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Chihuahuas split opening series, host Reno next

Andres Martinez
Chihuahuas third baseman Brett Wallace throws the ball toward first base during the team’s season opener.

With an opening record of 2-2, the Chihuahuas now turn their attention to the Reno Aces, who are in town from April 13-16.

The Aces are the affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks and come to El Paso after splitting a series with the Albuquerque Isotopes.

A very capable offensive team, Reno scored 32 runs in their first four games, including 16 in the series finale versus the Isotopes.

As a team, the Aces have recorded 55 hits to start the season and are led by outfielder Peter O’Brien and infielder Danny Dorn. O’Brien has a batting average of .450 with nine hits, four RBI’s and one home run. Dorn has an average of .400 with six hits, five RBI’s and one home run.

The Chihuahuas split their four-game opening series with the Tacoma Rainiers. After winning the first game of the series on April 9, El Paso edged Tacoma 7-6 on April 12 in the final game of the series. The Rainiers bested the Chihuahuas in the two games in between.

“The Tacoma team is loaded with talent all the way around,” said Chihuahuas manager Pat Murphy. “They do a lot of nice things out there.”

On opening day, in front of a record crowd, the Chihuahuas used their offense to cover for the struggles the team had on the mound. The offense, led by Abraham Almonte’s perfect 5-5 night at the plate, recorded a total of 18 hits, including two home runs. El Paso gave the 10,047 fans who attended Southwest University Park plenty to cheer about from the start, putting two runs on the scoreboard in the first inning.

Tacoma made plenty of contact with the ball, having 11 hits on the night, but they only made it count during one inning. Starting pitcher Jason Lane had a rough fourth inning, when he gave up all of his four earned runs of the night and surrendered the lead momentarily to the visitors.

“Lane had some tough luck,” Murphy said. “We didn’t turn a couple of double plays we should’ve, we didn’t get to some balls we probably could’ve.”

With the Rainiers leading 4-2, the El Paso offense went to work once again. The Chihuahuas scored at least a run in four of the next five innings, while Tacoma—after that four-run inning—would not have another player run across home plate for the reminder of the game.

Almonte, playing for the first time as a Chihuahua—against his old team nonetheless—performed his job as the leadoff hitter to perfection. The 25-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic got on base every time he had the opportunity to.

“That’s what happens when you get yourself in a good position and swing at good pitches,” Almonte said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Helping Almonte on offense was another debuting Chihuahua. Third baseman Brett Wallace, who played for Murphy in college, knocked four runs in on a 3-5 night that included a double and a home run.

Tacoma got more than even with the Chihuahuas the following night, thrashing the home team to a final score of 17-5.

After El Paso once again got off to a quick start, scoring three runs in the first inning, the Rainiers answered with a seven-run second inning. The visitors only expanded their lead in the following innings, scoring 12 runs in the next three.

El Paso starting pitcher Aaron Northcraft allowed seven earned runs before being pulled out after less than one-and-a-third innings of work. Murphy called on a five other pitchers.

“Our defense and our pitching just broke down,” Murphy said. “It was a bad night for both of them to break down.

The struggles on the mound continued into the third game of the series on Saturday, with the Chihuahuas allowing Tacoma to score 10 runs in another lopsided win. The Rainiers’ starting pitcher Sam Gaviglio controlled El Paso’s offense, shutting them out for all of the five innings he was in the game.

Gaviglio allowed just five hits and left the game with a 6-0 advantage on the scoreboard, which would turn into his first win of the season.

“We saw him twice in spring training,” Murphy said of Galvigio. “I’ve known him since ‘09, I know what type of pitcher he is. He’s a pitcher.”

Even after Galvigio took a seat in the visiting dugout, the Chihuahua offense continued to struggle. They mustered a total of four hits in the final four innings, scoring a couple of runs to avoid a complete shutout on the night. Almonte, who struggled the night before with an 0-5 performance, was responsible for one of the runs when he went he homered in the eighth inning.

The main concern for El Paso though is not at the plate, but at the mound and on defense.

“It’s obvious to everybody that our pitching and defense is less experienced,” Murphy said. “What happens is that it has an effect on your hitting and then you feel like you have to do so much. We just have to get into a rhythm.”

To close out the series, that had seen nothing but blowout wins in the first three games, El Paso and Tacoma produced a very close fourth game, in which the Chihuahuas were able to avoid their first series loss of the season.

The struggles on defense continued on Sunday, but not without some glimmer of hope for the miniature canines.

Starting pitcher James Needy had three solid innings before giving up a couple of home runs in the fourth. Needy left the game in that inning charged with five earned runs and that’s when the relievers took over.

Cori Mazzoni, Marcos Mateo and Kevin Quackenbush combined to pitch just over five innings and allowed just three hits and a run.

“They changed the game,” Murphy said. “Those three, I’ll take with anybody. It’s a good enough pen to survive in Triple-A, and let’s make no mistake–this team we played (Tacoma) is hot and good.”

Almonte continued to be a factor on offense, getting on base three times, all thanks to walks, but it was Wallace who came up big when it counted. Twice, in the sixth and eighth innings, Wallace came to the plate with the score tied and twice he put the ball in play to bring in runs that put the Chihuahuas up—the second one for good.

“I just tried to stay within myself,” Wallace said. “Anytime you have guys on base they have to pitch to you a little differently and it forces their hand. If I got a pitch, I was just trying to put it in play and keep us going.”

It is a long season and four games in, it’s hard to judge exactly what these Chihuahuas are made of. Gauging their potential and whether or not they will be able to improve last year’s performance is impossible. With all the movement that can occur almost on a daily basis when dealing with the minor leagues, Murphy and the Chihuahuas are just focused on the present.

“A lot of things are possible. Bottom line is, we’re going to have a million changes,” Murphy said. “We’re just enjoying every day, keep the kids in the right frame of mind and make sure they play the game the right way.”

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected].

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Chihuahuas split opening series, host Reno next