Expectations have been high for Peter Tago.
Maybe too high at times for the talented 20-year-old, who was selected by the Colorado Rockies with the 47th overall pick of the First-year Player Draft in 2010.
But the 6-foot-2 right-hander out of Laguna Niguel, Calif., more than lived up to his billing during the Tri-City Dust Devils’ 2-1 victory over the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on Friday in front of 2,829 fans at Gesa Stadium.
“I’ve taken my job very seriously over the last year after a tough season (in Asheville). I wanted to let my team know I’m here to work,” said Tago, who finished 3-5 with a 7.07 ERA at Asheville in 2011.
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He showed he meant business against the Volcanoes, allowing just three hits in a career-best eight scoreless innings. He allowed leadoff hits in the first two innings but got some help from Tri-City shortstop Rosell Herrera, who started a pair of double plays to curb the danger.
“It’s all about making pitches. I want them to hit the ball. Sometimes not where I want it to go,” he said. “It helps when the defense is on its toes.”
Herrera was on his toes early, too. The lanky, 6-3 switch-hitter out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, had nine assists and one putout on the night — most of them coming in the first four innings.
“Tago was working down (in the strike zone),” Herrera said. “That means a lot of ground balls for me.”
A lot of ground balls for everybody, in fact.
“We had him with 16 ground balls tonight,” Tri-Ciy skipper Fred Ocasio said. “His stuff has always been there. Tonight he was able to control it.”
While Tago was working his magic on the mound, the Dust Devils were able to convert a run-scoring opportunity in the bottom of the third. Herrera — the No. 2 hitter — blooped a one-out single down the left-field line, and Tom Murphy followed with a hard single to center field.
Miguel De Leon, who played hero Thursday night with a grand slam home run in a 7-5 win over the Volcanoes, again drove home the eventual game-winning runs with a two-run double to left-center field.
Tago retired 11 in a row at one point and allowed a runner to second base just three times. The third time was a little scary, however, when he walked Andrew Cain to lead off the eighth.
But his defense came through with another big play when No. 8 hitter Sam Eberle hit a soft liner to right field that looked like it might drop in. Jarod Berggren charged in and made a diving catch, then nearly doubled Cain off first.
“That was huge. (Berggren) is a quiet assassin out there,” Tago said.
Dust Devils closer Seth Willoughy came in to pitch the ninth. The fourth-rounder out of Xavier allowed a one-out double by Joe Rapp and then an infield single to pinch-hitter Chuckie Jones to move Rapp to third. Jones then advanced to second on a wild pitch, putting the tying run in scoring position.
“I don’t like it when people get on base, and I definitely didn’t want to blow it for Tago,” Willoughy said.
The 6-2 right-hander settled down from there, getting a routine ground ball from Mike Mergenthaler, which scored Rapp to make it 2-1, and then setting up a final showdown with Cain.
Cain worked the count to 3-2 before Willoughby got him to wave at a nasty 88-mph cutter on the outside part of the plate for strike three.
“I knew it was going to be a strike. It kind of dipped below his bat,” Willoughby said. “I like to keep them frustrated.”
Notes: Today’s starters are RHP Shane Broyles (3-0, 1.80 ERA) for Tri-City against RHP Joe Biagini (0-3, 4.07) for Salem-Keizer. Broyles, a 14th-round draft pick out of Texas Tech, was also named the NWL pitcher of the week for the week of July 8-15. Broyles went 2-0 with 10 strikeouts and a 1.38 ERA during the stretch. ... The Dust Devils made several moves last week, releasing RHP Eric Federico and LHP Josh Hungerman. At the same time, Tr-City added RHP Michael Wolford, C/1B Drew Beuerlein and LHP Roberto Padilla, who rejoined the Dust Devils after spending the last month with Class-A (Advanced) Modesto (Calif.). ... 2B Daniel Mayora, who played for the Tri-City Dust Devils in 2006, earned Eastern League offensive player of the week for Double-A Richmond (a Tampa Bay affiliate) afte hitting .733 (11-for-15) in five games with four doubles, six RBIs and five runs.