
Bears starter Brad Wilson cruised through the first six innings, retiring 13 straight batters after a leadoff walk to Tim Wheeler in the first. But when Wilson, a 33rd-rounder out of Cal Poly-Pomona, left with a 3-1 lead after reaching his pitch count, the Dust Devils were able to lock in against reliever Will Harvil (2-2), rallying for four straight hits and three runs to lead off the seventh.
Tri-City outfielder Kent Matthes started the rally by blasting a 1-1 fastball over the left-field wall to cut the lead to 3-2, which ignited the Dust Devils’ bench. It was the third homer of the year by the 2009 Golden Spikes finalist out of Alabama, but it was his first at Gesa Stadium.
“(Matthes) needed that really bad. That got us back in the game,” said Joseph Sanders, who led Tri-City, going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI doubles and a run scored.
Orlando Sandoval and Sanders followed Matthes’ blast with back-to-back doubles to tie the score at 3.
Dallas Tarleton then put the Dust Devils ahead 4-3, lacing an opposite-field single to left to score Sanders.
“Sanders did good today. Both of his doubles came with two strikes,” Ocasio said. “Today we worked with him a little on defense, and he stayed under control.”
Tri-City closer Charlie Ruiz collected his Northwest League-leading 15th save after striking out the side in the ninth for the second straight night. He did issue a one-out walk to Tim Sherlock and then a single to Roberto Rodriguez to make things interesting, but he whiffed Dan Kaczrowski and Tyson Van Winkle to end the game.
“You have to bounce back,” Ruiz said. “That’s the key part of it.”
Note: Dust Devils 1B Ben Paulsen left the game with a stiff neck after a leadoff double in the eighth inning. He is day-to-day.