Here we go with a brand new Northwest League season. It all starts tonight with the Tri-City Dust Devils and defending NWL champion Everett AquaSox at Gesa Stadium. A sellout crowd is expected, and a nice tribute to the late Dave Lemak will precede the game.
Word is that the Dust Devils clubhouse will be named after Lemak. I imagine there won't be too many dry eyes in the park when that one is announced.
Christian Bergman, a level-headed right-hander who went 1-4 with a 5.96 ERA at Casper last year, will get the opening-day start for Tri-City. Everett will throw right-hander Stephen Landazuri, who went 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA at the Seattle Mariners' rookie affiliate in Arizona last year.
A new face is in the starting lineup for the Dust Devils. Tyler Massey, an outfielder who spent the last two seasons at Low-A Asheville, will get the opening day nod in left field. Massey, a 14th-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2008, hit a combined .214 with the Tourists since 2009. He showed a bit of pop in his bat with 13 doubles and three home runs last season.
I chatted with a Dust Devils staffer who saw him in batting practice today, and the report was good. The ball jumps off his bat real nice.
Anyway, first pitch to come in just a few minutes.
Bergman looked fantastic in the first inning. He faced four batters and delivered four first-pitch strikes. By my count he threw 18 pitches — 16 of them fastballs at least 90 mph or more — and 14 of them were strikes.
Good start for the second-year pro.
Dust Devils gave him some room, too, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. If that's any indication of the offense this year, this could be a very fun season.
Massey got things started with a one-out single against Landazuri. Leonardo Reyes then walked and Jared Simon followed that with a hard single to left to load the bases. Jordan Ribera, the No. 5 hitter, then picked up his first pro RBI with a groundout to short.
Catcher Ryan Casteel then got the first big hit of the season, driving a 2-2 pitch from Landazuri into center for a 2-run single, and it was 3-0 Dust Devils.
Score remains 3-0 Tri-City after four innings. Bergman still pitching beautifully. He's thrown a very efficient 35 pitches in four frames, using mostly fastballs to set up a nice changeup.
Landazuri has settled down after a rocky first inning, retiring 10 straight Dust Devils since giving up three runs out of the gate.
Bergman finally runs into trouble in the fifth. Everett loaded the bases against him in the top of the fifth with nobody outs. That's a good time to find out what kind of stuff your pitcher is made of. Bergman nearly got out of it, actually, retiring leadoff man Nathan Melendrez on a popup to second for the first out. But Marcus Littlewood then blooped a two-run single over third to cut it to 3-2. Bergman got the second out on a liner to center but then allowed a grounder to right field by James Wood that just hugged the line all the way down for two more runs and a 4-3 lead.
Wood then scored after advancing to third on a grounder to 3B Jayson Langfels. Wood beat the throw for an infield single, but 1B Blake McDade dropped the ball, allowing Wood to score for a 5-3 lead.
Dust Devils haven't done much on offense since the first, accounting for just three hits from the second to seventh innings. They shot themselves in the foot in the seventh after Casteel's leadoff single. But McDade then struck out on a hit-and-run call by Ocasio, and Sox catcher Larry Gonzalez gunned down Casteel with a nice throw to second.
To make things hurt even more, the next batter — Langfels — bounced a single up the middle that likely would have cut the lead to 5-4.
Still 5-3 Everett after seven.
And that's how it ends, folks: 5-3 Everett in the NWL opener.
I thought the Dust Devils had some really strong performances though, starting with Casteel, who had two hits and three RBIs. He also showed off a great arm, throwing out two baserunners from behind the plate.
Bergman was throwing great for four innings, but his fastball lost a little bit of life around the fifth. But he didn't exactly get hit hard.
Overall, not a bad night for Tri-City.