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Chihuahuas relying on pitching to find their early season rhythm

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The El Paso Chihuahuas returned home from a 2-5 road trip with revenge on their mind. So far, the team is 3-3, with two games left to play at Southwest University Park.

After a rough set of away games for the El Paso Chihuahuas—where they went 2-5 from April 11 to April 17—the team has bounced back during their recent homestand.

The Chihuahuas responded with a 3-3 record in their home park, from April 18 to April 23, but still have two more games remaining until they have to pack their bags for a trip to Utah. Now at 8-10 overall, El Paso is 6-5 at home and three games under .500 on the road.

El Paso split the first series, 2-2, with a Tacoma team that just beat them earlier in the week in Washington, 3-1.

Against the Rainiers, El Paso really found their stride throughout the pitching rotation, as Carter Capps and Keith Hessler received their first wins of the young season while facing Tacoma.

But even in the 6-5 loss to the Rainiers, Chihuahuas’ pitcher Dinelson Lamet was a force to be reckoned with on the mound, as he struck out a season and team-high 13 batters. Despite Lamet’s performance through 5.1 innings pitched, the Chihuahuas could not hold onto the lead he built. Tacoma took advantage of the El Paso relief corps and overcame the home team in extra innings (10).

In total, the Chihuahuas retired 33 Tacoma batters on strikeouts alone during the four-game series.

“Coming off a rough and cold road trip, it was nice coming home and getting El Paso weather,” said Rod Barajas, Chihuahuas’ manager. “We had a couple of rough games pitching before, but I still think pitching is going to be the backbone to our season.”

Hitting wise, El Paso continued to earn huge support from their starting first baseman Jamie Romak, who hit four home runs, including two in one game against the Rainiers, and lifted his home run total to eight on the season.

On Monday, Romak was named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week for batting .478 from April 17-23. His five home runs also tied him for the most in all of professional baseball during that seven-day span.

Romak’s first home run of the series in the opening game stood out the most, as it came in the seventh inning with the game tied 3-3. Romak drilled Rainiers’ pitcher Sam Gaviglio’s pitch over the left field wall and it turned out to be the game-winning moment, giving El Paso the victory, 4-3.

El Paso’s third baseman Cory Spagenberg got at least one hit in every single game against the visiting Tacoma team. Spagenberg totaled nine hits, five RBIs and lifted his batting average to .382 (team-high) after the four-game series.

Earlier in April, Reno had embarrassed the Chihuahuas back in Nevada, winning the series 2-1 with a combined score of 29-18, the Chihuahuas got revenge on Reno—beating them 3-1 in the Sun City during the four-game set of contests.

The Chihuahuas upended the Aces 7-1 in game one due to three home runs–one coming from Romak once again, shortstop Dusty Coleman and right fielder Jabari Blash–which started the whole barrage during the second inning of the game.

After Romak knocked in his fifth homer of the homestand, he now leads the Pacific Coast League in that category with nine souvenir balls on the year. Romak is also first on the roster with 17 RBIs.

In game two of the Reno series, the Chihuahuas could not overcome an early deficit and they fell 4-3 to the Aces.

The pitching staff for Reno struck out 15 batters of the Chihuahuas and the four first-inning runs were just enough to edge El Paso at home. El Paso’s leadoff hitter Franchy Cordero went 0-for-4, with four strikeouts to his name.

In that opening inning, Chihuahuas’ starting pitcher Matt Magill pitched the perfect ball to get a double-play on the first two batters of the game, but second baseman Diego Goris had a costly error that did not get anyone out after all.

“It just goes to show you how important every play is,” Barajas said. “The second ball was put in play and it turned the game around. We were not able to overcome the error, and they put up four runs after, but to bounce back and pitch six shutout innings on top of that was very, very impressive. It’s good to see guys who won’t fold, we look for guys like that.”

Instead, Reno capitalized on the mistake and went through all nine batters in the first inning to get out to a 4-0 lead.

El Paso tried to comeback with a two-run home run from right fielder Jabari Blash to make it a one-score game, but the damage was already done and Reno tied up the four-game series.

El Paso will now be on the road again—following the final two games versus Reno in El Paso—when they travel to Salt Lake City to face the Bee’s at Smith’s Ballpark. It will be the first meeting of the year between the two PCL Southern Division teams.

The Chihuahuas sit in fourth place in the division with their 8-10 record, while Salt Lake leads the division with their 11-6 overall record due to their nine game-winning streak.

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Chihuahuas relying on pitching to find their early season rhythm